Weekly Lessons and Sermon
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always
acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
The question comes to Jesus during Holy week.
Right before his arrest and crucifixion.
It’s the last of the interrogations by the religious authorities in Matthew’s Gospel.
And it’s certainly a big one.
Perhaps THE biggest one.
Because here: Jesus gives us the overarching principle that will guide our lives.
Jesus’ response was both typical and not.
He begins his response in a rather predictable way: “‘You shall love the Lord your
God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
This is the greatest and first commandment.”
Here: Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6.
But that’s not all: because Jesus adds a bit more.
The Pharisees ask Jesus for the greatest commandment.
He gives it.
But then he gives the second greatest:
Which is not really a separate commandment:
But perhaps an explanation of how we can fully live into the first.
To love your neighbor as yourself.
This is a paraphrase of Leviticus 19 which says:
“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but
you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
Jesus then tells the Pharisees that all the “law and the prophets” The two major
bodies of text that make up the Hebrew Scriptures: Are dependent upon these
The Pharisees would have known all this: not just the paraphrased portion that
But they would have known the entire passage by heart.
Now, we’ve talked millions of times about how our lives are meant to be lived out
That life is difficult.
Even the Christian life is difficult:
And we need each other to live it.
And we also know that Living in community is hard work.
Disagreements are bound to happen,
Other people will annoy you and you will annoy other people.
Our tendency: when we have disagreements: is to “cut and run”
To leave the community or relationship and find another one.
Funny enough: when we leave without resolving our issues,
When we go somewhere else:
We invariably find the same problems, the same disagreements, with others in
the new community.
When we leave out of anger:
Out of unresolved issues: History often repeats itself:
Behavior replicates itself and there is no reconciliation or opportunity for spiritual
We can act pious and holy all we want,
but unless we do the hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation:
Our faith is kind of a sham.
Nobody said it would be easy.
It’s easy to say we love our neighbors in the abstract –
But it’s much harder to put it into practice.
In fact, Jesus’ command to love our enemies sometimes seems easier.
We tend to push enemies away and keep them out of our lives.
It’s easy to love in the abstract, at arm’s length.
But maybe that’s not love at all.
Because Love, is about relationships.
It’s hard to love up close when things get messy:
loving our next-door neighbor, whose dog barks incessantly and who won’t do
anything about it;
or members of our congregation who don’t see things our way or just bug us;
or community leaders who don’t listen to our concerns;
or the priest who just doesn’t get it.
In each case, what makes it hard is the pride of our own egos:
The pride that seeks the self rather than the good of the other.
But letting go of the ego is the way of the cross:
The way of Christ.
As Christians: we uphold living in community--
Which means loving God and neighbor--
And by extension letting go of the need for fighting, vengeance and grudges.
It is a way of spiritual transformation that calls us into becoming more Christ-
like— and Into becoming spiritual adults.
Sister Joan Chittister, an author and nun writes:
“Adulthood is not a matter of becoming completely independent of the people
who lay claim to our lives. Adulthood is a matter of being completely open to the
insights that come to us from our superiors and our spouses, our children and our
friends, so that we can become more than we can even begin to imagine for
This is the transforming power of God –
and it comes to us through our neighbors who are up close and in our face.
It comes to us by being in real relationship with one another.
Life in community is hard work.
And Jesus’ two commandments show us that we cannot love God and harbor
hatred for the people that God loves.
Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, only comes with humility:
The humility to love the very people that God loves too.
Even those who seem to us to be unlovable.
Because, after all: none of us are fully loveable ALL the time.
And this is where we see the Grace of God.
The TRANSFORMING Grace of God.
When we are at our worst and most unloveable, God still comes to us.
That radical, unmerited love has the power to move our hearts to love our
Even the ones hardest to love.
Which is no easy work.
But we undertake it.
Quite imperfectly to be sure,
Because in doing so we experience grace, mercy, and healing in Action:
Laying down our egos, our long held grudges and resentments,
And seeking the way of love is where we find the fullness of life in Christ and one
Let’s take a moment of silence together now,
To pray for those that are hard for us to love.
Try to think of those people, that make Jesus’ commandment to love your
Let’s pray to have our hearts opened,
And ready to love those who seem unlovable.
Let’s pray for ourselves: that we might find the strength to love our Lord with our
whole heart, soul, an minds, and to love our neighbors (ALL our neighbors) as
Save the Date: Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service at St. John's, 6pm, Wednesday, 11/22/2023, see the calendar
and Pie Social
Happy 31st Wedding anniversary on Tuesday to Sue and Duey Stelzner
Welcome to our annual stewardship Sunday!
I was shocked to discover that on the day we talk about giving money to the
We were handed a Gospel text that talks about money.
(I swear I didn’t plan it that way!)
And it’s not just about Money:
But everyone’s favorite topic:
But this story isn’t actually about taxes at all.
And it’s also not really a debate about the relationship between Church and State.
Instead, Jesus is stuck in a conversation with some people who are trying to trick
Under the guise of taxes.
It started out as a plot to get Jesus in trouble,
Or at the very least arrested,
And at the most, killed.
Matthew, the Gospel writer says upfront that these Pharisees were trying “to
entrap Jesus in what he said.”
They were plotting against him:
Trying to trick him and trap him.
That if they ask him if it’s lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not,
That no matter which way Jesus answers,
Someone will want to go after him.
If Jesus says that it’s NOT lawful to pay taxes to the emperor,
Then he could be arrested for treason.
If he says that it IS lawful to pay taxes to the emperor,
Then he is discredited as a good and faithful Jew:
Because in that time, in that empire,
paying the emperor was like claiming his divinity:
Making the emperor into a God and idol:
A big no-no for the Jews.
No matter what:
Jesus is trapped.
The Pharisees ask him a yes or no question,
Knowing that both answers will get Jesus in trouble in one way or another.
But as we’ll see,
As we KNOW:
Jesus will not be tricked.
And Jesus will not be trapped.
Instead, he asks for a coin.
And that coin was not too different from our own coins today.
Instead of an image of a president:
That coin had on it the image of the emperor.
And pointing to the image on the coin Jesus says the famous words,
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the
things that are God’s.”
Holding the coin, Jesus refuses to fall into the trap,
He refuses to answer yes or no,
And instead, he basically says, “give it back to whom it belongs.”
And since it has the emperors face on it,
it obviously belongs to the emperor.
It’s not actually a statement about taxes.
It’s not a statement about the relationship of religious people to their
But it is a statement about ownership.
And about belonging.
As usual, Jesus doesn’t make it easy.
And his words aren’t simple.
All he says is, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s
and to God the things that are God’s.”
He doesn’t tell us which is which.
He doesn’t give us a clear division:
That this is the emperors,
This is God’s.
And this is what you get to keep yourself.
So we have to draw on what we already know,
In order to see that what Jesus is talking about is much deeper than taxes, money,
The coin belongs to the emperor because it was stamped with the emperor’s
It was marked with an inscription that probably said, “Tiberius Caesar, majestic
son of divine Augustus, High Priest.”
At the very least, that particular coin, belonged particularly to Caesar.
It literally said so.
It was made BY the emperor for the emperor’s purpose.
If the coin is stamped and marked in the image of the emperor,
it belongs to the emperor.
So what belongs to God?
What is stamped and marked in the image of God?
What is created for God’s purpose?
I think you know the answer.
One characteristic of human beings in particular:
Over all other animals:
Is that we are created in the image of God.
And that’s not all.
We believe that we are further marked,
Or using the same language as the coin:
We are stamped, and inscribed with the sign of the cross in baptism.
As my favorite line in the prayer book says,
The words that the priest says when anointing a recently baptized person:
“You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism,
And marked as Christ’s own forever.”
It’s who we are.
Humans, made in God’s image,
Marked as Christ’s own forever.
BUT even THAT’S NOT ALL.
We also believe that GOD:
Became human, in the person of Jesus:
Became ONE OF US.
So that we might become even more like him.
The image of us,
the image of God,
The image of Jesus himself,
Are all wrapped up in each other.
Belonging to each other.
When Jesus says, Give to the emperor the things that are the emperors and to
God the things that are Gods,”
He’s not merely talking about money, taxes, or politics.
He’s talking about our deepest allegiances,
Our ultimate loyalty,
And the REALITY of who we really are,
Who we are made to be.
We belong to God.
And all that we do is to be marked by that conviction.
All the competing claims for our lives,
And for our allegiances,
Should be understood in the light of who we are,
And whose we are.
Whose image, likeness, and stamp we bear.
That same one: JESUS:
Who took on humanity in its fullness,
In order for us to bear that stamp even more deeply.
This doesn’t make our politics easier.
It doesn’t give us answers about the tax code,
Or what kind of tax reform might be best.
But it does remind us of who we are, and whose we are.
And that should guide our efforts as we move throughout this broken world.
Give to God what is God’s--
For God owns that which he has made in his own image.
God is Lord over that which bears his inscription.
It is God’s image,
And in other.
That should guide our actions,
For justice, compassion, righteousness, and truth.
It is God’s image that gives value and meaning to what we do,
And to who we are.
It is God who marks us,
And with love breathes upon us.
It is God’s image that assures us that who we ARE matters.
That what we DO matters.
And today, in just a moment,
we have the opportunity fill out a pledge card for our giving to God:
Particularly to God through St. John’s Church.
And if we’re being honest:
We know that our money is huge part of our lives:
(Not the only part: And not the most important part) but certainly a big part.
Our money is also a huge part of our selves:
And our lives, our selves:
Our image and our likeness is that of Gods.
I urge you now:
To take a few moments of silence,
Fill out your card:
And you’re ready: come up and offer it on the altar,
And Give, therefore, to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s.
But Give to God the things that are God’s.
Next Sunday: Stewardship Sunday and Pie Social, Join us!
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“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.”
We haven’t had sweet Gospel stories lately, have we?
This parable that Jesus tells today is a hard one to wrap our heads around--
Its hard to understand what Jesus is getting at.
But I think what Jesus is getting at, is the larger story of salvation history,
all the way up until Jesus’ time,
and the confrontation between himself, and the religious leadership of his day.
As it says at the end of the passage,
“When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that
he was speaking about them.”
Using another parable about God’s vineyard,
Jesus likens the religious leaders of his time to the wicked tenants, who beat,
stone, and kill the land owners slaves.
And ultimately, Jesus foretells of his own death,
As the wicked tenants in the parable also kill the landowners son.
No doubt those leaders felt threatened and angry:
And decided to arrest Jesus.
But they had to wait for the time to be right, because they were afraid of
resistance from Jesus’ followers.
And we know what happens next:
Jesus’ betrayal and arrest,
His trial and crucifixion,
All followed by the resurrection that began a whole new relationship between
God and humanity.
It’s a story that we already know,
Even if it’s hard for us to initially figure out what’s going on and who’s who in the
So let’s sum it up:
God the landowner has a vineyard: And the vineyard represents the people of
God leases the vineyard to tenant farmers, who are the Jewish religious leaders.
When the time is right, the landowner sends his slaves, who are the old testament
prophets to collect the produce of the vineyard.
The religious leader tenants beat, stone and kill the prophets,
And eventually even kill the landowners only Son, Jesus.
In the end, the landowner takes the vineyard away from the tenant farmers,
He puts them to a miserable death, and leases the vineyard to a new people,
People who are not just the Israelites,
but all those who follow Jesus, and produce the fruit of God’s kingdom.
Once we understand who is who in the story,
It’s a nice enough story, as long as we are the ones who are producing fruit.
It’s not so nice if we’re the tenants:
The tenants who failed to give God his due,
And suffered a miserable death,
Losing all they had hoped to gain for refusing to pay their fair rent,
Not giving God the landowner what he deserved.
The hard reality is that sometimes we ARE like the tenants.
Sometimes we shy away from what Jesus would have us do.
Sometimes we are selfish.
Sometimes we participate in violence.
Sometimes we refuse to share the fruits of the vineyard.
Sometimes we fail to respond lovingly to the gifts of God’s creation that envelop
How can we face the seeming inconsistency of knowing God as loving, gracious,
and all giving on the one hand,
And on the other--
Seeing God as judging and punishing?
Do wicked tenants make for a wicked god?
In order to answer that question,
We have to start with the fact that God initiates the relationship with US.
Not the other way around.
(Remember God’s invitation to the vineyard in last week’s parable?)
God calls us to be in unity with God and all people.
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.
Our collect for today puts it well,
That God always wants to give more than we either DESIRE or DESERVE.
Jesus made it clear that we are the most precious beings in all creation:
That we are worth dying for.
We don’t have to earn God’s love:
It’s given freely.
So why would a loving God put us to a miserable death?
Maybe it’s not God:
But we who might choose that for ourselves.
The wicked tenants received all they needed from the landowner,
But they refused to accept his graciousness.
They turned their backs on him, his servants, and even his son.
And they were given multiple opportunities to try again.
They weren’t even cast out the first time that they participated in violence,
But instead, it wasn’t until the THIRD time.
By their actions and inactions,
They cast themselves out of the vineyard.
One could even say its similar to the way that Adam and Eve’s disobedience
resulted in their loss of the benefits of the Garden of Eden.
The miserable death we might experience can only result from our failure to
accept the gifts of God,
And respond to them in thanksgiving,
Again and again and again.
The miserable death can only result from our selfishly acting as if the vineyard is
Or should be all ours and no one else’s, let alone God’s,
And doing so again, and again, and again.
We have the capability to cast ourselves out of God’s vineyard:
Producing a self-inflicted kind of misery,
That we alone can create.
Today’s Gospel is not a story about a vengeful wicked God.
It’s a warning for us about what we can miss out on if we act like the wicked
It reminds us that God gives us more than we either deserve or DESIRE.
It’s like the words to the famous doxology:
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”
Praise God who freely gives us more than we deserve or desire.
And what we have is not ours to own,
But is on loan from God.
We need to remember that God’s way of grace and love is wooing us to respond
to our good fortune,
Of living in his vineyard,
By reflecting that love in our actions toward others.
And remembering that we have been blessed, in order to be a blessing.
God has already set up the vineyard for us.
And it’s more than we deserve,
More than we can even desire.
But it remains God’s vineyard.
