Oil Enough and More

Text: Matthew 25:1-13

Bulletin: 2017-11-26 Last Sunday of the Church Year

Once again, during the final Sunday of the Church Year, we return to our Lord’s teaching during the final week of His earthly life. That final week, He spent much of His time teaching in the temple. He taught about the greatest commandment, about being a Christian in two kingdoms, even about His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. Today, we turn to some of our Lord’s teaching on the End Times. It’s fitting that we talk about the close of the age as we are at the close of the church year.

The focus of our Lord’s teaching today is this, as Jesus said, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”[1] Jesus taught the parable of the Ten Virgins to emphasize to His Disciples that His return to judge and bring in the New Creation would not be an immediate thing. This fact doesn’t surprise us, some 2000 years later, but it was new for them. It’ll be, Jesus said, like the days of Noah. People were eating and drinking and marrying up until the Flood and caught them all unaware. Today, we confess that our Lord’s return will be sudden and unexpected, but He sustains us in our watch through His Word and Sacraments.

I.

As usual, when we dive into a text it’s important to understand the context. The context of our passage today is that comes from a chunk of Matthew where Jesus is speaking about the destruction of the temple and signs of the end times. It happened that, as they were walking out of the temple, Jesus told the Disciples a time would come when none of its stones would be left standing. That prompted them to ask what the signs of would be of Jesus’ coming at the end of time. Then, Jesus taught them the passages we’ve all heard about wars and rumors of wars. As we live amidst what seems like endless wars and disasters, our minds sometimes fall with the Disciples – that maybe the end is near. Every so often someone gets on TV, the radio, or internet and proclaims that they know the exact day. But, the point of Jesus’ teaching today is that His return will be unexpected.

Just before today’s Gospel, Jesus taught in chapter 24 that no one knows the day or hour of His return – not the angels, not even the Son of God – only the Father. Following our text, is the Parable of the Talents. That’s where the master left his money with his servants and went away. When he came back, he expected his servants to have done something useful with what he gave them. The meaning of that parable is that we should wait for our Lord’s return, making faithful use of the things God has given us. God has blessed each of us with many talents and skills, and we are to use them in loving service to God and neighbor during our exile here below.

But, we sometimes take all this for granted. It is not news to us that our Lord’s return wouldn’t be immediately after His Ascension. But it was news for the first Christians and even the Disciples. St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians twice concerning it. First, they thought Christ had already come and they missed it. Then, when they heard it may not be soon, they grew idle and lazy. St. Paul wrote them every parent’s favorite verse, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”[2] Even the Disciples had trouble with this. Just before the Ascension, they asked Jesus if He would restore all things right there. He said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority.”[3] The point being, they were to wait and watch; as are we. Such, Jesus explains with a parable.

II.

It’ll be like ten virgins, Jesus said, who took lamps to meet the bridegroom. The custom at the time was that the bridal got prepared and then waited for the groom to come and get them. When arrived, they would all proceed together to the wedding hall for the ceremony and feast. Jesus said, “Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”[4] It happened that the groom was delayed in his coming, and all the virgins grew tired and slept. Then, at midnight came the cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” The virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The wise were prepared and had oil, but the foolish had run out.

The foolish virgins said to the wise, “‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’[5] The foolish virgins did not expect the delay. And, when the cry came, it caught them unaware. They left to go and buy oil. And, while they were out, the groom came. He gathered the wise virgins, they went to the wedding hall, and the door was shut. The foolish virgins knocked at the door saying, “‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’[6] Jesus interpreted the parable for us. As we heard before, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

III.

This is a parable directed to and concerning the Church on earth. Very seldom, if ever, in Scripture, is the word “virgin” used for anyone other than a believer in Christ. The ten virgins in the parable are members of the visible Church on earth. In the parable, they were all called to await the bridegroom. Likewise, as Christians, the Bride of Christ awaits His return. Our job is to wait and keep watch for His coming. We are to be alert and expecting His return at any moment.

But, on this end of things, it appears to us that Christ’s return is delayed. At the very least, we’ve been waiting a long time. This will be my 28th Advent. That means I’ve heard the story of the Triumphal Entry read and preached 56 times, each time mentioning the fact that Christ will someday return in glory to take me to heaven. Most of you have heard it more, and we’re still waiting. Waiting, like forgiving – which we talked about a few weeks ago – and praying, can make us grow weary.

