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Choices: Last Sunday's Sermon

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Exodus 32:1-14

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”

But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Matthew 22:1-14

Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The Sermon

Come to the Banquet!!

Last weekend was a very different kind of experience for me. It was our fiftieth high school reunion. I did not graduate from Chariton High because I went to boarding school my last two years but the organizers were kind enough to include me anyway. I had a wonderful time catching up and reminiscing with classmates I had not seen for decades.

There was one downside or complaint I guess. I heard it said with some frequency that many of the ones who still live in Chariton chose to not attend the event. They must have had their reasons but it reminded me of today's reading. All were invited. Not everyone came. That is life.

These parables have been puzzled over for thousands of years by people who want to know exactly what Jesus was talking about. So...lets take a closer look at this story. The king invites his chosen to a wedding banquet for his son but none of the chosen choose to attend for various reasons. In this allegory who is the king, who is the son and who are the chosen? The king is God. The son is Jesus. The chosen are the Jewish people. So...who are the people whom the king finally invites? He invites people like you and me. Actually, he really does invite you and me.

The critical element in this story is that you and I must be wearing the wedding garment. What is the wedding garment? Is it something tangible like the stole I wear at the service or is it a symbol for something else? Our bible study this week decided it was something else. It is our faith and the way we express our faith among our fellow man.

If we choose to come to be a part of the Christian experience there are expectations. We must clothe ourselves with the teachings of Jesus and make those teachings such a part of us that we are one with them. By living those teachings, by walking the talk, we become full members of the wedding feast that is the kingdom of God.


Ten Commandments: Last Sunday's Sermon

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Old Testament

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”

The Gospel

Matthew 21:33-46

Jesus said, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now 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, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;

this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

The Sermon

The Decalogue was our old testament reading today. It is also known as the ten commandments. When I was a child preparing to be confirmed in the faith the ten commandments were something I memorized or at least tried to memorize before the bishop would come for this most important event. My problem was that I have too much trouble keeping ten things in my head at once. I could pretty easily tick off eight of the ten or even nine of the ten but it always seemed I could never remember all ten. We were told that when the bishop came he would ask us questions about our understanding of our faith and if we did not have the answers we would not be confirmed. I was pretty sure I was toast. The end of this story is that when the bishop came he didn't ask any questions and I was confirmed.

I still have trouble remembering all ten commandments. If you read a little further along in Matthew, Jesus encounters the pharisees again and they ask him what is the greatest commandment. He tells them loving your God with all of your heart and mind and strength is the greatest and next to it is to love your neighbor as you love yourself.

This is literally a Godsend for those of us who have trouble keeping ten things in our head. I can remember two things. However, another problem is created.

The first four of the ten commandments talk about our relationship with God, We need to worship only one God, make no idols, don't swear and respect the Sabbath. The last six are about our relationship with each other. We are told to respect our parents, and not kill, steal,commit adultery, lie or covet our neighbor's possessions.

I can do all those things pretty easily although I may have on rare occasions very possibly crossed the line on a couple of them. They are very straightforward commandments. Jesus and his two commandments use the word love. Sure remembering just two commandments is much easier than remembering ten but in my way of thinking much harder to do. It is pretty easy not to kill or swear or steal but love can be really hard. Love is a feeling that comes from deep inside us. It is a feeling that can be expressed in so many different ways. When you express your love, you expose yourself and allow for a little vulnerability. That is not easy for many people. I encourage you to think about how you are doing on the two commandments. Keep in mind the ten but as Jesus said all of the commandments branch out from two that tell us of the importance of love.

This gospel reading can be seen as an allegory. The vineyard owner is God. The wicked tenants are the religious leaders of the time. The slaves who were sent to collect the share are the prophets and the son is Jesus. The new tenants are people who hear God's word and follow his commands. That would be you and me.

Jesus tells us very clearly that there are consequences for our actions and we should be mindful of what we say and do. Which are we like? Are we the new and good tenants or are we the wicked tenants. Do we follow those commandments, the ten and the two, or have we chosen a different path. Look inside yourself and where there is room for improvement don't shy away from making those changes that need to be made.


Two Brothers and You: Last Sunday's Sermon

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Old Testament

Exodus 17:1-7

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

The Epistle

Philippians 2:1-13

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

The Gospel

Matthew 21:23-32

When Jesus 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?” 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. 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?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 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.
“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 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. 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.

The Sermon

Lets look at the old testament reading from Exodus first. The people are unhappy. They say things like, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” Moses is frustrated and the people are frustrated and thirsty. The Lord takes care of them by providing water just as He was providing food. The people of Israel were probably much like us. When you are thirsty everything reminds you of water.

I am sure Moses had second thoughts about leading these people through the desert on this journey. Humans can be an unruly lot especially when they are hungry and thirsty. We are probably more like them than we would like to think.

Leadership was difficult for Moses and I believe it was also difficult for Paul. When you read his letters you see a frequent theme of Paul putting out one fire after another. Understanding Paul's letters can be difficult because it is a little like hearing only one end of a telephone conversation. You only hear one side of the conversation and you have to guess what was being said on the other end.

In this letter to the Philippians Paul reminds these early Christians to, “Let each of you look not to your own interest, but to the interests of others.”. He reminds them that Jesus did the same when he took on human form.

In the gospel reading Jesus is confronted by the chief priests and elders in their attempt to trip him up but of course in typical Jesus form he turns the tables on them and puts them on the spot. Then he gives them the parable of the two sons. This parable is one of my favorites because it draws on a very human condition. I see myself in both of the sons because I have at some point acted like each of them.

So...what is Jesus getting at with this parable? I believe he is telling them that they are putting their own self interests ahead of the truth. The chief priests had an interest in keeping things as they were. They lived in relative comfort. The had some control over the people. John the Baptist told them they were sinners and he gave them the hard message of the need for repentance.. The priests and elders gave lip service to doing God's will but in reality they were not. Repentance was not for them.

The prostitutes and tax collectors suffered no illusions about their evil ways and they clearly heard and acted upon John's message.

So what about us. Are we the son who quickly agrees to do the right thing (but not really) and then put it off because it is inconvenient. Or, are we like the son who first rebels against the father's message but in the end sees that father knows best and does the right thing?

Our Father in heaven tells us very clearly what is expected of us. It is up to us to decide the direction we will go.