Saturday, 22 July 2017

Pentecost VII (Proper 11 A) [Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43] (23-Jul-2017)

This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, 8.15am, and Grace Lutheran Church, Childers, 10.30am.

Click here for PDF version for printing.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, send us your Holy Spirit, to me that I may preach well, and to all of us that we may hear well. Amen.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus tells us the parable about wheat and weeds. Let’s read what Jesus says to his disciples. He says: The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’

Jesus in our reading today describes himself as a farmer. He is the one who sows good seed. And he puts his good seed in a field, in a paddock. He says: the field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom.

So let’s stop for a moment and think about the church. What is the church? Who started it? What’s it for, and who’s in it?

Sometimes in the media, we read a lot of attacks against the “church”. Sometimes, various churches have actually deserved the bad press, sometimes they have done nothing wrong at all and still get bad press. Sometimes, you hear stories about people who say, “I never doubted my faith in God, but I do doubt my faith in the church.”

Well, the church is not something that we sinful human beings came up with. It was actually started by Jesus himself. Jesus said: On this rock I will build my church. The church is his, he built it, and it belongs to him. And not only that, but he also says: Behold, I am with you always to the end of the age. Jesus is always with his church right throughout the whole of history.

But before any of us came along, Jesus had sent his disciples out to carry out certain tasks. He said: Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. He says: Teach them the observe everything I have commanded you. Jesus sent his disciples out to teach and preach the word. And on the first day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit had come down, and Peter had preached the first Christian sermon, and 3000 people had been baptised, we read that they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching. You might also know the passage where on Easter Day in the evening, there were two disciples walking to Emmaus, and Jesus came and walked with them. And we read: He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Later, when he had vanished from their sight, the two disciples looked at each other in amazement and said: Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures? Paul writes to Timothy: Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. Paul also writes to Titus: As for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.

So you can see that right at the heart of the church is the word of God. That’s what we’ve all come to hear. We haven’t come to hear my word, or your word, or each other’s words. They wouldn’t accomplish much at all. But when we come to hear Jesus’ word—then that’s really something! Jesus says: The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. He also says: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

Isn’t it a wonderful privilege to come together as a church and to hear God’s word? It was Jesus’ idea so make sure his word went out into the world, and even today this is what we still do as a church. We still preach today the facts that Jesus suffered and bled and died for you on the cross, rose on the third day, and prays for you every minute of the day.

Now, Jesus also wanted to make sure that we have absolutely no doubts that his word is applied to us personally and that it doesn’t just come and hit the side of our heads and land on the floor. So Jesus sent his disciples out to baptise people. He said: Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Now, baptism is a wonderful thing, where Jesus’ connects his word to the physical element of water, and then he washes us with water and speaks his word to us at the same time: I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. So, we see this water with our eyes, and we hear this word of God with our ears, and we trust that Jesus is the one who has done this work: he has made us his child, he has made us a citizen of his kingdom, he has forgiven us our sin, and he has promised us eternal life.

And not only that, but Jesus doesn’t just kick-start our Christian life, but he also wants to help us along the way. And so he said to his disciples the night before died, Do this in remembrance of me. And what is this something that Jesus wants us to do? He takes bread and wine and says: Take and eat, this is my body given for you. Take and drink, this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. He has a word to speak which we trust in. This Supper really is Jesus’ true body and blood, and nothing less than his body and blood, which he gives us to eat and drink. And we know that every word that Jesus speaks is true, when he says that this is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

Now, these two things—baptism and the Lord’s Supper—are what we call Sacraments. They were Jesus idea and his invention, and they have the word of God plus some physical element. In Baptism, the physical element is water, and in the Lord’s Supper, the physical element is bread and wine.

Now, if we want to find a true church, we should ask ourselves: is this a church that is teaching the word of God in its truth and purity? And: Is this a place where the sacraments—where baptism and the Lord’s Supper—are being carried out as Jesus commanded? This is how we find the church. The word of God and the sacraments are the marks of the church. If you have the word of God and the sacraments somewhere, that’s what we call a church.

