All Are Welcome – Not A Fan Series

All Are Welcome
2nd Wednesday in Lent, 03/-4/2015
Week 2 of “Not a Fan”
1 Timothy 1:12-16, Luke 14:15-24

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ!

Welcome back to Not a Fan, everyone! To those of you who may not know, this Lent we are following the book Not a Fan. The author, Kyle Idleman is the teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, which is a really big megachurch. Anyways, last week Pastor Mary Ellen talked to us about the initial question that Kyle raises to us: Are we fans of Christ or are we followers of Christ? The difference is huge, because a fan is noncommittal, but a follower is “all in.”

This week, we get to learn about how we move from being a fan to being a follower. The title of the sermon for tonight is “All Are Welcome.” I really am sorry for that. “All Are Welcome” really is an overused phrase by churches. How many of you have seen a sign on a church that says “All are welcome?” It kind of is a loaded question, isn’t it? Does it “All are Welcome” as long as you look like us, or dress like us, or accept the same view of the Bible like we do. Churches are notorious for overusing this phrase, but we are hardly the only ones. How often do you get an invitation for a credit card in the mail that says “You are pre-approved! Just return this exclusive offer that thousands of other people got back to us and you will have the best credit card ever!” Then when you actually fill it out, you get denied or you get slammed with a high interest rate because your credit score is too low. So the next time you hear about a special offer for “anyone,” you may think twice, or at least look carefully at the fine print.

What about Jesus though? What does Jesus mean when He says “all are welcome?” Is there some sort of catch? What is the fine print?
Our Gospel reading for today sheds some light on this. In our reading, Jesus is telling a story in the form of a parable while he was eating dinner at the house of a Pharisee. Remember in Jesus’ time a Pharisee was an expert on the Jewish Law and the Old Testament, so he was a smart guy, but the Pharisees often opposed Jesus.

Anyways, about the story. In Jesus’ story, a man throws a great banquet. In the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments, a feast or banquet is used to compare to what will happen at the fulfillment of all things. Theologians call this the “eschatological feast.” That’s my ten dollar word for the night, “eschatological.” The people Jesus ate with realized this, because at the beginning of our reading some anonymous guest piped up: “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” This makes sense to us, doesn’t it? There is something inherently intimate about sharing a meal together, whether that is a family dinner or a date. Something about eating together brings people together. The same thing happens with the Kingdom of God. Eating at God’s table has the same effect.

The host of the dinner in Jesus story has a guest list that he puts out. These are the people that the host wants to throw his party with. However, these people seem to be too busy to take him up on the offer. Since he needs to have people at this banquet, he tells his servants to start rounding people up off the street. Who does he find? He finds the sick, the lame, and the disabled. These people were the undesirables. In the Old Testament Book of Leviticus chapter 21, the one that no one likes to read, God tells Moses that priests cannot be disabled in any way. These priests were the ones who offered sacrifices to God in the Temple, that is, the people who would be eating with God. So what Jesus is saying here in the parable is that the ones that God is bringing to the party are the undesirable ones. The people who were excluded from the party before are now the ones that are invited.

In our first reading Saint Paul talks about these “undesirables” that were invited to the banquet. In our first reading for today, Saint Paul says that he was not a good person. Paul, by his own admission, was a bad man. He was a blasphemer against God, a persecutor of God’s people, and he was a violent person. He said that he was the “worst sinner.” Yet God still chose him to serve. To Jesus it did not matter that Paul was a bad person. Heck he was evil! As far as undesirable for church people went, Paul was at the top of the list of people to avoid. But Jesus still loved him and turned him into an apostle that would carry the Gospel across the whole Roman Empire and sent the Holy Spirit to inspire him to write a good chunk of the New Testament! If Jesus could love a person like Paul, don’t you think that Jesus would be able to love you too?

In the story of the banquet told, however, there are two types of people. There are people who like the host enough to be on friendly terms with him, but when it came down to it, they were too busy with life to have anything to do with him. That sounds a lot like the fans that we have been talking about during this series, doesn’t it?

The other category I think sounds a lot like the followers that Pastor Kyle is talking about. There is something special about them. Not only are they full of the “undesirables,” the people that you may think don’t deserve to be there, but they couldn’t come on their own. Jesus says that the host told them to bring them in. The host tells his servants to compel them to be there. There is something special about that. The undesirables didn’t crash the party. They didn’t decide to come there on their own. They were brought in. Sorry to everyone that thought they could decide on their own to follow Jesus! You can’t! It’s not up to you! Like the undesirables in the parable, we are blind and lame! We can’t get there on our own. Even if we chose to go, it wouldn’t mean anything. The only way to get in is by the authority of the host and to follow him in. The guests that were originally invited could have been led in too, but their stubbornness left them out.

