Thursday, 19 October 2017

Year A 2017 - 20th Sunday after Pentecost - Text Matthew 22:15-22 – In God’s Image

Sermon 22nd October 2017
Text: Matthew 22:15-22 – In God’s Image
I love it when a baby is born and there is a scramble to identify family images in the child.
Whose nose does he have?
Whose eyes does she have?
And as the child grows it’s interesting to watch certain mannerisms that begin to develop from both sides of the family.
As parents it’s lovely watching your child develop and even seeing yourself in your child in looks and behaviour.
Certain images and behaviours are passed down from parents to children though genetics.
Likewise, as human beings, we also bear the image of our Heavenly Father.
In the book of Genesis when God created human beings it says:
“Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26,27)
Jesus uses “image” today to make a distinction regarding who we are and to whom we belong.
The Pharisees have joined forces with the Romans to try and catch Jesus out and to see who he affiliates with.
They ask him whether it is right to pay taxes to Caesar.
Jesus asks for a coin and then asks them a question about the coin.
Whose image do you see on the coin?
They answer – “Caesar’s”.
And so Jesus says – give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar but  give to God what belongs to God.
And just as the coin bears Caesar’s image – we bear God’s image and that means at times in our lives we need to make a decision about our actions and how we honour God’s image in our lives.
Our central defining characteristic, what it is that makes us human beings, is that we are created in the image of God.
At our baptism we are further marked, we are sealed, we are inscribed, with the sign of the cross.
Our image and likeness, and what is written upon us, is that of God himself.
To whom, then, do you belong?
To whom are you to render yourself?
This question of our ultimate loyalty and our deepest allegiances is what Jesus is talking about as he deals with the plots and the traps of his enemies.
Jesus is saying that what belongs to God is nothing other than our very lives.
There is no higher claim upon us.
This will at times help us when we are confronted with problems with a particular moral or political question.
It does not automatically tell us who to vote for, or what policy to support, or which course of action is best regarding the personal issues that confront us.
Problems will be difficult and ambiguous at times.
Give to God what is God’s—for God owns that which he has made in his image, and he is Lord over that which bears his inscription.
 It is that image, in ourselves and in others, that leads to actions for justice, compassion, and righteousness towards God’s image in our neighbour.
We love our neighbour as ourselves because we both bear God’s image.
And that image is borne by all – not just Christians.
Non-believers – those who follow other religions – bear the image of God and we owe a responsibility to show our love to God by loving all people.
And that image is never lost whether they reject God, whether they can no longer serve God as they did.
From the cradle to the grave – from newborn to senior – we all bear the image of God.
It is that image that both claims our allegiance and directs our actions.
It is God’s image that gives value and meaning to what we do and who we are.
It is that image, and no other, which gives us the assurance that we belong to God and no other.
It is why in Baptism we reject the devil and all his works and all his ways and declare our allegiance to the one true God – the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Often we can’t answer the questions that confront us by looking through the Bible to find a clear answer. 
There is no easy way at times to determine the will of God. 
And sometimes we can have two people with differing views who can both be right and it becomes a question of conscience.
The burden of making responsible decisions will often fall on us and challenge us.
And what makes it more difficult is that we are sinners. 
We are biased and critical; we prefer to take the easier path;
We know what the right thing to do is but we are afraid to go against the crowd and avoid making hard choices.
As Christians created in the image of God we are joined with Jesus and we share in his love and take on his way of looking at the moral dilemmas that challenge us.
The question we ask in those times is, “What would Jesus do in this situation?” 
And sometimes we might not like the answer that we get back.
Jesus constantly shocked his disciples and those around him in the choices he made as he reflected the will and image of his Father. 
When he came across a woman caught in adultery, instead of quoting the Ten Commandments to her, he befriended her and said, “Your sins are forgiven”. 
When he met the cheating Zacchaeus, he loved him and went to dinner with him. 
To those who were exiled from their community because of the dreadful and infectious disease of leprosy, he showed compassion and gave them acceptance and value. 
The word that summarises Jesus ministry is “love”.
Love of God – love of neighbour.
It is love that bears the image of God.
We are called at times to make decisions about some tough questions in life.
But we do so with the knowledge that God forgives us when we make mistakes in our decisions. 
It is a comfort to know of the forgiving love of God, otherwise we would be frightened to make any decisions at all. 
And we are called to share that same image with others by forgiving them as we have been forgiven.
Because of his love for us God can still bless us and the decisions we make even if those decisions weren’t what God was expecting.
In today’s gospel Jesus doesn’t give us rules but the permission to struggle with the question of what is appropriate for us to do in the world that God created. 
Jesus challenges us to seek out the will of God as best we can and go forward entrusting the choices we make into the hands of our loving and forgiving God.
For his accusers it was an either or situation.
They thought loyalty to God and to one’s government were mutually exclusive.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Sometimes the will of God is also the will of society.
But it’s when there’s a conflict against our faith, like when Peter was ordered to stop telling people about Jesus.
He responded: "We must obey God rather than any human authority. (Acts 5:29)
In those situations we have to ask ourselves: What is of God? What is of Caesar?
At the moment we have several issues facing us in society such as the marriage and euthanasia debate and there is much conflict
The coin that bears Caesar’s image belongs to Caesar.
But we humans are stamped with the image of God.
We belong to God.
We can pay the tax, but we do not belong to Caesar.
It may sound like a choice between two equals -- God and Caesar.
But they are not equal.
We bear God’s image whether we are child, youth or senior.
We bear God’s image whether we are student, unemployed or retired.
Wherever we are -- at work, school, politics, home, sport or wherever, our loyalty is to God and that governs how we think and act in the world.

