Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you, fellow brothers and
sisters in Christ. The text for this morning comes from the Gospel reading, as
well as the Old Testament, with the application of the epistle to be included,
as well. Be seated.
It seems completely absurd, even ridiculous. They had been
reached out to repeatedly. They had been given all of the knowledge
necessary. They had been given all of the instruction. They had been given all
of the teachers and experience that could be compiled. They were set up for
success, not for failure. They were set up to triumph and continue on, and yet
And I’m not speaking about the chief priests and the
Pharisees. I’m speaking first and foremost about Adam and Eve, because God had
set them up in that garden, in that vineyard. God had reached out to them
repeatedly. He had instructed Adam to instruct himself and ultimately Eve. They
had been set up for success. They had a relationship with the vineyard owner,
the garden owner, and they were to take care of it.
But just like the chief priests and the Pharisees, and as
was prayed for in the Collect this morning for forgiveness, they refused God’s
love. It’s interesting when you compare the chief priests and Pharisees who
were not the average, run-of-the-mill pagan. They were not the
Joe-off-the-street who was completely ignorant of Christianity. They had all
of the promises been given to them. They had more Scripture memorized than you
or me. They had it all. They were set up for success by God with the temple
with all of the ritual that was set in place to point them to Christ, and yet,
they still refused the love of God in Christ Jesus.
His name is Bill, and I knew Bill from my second year at
college. He and I were roommates together. And whenever you’ve been a
roommate with anybody, you get to know everybody and anybody in that room quite
well because of no privacy. Bill grew up in a pastor’s home, so he had been
set up for success in many ways, far more than I. Bill had been brought up in
the church regularly, far more than I. Bill, like I, had been given the gift
of the Lutheran Church and its teaching from Scripture from the same college at
Saint Johns, and we had joined the church and heeded God’s call to become
Bill and I marched off to the seminary, not literally
together, but at the same time. And everything went along wonderfully. We had
great conversations. We had him over for dinner to our house, and we even had
him present and he was the sponsor of my daughter at her baptism at Concordia
Chapel at Fort Wayne campus. He came back from his vicarage year a little
different. I’m not sure what it was. Still don’t to this day. But Bill,
nevertheless, because Bill was Bill, he would always kind of fly by the seat of
his pants and never finish things until the last possible moment, and so, the
one thing he left for the last possible moment was his master’s thesis in order
to graduate from the seminary. But he was going to get that done that summer
after we graduated, so his graduation was kind of put on hold and he would
finish it that summer.
Well, later that fall I get a letter from him from
Amsterdam, Holland. And this letter that was sent to me disavowed
Christianity. His lifestyle disavowed what he had been given. He was living
with some gal—they weren’t married—and he had completely disavowed the faith
that he had been given. A lot like the chief priests and the Pharisees. A lot
like Adam and Eve. A lot like the people of Israel in the Old Testament
reading who were given this and set up for success and still refused God’s
Now, our first response in wrestling with this is to think
what could have been done differently. Look at what God did with these servants
in the vineyard. Look at what He did to them in the Old Testament. He continued
to send them His love in forms of prophets, preachers who proclaimed to them in
love what God has done and that they should repent and that they should return
to the vineyard owner that they may be made whole and bear fruit. But they
Now you would think God in His infinite wisdom would step
back away from this situation and scene and scratch His head and think, I
have to come at these people from a different angle or through a different
avenue in order to reach them; therefore, I won’t go about it in the same
fashion or manner. And instead, rather than following that course of
action, He did the same thing again. Sent more prophets to them. Just like He
did in the Old Testament, did he do so now in the New, and sent more preachers
to them, more proclaimers.
And we get fixated and fascinated with these them
about whom we speak, the them who refuse the love of God and walk away.
The Bills of the world I will use as my illustration. Scratching our
head, thinking, What could we have done differently with Bill and then back
off and say, well, Bill even had more opportunities than I was afforded. Why is
Bill not a part of this church and I am?
But we don’t tend to ask that question. We tend to think
the problem is in us. We’re the problem, but we’re the problem in that we’ve
got to change how we then present God to the Bills of the world. It’s funny,
but the Creator of Heaven and Earth and of all of your and my bodies and souls
did not choose a different method or means but used the same. Scratch our head
as we might, we cannot understand, and that’s okay, why God chose to use such a
manner or method to proclaim Himself to His people.