Now at the same time, there are two kinds of people who come and hear God’s word and receive the sacraments. There are people who believe the word of God, and there are some people who don’t believe it. There are true Christians, and there are pretend Christians.

And so, this is why it’s so important that if we want to find a true church, that we don’t look to see what kinds of lives people in the church are living. The people in the church are sinners—and even those who do believe God’s word, are only making start at living a Christian life. I remember once hearing Pastor Sam Davis say: “If you find a perfect church, don’t join it, because you’ll stuff it up!” In the church, there are plenty who don’t believe the word of God, and don’t live a Christian life. With our human eyes, it’s very difficult to know which is which, good seed or bad seed. In the parable, it’s only once the wheat and the weeds start to grow up and bear grain, that they realise that there is a difference. When they first grow up, the two plants look quite the same.

And so, we read in the reading: The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.

And so, we see that we have an external fellowship of the church, where we come together to hear God’s word, and receive the sacraments. Those things are all outside of us. But at the same time, Jesus wants the word to have an effect on us, he wants us to believe it, and trust him that his words are true. Now, don’t anyone get smug and say: “Ho, ho, ho!—I know who the weeds are around here! But also, if you look deep into your own heart, and you think maybe I’m a weed—you’re not. Don’t look inside yourself, look to Jesus—he is your Saviour and he has died for you.

And so, when Jesus plants his word into our ears and turns our hearts from hearts of stone into beating ones again, and creates faith in us so that we believe in his word, in the forgiveness of sins, and the gospel, then Jesus plants a good seed in his world. Jesus warns us that if we reject his word, then this it is not him who has planted this attitude in us, but it comes from the devil, and we become weeds. Jesus warns us here that we are not saved, simply by being a member of the church, or by coming to church and doing our bit. We are saved only by faith in the gospel, the free forgiveness of all our sins.

In the Creed we say: I believe in the holy Christian church. What makes the church holy? Is it us? No—It’s Jesus and his word that makes the church holy. And even if there are some weeds in the external, outward organisation and fellowship of the church, the church is still holy because of his word that makes us holy, and our holy Saviour who is in the church.

Now, Jesus gives another little picture in this parable. He says: While his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. Jesus says that the enemy came when his men were sleeping. This is a little warning to all of us to keep awake and alert, and keep watch. We should make sure that the word that we are planting is good seed. We should pray that the devil would get lost, and not plant bad seed among us. Sometimes people say: We shouldn’t worry about doctrine or teaching too much. What’s most important is mission! That would be like saying to a farmer: “Don’t worry about your seed, just worry about your harvest!” But any farmer will tell you that if the seed they plant is no good, their crop will be no good. And the same goes for the church: the seed is everything. The word we speak and teach, that’s the most important thing. We should stay awake and keep watch on this point! And good seed produces a good harvest. Paul says to Titus to preach what is in accord with sound doctrine, because Paul and Titus are missionaries, and this is how the job is done. This is how the harvest is begun! Paul says: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. What were they planting? Well, in our parable today it says that the one who sows the good seed is the son of Man. It’s Jesus who is doing this planting, and it is his word that he plants, and it’s this word that changes lives and makes living Christians out of people. And what’s this word that Jesus plants? He shows us his hands and his feet, just like he did with his disciples at Easter, and says: Peace be with you! I forgive you all your sins.

But let’s come to the end of our reading now. Jesus says that in this life there are always Christians and unbelievers living side by side all the time. And he cares about each of us so much that he doesn’t want any of us to be accidentally ripped up when pulling up a weed at the same time. The servants said to him: Do you want us to go and gather [the weeds]? But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.

But Jesus does point us forward to a time when the wheat will be separated from the weeds. Jesus says: The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Jesus gives us another warning here. He teaches us that there is such a thing as hell, and that those who don’t believe in him will be gathered up and thrown there. We often don’t like to hear these kinds of words, and people often sometimes make fun of old sermons about fire and brimstone. But this is a serious message from Jesus, and we should listen to it. Jesus tells us this because he wants to point us away from that, and to warn us, because he loves us, and he wants to draw us to him. When Jesus talks like this, he is preaching the law. The law shows us our sin, and what we deserve because of our sin.

