The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

October 4, 2020

 

SERVICE OF THE WORD

This service offers the congregation a form of worship that focuses on the proclamation of God’s Word.  Believers respond to this divine gift with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.  The service begins on page 38 in the front of the hymnal.

 

M:       We worship today in the name of our Triune God— God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

C:        Amen

Confession of Sins

M:       We have come into the presence of God, who created us to love and serve Him as His dear children.  But we have disobeyed Him and deserve only His wrath and punishment.  Therefore, let us confess our sins to Him and plead for His mercy.

C:        Merciful Father in heaven, I am altogether sinful from birth.  In countless ways I have sinned against you and do not deserve to be called your child.  But trusting in Jesus, my Savior, I pray:  Have mercy on me according to your unfailing love.  Cleanse me from my sin, and take away my guilt.

M:       God, our heavenly Father has forgiven all your sins.  By the perfect life and innocent death of our Lord Jesus Christ, He has removed your guilt forever.  You are His own dear child.  May God give you strength to live according to His will.

C:        Amen.

Prayer and Praise

M:       In the peace of forgiveness, let us praise the Lord.

C:        Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.  Blessed are they who take refuge in Him.  Your Word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.  Your faithfulness continues forever.  Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.  Blessed are they who take refuge in Him.

PRAYER OF THE DAY

M:       Let us pray.

Lord God, you call us to work in your kingdom and leave no one standing idle.  Help us to order our lives by your wisdom and to serve you in willing obedience; we ask this through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

C:     Amen

The Word

FIRST LESSON – Isaiah 55:6-9

The prophet proclaims to us that God’s wise ways have brought us mercy and pardon from our sins.

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.   Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (NIV1984)

 

PSALM OF THE DAY – Psalm 27

Hear my voice when I call, O LORD;

be merciful to me and answer me.

Do not hide Your face from me,

do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my helper.

Do not reject me or forsake me,

O God my Savior.

Though my father and mother forsake me,

the LORD will receive me.

I am still confident of this:

I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

Wait for the LORD;

be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son

                       and to the Holy Spirit,

            as it was in the beginning,

                        is now, and will be forever.  Amen

 

SECOND LESSON – Philippians 1:18b-27eba

From prison, St. Paul speaks of the joyful tension in which a Christian lives.  May God give us courage and willingness to exalt our Savior in life and in death!

But what does it matter?  The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.  And because of this I rejoice.  Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.  I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.  Yet what shall I choose?  I do not know!  I am torn between the two:  I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.  Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.  Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.  Then, whether I come and see or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel. (NIV1984)

 

VERSE OF THE DAY

Alleluia.  My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Alleluia.  (2 Corinthians 12:9a)

 CAlleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  These words are written that we may believe that Jesus is

       the Christ, the Son of God.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

 GOSPEL LESSON – Matthew 20:1-16

Through the words of a parable, Jesus shows us that the gift of eternal life is enjoyed by all who believe In Him, regardless of the length of their earthly life.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.  He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.  About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing.  He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’  So they went.  He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing.  About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around.  He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’  ‘Because no one has hired us’ they answered.  He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’  When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’  The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius.  So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more.  But each one of them also received a denarius.  When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.  ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’  But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you.  Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go.  I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you.  Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?  So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (NIV1984)

C:        Praise be to you, O Christ!

 

SERMON  Seek the Lord While He May Be Found!

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Get out!  Now!  Before it’s too late!  That’s the warning that we heard from our county’s emergency management office as Hurricane Andrew came barreling into our neighborhood in August of 1992.  We were told in no uncertain terms that if we waited too long the roads heading north would become clogged with cars— and you do not want to be sitting in your car as a category 5 hurricane engulfs you.  We were also warned that if we waited too long that when winds got above a certain speed no one was going to come and rescue you.  It just would not be safe for the first responders to go out in that kind of danger.

Get out!  Now!  Before it’s too late!  That is a warning that thousands of people heard last Sunday evening as yet another wildfire engulfed the hills and the valleys in both Napa County and Sonoma County.  The fire was moving so fast and burning so hot that if you waited too long the roads leading out of your neighborhood could be cut off by fire.  So, if you were still in your home when you heard the first responder vehicles driving through your neighborhood with their high/low siren sounding— you needed to get out!  Now!  Before it’s too late!

