Posts Tagged ‘Judgment’

Where Is The King? 11-23-14

This morning’s sermon for Christ the King Sunday comes from Matthew 25:31-46. In the sermon I explore where we find Christ, and more importantly where he finds us.

You can listen to the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

If the church year followed the calendar, we’d be in the gap between Christmas and New Year’s…just about to put the finishing touches on another year, and spouting off our resolutions for the new one.

But the church year doesn’t follow the calendar, and because of that, we’re already on the verge of starting over. Next Sunday begins the new church year, and with it, the short season of Advent. (pause) Now the church calendar, with its many different liturgical seasons runs in a cyclic pattern doesn’t it…and rightly so. Just as the 4 seasons of the year bring their own expectations…cold blustery winters, rainy transitional spring, hot dry summer, and cool dusty fall…the church seasons have their own expectations.

Advent finds us eagerly awaiting the coming messiah…at Christmas we celebrate his entry into our reality as a helpless baby…Epiphany reveals his presence to the world…then comes Lent as things get darkest…right before the new dawn of Easter when death is defeated…and then comes Pentecost where we track the growth and direction of the church from its infancy with the disciples and a few other people up through the descriptions of the end times and the call to be watching out…because at some unknown point in the future, Christ is coming back around for the second time and his heavenly kingdom will be established.

If you’ve been paying attention for the past month or so…that’s exactly where we’ve been…hearing week after week about the apocalyptic nature of what is to come…that we will eventually reach that unknown point…and Christ is coming back…and as we hear at the beginning of today’s text…that he will be in all of his glory and he will sit on that glorious throne…a throne…which is exactly the place that we expect to find a king…and perhaps this is fitting today as we celebrate Christ the King…and with today’s text, we hear, once again…that we need to be prepared because eventually…judgment is coming. (pause)

And today, I find myself wondering if any of you are as sick and tired of hearing about the end times as I am…if you are a little fed up with the repeated call to BE PREPARED…or to BE WATCHFUL…or in today’s case…if you’re tired of being told how you should be acting in preparation. (pause) Are you there too? Or is it just me?

I dunno, maybe its just seasonal burn out…perhaps I’ve just grown weary of the same topic time after time…week after week…but at times I find myself incredibly weary of trying to account every second for that unknown day in the future when Jesus will be sitting on the throne. (pause)

Now, before you all take a couple of steps back…perhaps trying to distance yourself from me just in case I’m suddenly struck down with lightning or fire for having uttered such things…hear me out. (pause) I grow weary of looking for Christ sitting on the throne out in the future…because if I recall correctly, the kingdom of heaven doesn’t really fall in the “not yet” category that we Lutherans like to talk about…on the contrary…I’m pretty sure that the kingdom of heaven is already here. (pause)

Way back in Matthew chapter 3…following nothing except a genealogy and King Herod trying to exploit the wise men…we hear John the Baptist declare to the world that the kingdom of heaven has come near…Its already here…and why? Because God made a choice to enter into our reality…In short…the word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood and with that…in that instant…the kingdom…became…reality. (pause)

And this whole time…throughout the course of the whole year…we’ve been hearing story after story…instance after instance of Jesus…of God in the flesh…walking around…encountering people…and today, in our story…we hear that reality of God encountering people never stopped…even when Jesus stood on a mountaintop…tipped his cap to the disciples…and ventured off into the clouds. (pause)

Today’s story features a division that apparently will happen at some unknown point in the future, when Jesus takes the judgment seat and divides the people…but I’m not really concerned about the division today…I’m more concerned with the response that everyone shares when Jesus addresses them.

I was hungry…I was thirsty…I was a stranger …naked, sick, and in prison. (pause) Everyone hears these words…and everyone responds in the exact…same…way…Lord, when did we see you? (pause) And Jesus response? When did you see me…More often than you think. (pause) You just weren’t looking for me.