When we grow weary, we are troubled by temptations of two sorts. The first, is to fall away from our watch. Some cease coming to church. It usually doesn’t happen all at once. But some fall away from regular attendance, and their lamps go out. The other temptation is to become focused on other things. We might still be here to receive God’s Word and Sacraments, but the temptation is for our lives to really revolve around something else, be it sports or family, or some collision of the two. We become so focused on other things that we forget what we’re watching and waiting for.

So that we might keep watch, Christ has given us and sustains us with His Means of Grace. This is important because, if we’re being honest, waiting for Christ to come is hard. Every year the Church calendar starts up again and the secular calendar after that. It’s hard, but the hope that has been poured into our hearts will not put us to shame. Through His Word and in His Sacraments, Christ forgives us our sins. The Lutheran Confessions say that the Holy Spirit works through these things as through instruments to give to us the forgiveness Christ won on the cross. But, through these things, also, is our watch sustained.

The temptation with this parable is to try and nail down what the oil is and how to get enough. I’m not sure we want to go down that route. Rather, let us stick to our Lord’s interpretation, that His return will be sudden and unexpected. Therefore, we are to keep watch. Though our flesh is weak, His Spirit is not. So that our watch is sustained and filled with hope, Christ gives us His Word and Sacraments. Through these things, our lamps have oil enough and more. And when the Bridegroom does finally call us, we will enter the wedding feast with joy.


[1] Matthew 25:13, English Standard Version.

[2] 2 Thess. 3:10.

[3] Acts 1:7.

[4] Matt. 25:2-3.

[5] Matt. 25:8-9.

[6] Matt. 25:11-12.

A Christian in Two Kingdoms

Text: Matthew 22:15-22

Bulletin: 2017-11-19 Trinity XXIII – Bulletin

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are Gods.”[1] With these words, Jesus put the attempts of the Pharisees to trap Him to flight. They came to Him in the temple to catch Him once-and-for-all, and finally put Him to death. This side of the Gospel, we know will happen only three days later, but we have in this text another picture of the hatred they had for our Lord. We also have here another masterful teaching from our God. With their words, Jesus’ enemies tried to trap Him. But, with His words, He both confounded them and gave us an important teaching.

The teaching was as useful to the first Christians as it is to us now – and would’ve been to the Pharisees, had they received it. The lesson is, just like Jesus said before Pilate, His kingdom is not of this world. Jesus did not come to set up an earthly kingdom or system of government. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be Christians in every country in the world, we will all be gathered together right now. In fact, we are together, now – in the kingdom of God. This called the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. Christ teaches us that, as Christians, we live in two kingdoms. Both are established and ruled by God, and we are led by Him to give what is due in both.

I.

Let’s set the scene, shall we? We’ve been in this chapter of Matthew already in the Church Year, so we know that everything after 21 takes place in Holy Week or after Easter. When we were last here, the Pharisees put Jesus to the test by asking Him which was the greatest commandment. Remember that He was not fooled, but correctly taught that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind; and, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Mt. 22:37-39) The Pharisees even admitted that Jesus taught correctly in our text. They said, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully…you are not swayed by appearances.”[2] But, they’re up to something. Nearly every time the word “Teacher,” is used for Jesus, it’s by an enemy.

In fact, they are up to something. St. Matthew wrote, “The Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle [Jesus] in His words. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians… [They said] …Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”[3] It’s important to understand some of the context here. The Pharisees had some specific ideas about the Messiah. One of them was that, when the Messiah did come, he would be an earthly ruler. He would overthrow the Romans and institute a new worldly order. Now, the people called the Herodians who came with them – they were fans of the Romans. When they asked Jesus about paying the tax, they thought they would stick Him either way. If He said to pay it, then He would offend the Pharisees and their followers. If He said to not pay, then He would alienate Himself from those who favored the Romans…and potentially lose His head.

Just like before, Jesus wasn’t fooled. It says that Jesus, aware of their malice, had them bring Him a coin – which, of course, they had. Then He said, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” When they said, “Caesar’s,” then Jesus answered, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are Gods.”[4] Just like that, Jesus cut free of their trap and pulled them into it. Confounded, the Pharisees left Him alone. When they put Jesus to the test, to try and get Him to choose between serving God or government, the right understanding is that we serve God in both. A Christian lives both in the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world at the same time.

This is as an important teaching now as it was then. It’s important for us to confess this, because we sometimes take it for granted. All things being equal, a Christian does not need to choose between living in God’s kingdom (the Church) and the world, because God has established and rules both. In the world, He rules by His Law; but in the Church, He rules by grace. From our Lord’s mouth, we confess that we live in both kingdoms, and He leads us to render to each what is due.