But then Jesus has another word for us, a word which has nothing to do with the law. This is a word that instead of telling us what we deserve because of our sin, tells us what he has won for us, what he has bought for us with his blood, and which he gives to us completely and totally freely, without us doing anything to achieve it or earn it. So he says: Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

It’s a wonderful sight when the sun shines upon a field full of wheat. It’s almost like they shine like the sun! But Jesus is also quoting the book of Daniel, where it says: Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

When God forgives us—and today he speaks that forgiveness again for us—he lets us into the door of heaven itself. He lets us come and enjoy his house, and experience all of its treasures and delights. He has life everlasting prepared for us. And when we die, it’s not as if our bodies are just thrown away like empty husks. He promises on the last day to raise our bodies from the dead and make them completely and totally new, completely and totally healthy, and completely healed of every single blemish, disease, injury and disability. He will raise our bodies to be like the body of Jesus, and reunite our bodies and souls. And just as Jesus shines like the sun and lights up the whole kingdom of heaven, so also Jesus says that the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. And he calls us righteous, not because we have achieved or earnt it, but because he has spoken it to us. He has forgiven us, so that when the Father looks at us, he doesn’t see any of our sin at all—he only sees Jesus.

And so, what a wonderful teaching it is from the last part of the creed: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.

Dear Jesus, plant us as good seed in your world. Forgive us, change us and use us wherever and however you will. And finally, when comes the time for harvest, gather us into your barn, and make us shine like the sun in your kingdom together with you. Amen.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Pentecost VI (Proper 10 A) [Matthew 13:1-23] (16-Jul-2017)

This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, 8.15am, and Grace Lutheran Church, Childers, 10.30am.

Click here for PDF version for printing.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, send us your Holy Spirit, to me that I may preach well, and to all of us that we may hear well. Amen.

In the Gospel of Luke, when we read about Jesus explaining the parable of the sower, the first thing he says is: The seed is the word of God. Our parable today, very simply, is about the word of God.

Now we believe as Christians that the Bible is the word of God. This word of God was written down by holy people that God himself sent. If we look through the pages of the bible, we will see that all the different books were all written down by different people. We see all kinds of names there: Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, and in the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter… all these people actually existed and lived in real times in history. And yet, God used them not to write their words, and their opinions, but his word, and the exact message that he wanted to speak.

We read in 2 Peter 1: No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Did you hear that? They were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Each writer in the bible has their own style and their own character, but each of them speak the same word of the Holy Spirit. Paul says: All Scripture is breathed out by God. It is God who breathed out the Scripture, and so it is not simply the word of Matthew or Mark or Luke, or whoever, but it is God’s word.

Now since the bible is God’s word, then it means that it is completely true and completely pure. There is absolutely nothing wrong with God’s word, there is not a single error in it, and in everything it speaks about it doesn’t lie. Just before Jesus went out to the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed a wonderful prayer to his Father where he said: Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. And also in John chapter 10, Jesus himself says: The Scripture cannot be broken. The Scripture is one golden ring that fits beautifully and harmoniously together.

Now, sometimes, we read the word of God, and we don’t understand it. And this is what Jesus is talking about in our reading today. He tells them a parable about seed being sown in four places: along the path, on rocky ground, among thorns, and in good soil. Now, when he says all this, nobody understands it. Can you imagine coming to church, and not understanding a single thing?

Actually, there are many people who go for years and years and listen to the bible in church, and have no idea what they’re listening to, and when the reading finishes, they say: This is the word of the Lord, thanks be to God, and they say to themselves, “Well, I haven’t got the darndest clue what that was all about!”

