Dear Friends in Christ,
There are weddings that take place on the spur of the moment and there are weddings planned out years in advance. There are weddings that cost a few hundred dollars and there are weddings that cost tens of thousands of dollars. Average cost of a wedding in USA – I looked it up - $25,200! (Research suggests that the high cost of weddings causes future marital stress). There are guests who RSVP promptly, those who respond late, and those who respond not at all. There are guests who accept the invitation with joy, those who decline with regrets, and a few who reply maybe (we had a farmer and his wife reply to our son’s wedding invitation that they would come unless hay was down). There are wedding receptions with name tags and those without. Receptions with assigned seating and those without. Some receptions have an open bar all night, some have it partially open, and at others guests are asked to pay for their own drinks. Some receptions have one meal – take it or leave it. Others have several options, including a children’s menu. At a family wedding in Milwaukee a couple of weeks ago, there was a time for hors d’oeuvres in a smaller room in anticipation of the main meal in the main hall set forth in beautiful and extravagant fashion. This morning we study Matthew 22 where salvation is pictured as a wedding feast prepared by a king for his son and the invitations were delivered but the people wouldn’t come. As we do so, I would suggest to you that as often as you hear the Word of God and believe it and as often as you eat and drink at your Lord’s Supper, and as often as you enjoy and live in the grace and the mercy of your Savior, you are enjoying the hors d’oeuvres as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that is to come.
Two truths I invite you to consider today, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, under the theme, “The Wedding Feast is Ready!” The first truth has to do with the awesome privileges of living as invited guests, and the second has to do with the awesome responsibilities that come along with great privilege. Privilege and responsibility.
The first lesson we learn from Jesus today is to come on in and enjoy the wedding feast, or die. In this parable, the King is our Father in heaven, and His Son Jesus is the Groom. The Father prepared this Wedding Feast not with credit cards and checks written, but with the very blood of His one and only and precious Son. He prepared this meal not with the slaughter of oxen or fattened steers, but with the once and for all sacrifice of the very Lamb of God. He sent out round one of invitations through Old Testament prophets, but they would not come. So many of the Jewish people treated the invitation with indifference and simply went about their business as if the love of this King was no big deal. Others did worse than that. They mistreated the messengers who delivered the invitations, and in many cases put them to death. Instead of accepting this royal invitation with great joy, so many first century Jews were put to death as part of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Already then, the choice was to come on in and enjoy the wedding feast or prepared to die.
In ancient days, wedding celebrations often lasted for 7 days, and to decline the invitation was to miss out on all kinds of eating and drinking and being merry. These days, a wedding celebration is a half a day or so and to decline the invitation is to miss out on a few hours of feasting and conversation and dancing the night away. But the wedding feast of which we speak today is life in paradise face to face with Jesus where all of your tears will be wiped away and where death itself will be swallowed up and the feast of rich food and well-aged wine will go on without end. To decline this invitation is to be damned. To refuse to wear the wedding garment provided in the waters of Baptism is to be bound hand and foot and to be cast into the outer darkness. In that place, Jesus says with tears in His eyes, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The Gospel invitation has always been, is today, and always will be as sweet as it can be, but is followed up with an ever so stern warning. Here and now, come on in to the presence of the Lord and enjoy, or go your own way and suffer. Here and now, come on in and be set free by the forgiveness of your sins or go your own way and live in prisons of your own making. Here and now, come on in to the sanctuary and enjoy the hors d’oeurves already paid for or go to a restaurant of your own choosing and pay your own bill. Here and now, throw yourselves on the mercy of God, or spend your days making excuses for your failures and rationalizing away your faults and hurting others with your bad attitudes and miss out on all the benefits and the ripple effects of God’s amazing grace. Here and now, sit still and enjoy the rest and the relief and the refreshing breezes brought your way by the Spirit of the living God, or spend your days weary and anxious and indifferent and overwhelmed by life with all of its challenges. O dear Christian friends, what a great privilege it is to wake up each day by making the sign of the cross and remembering the Triune God’s desire for us to live as invited guests where the forgiveness of sins has been provided and mansions in heaven have been prepared. How much simpler and how much more joy there to live as people of privilege rejoicing in the blessings we do have instead of living as victims complaining about how the world is out to get us.