We can share it,
Or we can try to hoard it for ourselves.
We can stay,
Or we can go.
God has already acted.
The next choice is ours.
We are WEEKS deep into hearing Parables from Matthew’s Gospel.
And today’s parable is yet another illustration of what God is like.
It’s also an illustration that reminds us what WE are like.
In a conversation with the Chief priests and elders in the temple,
Jesus tells a story about a father and his two sons.
The father asks both of his sons to go to work in the family vineyard.
The first son says something like, “Sure! I’ll get right on that!”
But in the end, he doesn’t follow through.
We know what that’s like.
We ask our spouse or child to take out the trash, or empty the dishwasher, and
they say “Sure! I’ll get right on that:
Just as soon as its halftime.”
Or “Sure! After this chapter is over.”
Or “Sure! At the end of this episode.”
If we’re honest, more than a few of us have surely been guilty of that response
We all know the first son because we’ve all made promises or commitments that,
for whatever reason we fail to keep.
But then there’s this other son.
This is the son who gets most of Jesus’ attention.
Unlike his brother, the second son initially says he won’t help out in the vineyard.
But then he winds up doing so in the end.
Now, we can ask all sorts of questions about why the second son changed his
Preachers and biblical scholars have been asking those questions for centuries:
But that’s not what we’re going to dig into today.
The truth that this parable brings to bear has nothing to do with the second son’s
And EVERYTHING to do with the fact that in the end:
He showed up.
In fact, the pattern of this parable is the pattern of our life with God.
No matter what we’ve done,
Or what may have initially prevented us,
God is always extending an invitation to us.
We are constantly being drawn into a new place--
To new depths of faith.
No matter if this is the first time we’ve heard the Gospel,
Or if we’ve been faithful Christians for decades:
This parable shows us one significant fact:
That God isn’t done with us yet.
Although we might wish for God to say to us,
“Okay. You’ve gone far enough:
You can retire now and spend the rest of your days relaxing in the back pew”
The truth is that the Christian life has no top status.
And in order to live into God’s invitation:
We must be willing to leave the past behind--
No matter how comfortable or familiar or profitable--
And turn toward the future:
Complete with all of its uncertainties and questions and anxieties.
And that’s HARD!
Consider the Chief priests and the elders of Jesus’ time.
They had quite a bit invested in the status quo.
Leaving the past behind,
Meant forfeiting their claims to power and position:
Which had become a part of their identities.
Stepping into life with Jesus meant leaving all of that behind in favor of a future
they couldn’t fully predict and couldn’t control.
One can’t help but wonder if the first son had similar thoughts.
After all, saying “yes” is the easy part--
Particularly when we don’t pause to consider the costs.
But actually doing the work?
Actually showing up?
That’s a different story.
God isn’t satisfied with just letting things stay the way that they are.
There’s always more work to do;
More kingdom to build,
And we hear that, and we get excited and we say,
“Yes! Sign me up! That’s what I want!”
But then reality sets in and we look around and we think.
“Hmmm… The status quo really isn’t all bad.
My life is okay the way it is now.
I don’t need to do the extra stuff.
I’ll just settle back in.
Plus: Who knows if I’m going to like the work that God is calling me to?
And more importantly, who knows if I’m going to get along with the OTHER
people who show up to work in God’s vineyard?
So… I know that I said yes, but I’ve thought about it, and well…”
Then there’s the other son.
And for as much as preaches and scholars have wondered why he changed his
mind, I can’t help but wonder what made him say “no” in the first place.
Could it be that he himself had been told “no” so many times that he thought
When all you’ve ever known is oppression, why in the world would you trust that
this time would be any different?
But as our parables usually show us:
God isn’t like you and me.
God doesn’t take no for an answer.
Although institutions and structures and people do their best to wall off and box
God is always breaking barriers and crossing lines and pushing boundaries to
invite us to new and abundant life!
The parable that Jesus tells is universal because at one time or another,
Every single one of us has found ourselves in that thin place between the relative
ease and comfort of saying “yes,” to God:
And actually putting one foot in front of the other and walking along the rocky
and dirt-paved path to the vineyard.
We’re all caught somewhere between the excited “yes” of the first son,
and the slow conversion, change of heart of the second son.
Much like the first son,
We’ve all been fed one of the biggest lies ever told in the name of Christianity:
That following Jesus would be easy.
And much like the second son,
We all know what it’s like to feel as if too much has been asked and that its too
far to go.
But at the end of the day, one thing remains true:
There’s more kingdom to build,
More vineyard work to be done:
And God has put out the call to all who dare to join him.
So Come to the vineyard for work!
Even if you show up late:
Even if you don’t want to come the first time your invited. (or even the second or
God CONTINUES welcomes you to the vineyard:
And you can walk in and join in on the work at any time.
Enjoy the weekly sermons at anytime.