But as we prayed for forgiveness at the very beginning of
this service in the Collect, “Forgive us for refusing Your love,” as if we
think, I want to be loved now but I don’t want to be loved at this point.
Rather than, Lord, why did you save me, of all people?
Adam and Eve were not cast aside, but yet others who were
descendants of Adam and Eve refused God’s love and went to hell. There was a
remnant of Israel that God saved and yet there were others that were not and
went to hell. There were some of these chief priests and Pharisees that
repented, but there were others who did not. Why? I don’t know. But the
better question is why are you one of God’s repentant ones? Why did God set
you up for success? Why did He plant you in this place, nourish you, feed you,
coddle you at times, ruffle your hair at one moment, spank you on the bottom
the next? Why?
And why then do you call Him Father and trust in such a
benevolent God as He? And why aren’t you and I like Bill off doing our own
thing and completely disavowing this? I don’t have an answer for you except
the answer that we can only look to and that’s God grace. When we gather here
in this place, we do not gather here as a support group. We do not gather here
as, “Hi, my name is Mark, and I’m a sinner.”
And y’all say, “Hi, Mark, we’re sinners, too. We’re glad
you’re here.” And we support ourselves in our sinfulness or trying to become
better people. Because try as you and I might, when we get home tonight and we
sit back in our bed at night and try to mull over the whole day or the week and
we start to wrestle with things that have happened and things that have been
said and so on, when we finish that thought, do we finish it saying, My, I
have made it a good day today? Or do we finish it saying, Lord, have
mercy on me. Forgive me? If it’s the latter, which most of the time it is,
God be praised because of such love for you that He can make you trust in Him
with such great faith and that you’re not like Bill and walk away.
I don’t know why, but that’s the gift that God has given
you. What this place is really is a death tomb. It’s where you and I come to
be crushed like a grain of wheat into dust flour. It’s where you and I…it is a
resurrection tomb…to be raised up by God, that we can leave here alive, not
damned, forgiven, free, not bound by Satan’s chains and our own fears.
Joy-filled that God calls us His own, and not trying to justify ourselves. Not
trying to justify our actions. Not trying to explain away to the world and to
ourselves or to our family members that we’re a pretty good person.
This is God’s place of putting us to death and raising us to
life. This is where God does such great things. Why does He draw you back here
again? I do not know, other than the love of God in Christ Jesus. Why does He
keep seeking you out in your dirtiness, in your ugliness, in your failures, and
in your pompousness and grab you by the scruff of the neck to bring you back
here to kill you again and raise you up again? Dust you off and send you back
out to play. That’s the kind of love God has for you and it is an amazing
thing, which we should step back and say, Wow!
These chief priests and Pharisees, I guess, my friend Bill
even, and Adam and Eve before they repented, the people of Israel before they,
too, and God willing, I do pray that Bill repents someday, that only God can do
that work in his heart, that we don’t refuse the love of God and that we look
to it and point to it to all good within us. And that we say, Lord, God be
praised that You continually seek me and find me, clothe me and feed me. One
moment, You may only tweak my nose and the next moment You may have me in such
a headlock that I am suffering and struggling from what You do to me. But God
be praised that You love me so much, because You don’t let go.
Those are the unanswerable questions as you and I wrestle
with things in our life, and the only thing we have upon which we can stand and
in which we can be encouraged and find joy in is that we know we are God’s
child all because of what God has done in us, and there’s no other reason than
by Christ’s good grace and mercy.
So when you sit back at night, trying to fall asleep as you
sort out the day’s activities, let your heart and mind rest upon this grace and
mercy and be encouraged and find joy there. It’s not going to be found
anywhere else. It’s not going to be in Monday morning quarterbacking, and it
won’t be in all the would’ves and could’ves and should’ves of your and my
past. It’s only found in what Paul said, “I forget what is behind. I press
forward to grab the goal to which I have been called.” Because that’s all you
and I have.
Be at peace, be encouraged, and be joy-filled. In Jesus’
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your
hearts and your minds on Christ Jesus to life everlasting.