With great privilege of course comes great responsibility, at least in the kingdom of God. That’s the second truth the Spirit of God would teach us this morning what it means to say yes to the King Who has invited us to be guests in His wedding hall. For earthly weddings, the obligations of a guest seem to be far and few between. There is, of course, the responsibility to keep the happy couple in your prayers and as time goes on, to do whatever you can do to support them in their effort to enjoy a Christ-centered marriage. But to be gathered as a guest into the heavenly wedding feast is to be sent back out to the main roads and to the not so main roads and even into the alleys to invite to this same feast as many as you can find.
This past week I ran across an article about Pastor Jay Reinke, a former Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Pastor in Williston, North Dakota. Williston is in the heart of that great state’s oil boom, and he had made the decision to open up his church doors to would be workers. Many of them had histories that included drug abuse, alcoholism, crime, and all that goes along with the bad decisions of life. They were what polite society has determined to be bad people. And so when this pastor initiated an “overnighters” program which offered Army cots, floor space, and parking spots to over 50 unemployed men and a few women, there was a fair amount of rejoicing mixed in with all kinds of objections and concerns of congregational members.
One particular man named Todd had served in Iraq and had come to the oil fields in absolute desperation. He confessed his evil ways to Pastor Jay and added that he was born only because his mother was raped. To which the Pastor replied, “Can I tell you something? You and I are a whole lot more alike than we are different. I’m broken. We’re broken. We’re just broken. We’re in this together.” I don’t really know the whole story, but we do know that the Pastor eventually had to leave the ministry, that his marriage struggled to survive, and that he now works for a company that provides welding supplies to the oil field. Now a movie called “Overnighters” has been produced and has already won an award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
What does it mean to go out into the highways and the byways to invite sinners into the Kingdom of God? What is our responsibility towards loved ones who have drifted from the means of grace and seem to be keeping God at a distance? What is our responsibility towards confirmands who have drifted from their Savior for one reason or another? What is our collective responsibility towards the poor and the hungry, the homeless and the abused, the unemployed and the underemployed, the addicted and the afflicted? Where do we start when we have no idea where to start? Why should we try if we have already tried and failed? How do we invite folks who have already declined the invitation one or more times?
I don’t really know the simple answers to those questions, but this we do know for certain – that we are saved by faith alone in Jesus Christ and that faith never comes alone. By definition saving faith is alive with good works. Another way of saying that great privileges in life never come our way alone. They always come with great responsibility. With that in mind, permit me to offer five practical suggestions on how to go out into the main roads and the not so main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as we can find.
1. Pray for opportunities.
2. Look people in the eyes, and listen. Listen to their stories. Be slow to speak. Let me say it again. Listen to what people are saying.
3. Ask questions. Ask good questions. Before you give them good answers, make sure you ask them good questions.
4. Keep on inviting people, even if they have refused previous invites. Invite them to church / Bible Class / church activity/ your home / out for coffee / beer.
5. Trust that the Spirit of God is at work as often as you pray for opportunities, as often as you look people in the eyes and listen, as often as you ask good questions, as often as you keep on inviting people to know that God isn’t mad at them, to know that Jesus Christ lived and died and rose for them, to know that nothing they have done or are doing or will do will cause God to love them less, to know that their sins have been forgiven, their salvation has been secured, and that the wedding feast is ready.
Amen. This is most certainly true!
Ephesians 2 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,[d] but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by[e] the Spirit.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Our theme this year is “Amen! This is most certainly true.” Our theme song is “Let All God’s People Say Amen (even have a “whoa” in there). Already in Divine Service today we have said amen to the Invocation. Amen to the absolution. Amen to the collect for the day. Thanks be to God to the lessons. Amen to the Creed. Before the service is over we will say amen to each of the petitions in our prayer, amen to the Lord’s Prayer, amen to the Pax Domini, amen to the Lord’s Supper, amen to the post communion collect, amen to the benediction.
Three part sermon series, as follows.
• Amen is trust, like the trust of a (child) for a parent.
• Amen is certainty, like the strong and solid (walls) of a well-built house.
