The 17th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 21A (10/1/2017)

Lessons:
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Psalm 25:1-9
Philippians 2:1-13
St. Matthew 21:23-32

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16

Prayer of the Day:
God of love, giver of life, you know our frailties and failings. Give us your grace to overcome them, keep us from those things that harm us, and guide us in the way of salvation, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

21:23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

St. Matthew 21:23-32, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

A devotional message based on this text will be posted by Tuesday evening.

The 16th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 20A (9/24/2017)

Lessons:
Jonah 3:10-4:11
Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
St. Matthew 20:1-16

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty and eternal God, you show perpetual lovingkindness to us your servants. Because we cannot rely on our own abilities, grant us your merciful judgment, and train us to embody the generosity of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

20.1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

St. Matthew 20:1-16, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Pastor Dave is out of town this week, and won’t be posting a new devotional message this week. But please enjoy this encore edition of his message from September of 2014.

Grace in the Vineyard

What will the kingdom of heaven be like? I am thinking of images from a wide range of sources. Songs (especially some of the old spirituals), movies, stories, and pieces of art have all contributed to my personal vision of what the kingdom of heaven will be like. But as I try to form a picture in my mind, I can’t say that it is based on anything I have read in the Bible, because the Bible teaches us about heaven in a different way than that.

What is the kingdom of heaven like? In the Gospels, Jesus offers many answers. The kingdom of heaven is like: a sower who goes out to sow seeds, a grain of mustard seed, a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants, someone looking for fine pearls, ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom, a woman who lost a coin, a shepherd, who upon missing a lamb… Jesus teaches often about the kingdom of heaven, but for him the kingdom of heaven is described more like a verb than a noun. We don’t hear what heaven will look like; what we will look like in heaven; what sort of accommodations we will have… We don’t even hear whether heaven is an actual place (physical or spiritual). Instead, we hear how one becomes part of the kingdom of heaven. We hear how God goes about including people in the kingdom of heaven. And we begin to understand not so much how the Kingdom of Heaven will look or feel, but how we are welcomed into it, and made a part of it by the One who died for us.

In this week’s Gospel lesson, the disciples (who left home and family to follow Jesus) are wondering what special reward they will receive. Jesus tells them a parable about a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He hired some then, and again at 9:00 am, and again at noon, and at 3:00 pm and finally at 5:00 pm. When quitting time came, they were all paid a day’s wage — a gesture that the latecomers appreciated, but which offended those who had worked all day. It wasn’t fair, of course. But that is the point. God isn’t fair. If God was fair, we’d all get what we deserve. (And who would want that?)

This kingdom of heaven image from Jesus comes to us as a comfort and as a warning. A comfort, because the invitation is always there for each of us. It is never to late for us to turn to God. A warning, because there will indeed be those welcomed into the family after you and me. Our task is to love and welcome them just as God does, not feeling haughty or more important because we were there first, but instead meeting them with great joy for their faith.

What will the kingdom of heaven be like? Our Bible doesn’t give us the answer to that question, other than assuring us that we will be with God. How does one become included in the kingdom of heaven? That is the most important question. Whether we are lifelong members of the faith or recent converts; whether we have been following Jesus for years or are just now considering the life of discipleship; whether we’ve put in hours of service to our Lord or were “hired” at the last moment; each of us is welcomed into the fullness of the promise that is ours, not because of what we’ve done, or because of what we’ll do, but because of what Christ has done for us. This is the good news. Thanks be to God!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why do the disciples ask about what reward they will receive in the kingdom of heaven?
  2. What is the central message of Jesus’ response to them?
  3. What do his words direct us to focus on as faithful followers?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I felt most assured of my relationship with God? (When have I struggled?)
  2. How does this text affirm God’s love for me, and deepen my trust in God?
  3. What is the most important work for me to be about as a follower of Jesus Christ?

The 16th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 20A (9/24/2017)

Lessons:
Jonah 3:10-4:11
Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
St. Matthew 20:1-16

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty and eternal God, you show perpetual lovingkindness to us your servants. Because we cannot rely on our own abilities, grant us your merciful judgment, and train us to embody the generosity of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

20.1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

St. Matthew 20:1-16, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

A devotional message based on this text will be posted by Tuesday evening.

