GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOR...JESUS THE CHRIST...THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD.
"I lay my sins on Jesus
The spotless Lamb of God;
He takes them all and frees us from the accursed load.
I bring my guilt to Jesus
To wash my crimson stains.
Clean in His Blood most precious
Till not a spot remains.”
That hymn provides such a blessed response to the greatest invitation any human being can ever receive - an invitation to come just as we are - lost and condemned sinners - to the foot of the cross where the Lamb of God suffered and died to wash away our sins in His Blood and to restore our eternal relationship with God.
Many who inhabit our nation and world are figuratively "up a tree" - an expression used to describe someone with a problem too big to handle. Feelings of guilt over some thoughtless act - hurt and angry feelings over some real or imagined slight - sorrow over the loss of a loved one - a feeling of helplessness over a financial set-back - covetous and greedy or lustful feelings which we wish we could conquer -- there are so many things that can put a person or a nation figuratively "up a tree".
Nothing in life puts us higher and more painfully up a tree than when we find ourselves enslaved by temptation and sin which alienate us from our Creator. It is then more than ever that we need Jesus – coming just as we are to be redeemed and changed for now and eternity by our Savior Who suffered and died on the cross for that redemption and that temporal and eternal lifestyle change.
In this morning's Gospel text, Zacchaeus was both literally and figuratively up a tree and some residents of Jericho were no doubt whispering "It couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy."
By some standards, Zacchaeus could have been described as "Mr. Success in Jericho". He had wealth, position, and power. He was truly intelligent, cultured, and a "self-made man". Why then was this successful, well-positioned man both literally and figuratively up a tree?
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOUR - JESUS THE CHRIST
Each year Reformation Sunday loudly proclaims the very Foundation of Christ’s Church. It celebrates the 16th Century Reformation that completely reshaped the Christian Church by taking it back to its 1st Century roots in God’s Word – but Reformation Sunday is far more than that – it shines the Light of Faith on those sacred roots in the three cardinal doctrines of Christian Faith and Life.
Totally undeserved and unearned by us, God created us in His Own Image for no other reason than that God wants to love us and live in a relationship of perfect Love and Faith with us – now and eternally.
What a wondrous gift that God - without any knowledge, say, or earning on our part - should have created us in His Own Image and breathed into us His breath of life - our soul.
It didn’t take long for humanity to minimize the Divine Gift.
With the eating of the forbidden fruit, they showed they had more important agendas than appreciating God’s Love and Faithfulness and more to do than believe in and love God in return.
Thank God Who did not take back the gifts –but even increased them. What a wondrous gift that God - when we allowed sin and
temptation to enter our lives, tarnishing God's Own Image which He had lovingly placed in us, fracturing that soul breath of life communication line which God had so lovingly breathed into us - that God still brings us that ultimate gift God offers and celebrates in our Epistle text. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God; we are now justified by God’s Grace as a Gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
SOLA GRATIA - GRACE ALONE - calls us to that Divine Gift which we receive totally undeserved and which we can in no way earn.
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS THE CHRIST.
In yesterday’s FAMILY CIRCLE cartoon, two little boys were looking out the window on a cold and rainy day. One boy turned to the other and said “I wish God wouldn’t wash the world on Saturday.”
Well, once again this morning, in our text, Jesus is telling a parable in which – unlike the boy in yesterday’s cartoon – we have a picture of God’s view of the world in which we all live.
In our world, unlike most of his Judean neighbors, a certain rich man lived in a home where only Roman officials and Israelites who worked for the Romans lived.
The homes had lots of rooms, plenty of outdoor space and a good solid wall to insure privacy. In an edge of the desert land where water was priceless to most people, they had fountains outside and hot and cold pools for bathing inside –like Herod and the Romans they were so envious of.
It was in the open patio by the fountain that a certain rich man reclined on cushions and feasted sumptuously every day.
In the picture Jesus verbally sketches, the fabric closest to the nameless certain rich man’s body is byssus - a very delicate, soft white or yellow linen - impressive enough that it was used in the veil of the Temple - very costly to make - more costly to import. It comes from a species of mussels which secrete byssus threads to anchor themselves to surfaces.
His outer garment is - Tyrian purple porfura - a most highly prized dye which was extracted from the murex shellfish found in the Mediterranean Sea along the Phoenician Coast. Known as the color of royalty, the purple dye was applied by professionals through a long process of soaking and dying. Magnificent long porfura robes were worn by royalty, by members of the higher echelon of the priesthood and by civil authorities appointed by Rome.
The property included a secure gate section. What sharp contrast Jesus places on His verbal canvas as He next paints a powerful picture of “a wretched beggar named Lazarus” who was laid at that gate.
Lazarus was a pt???? (ptokos) - a cowering, helpless, wretched beggar who was ????µ???? (elkomenos) - completely and chronically ulcerated ... his body filled with those horrible looking, painful, festering, infected sores that afflict the skin of so many people in the Middle East then and now because of the frightful lack of proper sanitation among the poor.
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOUR - JESUS THE CHRIST.
Jesus began to tell the people this parable: “There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country.”
Grape plants in the Holy Land are considered more precious than in America and in the water parched land of Judea they are more difficult to grow but to put it simply, it’s worth the effort because every part of the grape plant serves multiple purposes. Because there werefew possessions more cherished by Judeans than their grape plants, Jesus chose a vineyard to symbolize the human lives God has created, the owner of that vineyard to symbolize God the Creator and Lord of our lives and the vinedressers to symbolize we who are blessed to live those lives.
You and I never truly own the vineyard that is our lives which always ultimately belong to God. Where our lives and this universe of resources are concerned, we will always be the vinedressers- dressing, trimming, pruning, and cultivating our lives and all the resources accompanying our lives - ultimately giving God an account of our stewardship.
Jesus continued “Now when the vinteage-time drew near the landowner sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit.”
And what is that fruit God seeks from us vinedressers from our God-given lives?
By God’s Grace – through St. Paul in GALATIANS (5:22-23) – God lists some of those fruits He seeks - faithfulness, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, benevolence, meekness, humility, self-control – the fruit of the lives God created in His Own Image, redeemed on that horrible cross and enlightens and empowers to produce God’s divine harvest.
The first servants Whom God sends are The Word of God. “The vinedressers beat one, killed one, and stoned another.” The Word of God is attacked, rejected or just ignored – deemed to be too antiquated and prejudiced to have a place in public discourse.
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOUR – JESUS THE CHRIST.
We know there is no more important fact in life than that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” If we know that Truth we are living eternally with God. Everything else in life grows out of that one great Truth. Outside of that Truth there is no life – there is only existence.
But what about the way we live the temporal part of that eternal relationship? At no time in human history has there been such organized and unorganized assault against God and His Word than in this 21st Century. Organized attempts to sanitize and even aggrandize the sins of the world openly seek to bar God’s Word from pubic venues – and even in some churches. God’s Commandments and moral positions are characterized as antiquated and even as bigoted.
Our text this morning is The Parable of The Unjust Steward.
Being as familiar as we are with its focus on someone called The Unjust Steward, we may feel it is a morality play about unfair business practices. Jesus’ focus is far more basic than that. In fact, Jesus is focusing on what has become one of the most important questions of this 21st Century - “Just how practical is The Word of God?”
Jesus said, "There was a rich man who had a steward, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his goods." Today companies hire CEOs or managers with set salaries and formulas for determining commissions and bonuses. The rest of the profits belong to the owners or stockholders.