• Amen is faithfulness, like the bond forged between a husband and (wife)
Very disturbing news came to us this past week from a remote village in Guinea, where eight Ebola humanitarian aid workers and journalists were murdered and dumped in a latrine. Villagers in nearby village used machetes and clubs to attack eight members of a team trying to raise awareness about the disease. Also from a treatment center in Monrovia, Liberia, we hear reports that aid workers have been attacked and the aid station looted. How tragic that they put to death the very servants who came to give them life. At first glance, and upon first reflection, it’s also a very dark and bad Friday when the Jewish leaders forced Pontius Pilate’s hand in putting to death the very servant who came to give them life. That the very builders of the church had rejected the cornerstone.
You should know that in the ancient times the cornerstone was the stone at the corner of two walls that united them. It was the visible corner of the foundation of the building and the starting point of all future building above the foundation. It was the most costly stone because of its beauty and strength. It was often the largest, the most solid, the most carefully constructed stone. To cast aside the cornerstone would be to resist any future building on that foundation. And yet in our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus teaches the very simple truth that this was the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in the eyes of all who believe. Today we want to think of ourselves as living stones and to learn two important truths about what it means to be part of a well-built building where the architect knows exactly what he is doing and where the foundation is certain. Two truths the Holy Spirit would teach us today – first about the beauty of stones resting and secondly about the necessary pain of getting chiseled.
First, if stones in this well-built structure could talk, certainly they would tell us what a privilege it is to be part of a plumb wall that rests on a firm foundation. The Bible has a lot to say about stones. Already in Genesis 31, after Jacob had worked for his uncle Laban for 20 years for the privilege of marrying his two daughters Leah and then Rachel, after years of cheating and being cheated, after years of rubbing each other the wrong way and fighting and making up and then fighting some more – finally Laban suggests that they make a covenant. And so Jacob takes a stone and sets it up as a pillar. He commands his kinsmen to grab some stones and they made a heap of stones and ate a meal next to the heap. Laban and Jacob agreed that this heap of stones would be a witness of the promise they were making. Laban declares, “This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm.” They ate a meal together, they spent the night as a family together, and in the morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them and they parted ways. If that heap of stones could talk, oh my – what a story they could tell! They could tellof those little grandsons growing up to be the twelve tribes of Israel/ Egyptian slavery/ wilderness wanderings / victories in the Promised Land. If those stones could talk!
So also do we as New Testament living stones have a story to tell. As living stones we are called to witness to those near and dear and to those in the farthest corners of this world the greatest story ever told. The story of how beautiful it is to rest n the grace and mercy of Almighty God. Of how comforting it is to know that we can run with all of our weariness and all of our tiredness for refuge and strength to the Creator of the universe any time of the day, any day of the week. The story of how Jesus said (yes) to us at the cross. It’s a story of our Father in heaven asking His beloved Son to give up the riches of heaven and accept the poverty of humanity, to which Jesus answered, “Yes, Father, I will do that.” It’s a story of a father asking the very Rock of Ages to let sinners throw stones at him and to let vicious soldiers slap and whip and mutilate him and Jesus said, ‘Yes, Father, I will let them do that.” It’s the story of a cornerstone being rejected and yet becoming the chief cornerstone, the very foundation of a spiritual house with pillars standing strong and stones fitting together and against which the gates of hell will never prevail. And the story doesn’t end there.
God didn’t just say yes to a world of sinners. The Triune God said (yes) to us in Holy Baptism. The salvation purchased and won for us at Calvary has been delivered in water connected with the Word. The sign of the cross has been placed both on our foreheads and on our hearts to mark us as forgiven and holy and precious people of God. Day after day we are invited to rest in the certain knowledge that our spiritual debt has been paid, that our sins have been washed away, that our names have been written in the book of life, and that our mansions are on reserve in heaven. We are invited to rest in the promise that we are members of the household of God and that our cornerstone is certain and the foundation is sure and our first assignment each day isn’t so much to get up and be busy serving but to be served and to sit still and rest.