That’s the crazy nature of this whole idea that Christ is the king of a kingdom that we don’t really recognize…its all around us…we just aren’t looking for it…but trust me…its there. (pause)

The kingdom is present when we help pay for supplies at the local food back…its there when we fill up a water bottle for a homeless man walking by Underwood on his way from Wisconsin to Oklahoma…and when we spend a few minutes talking with him even though he’s a stranger…the kingdom is present when we give clothing to Goodwill, or when we sit with a friend in the hospital…and its there when we take a moment to spend with the social outcast. (pause)

And if the kingdom is present…then you better believe that the king is present…and he tells us that today…whatever you did to the least of these…you have done it to me. (pause)

We have a God who made the choice…the conscious effort to put on flesh and experience this life…this life with all of its joys and with all of its hardships…and because of this, we have a God who is present in these times, good and bad…and so that’s where we look to find Jesus…we find Jesus in vulnerability…whether that vulnerability is our own…or someone else’s…that’s where Jesus is found…not because we’re looking for him…but simply because God is present in those circumstances.

We see evidence of this all over Matthew’s gospel…whether during Jesus first major address to the multitudes when he assured us that blessed are poor in spirit…and those who mourn…and the meek, and those who hunger and thirst…or when he reaches out to heal the sick and the lame, the foreigner and the unclean…for where they are…God is there also…and he tells us that he will remain with us, even to the end of the age…and you better believe that when God makes a promise, you can take it to the bank.

And today, we know especially that this is true…not only because God chose to put on flesh and dwell among us…but because Jesus was about to become the embodiment of the vulnerability that he talks about in today’s lesson. As far as the story goes, this is it…right after this, it’s go time…and the crucifixion train is off and running. (pause)

And in that, we see that God…is imprisoned…and stripped naked…he is the stranger on trial with the Romans…he hungers and he thirsts while he hangs on the cross…Jesus Christ…God in flesh becomes the physical embodiment of vulnerability…and he does so in order to share the experience with you. (pause)

We have a God who experienced every facet of life, so that he can meet us in those moments when we are most vulnerable…and through his example we learn that we are to meet him there as well…even in those times when we encounter the vulnerability of others.

Lord, when did we see you? More often than you think…because the kingdom of Heaven is here now…and we have a king that is with us always…even to the end of the age…even when we don’t recognize him. (pause)

And certainly there are many times in our lives when we fail to recognize Jesus being present in vulnerability…but in a short amount of time, he’ll prove it once more…Next week we enter Advent as the world waits in anticipation for the coming Messiah…as the world waits for its king…and that king comes into the world in the most vulnerable way possible…as a helpless baby…utterly dependent on others…just as we…utterly depend upon him.

Behold, the kingdom of heaven is here now…even if we fail to look for it…and if the kingdom is here…you better believe that the king is here too…and he promises to remain…even to the end of the age. Amen.




Stop Pulling Weeds 7-20-14

This week’s sermon is based on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. This is the parable of the weeds in the wheat.

You can listen to the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the sermon here.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

It is possible that I might seem a little distracted this morning…if not, great, I’m covering well…but if in fact I do, I blame the fact that the final round of the British Open, the third golf major of the year, is currently underway across the pond…right now, as we speak.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I love golf. I love it. I think it’s the greatest sport in the world…and while I certainly don’t have the game to rival the professional out there competing for the Claret Jug today, I do have a little bit of what they call…native ability.

But like all amateurs, I recognize my limitations…and when I play I aim for bogey golf…for 9 holes, that’s shooting mid-40’s…though throughout my time, I’ve always aimed to break into the 30’s…and I can still remember the very first time I did it. I was playing league on a Thursday night at Brook’s National Golf Course in Okoboji, IA, and somehow…someway I had managed to keep myself even par through the first 8 holes. I made some bogeys and managed to drain a few bombs to make some long distance birdies…and as I came up to the tee of the final hole I thought to myself. I’ve got this all figured out today…everything’s clicking…one more good hole and I’ll not only break into the 30’s, but I’ll shoot even par…and with that…I shanked my drive into the trees…flubbed a couple approach shots…and finished up my round 3 over…with a 39. I didn’t shoot par, but at least I made the 30’s. Small victories.

But I got to thinking about how unpredictable golf is…and anyone out there that’s a fellow golfer will agree with me…the micro-second you think you’ve got it figured out…you don’t. Period. The game or the weather, or your swing, or something throws you a curveball.

And you know what…our faith life can be the exact same way. If you were here last week, we heard the parable of the sower and I think we agreed that parable, was really one for us…a farming community…familiar with agriculture…Jesus was speaking our language….but just like the game of golf…the moment we think we’ve got it figured out…here comes the curve.

In today’s story, we hear yet another parable…and for the second week in a row…its about farming again…so this one should be easy right? (pause) NOPE!!!! CURVE BALL.

The parable of the weeds in the wheat. And at least for me personally, my farming background trips up at the thought of a wheat field. Because wheat is not really something we do in abundance here in the upper Midwest is it? Granted some, do…but not many…and so perhaps…today’s parable needs a touch of background…and we need to think for a moment to wrap our heads around a weedy wheat field.

First things first…throw out any notion of row crops, because that just doesn’t apply here. Wheat is planted like a lawn…it’s a grain…a grass…and so the planting style of a wheat field can best be compared to a lawn…edge to edge…and the wheat grows up, blanketing the field, as the individual stalks grow up very close together….the roots of each individual stalk tangled up with those around it.

And that right there, is where we jump into today’s story. Jesus tells us that the master goes out and sows good seed in the field…but then in the night, the enemy comes and sows weeds among them so that when the crop comes up, the weeds come right up with it…intermixed right in with the wheat plants.

Now some scholars believe that the weeds that Jesus is talking about are a specific type of plant…actually a mutation of regular wheat that looks very similar to the good plants…they grow right up together, difficult to distinguish until the actual grain is produced later in the season…perhaps this is why the servants in the story fail to recognize the weeds until…apparently, its too late to do much about them…and the master instructs them to just leave well enough alone…and at harvest time, the reapers will divide out the good from the bad. (pause)

Now in normal fashion…as Jesus is teaching with parables, we know that he’s attempting to teach us truth about the kingdom of heaven…and so we stop and ask ourselves the question of just what truth he’s trying to teach us today. And when we listen to his explanation we hear that the field is the world…and the wheat is the good and the weeds are the evil…and so in a nutshell…Jesus seems to be telling us that here in the world…even in the presence of the kingdom of Heaven which we know is already here…right here and now…within the kingdom evil is still present. (pause)

And I don’t think any of us would dispute that would we? All it takes is turning on the evening news or opening a newspaper…and we are blasted with bad news…and I don’t think any of us would venture to think…even for a moment, that evil is gone from this world…but not just in the world either…but even within us as individuals.

When we stop and take an honest look at ourselves, I think we each feel the presence of evil…of sin within our own existence…and so perhaps when we are honest ourselves, we see that the field that Jesus is talking about exists right here…within each and every one of us…and when we realize that, we recognize that within each of us lies wheat, interspersed with weeds…and that’s a humbling thought…but it goes beyond us as individuals as well…because as Jesus tells us, the field is the world…and so we must realize that while Jesus speaks of the presence of good and evil within the lives of individuals, he’s also speaking about all of humanity…because we’re all in this together.


And when we start breaching the subject of good and evil within humanity…within our regular day to day life…I think the initial tendency is to do exactly what the servants in the parable did…blame God…Master…did you not sow good seed in your field? Where then did these weeds come from. (pause)

How common is it that we blame God for the presence of evil within the world? We blame him for all kinds of stuff don’t we? It’s human nature as we seek answers to the questions of why. Why did this accident happen? Why does she have this disease? Why did I lose my job? Why did you let this happen God…if you really loved me…this wouldn’t have happened. (pause)

And while I think that the presence of those questions is to be expected when we encounter hardships…perhaps what we’re really doing is passing judgment…judging something to be evil…and even going so far as to judge God as guilty because of it. (pause)

Isn’t that what the servants are really doing in the parable? First judging God as guilty of creating the evil…for planting the weeds…but then going beyond that and judging the weeds themselves…Master, do you want us to go and gather the weeds?

The servants are ready to place themselves in the judgment seat…to distinguish between that which is good and that which is evil in the field…but Jesus tells us…that it is NOT our place to do so. First of all, judgment doesn’t occur until harvest time, according to Jesus…and when it does…the servants are not the ones to do it…that’s up to the angels…Jesus tells us that.

And here’s the important part…when it comes to the notion that there is evil in the world mixed right in with the good…we need to remember the exact same thing…it is NOT our place to try and distinguish between the two…because humanity is completely tied up together…as we know the presence of good and evil lies intermixed among humanity and within every individual.

And Jesus tells us that when we take it upon ourselves to judge what is not worthy and tear it out, then we end up doing damage to that which is good and surrounding it. Just as the roots of the weeds in the parable are intermixed with the roots of the wheat…and to pull one will result in pulling out the good with the bad…we know that when we try to pass judgment on what we deem to be evil is going to harm others as well.

Its not up to us…and yet there are times when we as individuals…and we as the church make mistakes in judgment. We do…and the examples throughout history are far too many to try and list…but just this week I read a story about an individual that was excommunicated by their congregation…he was kicked out for what the congregation viewed to be sinful behavior. The article didn’t go into specifics, and I don’t know any details…but this is a clear example of humanity…flawed humanity passing judgment on who is and who isn’t worthy of the kingdom…for in the letter, the individual is told that they are now outside the church and outside the church there is no forgiveness of sin. (pause) In short…the congregation is playing God because only God alone…is worthy to pass judgment on who is worthy of God’s grace.

That’s not up to us people…and you know what I’m glad…I don’t want that responsibility…because I would mess it up…and you know what…I do mess it up. Sometimes with the best of intentions…when faced with a choice of how to respond to a situation or an individual or a request…I make the wrong call…we all do, whether we mean to or not, we pass judgment…precisely what Jesus tells us today that we are not called to do.

And in those moments…in those times when we fail at this command of Jesus to just leave well enough alone and let judgment fall to the one worthy of it…then the world which includes good and evil…its in those moments that the world shrinks all the way down until it encompasses just one person. You…and right then and there we see that Jesus is right…and we see that there is evil in the world…even a world of one.

But…evil does not have the last word…judgment for our failings does not have the last word. God does…and I believe that through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our sins…our failings…the part of us that is inherently evil is bundled up and thrown into the fire leaving the good fruit…to be gathered into God’s barn.

When Jesus speaks of the world of one…when he speaks to the individual, he assures us that through the power of the holy spirit and only by the grace of God, that our sin is no more…and the field that is the individual is cleansed from all evil…and you know what…that sounds a little like baptism doesn’t it?

When we are washed in the water…cleansed of the power of sin in our existence through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…purified of that which is evil…because God cares enough about each and every one of us to walk through our fields…and pull our weeds.

So let’s stop pulling weeds people…because it’s not up to us…praise the Lord, its up to him…and he’s willing to do it…and more importantly he’s worthy to do it. Amen.

Confirmation Questions 2-16-14

The sermon from last Sunday was taken from Matthew 5:21-37. You can find the sermon here.

The confirmation students posed a great question based on the sermon that I will attempt to answer here.

-Why does Jesus say that you should cut off your hand if it causes you to sin?
This is an excellent question. I believe that Jesus is simply making a very strong statement here. His purpose is to stress the dire nature of sin and its affect on us. The wages of sin is death and the judgment is hell, separation from God. Jesus is saying that if your hand is the cause of sin, then remove it, therefore removing the sin from you. But Jesus also knows that we cannot actually do this. We cannot remove sin from our lives. If we could, there would be no reason for Jesus to have come to earth and for his sacrifice. We may be capable of individual actions that are considered good works, but no one is capable of avoiding sin. It runs too deeply in our nature. This is why God had to intervene through Christ.

Just Give It Up 10-20-13

Today’s sermon came from Luke 18:1-8; the parable of the Judge and the Widow. In the sermon I explore who we are in the parable and more importantly who God is in the parable.

Listen to the sermon here.