And even though we may be conflicted and confused at times we are guided by the command – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength – and love your neighbour as yourself.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Year A 2017 - 19th Sunday after Pentecost - Text Matthew Matthew 22:1-14 – By invitation only

Sermon 15th October 2017
Text: Matthew 22:1-14 – By invitation only

Having been involved in the preparation for our daughter Grace’s wedding earlier this year this reading today took on a new meaning for me.
Usually people only see the end result of months, maybe years, of preparation that goes into the big day.
Making sure everything is just right so that the day is perfect for the bride.
It’s not the day when you want things to go wrong, things to get forgotten, unexpected surprises.
You want everything perfect.
And here in Jesus’s parable we have a King who is throwing a wedding banquet and wants everything perfect.
And the most important part of the wedding banquet that is left is the guests who have been invited.
After all the work and expense he has gone through the King cannot understand why people won’t accept his invitation.
These people seem to not realise the expense and trouble he’s gone through and how privileged they are to receive an invitation.
One of the hardest parts of any wedding is settling on the invitation list.
You want family and friends there but you can’t afford to invite them all and venue size doesn’t allow you to anyway.
You hope not to offend family who might expect an invitation.
You don’t want to upset someone who thought that they were a close friend or had invited you to their wedding.
And it’s important to RSVP if you can’t make it so others on the shortlist can be invited and that your seat that has been paid for isn’t empty at the reception.
So the King is justifiably angry that the invited guests don’t accept his invitation.
In turn he reissues the invitation to anyone and everyone.
He wants his wedding feast filled to celebrate his son’s wedding day.
The parable is an image of the situation today of God’s invitation to all people to enjoy eternal life in Heaven.
Some believe that the first invitation is a description of God’s original invitation that had gone out to Israel who rejected Jesus as the promised Messiah.
God had promised a Messiah and the people had rejected the messengers preparing the way for John the Baptist and then finally Jesus.
We are seeing in this section of Matthew growing rejection of God’s invitation by his own people.
We had the parable of the tenants who rejected God’s messengers – even his own Son.
The week before that was the rejection of Jesus’ authority.
In the next chapter we will see the pain and anguish over God’s own children continuing to reject his invitation when Jesus look’s over Jerusalem in lament;
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing" (Matt. 23:37).
And as they were not willing, God now extends the invitation directly to all people.
In Jesus’ life and death God extends the invitation with the wording:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16).
God has opened the invitation list to all people.
No one is excluded despite what they might think about themselves.
Some think their sin is too great.
Their background is too awful.
Their heart is too hard.
Their temptations too strong.
They don't really believe that God's grace can be so free, so accepting, so forgiving.
If you are among this group you are reassured of the invitation of Jesus who died for all.
The parable Jesus told described that there was no social standing limiting the invitation anymore:
The King’s servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad;
But there is one there who should not be which is hard to understand.
If all are invited who is it that should not be there?
The only clue that we are given is that he is missing a wedding robe.
As the invitation to God’s heavenly banquet is now extended through Jesus’ death it is only through Jesus that one can be guaranteed entry.
In the same way that the blood of the lamb at the Passover covered the Israelites in Egypt assuring safety from the angel of death in Egypt, so too, it is by the cover of Jesus’ blood shed for our sins that we are assured safety from the coming judgment of sins.
St John saw an image of those in the wedding feast when he said:
“These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:14,15)
We cannot assure ourselves of eternal life by our good works because we can never be assured that we have done enough.
We cannot assure ourselves of eternal life by following any other god because no other god has died for our sins.
We cannot buy our way into eternal life because only Jesus’ death has paid for our sins.
Only by the robe covering of Christ’s invitation can we be assured of our eternal life.
This parable is a difficult parable told by Jesus because it does speak about those who reject God’s invitation to eternal life.
It is a timely reminder to us to not take in vain God’s invitation to us.
There are so many that have rejected the invitation like the ones in the first part of the parable.
There are many who have rejected or neglected their baptism.
There are many who have rejected or neglected their invitation to the Lord’s Table.
There are many who have put their careers and personal lives ahead of their Christian faith.
They are the ones who have heard God’s invitation like the first invitees in the parable who made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.
It hurts to hear that because some of them are our friends and family.
The good news is that God is a God of invitation.
The Bible is full of invitations to supper with God.
Jesus ate with a Pharisee; he dined with fishermen, tax collectors, the poor and the rich.
He called to a man up in a tree, "Zacchaeus, come down. I must have supper with you this day!"
And God continues to extend that invitation through you and me.
Entrance into God's Kingdom is by invitation only.
God does not use force on anyone to believe in him, to accept his Son, or to obey his laws.
God respects the free will of a person.
He invites, pleads, begs and will do anything except use force to get us into his Kingdom.
All he says is "Come."
We are God’s invitation and he sends us out just as the King sent his servants out to invite people to the Kingdom.
St Paul says in 2nd Corinthians; We are Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.
And the invitation is for all – good and bad.
We are not to determine who deserves and who doesn’t deserve an invitation.
God excludes no one.
Only we exclude ourselves when we reject his invitation.
And that’s what made Jesus sad when he lamented over Jerusalem because all God wants to do is to lavish his love and generosity on everyone and can’t understand why people don’t want to come.
The wedding feast is ready for the guests.
We do not bring a dish of food.
We bring only ourselves.
God does all for our salvation.
By grace are we saved.
The refusal hurts God.
It means considering someone or something else more important even though he sacrificed his own son to guarantee our place at the wedding banquet.
The parable deals with evangelism.
The invitation of the king to those not in the king's household.
Evangelism is the church's outreach to those not in God's household of faith.
The king sends his servants to go to the people to invite them to come and we go as his representatives.
We are sent to the highways and byways to invite.
And just as the king wants his banquet hall to be full, God desires all humanity to come to him and to be reconciled.