II.

So far we’ve been talking about the Two Kingdoms. When Jesus was put to the test to choose between them in principal, He said to serve both. Now, let’s define them and talk about what should be rendered to each. The first, is the kingdom of caesar, the Kingdom of the World, the Kingdom of the Left. This kingdom is the collective governing systems of the world. The majority of countries have some sort of governing party that establishes and enforces law. The intention of most is to prevent and punish evil and promote and reward good. All these things are originally God’s idea.

St. Paul taught the Romans, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”[5] St. Peter, likewise, said, “Be subject for the Lords sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”[6] As an institution, government was established by God to maintain order and promote good. This happens by the establishment and enforcement of laws. There are many good examples in this of Scripture. Monday nights, we’ve been going through Daniel where kings used laws to promote the worship of God. At Kelleher, we also learned about Nehemiah, who was a governor and used his position for the good of God’s people.

In order for the government to do its work, which is really God’s, it does need some things. The thing brought up by our text? Taxes. Pay your taxes. The government serves by God’s command, so Paul says, “because of this you also pay taxes.”[7] When we pay our taxes, even as we can disagree about the amount in good conscience, we are acting in obedience to God’s Word and it pleases Him. At times, we may be called upon to serve our government with our talents and bodies. We should also do that in good conscience, for behind the government, we are really serving God. It may be that God has given us talents and gifts that may be of service to our government – whether it be running for office or entering voluntary service – in these also, we render to Caesar what is his. The kingdom of the left, extends over all the world and over all people. The whole world is ruled by God’s Law. He sets in place and overthrows, He plants and uproots. But the kingdom of the right, the Church, God rules by grace. We are brought into this kingdom through faith in Christ.

III.

According to our Lord, we also live in the kingdom of God. Just as the kingdom of the world was established and is ruled by God, so also the Kingdom of the Right. It is built upon the preaching and teaching of the prophets and apostles, Christ Himself being the cornerstone. In this kingdom, Christ rules by His grace. Those who have sinned are forgiven. Those who die daily to sin, are raised in Baptism and in the resurrection to come. Here, He mends broken hearts and binds up weak souls. To Caesar we render our external obedience, our tax money, and our talents. But to God, we render our hearts. This is the Law Christ preached to the Pharisees, and we should hear it – our hearts belong to God and not the things of this world. Too often we mistake this, and place our trust in things that fail. The Psalm says, “Trust not in princes.”

Thanks be to God, then, that we do live into two kingdoms. As Christians, we live and serve God in both realms. In the Kingdom of the Left, we serve God through the government by being subject to it, obeying laws and paying taxes. We know that behind these things, we have both the command and promise of God. He said to the Israelites in exile that they should pray for the city they were in, for in its welfare they will find their own. We also live into the Kingdom of the Right, the kingdom of Grace. We were brought in through Baptism and here we receive the forgiveness sins of daily, we are strengthened in the faith, and led to love and serve God and neighbor. When the Pharisees put Jesus to the test, He confounded them and taught us the truth. We are called and led to serve God in both kingdoms. The Lord grant that, by His Holy Spirit, we cheerfully render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.


[1] Matthew 22:21, English Standard Version.

[2] Matt. 22:16.

[3] Mt. 22:15-17.

[4] Mt. 22:20-21.

[5] Rom. 13:1.

[6] 1 Pet. 2:13-14.

[7] Rom. 13:6.

2017 Joint Parish Meeting

2017 Joint-Parish Meeting                       

St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches

Stats

Total Mileage Since Last Meeting: 12,342 (increase of 52 miles from last year)

Services: 134 (both congregations combined); additional weekly services at the nursing home in Hillsboro; Plus, occasional pulpit supply in Fargo and Devil’s Lake

    • Communion Services: 57 (combined); monthly communion services are hosted at the nursing home; in addition, regular communion during shut-in visits
    • Baptisms: 2; Nora and Axton at St. John
    • Funerals, Memorial Services, Burials: 3 at St. John (Warren, Jeannie, Kay); 1 at First American (Arlene)
    • Confirmations: 3; Nathan and Calvin at St. John; Chad at Trinity

Total Membership: St. John, 211; Trinity, 48

Events Attended: Circuit winkels each month; LWML zone events and national convention, ND BoD meetings; District pastors’ conferences (May 1-3, Oct. 2-4); PALS (Feb. 20-21, Jul. 13-14)


Report

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)