You can read the text of the sermon here. As usual, there are some little differences when I went off script, and excuse the off punctuation and indications to pause. I gotta remember them some how.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
There’s a really fine line between persistence and annoyance. Persistence is defined as a firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition…Annoyance, on the other hand is defined as a feeling or state of irritation. (pause)
Persistence is attributed to the individual that just keeps on trying…the person that just won’t give up no matter what happens…no matter the response…they just keep on pushing. (pause)
Annoyance…well that tends to be on the other side of the coin…annoyance often happens for the person on the receiving end of persistence doesn’t it? (pause)
Some examples perhaps? Persistence is the person who asks the waitress, over and over again if they can substitute a salad for French fries when the menu clearly states…no substitutions. (pause)  Annoyance is the waitress, fed up with trying to reason with the customer…and spits in his food. (pause)
Persistence is a young child, asking for snack food in the grocery store…over and over again…being told no over and over again until he has a complete and utter meltdown in the aisle. (pause) Annoyance is the parent, who can’t stand it anymore and hauls the child out of the store, leaving a half-full grocery cart in the aisle. (pause)
Persistence is a 1st year seminary student, studying for a Greek vocabulary test…spending hour after hour practicing terms and looking at the answers until he can finally make it through the entire list of 300 Greek words like logos and dianoigo and he feels confident that he’ll pass the test the next morning. (pause) And annoyance is his wife, sitting in the next room, aggravated that since her husband started school she’s starting to forget what he looks like. (pause) Yah, that last one was me…guilty (pause)
If we take a look at the parable in today’s story…we find one more example don’t we?  2 characters…the judge and the widow. (pause) The judge, admittedly and unrighteous guy…he doesn’t fear God and he doesn’t give two hoots about other people.  And the widow…bearing an unknown grievance but with a stubborn streak that would rival any toddler that has recently learned the words “mine” or “no.”
When we listen to Jesus tell this story we can certainly plug the notions of persistence and annoyance right in can’t we? The widow is the epitome of persistence…coming before the judge day after day…time after time…each time with the same request…and the judge, who finally gives in, not out of compassion or a sense of justice…but out of sheer annoyance…Either I give this woman what she wants or she’s just going to keep coming…I’m sick of it…fine…here you go. (pause)
That’s the parable in a nutshell…and as is the case with parables…we ask ourselves the question…so what is Jesus trying to say here?  At a quick glance, we may come to the conclusion that we need to persevere in prayer…bringing our petitions before God on a regular basis…and that we shouldn’t give up even if we don’t see immediate action…fair enough…the lesson opens by pretty much telling us exactly that doesn’t it? (pause)
Well, by now you’ve likely figured out that the easy answer doesn’t really sit well with me…and I hope that it doesn’t sit well with you either. (pause)
So the next question that we ask ourselves when we’re dealing with a parable…when we’re trying to make sense of what God is telling us…or what God is up to in this particular story…is that we take a look at the characters…who do we relate with?  Who are we in the story?  Who is God in the story? And that’s where I found myself focusing this week.
I’ve heard this parable a lot of times before, perhaps you have as well…but each time I’ve heard it, it has always settled in my mind that God is supposed to be the judge, and we are the widow…and the parable is telling us that we just need to keep praying…keep asking…and eventually God will give in…and then when I look at the last part of the story I see that Jesus gives us reassurance that God will grant us our requests quickly…that he won’t make us wait a long time for it. (pause) But you know what…that’s never really sat well with me…Because sometimes when we pray, the answer comes back as no. Or sometimes when we pray the answer doesn’t seem to come back at all…even though I’ve prayed really hard for it…even though I’ve been really persistent…I haven’t gotten the result that I hoped for…and so each and every time I’ve happened upon this parable, I’ve accepted the “face value” interpretation with a grain of salt…every time until this time. (pause)
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase that the word of God is living an active…well its true…and that’s an amazing thing to me…it continues to amaze me how I can read a passage of scripture and have it say something different to me at one time than it did the time before…or countless times before…and this is one of those times.
Because this time around…when I read this parable…I didn’t see God in the judge…and I didn’t see God being compared to the judge either. (pause) I sat and I thought about the judge and how he’s described…a man who neither feared God, nor had respect for people. (pause) And as I thought about that, I remembered Jesus’ answer to the question of what is the most important commandment…To love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength…and then to love your neighbor as yourself. (pause) Love God, and love others…but this guy doesn’t do either one of them…and neither do we.