The work of evangelism is not done until "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord."

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Year A 2017 - 18th Sunday after Pentecost - Text Matthew 21:33-46 – Stewards of God’s vineyard

Sermon 8th October 2017
Text: Matthew 21:33-46 – Stewards of God’s vineyard.

Often when watching Current Affairs on TV you’ll see a story about a tenant of a rented property who has trashed the house and left it in a disgusting mess owing on rent.
They are terrible stories of disrespect for another person’s property and a lack of appreciation for another person’s generosity towards them.
In the parable Jesus told today we have a similar picture of ungrateful tenants.
And as we can see from the parable the ungratefulness stems from selfishness.
The reasoning behind their mistreatment of the tenant’s messengers is greed.
The desire to have what doesn’t belong to them.
After having put the messengers to death the landowner sends his own son to collect the fruit of the harvest.
And they say: let us kill him and get his inheritance.
What is extraordinary to understand is why they believed they had any entitlement to the inheritance.
They were tenants – workers.
An inheritance belongs to family.
And so the tenants start to treat the property leased to them as their own and thereby bring judgement on themselves.
The Pharisees knew that Jesus was talking about them and how their ancestors treated the prophets sent to them by God.
So they wanted to find a way that they could arrest Jesus and put an end to his judgment of them – the final part of the parable.
But like all parables, they don’t just speak to the people of Jesus’ time they also speak to us today.
So what connection is there between ourselves and the wicked selfish tenants, and the religious leaders who rejected Jesus?”
Are we not sometimes selfish like the tenants?
Don’t we at times treat God’s creation as if it is our own to do with whatever we want irrespective of how it affects others now and also future generations.
Do we not refuse to share the fruits of the “vineyard” and become as stingy and stubborn as they are?
How often have we failed to respond lovingly to the gifts of God’s creation that are lavished our lives?
Does it not follow, then, that we also deserve to be put to a miserable death?
Is that what Jesus is teaching in this parable?
It wasn’t Jesus who said they deserved a wretched death but their own self judgment.
As Christians, we always start with the understanding that God initiates the relationship with us – not we with God.
It was while we were yet sinners that God sent his son to us.
God’s reaching out to us is best understood as his giving us everything we have – with no strings attached and without our deserving it, without our having done anything to gain it.
That’s the basis of Luther’s explanation of the Apostles’ Creed:
“I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.”
God, in Genesis, and Jesus by his death has made it very clear that we are the most precious beings in all creation – so valuable, as he proved on the cross, that we are worth dying for.
We don’t have to earn God’s love; it is given freely.
So, why would a loving God put us to a miserable death?
It wasn’t God pronouncing their judgment but them on themselves.
Jesus asked them: when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death.
It wasn’t Jesus pronouncing their judgment but themselves.
The wicked tenants received all they needed from the owner, but they refused to accept his graciousness and turned their backs on him, his servants, and even his son.
And that’s what judgment is – our continual refusal to receive God’s grace and forgiveness.