“God’s Work. Our Hands.” Sunday

Date: September 17, 2017
Liturgical Day: The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 19A

serving our neighbor
Christ’s church, better together
reflection of Christ

Summary:
From the beginning, Lutherans have had a strong commitment to being caring neighbors to those in need. We will live this out today by serving throughout the community. It is what it means to be Christ’s Church! Better Together!

Some discussion Questions:
1. Why does Jesus direct Peter to forgive for what seems an impossible amount of times?
2. In Romans 14:1-12, what advice does Paul give to Christians who disagree over maters of practice and belief?
3. Reflecting on Genesis 50:15-21, when has something distressing in my life happened, through which God was able to do good?

Download Sermon and Presentation Slides: 2017-09-17 TIH

Download Discussion Questions: 2017-09-17 sermon

The 15th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 19A (9/17/2017)

Lessons:
Genesis 50:15-21
Psalm 103: [1-7) 8-13
Romans 14:1-12
St. Matthew 18:21-35

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Exodus 14:19-31
Psalm 114
or Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21

Prayer of the Day:
O Lord God, merciful judge, you are the inexhaustible fountain of forgiveness. Replace our hearts of stone with hearts that love and adore you, that we may delight in doing your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

18.21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

St. Matthew 18:21-35, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

An Exorbitant Amount

All things in moderation. That’s what I learned in my childhood years. Midwest culture, at least in the 1960s and 1970s, appreciated this humble, understated ethic. And it applied to everything from the bad (coveting, partying, swearing, cheating, gossiping…) to the good (frugality, entertainment, generosity, politics, religion…). The bad couldn’t hurt you all that much, as long as you kept in check. The good could become problematic if you became overly obsessed with it. All things in moderation.

In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus blows this notion out of the water. It follows last week’s passage, where forgiveness and reconciliation are held up as core values for Christian community. This week Peter tests the waters, asking Jesus how committed he needs to be. Current practice challenged the faithful to be bold in forgiving — extending the offer as many as seven times when the harm was caused by a brother or sister in faith. Peter asks, in effect, if this is what Jesus means. True to form, Jesus walks Peter away from a faith practice built on minimum standards (“You must forgive at least seven times.”), and towards one that will expand his vision of the Kingdom of God. “Not seven times,” Jesus says, “but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” The Greek behind this phrase is a bit vague. Scholars have debated whether ἑβδομηκοντάκις ἑπτά (in English, “seventy seven”) means 77 or 70 times 7. So much for moderation!

The truth is: for Christians, forgiveness is not a deliverable, commanded by Christ, and practiced reasonably (for us former MidWesterners, read “in moderation”). It is, instead, a way of life — a way of honoring the One who has forgiven each of us completely and absolutely. We don’t practice forgiveness when it seems convenient or practical or effective. We live forgiveness. It is what it means to be a follower of Jesus. And whether we have sought to forgive a brother or sister six times, or seventy-six times, or 489 times, we are called to remember that we are still followers of Jesus. Still recipients of his amazing grace. Still beneficiaries of his unlimited commitment to forgiveness. Still called to share with others what has first been shared with us.

In case Peter doesn’t get it (or in case we don’t…), Jesus follows this declaration with the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. A slave has somehow come to owe his master an exorbitant amount of money. 10,000 talents, Jesus says. The talent was the largest unit of currency in those days, equal to 6,000 days of wages for a mercenary soldier. Just to be clear: 10,000 talents; 60 million days worth of salary; 192,000 years of six-day weeks with no vacation. An exorbitant amount! Upon being forgiven this entire debt (and, in effect, receiving his life back again), this slave throws a fellow slave in prison for not paying a 100 denarii (three months of pay) debt. His offense: receiving great forgiveness, but not allowing it to influence the way he treats his neighbor.

Forgiven people forgive. Graced people extend grace. Loved people reach out in love. This is the life of a Jesus-follower. As God has loved us, let us love one another.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What must have caused the unforgiving servant to abstain from forgiving?
  2. Why does Jesus depict the King as being so infuriated?
  3. What might Simon Peter have concluded from this parable?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How would I respond if someone forgave me an extraordinarily large debt?
  2. How does this story help me understand better what God has done for me?
  3. With whom will I share the kind of love, grace and forgiveness I myself have received?

The 15th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 19A (9/17/2017)

Lessons:
Genesis 50:15-21
Psalm 103: [1-7) 8-13
Romans 14:1-12
St. Matthew 18:21-35

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Exodus 14:19-31
Psalm 114
or Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21

Prayer of the Day:
O Lord God, merciful judge, you are the inexhaustible fountain of forgiveness. Replace our hearts of stone with hearts that love and adore you, that we may delight in doing your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

18.21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

St. Matthew 18:21-35, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

A devotional message based on this text will be posted by Tuesday evening.

You Have Regained That One

Date: September 11, 2017
Liturgical Day: The 14th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 18A

the command of Christ
you will have regained that one
the heart of our faith

Summary:
We live in a divided and divisive time. Yet our faith calls us to dignity, honesty, forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus calls us to lives of grace and forgiveness, and by his own example he shows us the way.

Some discussion Questions:
1. With whom am I currently estranged, and how might I work to “regain that one?”
2. According to Romans 13, what is the purpose of the law for those who believe?
3. In Ezekiel 33, what is Isaiah’s hope — God’s hope — for those who do not live in a way that is pleasing to God?

Download Sermon and Presentation Slides: 2017-09-10 sermon

Download Discussion Questions: 2017-09-10 TIH

The 14th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 18A (9/10/2017)

Lessons:
Ezekiel 33:7-11
Psalm 119:33-40
Romans 13:8-14
St. Matthew 18:15-20

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 149

Prayer of the Day:
O Lord God, enliven and preserve your church with your perpetual mercy. Without your help, we mortals will fail; remove far from us everything that is harmful, and lead us toward all that gives life and salvation, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

18.15 [Jesus said,] If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

St. Matthew 18:15-20, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

You Have Regained That One

As long as God insists on populating the church with humans, there are going to be times of conflict. It’s a simple reality. Some need to be comforted and others need to be challenged. Some are ready to move forward, and others are inclined to recapture a piece of the past. Some are measured and cautious and others are impulsive and spontaneous. Some are inspired by ancient truths, and others are drawn to new ways of thinking and believing. God has gathered us all of us into this community, with all of our unique attributes and tendencies, and we’re not always going to have the same vision of what the future looks like. (more…)

A Cross-Shaped Life

Date: September 3, 2017
Liturgical Day: The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 17A

following Jesus
loving and serving others
no matter the cost

Christo Crucificado, by Peter Paul Rubens, 1627

Summary:
We, like Peter, can find it hard to understand and embrace a life that has suffering and sacrifice at its core. Yet Jesus declares this is what leads to true life. May we heed his call, and as we give to others may we know his presence.

Some discussion Questions:
1. Why does Jesus refer to Peter (upon whom he promises to build the church) as Satan in this text?
2. In Jeremiah 15, how does the Prophet describe the people of ancient Israel?
3. According to Romans 12, in what circumstances would it be wise if I attempted to “overcome evil with good?

Download Sermon and Presentation Slides: 2017-09-03 sermon

Download Discussion Questions: 2017-09-03 TIH

The 13th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 17A (9/3/2017)

Lessons:
Jeremiah 15:15-21
Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21
Saint Matthew 16:21-28

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b

Prayer of the Day:
O God, we thank you for your Son, who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world. Humble us by his example, point us to the path of obedience, and give us strength to follow your commands, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

16.21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

St. Matthew 16:21-28, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Cross to Bear

Common wisdom asserts that we “all have crosses to bear.” Poor health. A cruel boss. Disobedient children. A snoring spouse. Bad luck. We claim these crosses as a way of deflecting the challenges in our lives. “I’m so sorry to hear that.” “Oh well, I guess that’s just my cross to bear.” The notion is that life can be unfair, some aspects of living are just plain miserable, and since there isn’t much we can do about it anyway we just suffer through it, trying not to complain too much.

Let’s be clear: this is not what Jesus is saying in this week’s Gospel lesson. (more…)