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?
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.
The Christian in called to live in two kingdoms at the same time. There are the kingdoms of the law. What we call the state is the typical representative of the Kingdom of the law. And in the Kingdom of the law the primary responsibility is Justice. Because this Kingdom is ruled indirectly by sinful humans (and fallen powers) justice isn’t always perfect, but that its responsibility. Christians also life in the Kingdom of Grace. And how we are called to live is thinking of the Kingdom of Grace as a millennium’s worth of work compared to the law’s as three months. Three months is a lot. Most of us don’t have three months in the bank. Three months is real. And legally we can demand it. But the Christian who wishes to reside in the Kingdom recognizes that those three months are as nothing compared to the 10,000 talents.
This is the way of the cross. The way of grace. Trusting that God’s justice is better than the best we could ever provide.
This is the close of the parable sermon. And I’ve got a little bone to pick with how these are typically preached. They are typically preached as law. Now the law is good. Seeing Christ as the treasure encourages a fine piety, and piety is a good thing. But it is also something that ultimately fails. No, the person doing the action in the parables is almost always Jesus. Who is the treasure? Who is the pearl of great price? It is you. Christ sold everything he had to redeem you. The rest of the sermon teases out some of the implication.
Parables are strange little things. Everyone loves a good parable. If there is a part of the bible that remains common knowledge it is probably some of the parables, like the Sower and the Soils. But what makes them strange is that while the crowds might remember them, they don’t really hear them. If you are hearing the parables alone, it is because your ears aren’t working. The understanding, the explanation, only comes by faith. And that understanding is often at great odds with the surface friendliness.
In the case of the Sower and the soils, them point is not really to identify soils which is what we so often do. The point is to recognize the overwhelming grace of the sower. And to understand that you are good soil. You who have heard and accepted the Word, you are good soil and will be made fruitful. Because the Word of God does what it intends.
What is the power of the resurrection? That is the question I was asking myself. And there are a bunch of answers, but this text gives us two clear ones. The peace of God which Jesus comes and brings to every disciple. And the power of the Word to bring joy to hearts. The world gives peace as cessation of conflict. The world thinks of joy as happiness or earthly delight. These are temporal things easily lost. But the resurrection brings eternal peace. And eternal peace wells up in joy. The power of the resurrection brings eternal things in the midst of temporal strife.
This is the last Sunday of the Church Year which recent tradition has often labeled Christ the King Sunday. The gospel lesson from the year we spend in Luke is a preaching opportunity I relish. The criminal on the cross is the bane of the theologian, but I’d bet one of the best remembered by ordinary folks. He scrambles everybody’s system, but he holds out the greatest hope. And of course is rests simply on the Grace of the King. It rests on sovereign choice. This sermon for Christ the King Sunday, is a meditation on that King’s Choice. Why is rightly causes fear…and why it should cause love.
The text, a quick read, is the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. And these are such clear and tender pictures of the grace of the gospel, a preacher might be doing injustice to them by preaching anything but their simplicity. That is my request for a bit of grace at the start. Because that simplicity is there, but I push a little bit beyond that simplicity here. And the reason is that our context has changed. And I think that we as Christians need to change the context in our heads when we hear these parables. We need to be a little wiser in regards to law and gospel and ears to hear. So jumping off of a Luther himself sermon, this sermon looks at just who are the lost sheep, as well as the grumbling Pharisees and Scribes, and the sinners and tax collectors, both those who come to hear Jesus and those who are riotously secure in houses on the sand.
This Sunday is one of those pageant days. The start of Holy Week starts with a palm parade into the sanctuary for us today to the strains of All Glory Laud and Honor ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/442 ). But then with the readings it takes a turn toward the end of the week with a full reading of Luke 23 which is the trials before Herod and Pilate, the cries of the mob, and the crucifixion. At least the way we do it the hymns are key. The Pomp of Palms and the cries of Hosanna give way to the tumult of the streets and Pilate’s vain weaseling captured so well in No Tramp of Soldiers Marching Feet ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/444 ). After the crucifixion Come to Calvary’s Holy Mountain ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/435 ) sing what has happened for us. And as we turn to go back out into the world, or to walk our way through Holy Week once again, we remember the end point with Ride On, Ride On, in Majesty ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/441 ). “Bow thy meek head to mortal pain, then take O God thy power and reign.” I’ve left in the recording snips of those hymns. It really is a liturgical day that is tough to capture just in a recording. We are recreating the week in an hour. The sights, and sounds and emotions.
Something I have been struggling with thematically with this day is how to preach it. Growing up this was just Palm Sunday. The Passion was for Thursday and Friday. But given the loss of piety, the reality was that many people would skip from the Triumphal entry to Easter Resurrection without even breezing past Calvary – a tragedy. So the reading was smashed into today. But what joins the Palms and the Passion? That is something I’ve been searching for. And I think this year I understand something I didn’t in previous years. It is the mob. Even more acutely in Luke, both are the will of the mob. Both are expressions of desire revealing the division of the ages. I’m leaning a bit on Rene Girard and his mimetic desire here. But it is a story captured fully in scripture. And it is one I see played out more and more. And it is the choice we have. He’s the King. We can crucify our desires and accept his grace, or we can let the mob rule. Anyway, I don’t know how well this walks outside of the liturgical framework, but I like it.
I joked around this week that passage – the wicked tenants – is Jesus the populist. It is Jesus reminding and urging “the people” to pick a new leadership class. The Chief Priests and the scribes have abused and killed the prophets, and they are going to take the son outside the vineyard and kill him too. And they are doing this because they think it will be theirs. That they will be able to substitute their blueprints – their laws – for the law and action of God. God is dead, so it is all ours. (Nietzsche well before his time.)
But as with all such plans, including our modern day supermen, they run into a problem. The Owner will come and kill them. The Owner has planted a new Rock a Cornerstone in Zion. And that rock will not be removed. And that Rock is Christ crucified. There is always a vineyard. Are you in it? It is given by grace, received in faith and abundantly fruitful. And the leadership of it does not hoard the fruit. It does not seek to substitute its own blueprints for the vineyard with God’s. Don’t trip over the stone, build on it.