St. Paul wrote these words to the Philippians from his cell in Rome as part of his final encouragement to them. Even amid their own many trials and sufferings, their love for each other and for Paul abounded more and more. They even sent their brother Epaphroditus to care for Paul in his imprisonment. Through them all, St. Paul was encouraged and strengthened in the faith. So, near the close of his letter, he turns the encouragement back their way. “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

They are to rejoice because the Lord is at hand. Truly, we are nearer to His return than when we first believed. The Day will come when every knee will bow, and we shall enter into Paradise with Him. But, until then, Christ Himself remains near us in His Word and Sacraments. Through faith in Him, we all have access to our Father in heaven, who promises to hear and answer our prayers. For this reason, the Philippians and we have cause to rejoice. The Lord hears and answers our prayers; He cares for us in every need. As we pray to God with every need and with all thanksgiving, our hearts are ruled by His peace. Through His Means of Grace, our God continues to bind our hearts and minds together into one and keeps us together in His Son, Jesus Christ.

This year has been a year of celebration. We have been marking this year as the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. We’ve been celebrating with the hymns of Martin Luther, with Bible studies, a hymn festival, and other events. Yet, we’ve always kept in mind that what we are truly celebrating is the Gospel: the teaching that our sins are truly and freely forgiven by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. By His death on the cross, He has secured for us the forgiveness of sins, and gives that to us freely, apart from any works or merit of our own.

We rejoice, also, as we note that this year has brought some physical changes and renewal to our church buildings. Trinity’s building has received new doors and insulation. The Lord’s altar at Trinity has also been adorned in new, beautiful paraments. This last summer, the members of St. John stepped out in faith and built a playground on their property for the benefit of the community. Much of St. John’s building has also received new flooring just recently. Truly, the Lord has blessed us with these buildings. Even for these reasons alone, there is cause for rejoice and thanksgiving to God.

But, there is another reason. It’s the same I said last year. We are still here. We live in a world that is very evil. I know that is hard to say and, perhaps, harder to accept. We are surrounded on every side by temptations to sin, including the temptation to neglect our attendance in Sunday worship. There are forces at work in the world seeking to deprive us of our freedom to worship the only true God without fear. But we are still here. The Lord continues to gather us, His flock at Trinity and St. John, around His Word and Sacraments. By His Holy Spirit, He continues to call us to hear His Word, receive His gifts, and sing His praise week in and week out (and sometimes, even more often). What a wonderful thing. What a privilege we have to know that our sins are forgiven, that we have eternal life, that we have a God and Father who is Lord of all – yet, Who answers our every call. For this, we rejoice.

Has this been a year without challenges? No. At times, we’ve continued to struggle attendance-wise. Additionally, there has been some (perhaps, expected) financial stress this year. I’m not saying these things to call anyone out, but to admit – as your pastor – that we are still sinners. Just so, in the hymn of the day this last Sunday we sang, “Chief of sinners, though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me.” Though we are great sinners, we have a greater Savior, still. I am convinced that this year, again, He will continue to forgive us our sins and guard and protect us against all evil.

St. Paul encouraged the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord always, for He and His advent are near. In all things, they were to make their requests known to God. And God, with His peace that surpasses all understanding, kept them in Christ Jesus. God grant the same to us, His humble servants at Trinity and St. John, in this next year.

Your servant in Christ,

Pastor Jacob Swenson

2017-11-15 Joint Parish Meeting

Unlimited Forgiveness

Text: Matthew 18:21-35

One of the conclusions that we all come to as we work our way through this life is that things don’t last. They wear out, they run out; they expire. One of the lessons I’ve had to learn over life is to smell my milk before I drink it. And, something I find myself doing with unnerving frequency is buying new socks. For some reason, I wear holes in my socks quickly, and I have to throw them away and get new ones. Everything has a number of expected uses, a shelf life, or an expiration date – which we have all learned to accept. But, what about forgiveness?

Forgiveness is the topic of the day in the Gospel text. St. Peter went to Jesus with a reasonable question. When my brother sins against me, how many times I am required to forgive him? How many times before I can stop? In some areas of our country, legal systems allow for three strikes – then you’re out. In our personal lives, we tend to mirror that standard. St. Peter was especially generous, he offered to forgive his brother up to seven times before he cut him off. How does our Lord respond to the question? “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Mt. 18:22) That is, the forgiveness we offer to our neighbor should never be exhausted or run out. There is no point at which we can stop forgiving our neighbor and get a new one. Jesus will illustrate this with a parable. As our multitude of sins have been forgiven by Christ, so also are we led by Him to freely forgive those who sin against us.

I.