Martin Luther taught the church about this in the Small Catechism, which if you don’t know is one of the documents that says what the Lutheran Church believes. In his explanation of the third section of the Apostle’s Creed, the part about the Holy Spirit, he wrote: “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.” It’s not about what we do or decide that makes us a follower; it’s what God decides and does.

So that leaves us with what kind of guest are you tonight to Jesus’ eschatological feast. Ha! I used it again. Are you the fan that is friendly to Jesus but really can’t be bothered when He asks you something? Or are you one of the undesirable ones; one of the people that realizes that you don’t deserve to be at the table with Jesus, but follows him in anyways, praising God that you had the opportunity to do be at the feast too?

Pray with me. Lord, you are the host of the great eschatological feast. We know that we are not worthy to be invited. We know that we are the undesirable ones. Thank you for inviting us to you table God, and enable us, O Lord, to accept the offer to come to the feast that you have prepared. Help us to keep the demands of this life from crowding out Your love for us. Holy Spirit, lead us into the feast; we know that we cannot enter it ourselves. This we pray in your Holy name, our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

But What Belongs to God?

Pastor Scott Adkins
10/19/2014
Isaiah 45:1-7, Matthew 22:15-22

Good Morning Everyone! Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ!

Well, Jesus was certainly in a pickle for this one. Jesus’ old debating “buddies,” the Pharisees, came back to him to ask him yet another question intended to trap him up and get him into trouble. However, this time, the Pharisees brought along some friends of their own. They brought along a different group of Jews, called the Herodians. The Herodians were Jews that were supporters of the reign of Herod, the Roman puppet-king of Judea. The Pharisees, if you remember, were Jews that emphasized obedience to the Law of Moses found in the books Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. They also did not care for Roman rule. Jesus was in a no win situation here. If he said yes, pay your taxes, he would anger the Pharisees and those who opposed Roman rule. If he said no, don’t pay taxes, he would anger the Romans and their supporters. In the famous words of Star Wars’ Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!”

Jesus has quite the answer to get out of their trap, though. He asks for a coin and simply asks whose image is on it. When they reply that it has Caesar’s image, Jesus says to give to Caesar what belongs to him, and to give to God what belongs to God.

The trouble is, the Caesars of the world were not and still aren’t always stand up guys. Tiberius Caesar was by no means a God-fearing man. He claimed himself to be a god, like the other Roman emperors. The inscription on the coin that Jesus held probably said “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus,” with a Roman god or goddess on the reverse. Looking at the coin itself was a reminder of Roman idolatry to the observant Jews. How can they give their allegiance to a man who consistently and unapologetically does what is contrary to our faith and breaks God’s law?

Well, our first lesson for the day talks about this. In our reading from Isaiah, God calls King Cyrus of Persia his “anointed.” If you remember what I said in my other sermons, guess what Hebrew word “anointed” is? You guessed it, it is “messiah!” In the Greek Old Testament Bibles that the early Christians of St. Paul’s time used, the word used here is “kristos,” or Christ!

Don’t get me wrong, I am not comparing King Cyrus to Jesus. All I am saying is that God chose Cyrus to be the king, that he was “anointed” by God to do that. God does say in verse four that He summoned Cyrus by name and gave him honor and strength, even though he did not acknowledge God. In our reading, God says that he is choosing Cyrus “for the sake of Jacob my servant.” He did this for the benefit of his people, Israel. King Cyrus liberated the Jews from their exile in Babylon and gave the order to rebuild the God’s temple in Jerusalem. The idea here is that even though the ruler may not be a Christian, he is chosen by God for the benefit of His people, as long as the ruler does not forbid what God commands us to do. In such cases, St. Peter said in Acts chapter five verse 29 “We must obey God rather than any human authority!” (NLT).

Caesar’s reign was similar to Cyrus in some ways. While definitely not Jewish at all, Caesar’s Roman Empire provided the relative peace, common languages and infrastructure of that enabled Christianity to flourish from Jerusalem to all over the Roman Empire and beyond. This is why in Romans chapter thirteen St. Paul says to submit to the authorities and pay taxes, because they provide order and justice to society and therefore are servants of God.

It’s because of this that Jesus tells us to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Even though the government may not be Christian, we still need to obey the authorities, because, as God said to Jeremiah the prophet in Jeremiah chapter twenty-nine verse seven, “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” It is clear that we need to submit to the authorities and seek the common good for the country and community, but there are two questions that I see from what Jesus said. What belongs to Caesar, and what belongs to God?

Well, let’s talk about Caesar first. St. Paul tells us in Romans thirteen verse six to pay our taxes, and in our Gospel reading Jesus told us to pay taxes because the money has his image on it. But is there anything else that is Caesar’s? We know that we need to seek the good of the country, and to obey the authorities. I think in order to do this, we need to be responsible citizens, especially since here in America we choose who our “Caesars” are. Only by being involved citizens who vote, pay taxes, and take our part in the common good and defense of our country can we really “seek the peace and prosperity of our city.” Being an apathetic citizen and not voting or participating in civic life is not “giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

With the discussion over the denarius, Jesus shared what belonged to Caesar. But he never specifically explained the second part of his answer to his opponents. All He said was “Give to God what belongs to God.” Well what in the blazes does this even mean?

Jesus doesn’t tell us specifically here, so we’ll take a look at what he said about the denarius. Why did Jesus say that the denarius belonged to Caesar? Remember, he pointed out two things. The image on the coin was Caesar’s, and so was the inscription. What do we have that has a similar image and inscription of God on it?

The answer is: us. Remember from the beginning of the Bible at creation in Genesis chapter one verse 27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them. Male and female he created them.” We are each created by God in His image. We also have God’s inscription on us. St. Paul said in Romans chapter two verse 15 that all people, believers or not, have God’s Law written on their hearts. This is God’s inscription.

Unlike our Caesars, who want our money, time, and possibly our military service, God wants all of us. Jesus quoted parts of the Law of Moses found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy when he summed up the Ten Commandments right after he spoke with the Pharisees and the Herodians in our Gospel reading for today starting in verse 37. He said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

This is definitely a tall order. God demands all of us completely; heart, soul, and mind. Since we bear his image, God wants what belongs to him, just like Caesar. The problem is, none of us can completely give everything we are over to God nor can we love our neighbors perfectly. Even if we seem to be and try to be sincere, we always hold something back. “Ok God, you win! I believe in you and trust in Jesus! I give it all to you! Except this little piece of my life. That I keep for myself.” Maybe that little piece is your job, your family, certain relationships, a hobby, your secular reputation, a “favorite sin” that you seem to do over and over, or yes, even your money. Try as we might, we can never “give to God what belongs to God.”

Well folks, this sounds rather depressing. We have a debt to God that we can never pay because of our sinful nature. However, there is a bright spot. Has anyone here ever had to owe the IRS any money? Don’t raise your hands! If you have, you know that Uncle Sam always gets his due. Just like Uncle Sam, God is just as tenacious at pursuing us, but for a different reason than the IRS. While the IRS goes after what you have, God goes after what you are. Unsatisfied with what you are, God wants to change you with the Holy Spirit, to make you into something new and good through Jesus. He looks at that debt that you can never pay up, and marks it “paid in full” through the blood of Jesus. Nothing you can do, think, or choose can make that happen, only trust in Jesus can pay that debt off. Because of that gift, we are able to belong fully to God as His most precious possessions, ones that He will cling to. Remember that. You are precious to God.

Jesus told the Jews that tried to corner him to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to give to God what is God’s. We may not like or agree with our Caesars, but we still need to give them their due, even if our Caesar doesn’t believe. However, it is that second part of what Jesus said that is much more difficult to do. “Give to God what is God’s” God created us in His image, so we ourselves belong to Him, but we can never give God His due on our own. Only through the price paid by Jesus are we able to fully belong to God in the Holy Spirit, and He will hold on to us as His precious possessions.

Let us pray. Lord, thank you for setting up worldly authorities to keep order in the world. They are not perfect, but they carry out your will. Lord give them your guidance and wisdom to govern justly. Lord thank you for sending your Holy Spirit after us so we can be your people, and for giving us faith in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross and paid the price for us to fully belong to you. Amen.

Shepherd Like Jesus

Intern Pastor Scott Adkins
Shepherd Like Jesus
3rd Sunday After Pentecost A, June 29 2014
Ezekiel 34:11-16, John 21:15-19

Good Morning everyone, and happy senior Sunday! Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

I really like the fact that we are setting aside a day for the seniors in our lives. The seniors in our lives have been our parents, grandparents, and role models throughout our lives, and deserve our respect. It’s not in our readings for today, but God did tell his people something important about the seniors in their lives. Leviticus 19:32 says “‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.”

I really like the fact that we are setting aside a day for the seniors in our lives. The seniors in our lives have been our parents, grandparents, and role models throughout our lives, and deserve our respect. It’s not in our readings for today, but God did tell his people something important about the seniors in their lives. Leviticus 19:32 says “‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.”