Just about anywhere you live, my friends, there are certain events for which you need to be prepared.  If you live anywhere in Florida you need to be prepared for hurricanes.  If you live anywhere in California you need to be prepared for wildfires.  If you live in the Midwest you need to be prepare for tornados.  Not preparing for events such as these could prove to be fatal.

Our sermon text for today reminds us that what is true on a physical level is even more true on a spiritual level.  There is one event that straddles the physical/spiritual line, one event which for some people will be like a hurricane, a wildfire and a tornado all rolled into one.  It is— death!  For that reason, we are going to draw our sermon theme directly from the text itself.  Let’s listen very closely as we hear the Lord God of heaven and earth say to us:  Seek the Lord While He May Be Found!

Our text for today is Isaiah’s inspired response to the glorious Gospel invitation that the Lord extends to His wayward people in the opening verses of Isaiah chapter 55.  There the Lord says, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.  Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.  Give ear and come to me, that your soul may live” (Isaiah 55:1-3).  Throughout the holy Scriptures we see the Lord patiently holding out His hands and calling wayward people to come back to Him while they still have the opportunity, before it’s too late.  But, the Lord’s call to wayward people is a limited time offer, isn’t it.  As we look back through the pages of history we see that when people rejected God’s Word, when people became dull to the glorious message of the Gospel, God has withdrawn His glorious invitation and given it to someone else.  Jesus reminded God’s people of this truth in the Parable of the Tenants.  In that parable Jesus reminded the descendants of Abraham that the Kingdom of God was like a vineyard which the Lord God had planted and then given to the descendants of Abraham to tend and to enjoy.  But, when the descendants of Abraham rejected Jesus as the long awaited Messiah, Jesus said to them, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit” (Matthew 21:43).  The apostle Paul upheld this same truth in his work as a missionary.  As Paul traveled from city to city and from town to town, he always went to the synagogue first.  He wanted to share with his fellow Jews that the Messiah has come!  He is Jesus of Nazareth!  If/when the Jews rejected that glorious Gospel message then Paul turned to the Gentiles and shared that glorious Gospel message with them!  (See Acts 13:13ff)

The fact that the Lord’s Gospel invitation is a limited time offer gives even more urgency to Isaiah’s words, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”  It’s easy to spot the “wicked” and the “evildoers” in the Old Testament, isn’t it?  The “wicked” and the “evildoers” bowed down to Baal and even sacrificed their own children to this disgusting idol.  (See Jeremiah19:1-6; Ezekiel 16:20-22)  It’s easy to spot the “wicked” and the “evildoers” in the New Testament, isn’t it?  We think of King Herod who slaughtered the innocent children of Bethlehem in a vain effort to kill the One who had been “born king of the Jews.” (See Matthew 2)  It’s easy to spot the “wicked” and the “evildoers” in our world today, isn’t it?  They carry out gruesome terrorist attacks.  They flaunt their immoral lifestyle and demand that we accept it as “normal.”  It’s easy to compare ourselves to the “wicked” and to the “evildoer” and feel pretty good about ourselves— until we stop to realize that the terms “wicked” and “evildoer” apply to everyone who fails to measure up to God’s standard of holiness and perfection.  (See Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48)  This reality leads each and everyone of us to ask ourselves, “How often have I failed to put the Lord first in my heart and in my life?”  “How often have I failed to love my neighbor as myself?”  This reality leads each and every one of us to listen closely as Isaiah says to us this morning, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.  Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God for he will freely pardon.”

Satan is constantly trying to convince us that there is no way God would forgive someone like meMy sins are so bad and my sins are so numerous that I can’t fathom how or why God would save someone like me!  Satan even tries to convince us that the sweet simple message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is just “too good to be true”!  There must be a “catch”!  There must be something that I have to do first— some “good work” that I need to do, some “decision” that I need to make!  Because Satan is so good at tapping into the flawed logic of our old sinful nature, the God of heaven says to us”  “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways,’ declared the LORD.  ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”

To help us understand what the Lord is saying here all we need to do is to think back to when we were a young child.  We didn’t always understand what our parents were doing or thinking when they told us that we had to eat the food that they put on the table— even if we would prefer to have something else; that we had to go to bed on time so that we got a good night’s rest; that we had to do our homework to the very best of our ability; that instead of letting our allowance burn a hole in our pocket we need to save some— and the list could go on and on.  And now?  Now that we are older (and hopefully wiser!) we see that their thoughts and their ways were much “higher” and “better” than ours!

To see how that reality applies to God’s “thoughts” and to God’s “ways” all we need to do is look at the Ten Commandments.  Putting God first in our hearts and in our lives, prioritizing our week so that we worship and praise our Savior-God on a regular basis, obeying those whom God has put in authority over us, honoring God’s gift of marriage and sex, striving to help other people and to not hurt them— that is not “natural” to our old sinful nature.  But, when we end up hurting ourselves, when we end up hurting others, when we end up hurting our relationship with the Lord then we realize how wise and how right God’s “thoughts” and God’s “ways” truly are!

The same holds true when it comes to our eternal salvation.  When God tells me that the gift of saving faith in my heart is just that— a gift that God the Holy Spirit created through the power-filled message of the Gospel— that’s how it is, even if it doesn’t make sense to me.  When God tells me that He loves me so very much that He willingly sent His only-begotten Son who willingly suffered and died (Pointing to the cross) in my place to forgive my sins— that’s how it is, even if I struggle with how God could do so much for someone as terrible as me.  When God tells me that when ordinary water is “connected” with God’s powerful Word in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism it washes away all sin, even the sins of a tiny little baby and creates saving faith in a person’s heart, even in the heart of an infant— that’s how it is, even if I have a difficult time understanding how a baby can be sinful or how a baby can believe.  When God tells me that in the Sacrament of Holy Communion I receive Jesus’ true body and Jesus’ true blood “in, with and under” the earthly elements of bread and wine— that’s how it is, even if my limited logical mind says it still looks like and tastes like bread and wine.  When God tells me that every time someone dies believing and trusting in Jesus as their Savior their soul is immediately welcomed into the glory and perfection of heaven and on Judgment Day their physical body will be raised from the dead, reunited with their soul and live with the one and only Living God forever— that’s how it is, even though the unbelieving world scoffs at such a teaching.

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.  Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.  Give ear and come to me, that your soul may live…Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.  Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God for he will freely pardon.”

These words remind us that God’s glorious Gospel invitation is the most precious and the most powerful invitation we will ever hear.  At the very same time these words remind us that God’s glorious Gospel invitation is a limited time offer.  The instant our physical body dies and our soul is summoned into God’s presence— that’s it.  There are no second chances.  Whatever is in our heart at the moment of our death determines where we will spend eternity.  May God grant that we will spend every single day of our life “seeking” Him (Pointing to the cross) and “calling” on Him (Pointing to the cross), so that every single day of our life we will rejoice in His “mercy” (Pointing to the cross) and treasure His “pardon”! (Pointing to the cross)

To God be the glory!

Amen

 

APOSTLES’ CREED

I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.  From there He will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen.

 OFFERING

During this time of uncertainty we still want to bring our thank offerings to our dear Lord and Savior.  We ask that you continue to set your offerings aside so that when we are able to come together again in God’s House we will be able to place our offerings on His altar.

PRAYER OF THE CHURCH

Dear God the Holy Spirit, as we come before you today we thank and praise you for everything that you have revealed to us in your holy Word.  Today, through your servant Isaiah, you remind us that the glorious message of the Gospel is indeed the most precious invitation that anyone could ever possibly hear.  But, you also remind us that this glorious invitation is indeed available for only a limited time.  If someone continually rejects you and your offer of salvation, then like Pharaoh their heart may be hardened or like your people of old your offer may be taken away and given to someone else.   Help us all to remember that trusting the sweet simple message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved.  Help us also remember that at the moment of our physical death we will be judged for all of eternity based on whether there was saving faith in our heart— or not.

As we strive to share the message of Jesus with those who do not believe in Him, help us to also remember how important it is to strengthen and nourish the gift of saving faith that you have created in our hearts so that we do not allow it to wither away and die.  To that end help us to make regular use of your holy Word and your holy Sacrament so that we can grow in our faith, in our trust and in our love for you, our Savior-God.

C:        Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.  Amen.

M:       O Lord God, our heavenly Father, pour out the Holy Spirit on your faithful people.  Keep us strong in your grace and truth, protect and comfort us in all temptation, and bestow on us your saving peace, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

C:        Amen.

M:       Brothers and sisters, go in peace.  Live in harmony with one another.  Serve the Lord with gladness.

The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you.  The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace.

C:        Amen.