How hard can it be to (rest)? Isn’t it true that resting by definition is supposed to be easy? Yet by nature we are a restless and stressed out and anxious bunch. I read research this week that 51% of Americans do not feel it is important to go to church, that 79% of women say they are stressed, that 42% of people are unhappy with their life and work balance. Research which suggests that many of us are finding our refuge and strength in a variety of false gods. Instead of throwing ourselves on the mercy of the one true God, we so often throw ourselves into working hard and playing hard thinking that maybe then we will be tired enough to sleep at night. Even though the Psalmist has warned us clearly that “it is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest” and that unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Lesson #1 today, stones in this well-built structure could talk, certainly they would tell us what a privilege it is to be part of a plumb wall that rests on a firm foundation.
Lesson #2 is that if stones in this well-built temple could talk, certainly they would tell us how painful the (chiseling) process is. God’s promises are in two categories. On the one hand, God invites us to rest in His grace and to find refuge in His mercy. On the other hand, He promises to get our attention with trials and to humble us with a certain amount of suffering in our lives. On the one hand He will comfort us when we are afflicted and on the other hand He will afflict us when we are too comfortable. In Solomon's temple, all of the stones were chiseled and shaped in the quarry so that no tool had to be used as they were assembled at the temple site. Many of the stones were actually boulders that could weigh thousands of pounds. The building process included all kinds of chiseling, chipping, rubbing together, and polishing. There was nothing easy about the process it took to cut and file and shape the stones that would eventually fit into and rest on top of one another.
No pain, no (gain). Was there ever a coach or a teacher or a parent who didn’t use some version of that little saying to get across the idea of discipline. From beginning to end, Scriptures teach us that the process of growing up into and following Jesus Christ will a process of learning by trial and error. You can pick any number of metaphors. If you’re going to be a branch attached to Jesus the Vine, you can expect to be pruned on a regular basis. If you’re a lump of clay about to be molded into something precious by the potter, you can expect affair amount of suffering. If you’re going to call Jesus Master, you can expect a road filled with self-denial, taking up your cross, and persecution. There is no way to learn obedience except through suffering. No way to develop a spirit of endurance and strong Christian character except through troubles, trials, and tribulation.
You may find it helpful to think of your suffering in three categories. There is the suffering you bring on yourself (Examples would a habit of drinking too much which causes all kinds of trouble in your life or the habit of losing your temper which hurts and harms your neighbors in a variety of ways). A second kind of suffering is brought to your table by family members and others in your lives with their bad habits and annoying qualities. And a third kind of suffering will come to you through no fault of yours or other people in your life - as in a child born with a severe disability or various forms of cancer or natural disasters. All three kinds of suffering are part of this chiseling or pruning or disciplining process – call it what you like- and the remaining question today is this one:
Are you spending your days rejoicing in the Builder or complaining about the (process)? The kingdom of God is like a large rock who witnesses every day to how painful is the chiseling process. About how unfair it is that the Builder is picking on him. About who full of trouble every one of his days are, and some days are worse than others. Next to that rock is another who has developed the habit of rejoicing in the Builder instead of complaining. He witnesses to the fact that the end product is going to be magnificent. How certain he is that the Builder knows what he is doing. How there can be no gain without pain. How beautiful it is when the Builder’s face is fixed on him and at the same time has the big picture in mind. How confident he is that when the rains fall and the winds blow, he is part of a building that will stand strong.
Man to Doctor: I have been misbehaving, and my conscience is bothering me.
Doctor – And you want something that will strengthen your willpower?
Man- Well no, I was thinking of something that we would weaken my conscience!
Truth #1 tonight is that personal convictions should not destroy harmony in the church. There was a difference of opinion in the early church between those who were stronger in their faith and those who were weaker. The stronger people understood their freedom in Christ allowed them to eat meats, even if they had been sacrificed to idols. The weaker Christians were still of the opinion that the old ceremonial laws applied. The stronger in the faith understood that freedom in Christ meant they did not necessarily have to follow certain Sabbath regulations out of the old covenant; the weak in faith were stuck in those old laws which had been ended by Christ. In these first 12 verses, Paul neither praises nor condemns either opinion, but he pleads with Christians to welcome each other in the Church, in response to God welcoming us first.