Now, sometimes we don’t understand. But what did the disciples do when they didn’t understand? They give us a wonderful example to follow: They simply went to Jesus and they asked him about it. Jesus tells the parable of the sower, and they say to him: Why do you speak to them in parables? This is one of the most important parts of our reading. There are plenty of people who listened to Jesus, but only a few people who asked him what it was all about.

And the same goes with us. Many times we hear the bible and we don’t understand it. But then do we ask Jesus what it means? Do we ask him to send the Holy Spirit to help us understand it? You see, if we are reading some old book—like Oliver Twist, or Treasure Island—we can’t write a letter to Charles Dickens or Robert Louis Stevenson, or whoever the author is, and ask them what they meant, because they’re dead. We can only guess. But the author of the bible is alive, and he is called the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! And we can go to him, and say: What do you mean by this? I don’t understand! And the Holy Spirit will gladly guide us and lead us more deeply into the Scripture and help us to understand it. If we don’t believe that the bible is God’s word, then we would never ask him to explain things to us, and so it is as if it is dead to us.

And so the disciples ask Jesus: Why do you speak to them in parables? And Jesus says to them: To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given… But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. When they ask Jesus, then Jesus gives them an answer. He speaks in parables, not to confuse them, and to turn them away, but to lead them in deeper, and to make them ask questions.

You might have questions about Christianity and the bible too. There’s no silly or stupid questions! Ask your questions, and pray that the Holy Spirit would guide you and lead you to show you the answer. And Jesus says: Ask, and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be open to you.

Now let’s come to our parable. Jesus talks about a sower planting seed, and  this seed falls on four types of ground: along the path, rocky ground, among thorns, and on good soil.

So let’s go through each of these four types of soil:
Firstly, we read: some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Jesus explains this part by saying: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.

Jesus gives us a warning here, and wants to warn us about the first enemy to God’s word, and that is the devil, or as it says in our reading: the evil one. Jesus compares the devil to a bird. And just like a bird comes down and eats up the seed along the path, so also the devil comes along and eats up the word of God from people’s hearts, when they hear God’s word and don’t understand it, or when they don’t take it to heart.

Now one thing we have to know about the devil. All his power is borrowed power. He really has no power of his own, he just bludges around and sponges off God. So when God says something, the devil just wants to twist it around and make it say something else. The devil doesn’t have ideas of his own; God is the one who has all the wonderful ideas. The devil just wants to take God’s ideas, and try to mess them up.

So, let’s take an example. In the Garden of Eden, God said to Adam and Eve: You shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die. And then the devil comes to Eve and he inserts a little word of his own in there: one little word: “not”. God says: You will surely die. And the devil says: You will not surely die. And so you see here that the devil feeds like a bird on God’s word, and then takes it away. When God’s word is twisted around to say the opposite of what God said, it’s simply not God’s word anymore. And so it’s taken away.

This is what Jesus says, when he says: The evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.  

Let’s come to the next part of the reading where Jesus says: Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Jesus explains this by saying: As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receive it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.

So here, we see a picture where there the seed falls on rocky ground, where there is not much soil. Then the grain sprouts up immediately. This is when people hear God’s word, and they’re really excited about it! But then the sun beats down on the rocks, and the little plant is scorched and it withers. This is like when tribulation comes or persecution comes, and then people fall away from the faith. Particularly, we should note that Jesus talks about tribulation (that means, troubles) and persecutions that comes because of the word.

Now, many people at some point in their life hear God’s word, and they are really encouraged by it. But they only believe in a part of it, they only believe in the part that helps them in this earthly life. But what does that the first verse in the bible say? In the beginning God created the earth. That’s true, but it’s not everything. It says: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. We are not here simply on this earth to live a live on earth—we are also called to continue our life in heaven.

And so sometimes someone comes to church, maybe for a funeral, and they come to me at the church door, and say: Thanks for your sermon, pastor! I was really uplifted. You made me really feel good! But then they go back to work the next day, and they carry on their miserable, futile existence, and they forget all about it.

Now, God’s word does make us feel good sometimes. And that’s great! Sometimes, we feel that God’s word helps us get through they day. And that’s great! But then, what about when the sun beats down? What about when all your friends or all the people you know or the media or the pressures from wider society or whoever, make a whole lot of noise and create a whole lot of heat and hot air around you that makes you sweat, and it makes you doubt what you have heard? And some people say: I can’t be bothered sitting around in this hothouse—I’m off! And so they fall away.

In Australia, many people think that life is all about coping. As long as you’re coping, you’re fine. But if you’re not coping, bad luck. A friend in need is a pain in the backside! But God doesn’t call us to cope. He doesn’t say: [Cope] unto death and I will give you the crown of life. He says: Be faithful unto death. He calls us to believe and trust in him, even when we’re not coping. And he will give you the crown of life.

Today Christians suffer persecution all around the world. We could talk all day about this topic! And in our country, Christians don’t suffer persecution by being locked in jail, or being shot at, or whatever. Mostly, we live comfortably, but we are often ridiculed and pressured into silence and smeared. How many times have I seen a person in one of my congregations as the only Christian in their family trying to organise a Christian funeral for their dead mother: and all their brothers and sisters think this person is the family’s religious nutcase, and they do everything possible to make sure that the funeral is anywhere except the church. This is a kind of persecution too. It’s not easy to live a quiet and honest Christian life in this country. And for some, when the sun beats down on them too heavily, they fall away, dead scared of looking old and having missed the boat, and they say: Christianity is too old-fashioned for me, I’m a modern person, I’m a forward-thinking person. And so, they are tricked into thinking that they are so progressive and modern that they don’t need God anymore. At one time, God’s word made them feel good, now feeling like they know more than God’s word makes them feel good, and Jesus calls this: falling away.

So don’t worry about people here in this life thinking you are an idiot for being a Christian. God doesn’t think you’re an idiot: he sees, he knows, and he will keep you safe.

Now, let’s come to the third part of the parable where Jesus says: Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. He explains: As for what is sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the [delusion] of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

Here we see a little plant trying to grow, but it is choked by all these prickly rival plants in the garden bed. The word of God can have no rivals. Often in our sinful hearts, there are many rivals to God’s word. We have all kinds of philosophies and ideas that compete with God’s word. Sometimes people think that we are actually inherently good, and that we have no sin, and that we all have a divine spark within us that we just need to blow on and fan it into flame. If only we meditate long enough, we can turn ourselves into a god! People think that God’s word is nice, and it’s helpful, but they don’t really believe that it’s true. Or sometimes, God offers a solution in his word to some problem of ours, and we just don’t think it’s real. And we think the way we think with our own reason or intellect… we think that is what is real. We think God’s word can’t possibly mean that. But then, what ends up happening? We start to worry about our life, we are weighed down by the cares of this life. We think that everything is fine so long as there is money in the bank. We are deluded by riches. And so when the cares of this life, and the delusion of riches grows up, it chokes God’s word, and we are unfruitful. And so God call us to trust his word, completely blindly, completely in the dark, when we can’t see how we are going to provide for ourselves, or when we can’t see how we are going to get ourselves out of whatever mess we’re in. Jesus calls us to trust in the riches of his heavenly treasures, that our sins are forgiven because of his death on the cross, that we are promised eternal life with him, that our bodies will be resurrected and completely healed and transformed in eternity. And when we trust in Jesus and his promises and his word, then we are fruitful.

But then, let’s come to our last part. Jesus says: As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. Here Jesus promises us that when we hear his word and take it to heart, then faith grows there, and it produces fruit, and the fruit produces a harvest. Faith is like a little plant which produces all kinds of fruits—when it grows up towards the sky, and waits for the blessings of heaven, it produces hope. When faith grows in such a way to support and prop up a neighbour plant, it produces the fruit of love. When the little plant grows strong during difficult weather, it produces patience. When the little plant of faith starts to long and reach out for the rain and sunshine, it produces prayer. And so you can see that all these other things come from faith and faith alone.

But funnily enough, it all begins in the dark. Good soil is black, dark soil. The fruit comes when we believe that the word is everything, and we are nothing. The word is the light, and we are darkness. John says: The light shines in the darkness. St Paul writes in Ephesians: You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…but God made us alive together with Christ. How? Through the word, through the seed planted in you. You have done nothing, because you are completely incapable of doing anything to save yourself. But the word has been sown, and the Holy Spirit makes you to be born again, and makes you completely new, and he is the one who creates faith in you, and gives you a completely new heart, a new mind, and new desires. It is Jesus himself who just like he did with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, opened their mind to understand the Scriptures.

And so, let the Holy Spirit spread his wonderful roots in us, and give us understanding. Let the Holy Spirit give the wonderful growth in you. Let the Holy Spirit bring the fruit, and let the Holy Spirit bring the harvest. Amen.

Dear Jesus, open our minds to understand the Scriptures, and send us the Holy Spirit so that we may believe your word and live godly lives both here in time and there in eternity. Amen.

Special note

No sermon is published here for Sunday 9-July-17. On this Sunday, the 150th Anniversary of Maryborough congregation was celebrated, and Bishop Paul Smith from Brisbane was invited to preach.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Pentecost IV: Audio Sermon (2-Jul-2017)

Click title for link

Pentecost IV (Proper 8 A) [Matthew 10:40-42] (2-Jul-2017)

This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, 8.15am, and Grace Lutheran Church, Childers, 10.30am.

Click here for PDF version for printing.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, send us your Holy Spirit, to me that I may preach well, and to all of us that we may hear well. Amen.

In our Gospel reading today, we read about where Jesus speaks about rewards. He says: Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives on of these littles ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.

These words of Jesus in our reading come from a much larger sermon of Jesus that he gives to his disciples, and so first of all today, I’m going to give
I.                   A short overview of Matthew 10
which will be able to give us the context that helps understand what Jesus is talking about. Secondly, we’re going to look at Jesus’ words:
II.                 He who receives you, receives me; and he who receives me, receives the one who sent me.
And then, in our third part, we’re going to look at
III.              What Jesus says about rewards.

So let’s come to our first part, where we’re going to give
I.                    An overview of Matthew 10.

What happens in this chapter is that Jesus chooses his twelve apostles. In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels, they are called the twelve apostles. Sometimes they are simply called the twelve. In John, he doesn’t use the word apostle at all, but he uses the word disciples. A disciple is a student, but an apostle means someone who is sent.

Now, Jesus had many, many disciples, maybe even hundreds. But in all of the gospels, we read that he calls together these twelve disciples, these twelve apostles and gives them a special mission. Jesus even promises them: When the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. It’s an amazing mission to which Jesus has called them!

So we read at the beginning of this chapter that Jesus gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. Isn’t this an amazing thing? And also in this chapter, we read the twelve apostles’ names: First, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

So Jesus sends these twelve apostles—the famous ones, and the not-so-famous ones—out on a special mission. And when they go out, Jesus tells them whay they should say: The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Then he says: Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. And Jesus gives them various instructions about what they should do when they go and visit people and speak this word and do these things among them.

Now, isn’t this a wonderful word they are called to say! The kingdom of heaven is at hand. And what a wonderful thing they are called to do: Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Wouldn’t you think that people would be lining up everywhere to hear them, and wouldn’t you think that there would be great joy and happiness everywhere they went?

Not so! – you see, Jesus wants these disciples, these apostles, to realise one thing. When they speak the word of Jesus, it is not them that changes peoples’ hearts. They are only called to speak, and are only called to do what Jesus has told them to do. But the changing of hearts, that is something that only the Holy Spirit does. In John’s Gospel, we read where Jesus says to Nicodemus: The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

When we speak the word of God, we can hear it. It’s just like the wind—you go outside on a windy day, and you can hear it. But where the wind comes from, and where it is going you don’t know. The same goes with the word of God—we can’t hear where it came from. But we trust that it came from God, we trust that it was from the Holy Spirit, that it was Jesus’ own words. And we don’t where it is going—we don’t who will believe it, and who refuses to believe it. The Holy Spirit is the one who changes peoples’ hearts, and that is his job alone.

And so, in the rest of the chapter, in Matthew chapter 10, Jesus warns the twelve apostles that not everyone they go to will want to hear their words. He says: I am sending you out in the midst of wolves…They will flog you in the synagogues… When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next… Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul… A person’s enemies will be those of his own household… Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

You can see from all these words, that Jesus is sending the apostles out on a wonderful mission, but it is going to be a difficult mission, because people’s hearts are sinful, and because of their sin, they don’t like to hear God’s word. We should also remember this in our own missionary work. We can only speak the word of God to people—and sometimes, no matter how friendly we are, how much we try and be kind to people, people don’t want to listen. Some Christians beat themselves up all the time, and say: If only I had been a bit more friendly when that new person came to church, maybe they would have stuck around. Now friendliness is a good thing, but people aren’t converted by it. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job. And if the Holy Spirit doesn’t work faith in their hearts, but hardens their hearts to the word of God, it’s not your fault. The Holy Spirit wants to show you that the work of changing and converting people’s hearts doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to him.

And then, after Jesus speaks of all these dangerous things that the apostles are going to encounter, then we come to our reading for today, where Jesus gives an encouragement. He says: Whoever receives you receives me. He wants to say: Don’t give up, don’t get downhearted. But when people are friendly to you, and want to listen to you, it’s not you they are listening to, it’s not you who will be their friend. It’s me who will speak to them, and it’s me they are going to meet. I am going to become their Friend and their Saviour.

And so we come to our second part of our sermon, where we’re going to think about the words of Jesus where he says:
II.                 Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.

On Easter Sunday, Jesus says almost the same thing in reverse. He says: Receive the Holy Spirit. As the Father sent me, so also I am sending you.

And so, we see that there is a kind of order, and a structure in what’s happening here. The Father sent Jesus into the world. The Father is true God, and Jesus is also true God. We say in the Nicene Creed that Jesus is God of God and Light of Light. The Father sent him into the world as a little baby and in order to die for sin of the world on the cross and to rise again on the third day. That’s what God the Father sent Jesus for.

But then, Jesus also said to the apostles: I am sending you. Now what are they called to do? They are called to tell people that Jesus is the Son of God, and that he is actually their Lord and their God, and to tell people that he died and rose again and ascended into heaven. And they are called to preach to people the forgiveness of their sins, which Jesus won for us, which he bought for us with his blood. And at Pentecost, Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit upon his disciples and sent them out for the task.

So this means, when people listened to the apostles, who were the listening to? Not them, but Jesus. Jesus said: Whoever receives you receives me. And not only that, but Jesus says: Whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. The one who sent him is God the Father. And this happens because Jesus and God the Father are one God, together with the Holy Spirit.

And so this is a wonderful encouragement to us too. We are Christians, and we believe the testimony of those first Christians whom Jesus sent out into the world to say that they had seen him with their own eyes. And yet, there many people in the world who don’t want to know us from a bar of soap, and think, all those Christians are hypocrites, they’re no better than the rest of us, rah-rah-rah! Jesus knows full well that we’re sinners. He even chose as one of his apostles Judas Iscariot, knowing full well that he was going to betray him. Before he died, all the disciples ran away from him, and Peter denied him three times! We’re no better than them, and we’re no better than anyone else down the street. But we have a Saviour, who has called us, and has miraculously chosen us, and has forgiven us. And when people hear what we have to say as Christians, then they welcome not us, but Jesus. And not just Jesus, but God the Father. As Jesus says: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Let’s be encouraged and strengthened by this wonderful forgiveness of sins, and the wonderful promise of eternal life and eternal glory that Jesus gives to us.

So the third part of our sermon is where Jesus talks about
III.               Rewards.
Jesus says: The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.

Now, in Australia, it is so common for people who are not Christians, and who don’t go to church, to justify themselves and say that they’re all right, and then say about all the good things that they do. They say: I believe that we should do the right thing by our fellow man. Or: I like to help people, or I give to charity, or I’ve done this or that. And people often think that if they do their bit, God will reward them with eternal life.

Now, this isn’t what Jesus is talking about at all. So let’s get a few things straight.

Firstly, St Paul says that by nature we are all children of wrath. Isaiah the prophet said: All our righteous deeds are like filthy rags. We are sinners, and there is absolutely not a single thing at all that we can do to blot out our sins, or pay for sins, or wash our sins away, or make up for our sins. Not even all the good works of Mother Teresa, not even Gandhi, not even the mostly saintly person we can imagine, and not even the Virgin Mary herself can do a single thing to earn a single drop of forgiveness for the tiniest little drop of sin in the entire world.

Secondly, Jesus Christ alone, and absolutely no one else, is the one who blots out all the sin in the world, who pays for all the sin in the world, who washes all of it away, and makes up for it all, by his perfect work of sacrificing himself on the cross on Good Friday. He is the only person who has ever lived, who at the same time is also true God, and completely without sin—and so it can only be done by him.

Thirdly, the forgiveness of our sins, and our reconciliation with God, our adoption as his children, our salvation, and eternal life—all of these wonderful things!—does not depend on anything at all that you have ever done, or will ever do, but it is all given to you completely and totally freely by God. And it is given to you for free, because Jesus died for you, he has paid the price. And the word of God says it, and we believe it, and that settles it.

Now, let’s talk about rewards. Once we have become Christians, and forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life has been given to us, God wants to encourage us in good works. We are always going to be carrying around our sinful selves with us, but in this life, as Christians, we make a little start, a little beginning, in good works, but it is only that, it’s nothing more. When we die, then we will be for the first time completely free of sin, and will sing praises and give glory to God for the whole of eternity.

Let me give an example. Let’s say you are from another country, like the closest country to our parish, New Caledonia, and you want to become an Australian citizen. So you become one, and you get to have all the wonderful privileges of a citizen. But then, the Australian government gives out rewards to good citizens. Now a New Caledonian Australian like you might do wonderful things in the city of Maryborough or Childers, or wherever, and then they get an Order of Australia. The reward is an encouragement. It doesn’t make you a citizen. In the same way, we are already citizens of heaven. But also God wants to help us to do good works, and to encourage us to show love to people, and help people, and all kinds of things like that. So he also rewards us in this life, and also in the next life. He wants to say to you: Well done, good and faithful servant.

Or another example. Maybe you go and buy a dog. And you love this dog, and you are so happy with this new puppy who is so cute, and such a nice dog! But then you begin to train it, and when the dog does something good, you say: Good doggy! And give them a biscuit. The dog already belongs to the owner—the owner bought the dog long ago and loves his dog. And now, after having bought the dog, he trains the dog and rewards it. In the same way, God loves us, and he has bought us, and we belong to him. And then, he trains us, and when we do something well, he rewards us! Our wonderful owner, our wonderful Good Shepherd, wants to encourage us in what is right, and when we do well, he promises to reward us.

A Christian should never say: I own this or own that, because I did this good work and that good work. Jesus gives us so much more than the world’s little biscuits! So much of what he gives is hidden to our eyes, and hidden under the cross, so that we continually need to trust him that he is providing for our every single need. If only our tiny little minds could understand just how much Jesus gives us and rewards us each and every single day—so much more than we could ever imagine, than we could ever see or ask for, and so much more than we could ever understand.

And so Jesus says: The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person wil receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.


Dear Jesus, we thank you for making us yours, and for forgiving us our sins, and for giving us the promise of eternal life. Now encourage us in our lives, and help us to speak your truth and shine your light to those around us, that they may see our good works, and not give glory to us, but to you. Let them receive not us, dear Jesus, but you, and not only you, but our heavenly Father. Amen.