By their actions they cast themselves out of the vineyard in a similar way Adam and Eve’s disobedience resulted in their loss of the benefits of the Garden of Eden.
The judgment we receive is by our failure to accept the grace of God.
But we have been given a second chance (and a third and a fourth.....)  
The Second Chance is Jesus, the suffering Jesus, who became the Risen Jesus.
The Pharisees pronounced their own judgement.
God, the landowner kept coming again and again in grace even to the point of sending his own Son both in the parable and in real life.
The judgment comes from our selfishly acting as if the vineyard is all ours – no one else’s, let alone God’s.
What we are seeing here is the question of what we call “Stewardship”.
Stewardship is central to the life of the church and the life of Christians so we do not become focused on material things and claiming them only as our own.
We are called to remember that what we have is not ours to own, but is granted by God for our use AND to bless others.
When we look at the waste in our world and our desire for more and more and the starvation and homelessness around the world, is it God who is at fault?
God’s grace and love is calling on us to respond to our good fortune of living in his vineyard by reflecting that love in our actions toward others.
The tenants weren’t doing that – they were keeping the landowner’s harvest for themselves.
We care for God’s creation by our stewardship of his gifts – especially by caring for our fellow human beings – we do so as a reflection of God’s love.
God’s love is poured out into us in such measure that it should overflow from us, and through us can overflow onto all creation.
It is an overflow that allows us to maintain creation and preserve it and protect it from harm.
An overflow that moves us to love others and share with them the Good News of God in Christ.
We are tenants of God’s creation, not owners.
Everything we have is a gift by God so we should not think:
 "It's my money and I can spend it as I please."
"It's my body and I have a right to do what I want with it."
"It's my life and I don't need anyone to tell me how to live it."
It’s clear from the beginning of the Bible when God gave Adam and Eve the Garden of Eden, that they didn’t own it, they were tenants sent to care for it.
Life is a gift.
And we have a responsibility to use God’s gifts wisely and faithfully and generously.
And God gives his gifts in the hope of finding a harvest of fruit – fruits of repentance – fruits of the spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Today’s parable shows how humanity responds because of greed.
The tenants had the land but they wanted the land for themselves even though the landowner had been generous to them – but they lost it all.
It is the foundation of the very first sin when Adam and Eve, though given everything, still wanted more when tempted by Satan to “be like God” – and they lost it all.
The sadness for Adam and Eve is that they were more than that already.
They were more than being “like God” – they were created “in the image of God”.
And so too for us, when we allow what God has given to us to become our god our very nature changes.
We no longer reflect the unconditional love of God shown by sending his own Son.
We show love that is conditional both in how we love and who we love.
The judgment of death proclaimed by the Pharisees is an example of what you would expect under those circumstances without grace, in particular for putting the landowner’s son to death.
But the judgment of Jesus’ death is the opposite of what God did.
When God's son was killed, God didn't destroy the people who did it.
Instead, God raised Jesus from the dead and gave him back to us to lead us to a new and better land.
Not as tenants but as heirs.

Until that day…