1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master[a] that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. 10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Truth #2 is that there is a major difference between fundamental doctrines of the faith and matters of conscience. We Christians may disagree about whether or not we may drink wine or beer, but we may not disagree about the truth that God is the Creator of this universe. We may disagree about whether we should worship God on a Saturday, a Sunday, or a Wednesday, but we may not disagree about Jesus Christ being the one and the only way of salvation. We may disagree about whether children should be home schooled, or educated in a public or a Christian school, but we may not disagree that parents should bring their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
In matters of moral sin and false doctrine, the New Testament writers are decisive and unbending. In matters of Christian liberty and personal conviction, Paul is gracious and gentle. Every Christian Church is to be a Welcome Center, where there all sinners are invited again and again to throw themselves at the mercy of Almighty God and receive all the good gifts God is so anxious to give.
So who really are the strong and the weak? Two answers each for the weak and the strong, based on Romans 14.
1) The weak are those who have not yet come to the full realization of the freedom and liberty which are a part of the faith.
2) The weak are inclined to condemn the actions of the strong.
3) The strong are those who are more fully aware of the nature of grace and of the teachings of the Word of God.
4) The strong are susceptible to the sin of smugness and arrogance.
Truth #3 is a word of warning and instruction. The warning is to stop passing judgment on other people’s personal convictions, and the word of instruction is to do all you can do to make your Church a warm and inviting fellowship, a welcome center where people will sense the love of Christ as often as they enter the Church.
Truth #4 is to be very careful that we do nothing to cause brothers and sisters in the faith to stumble.
13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. 20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Here Paul is going from the positive to the negative. In addition to doing all that we can do and saying all that we can say for the purpose of helping others to feel welcome into the Church, he writes what we ought not do. We ought do nothing to put an obstacle in the way of another brother or sister who may be struggling with a matter of Christian freedom. If it’s going to annoy your fellow worshipers if you keep on hollering out “amen, hallelujah brother!” in the midst of the sermon, then don’t do it. If your crazy uncle is trying to quit drinking, don’t be serving alcohol in his presence. If the whole issue of homosexuality is a sensitive issue in your family circle, then be careful not to blurt out opinions which are going to ruin a pleasant time. We are called on by God to speak truth, but to do so in kind and timely fashion.
Is it true that some folks are easily offended and that offense will be taken where none is intended? Absolutely. Is it also true that not everything that occurs to us should be spoken? Absolutely. I ran across this definition of blurters:
• Speaks out automatically-without permission; acts compulsively. Behavior appears over-anxious.
• Answers when others are called upon. Interrupts when others are talking.
• Speaks out before others finishes speaking.
• Makes comments during conversation which are irrelevant to the topic at hand.
• Seeks attention.
• Oblivious to the needs of others.
• Seems to lack a sense of fair play.
• Is quick to promise and seems to have good intentions.
• Different from the talker; while the talker talks all the time, this student simply blurts out his/her thoughts spontaneously for the world to hear.
Blurting can cause all kinds of trouble in our lives, and tonight we bring that sin and all sins to the cross, where we find that our Father in heaven welcomes us, for Jesus sake! Where we find that bad words spoken and good words unspoken are debts that have been forgiven. Faults that have been forgotten. Failure that have been sent away, in Christ alone.
Our closing truth, then is simply to fix our eyes on Christ, as Example and as Servant.
15 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Christ as example
• Spent time with gluttons and drunkards.
• Forgave the woman caught in adultery.
• Healed lepers, paralyzed, unclean seven days a week.
• Seemed most comfortable with the outcast, least comfortable with the religious leaders.
• Years ago – What would Jesus do? Good question.
• Better question yet – What has Jesus done?
8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” 10 And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” 11 And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” 12 And again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Christ as Suffering Servant.
• So much more than a nice person and a provocative teacher.
• So much more than pleasant personality and gentle listener.
• One desire was to get to the cross so that His Father could have mercy.
• One desire was for both Jews and Gentiles to be One Church, where the strong and the weak would be one, where the rich and poor alike would be welcomed, where the successful and the not successful would kneel together at the Supper, where the pillars of the community and the homeless would have coffee and cookies together, where the broken hearted and the really broken hearted would embrace, where there would be unity in doctrine and diversity in gifts, unity in purpose and diversity in abilities.
May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit we might be filled with such an abundance of Christian hopefulness that it can’t help but keep on spilling out into our homes and our work places and our schools and neighborhoods. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther