Biblical Text: Matthew 25:31-46 (Matthew 10:40-42)
This was the last Sunday in the church year, so we say good bye to reading Matthew. (Hence the fading to blue in the colors above, the color of advent.) Most of my sermons tend to be serials. They are one offs on the text of the day. And there are reasons for that, but the gospel is a story, a narrative. And sometimes you need to understand the full narrative. And that is the case with the Last Judgement. This sermon attempts to understand the picture of the last judgement with: Jesus in all his glory, All Nations and The brothers in the context of the full story.
Usually this text is used in a very law based way. Do these “works of mercy” and you’ll be with the sheep. And it isn’t a terrible message, but it isn’t the gospel. And the last judgment really does have a gospel message. And that is what this sermon attempts to proclaim.
Recording Note: We had a snafu on recording live, so this recording is an after the fact re-recording. Lessons and sermon only.
The text is the parable of the talents. And we often get lost in pondering the talents themselves. So much so that the word, which originally was just a measure of weight of precious metal, now means abilities. That gives us an insight into how this parable has shaped in influenced our very language.
But the parable really is not primarily about our actions, but about our beliefs that drive those actions. It wants us to ask what do we believe about our master, Jesus. Do we live in the grace and love of God such that we immediately try to do his will, working the talents? Or do we think he is “hard” and merciless? It is a parable that tells us about God and holds a mirror up to our heart’s understanding of God. Will we have such a Lord as Christ?
This parable has so much to teach us…if we don’t ask for it to teach us too much. That is always the trouble with eschatology, end times things. We want to know more that is ours to know.
The biggest thing I think it means to tell us is to know the time. It is a parable about the Day of the Lord, the time of fulfillment. As such the most important things in that time are different that today. Today things like wise and foolish are not locked in. Today is a day of grace. Today is a day when the oil may be procured and the lamps prepared. For the night is coming when no work may be done. Sleep comes to all. And that is why Jesus tells us this parable. Not that we might know everything about That Day, but so that we may prepare for it.
It is both All Saints Day and two days before a presidential election. As I pondered the texts for today I was struck by the polarity between our current expression of the City of Man, illustrated by the Presidential race, with the vision of the City of God seen by John.
From the one: Democracy, division, sickness and racial strife. From the other: The Kingdom, unity, shelter in the presence of God and rightly ordered allegiances.
This sermon reflects on what parts of this are available for the Saints at warfare in the midst of the tribulation, and what All Saints at rest look forward to.
This was our reformation celebration. I love preaching on what is the alternate Gospel Text for the day. It offers for me an image of both the law and the gospel in John the Baptist and Jesus.
We all have compressed images of truth. The sermon looks at some of our I think. Some compressed images linger after we’ve forgotten what they mean. Others are “eternal gospels”. They speak to all times and places. The reformation has an image. Luther with a hammer nailing his theses to the door. The question that the day brings to us is if this is an eternal image, or a temporal one.
I happen to think Luther is a dramatic icon of the gospel, akin to the icon Jesus paints in the text for himself. I think Luther is an eternal truth. But the question is really to you. Do you still get the truth of the image. Are you willing to dance? Or has it become a dead image.
I always laugh when I hear someone say the church is so political, although I think I understand what they mean. I laugh because it really isn’t. The lessons from this Sunday’s lectionary are the only ones that I think call for explicit political preaching. And to be honest, in my entire time pew sitting, I probably heard less than one handful of explicit politics from the pulpit. Most ministers would avoid it completely. But what I think they are expressing is not so much “vote for x” from the pulpit as the complete subordination of “things temporal” to “things eternal”. (Don’t miss the collective prayer I left in the recording.)
Jesus’ “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” saying is not an invitation to some type of church state separation. One can have a purely secular politics. Just stop at the first part. And that makes sense. That is the way of the principalities and the powers. But if you want to follow Jesus the call is to give to God what is God’s, which includes the things of Caesar.
Neither Jesus nor I get explicit about the answers to this. Honestly in Jesus’ day it might have been easier, or at least the average person would bear no responsibility for the actions of the gov’t because they were subjects, not citizens. But when you vote, when you are a citizen, you bear responsibility. This sermon attempts to lay out what discharging that duty in a Christian way looks like.
Jesus tells three parables in a row in this section of the gospel. We’ve read each of them on successive weeks. They spring from a confrontation with the Priests in the temple, but this one – the Wedding Feast – I believe has much less to do with them directly. The two sons has already told them where they have gone wrong. The wicked tenants has rendered the judgement against them and essentially removed them from office. The Wedding Feast is forward looking. “The reign of heaven has become like….” such a wedding feast. This tells us what it is like now. The call is universal. Come to the wedding feast. But it is possible to fall into the same error as ancient Israel, to disrespect and dishonor the Son.
The real question to ask isn’t what is the wedding garment. There are lots of answers that all have some amount of truth. The deeper question is what does it mean to lack it? And to that there is one answer, to dishonor the Son. Is there anywhere in your life you are in open rebellion against the reign of the Christ? Today is the day of grace. Prepare. Put on the garment before you go.
The Gospel text that is the basis of the sermon is a continuation of the scene from last week. The result of last week’s questions and parable is that the Priests have been clearly understood as illegitimate authority. The question that gets answered with this weeks parable is what happens under such illegitimate authority, along with what does legitimate authority look like in the current vineyard – the current people of God.
Legitimate authority is only authority that is built on the cornerstone which is Christ. Of course the church constantly experiences “wretched leaseholders” – those that want to build their own towers of babel instead of building on Christ. What happens in these cases? The answer that Jesus puts forward I believe is two fold. First, the vineyard – the people of God – remain fruitful. A bad leader might “withhold the fruits”, but the people of God remain fruitful. Second, the LORD will come and put an end to all such schemes in the proper time. And that proper time is not excessively long because the fruits will be turned in “in their seasons.”
The larger spiritual reality is that we all labor under such a bad leaseholder – Satan, the powers and principalities. They have been given their notice to vacate. And the the LORD will make it so. But today, the vineyard remains fruitful building on Christ. And the fruits will not be lost.
Figuring out who and what is proper authority is a difficult thing these days. People hold offices but then do not fulfill the duties of said office. Sometimes they even work contrary to those duties. This text starts out with the Priests confronting Jesus on the basis of authority. By the end of it, Jesus paints a clear picture of proper authority, what Jesus can work with, and what is owed to those who have the trappings of authority but whose hearts are hardened against its proper use.
This is not an easy thing. It calls for wisdom. And that wisdom is available by walking “in the way of righteousness”. Which should challenge us: whether we are a son who shames dad but tries to make it up, or one who saves face but isn’t that reliable. Christ can work with those. Both admit to the authority of the Father. What he can’t work with, are those who deny the proper authority of the Word.
The entire life of Jesus is a revelation of the heart of God, so the Matthew 19 text is a glimpse into how Jesus treats all of his children which is as individual souls and mindful of their eternal fate. Which is nothing like our modern obsessions with care and fairness. And I don’t really want to be too hard on care and fairness. Because it is not that God doesn’t care, or that he isn’t fair. It is that his care and fairness so exceed ours as to make us look like barbarians.
God’s care is not about indulging our temporal and usually spiritual desires. God’s care is his eternal faithfulness. When God promises something, you can take it to the bank. Hell is perfectly fair. The punishment always fits the crime. God is graceful, granting to us what we don’t deserve.
So in this time of work, this time under the cross, God’s care and fairness and seem contrary to ours. But that is because we don’t understand what we have been given. We don’t understand the joy of working in THE vineyard. That is what this sermon attempts to think about. How God has given us so much more and better than what our hard hearts would demand.