It is a totally understandable – and relatable – question that Peter asked our Lord. We’ve all been in situations or are in one now, where we have been repeatedly sinned against, even by the same person. The flip side is also true, we have all been guilty of repeatedly sinning against other people. What prompts Peter’s question is Jesus’ teaching in this chapter. Matthew 18 is largely concerned with caring for our neighbor in Christ. The chapter opens with Jesus teaching that we should humble ourselves and become like children before God. Then, Jesus talked about how, if our brother sins against us, we should go and speak to him. If he refuses to be reconciled, Jesus said to take one or two others with us and go speak again. If he still refuses to be reconciled, it is to be told to the congregation and – if he still then refuses to repent and be reconciled – the offending brother is excluded from fellowship.

So, Peter follows this up with the question, “‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” (Mt. 18:21-22) Peter’s question resonates with us. Forgiving is hard work. Often, it involves no small amount of spiritual hurt and anxiety. As such, we get tired of forgiving. So, we stop. And the world says we’re right to do so. But, what does Jesus say? We are not to forgive our brother seven times only, but seventy-seven times. The phrase that Jesus uses in the Greek is meant to convey an unlimited amount, not just a bigger – but still limited – amount than what Peter graciously offered. In no uncertain terms, Jesus says that we are to forgive our neighbor in Christ. Period. No limits. The relationship between a Christian and his or her neighbor is to be one of complete love and forgiveness. At no point should our forgiveness run out or dry.

II.

It’s like this, Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.” (Mt. 18:23) In this parable there is a king who wishes to reconcile the debts of his servants. Right away, one was brought to him who owed ten thousand talents. A talent itself was a large amount of money. One commentary I read did the math and said that this would be the equivalent of sixty million days of work. Since the man could not pay this monumental debt, the king ordered that all that the man had be sold to cover at least part of it. The man begged for patience while he tried to figure out some way to pay. But, instead, the king felt compassion for the man and, “released him and forgave his debt.” (Mt. 18:27)

Straightaway, the man went out and found one of his fellow servants. The other did owe him money, and a large amount – about 100 days’ wages – but certainly less than the first servant had been forgiven. The first servant began choking the other and demanding payment. When the man begged for patience, in the same way that the first had implored the king, his cries were steadfastly ignored. The Greek says the first servant kept being unwilling to forgive and instead threw his fellow servant in prison until such time as the debt be paid.

Now, in short order, the king found out about all this. He said to the unforgiving servant, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Mt. 18:32-33) The expected behavior of the first servant is that, as he had been forgiven a monumental debt, so he would in turn forgive the debt of his neighbor. Instead, he refused to forgive. So, the original forgiveness from the king was set aside. “In anger his master delivered him to the torturers, until he should pay all the debt.” (Mt. 18:34) Our Lord provides for us the interpretation of this parable, “So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Mt. 18:35)

III.

This is a difficult text to hear, as Jesus is calling us to do something we cannot do. And, quite frankly, we have done the opposite of what Jesus says here. We have let our forgiveness toward others lapse, and we have often refused to forgive, even in the first place. We find ourselves in the position of the first servant. We are about up to our necks in sin and it’s poised to drown us all. We know that for each and every sin, there is payment to be made. The cost of our sin is such that we could not pay it in a billion years. Yet God, who is the king in the parable, forgives us. He forgives us at great cost to Himself, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, His Son. By His grace, our colossal debt is forgiven. So, we, in turn, should forgive those who sin against us. And, not seven times, but seven-times-seven.

The question before us is how. How can we forgive so much, especially when we are hurt by others’ sinning? On our own we can’t. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches…apart from Me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5) But, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. This is why Jesus has given us the sacraments: so that we might receive the forgiveness of our sins, be strengthened in the faith, and have our love for our neighbor increased. This why we are to receive the Lord’s Supper often. On our own, we tend to look at forgiveness as a limited resource that, once it’s gone, it’s gone. But that is not how we are to be. Instead, through the Sacraments, the love of Christ is poured into our hearts, and through that we are led to love and forgive our neighbor as often as he does sin against us.

Peter’s question to Jesus is totally understandable. Like the milk in our fridge that expires or socks that wear out, we also treat our forgiveness like it’s something that can expire or run out. But, Jesus says our lives are to be lives of love and unlimited forgiveness. On our own, we cannot do this. But, Christ, through His Word and Sacraments, gives the forgiveness His won to us and, through these things, leads us to forgive others. May He grant that this day we receive the Sacrament for the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our faith, and the increase and sustaining of our love for each other.