Because of our sinful nature…because of the mess that the human race finds itself in, we constantly fail to live up to that command to love God and our neighbor…just like the judge…and when I realized that…for the first time I saw myself in the judge. (pause)
And then I thought about the fact that God didn’t give up on me.  I was confirmed in 8th grade and walked away…and then low and behold my junior year of high school I started dating a girl that convinced me to come back to church…which I did…for a while…and then the next summer…I almost ended up working at Bible camp…but I didn’t…and then a year later…I did end up working at Bible camp…and then a few years later someone made a joke that I should go to seminary…and then other people started saying the same thing…and then my wife said it too…and so on…and so forth.  Throughout all the times that I said no…all the times that I ignored God, or turned my back on Him…or thought that I didn’t need him…there he was, coming around…day after day…and not only did God show infinite patience with me for the countless times I told him no…he also displayed infinite persistence by continuing to tap me on the shoulder. (pause) God kept coming back…day after day…moment after moment…now who does that sound like in the parable? (pause)
Not the judge…no sir…not at all…God is the widow…continuing to appeal to the judge…continuing to come before us in one form or another time after time, even when we continue to brush him off…when we refuse to listen…God show’s each and every one of us infinite persistence…even in the times when we give him no reason what so ever…even in those times when we would simply throw up our hands and give up…when we would focus on something else…God keeps on trying. (pause)
Now perhaps this notion is a little shocking…or a little surprising…I get it…it was for me too…the idea that God would be the weak one…that God would be the powerless one…what’s up with that? Doesn’t that go against every single notion that we have of God?  Doesn’t that go against the notion that God is all powerful?  Doesn’t that go against the notion that God can do anything, or be anything, or make anything?  How can God be the helpless one? (pause)
Have you ever stopped and thought about how powerless the human body is?  Sure we can do some amazing thing and accomplish some amazing things, but when it gets right down to it how much power do we really have?  Not much right?  And when we think about it, just how fragile are we?  Our bodies, amazing as they are…can be utterly destroyed at the drop of a hat…disease attacks us…accidents destroy us…time makes us whither…and in the end, we are powerless to do anything about it…and on the other end of the spectrum, think about how fragile we are when we are born…utterly dependent…unable to do anything for ourselves…not even the most basic tasks of feeding ourselves or keeping ourselves clean and warm.  (pause)
We come into this world powerless…and we leave it the exact same way…and as much as we might like to think that we’re in control during that period of time between the two…I think when we’re honest with ourselves we realize just how much a myth self-empowerment really is…and I bring all of this up to stress the fact that God…willingly…chose to enter into this powerless existence…God was born, as a helpless infant…God lived a life in the flesh just like we do…and in the end God died, stretched out across a splintered plank of wood…devoid of power. (pause)
And why did God do that? (pause)  God did that to show each and every one of us that there is NOTHING he would not do to get your attention…that there is NOTHING he would not do to bridge the gap that lies smack dab in the relationship between humanity and himself…we can’t get up there…so he came down here. (pause)
God is not the judge in this story…he’s not the one sitting there…waiting to make a ruling one way or another…he’s not the one that choses to ignore everything around him…God’s the widow, who patiently and persistently comes before us in one form or another…simply trying to get our attention.
And God is certainly not the judge, sitting there on some heavenly stool waiting to divide us into the good people and the bad people…to divide us between the have’s and the have not’s…to divide us between the saved and the damned…that’s why God became weak…that’s why God became powerless…that’s why God became human in Jesus Christ…so that he could say…once and for all I’M DONE WITH THIS JUDGEMENT CRAP!!! (pause) Because God experienced life…and then God experienced death…and then God overcame death, he was able to overcome the cause of death…our own sinfulness…whether we want to admit it or not, we’re all stuck in it…mired down in it…and yes…judged because of it…but through Christ…through his atoning sacrifice the judgment falls away…and we are not prone to it any longer…and all of this happens because God loves you…I cannot stress that enough…even in the times when it seems like it isn’t true…and yes those times happen…it doesn’t change the fact that there is nothing you can do to make God love you any more…and there is nothing you can do to make God love you any less…it’s final…it’s done…It Is Finished. (pause)
And it is my hope that you hear this today…and you don’t ignore it like the judge in the parable…or that you don’t get annoyed by it…but unfortunately, for some…that’s the reaction…that’s the reality…but I praise God, that he’s persistent…and that he doesn’t just give it up…and if it doesn’t stick today…he’ll be back tomorrow. Amen.