I really like the fact that we are setting aside a day for the seniors in our lives. The seniors in our lives have been our parents, grandparents, and role models throughout our lives, and deserve our respect. It’s not in our readings for today, but God did tell his people something important about the seniors in their lives. Leviticus 19:32 says “‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.”

When I was a little boy, I loved being with my Grandfather. When I was little, like 3 or 4 years old, we would visit him at his home in Michigan a couple of times a year. When I was there, I loved going on walks with my Grandpa, I would pull a little toy airplane around with me. This little toy airplane had a boarding stairway that would pop open, and it would do so when I pulled it across every crack in the sidewalk. Of course, a toy airplane can’t pretend fly with the boarding ramp open, so I would stop to close it on every. Single. Crack. My grandpa didn’t mind, however, even though that me closing the ramp meant that he had to bend down as well since he was holding me other hand. All I thought about then was how much I loved walks with grandpa. What I see now though, was just how much my grandfather loved me and how he led me around in a safe place, even though I had my own agenda.

I’d kinda like to use that as the launching point for our sermon today. My Grandpa led me around with love, even though I wasn’t particularly paying attention, and he didn’t let me go, much like a shepherd does.

Both of our readings deal with sheep and shepherds. In our first reading, from the book of Ezekiel, we see God as the good shepherd. It is a great passage; Israel or the people of God, represented by sheep, are lost and scattered across the land. God says that he himself will search after the lost sheep from the darkness. Once God finds the lost sheep, he pledges to take care of them himself. He takes them to the lush pastures on the mountains of Israel where they will be well-provided for and at home– the place where they belong in a world where they are scattered all over. God pledges to heal the injured and to implement justice among his sheep.

Sounds great? Doesn’t it? It makes me think of Jesus the good shepherd from John 10 or the parables of Matthew 18 or Luke 15. In fact, this passage of Ezekiel would pair very well with that passage. However, we have a different passage, one from the conclusion of the Gospel of John.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus is risen from the dead, but he has not yet ascended into heaven. In it, Peter and John were fishing, and Jesus appeared to them one day. After catching a ridiculous amount of fish and eating some food, Jesus started talking with Peter. Their conversation I think is very understandable. Although Jesus was talking to the Apostle Peter, he may well have been saying these words to you or me. Because of that, I’d like you to imagine for a moment that Jesus is saying this to you.

After their breakfast of fresh fish, Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, Scott, son of James, do you truly love me more than these?” Now, what are “these?” It could be the fish and tackle, which was Peter’s profession. Do you love Jesus more than you career? How about those around him, like his friend John? Do you love Jesus more than the relationships in your life? The 1st Commandment says you should love God above all things, and if you believe Jesus is Lord, then you know what that means.

In any case, Peter answered yes, he does love Jesus more than anything. What Jesus replies with is really unusual when you think about it. Jesus says to Peter: “Feed my sheep.” Peter is a little confused, so Jesus says it to him 3 times just to make sure it sinks in! Remember, these sheep are not literal sheep- they are the people that God cares about. They are everyone, all of God’s human creation. Jesus then tells Peter some details about his death, but then he finishes by telling Peter follow me

We are told to feed God’s sheep. If we want to follow Jesus, we have to take care of God’s people. Jesus is requiring us to take care of each other. Jesus wants us to follow him, but in order to do that we must take care of each other. We must be each other’s shepherds, our brother’s keepers. Jesus wants us to feed his sheep. For some, that may mean literally feeding them, taking care of bodily needs. For others, it may need walking alongside them in times of sorrow or need. Whatever it is, Jesus wants us to take care of all of God’s children, because each one is someone for whom the Son of God died to redeem.

This rings true in our Old Testament reading. While our reading seems all great and good, which it is, there is a little detail left out in the lectionary. Immediately preceeding our Old Testament reading for today, in Ezekiel 34:1-10 is a scathing criticism of the shepherds of Israel. That is why God’s sheep are scattered. It is because the people of Israel failed in shepherding each other and instead took advantage of one another. God says here that they, the sheep, were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. No one at all even bothered or cared that the sheep were missing. In contrast, Christ the Good Shepherd left the 99 in the flock to search out the one lost sheep and rejoiced .

God does look after the lost sheep, those that are scattered, lost, and in danger. However, Christ calls us to feed the sheep that we encounter. Don’t be like the shepherds in Ezekiel who abandoned their sheep and took advantage of them. When Christ calls to you and asks you, “Do you love me?” and if you say yes, be prepared to feed Jesus’ sheep. It doesn’t take much to follow Jesus. You don’t have to be a genius, or an athlete. What it does take is a heart that responds like Peter did when that question was asked. Peter said yes, and fed the sheep when Christ called: “Follow me!” Jesus Christ takes care of us, and we need to take care of each other. Amen.