Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “See Your King Comes to You!” based on Philippians 2 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019
We humans are strange creatures. Other species avoid pain and struggle. We actually seek it out. Other species do difficult things because they have to. We do difficult things because we like to. We think it’s fun. Introducing the all new 2019 Ford Ranger–built for the strangest of all creatures. Yep, commercials with words like that played over images of extreme mountain biking, skydiving and icy rock climbing try to convince us that we actually seek out pain and struggle. That we do difficult things because we like to. And that makes the 2019 Ford Ranger the right vehicle for us pain lovers and struggle seekers, because we are the strangest of all creatures. Yeah, right. You know the truth and so do I.
We don’t do difficult things because it’s fun. We’re much more likely to beg out of pain than to seek it. We’re much more likely to procrastinate in doing difficult things than to embrace them. And that’s a real problem when the difficult things in question are things that God wants us to do. Because…he demands obedience. There’s a very real part of us that says “Ok. As long as it’s not too hard.” He deserves total commitment, even if it’s difficult, uncomfortable, painful. In response we say, “Yes. But maybe that difficult thing can wait till tomorrow.” What are we pain haters and struggle shunners to do?
Well, first—stop listening to silly commercials that try to convince us that we’re something we’re not. Second—look in faith to the Man on the donkey. See your king comes to you this Palm Sunday. The way Paul describes him in Philippians, chapter 2—Jesus is the strangest of all creatures, embracing pain that no one else could, that no one else would, so that we could be his own.
Paul writes, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus (we’ll come back to that!)….who being in the nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” Jesus didn’t grab onto his divine rights like a starving Great Dane grabbing a piece of steak left too close to the edge of the kitchen counter. You know, what that big hoss takes that tnederloin over to the corner and starts working on it, don’t even think about trying to pry it away from him. Jesus didn’t forcefully, violently snatch up his divinity and guard it possessively. He was willing to set it aside.
In fact, he made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant.” He made himself nothing! We spend so much of our lives trying to convince ourselves and the people around us that we are something. Something successful at career or family or money or sports or academics, depending on our age. Something to be admired in people’s opinions and liked on social media. Something worthwhile to be respected and remembered and recognized when people see us. So “being something” becomes our pursuit, our goal in life, our idol.
Oh, Jesus, do we need you! Hosanna! Save us! See your king comes to you, the Strangest of all creatures comes and willingly makes himself nothing. And you know why he does? To truly make you something, something in God’s opinion, which carries far more significance and lasts far longer than any person’s opinion of you, including your own opinion of you.
You might say, “Wait a minute. He didn’t make himself nothing on Palm Sunday. He was the center of attention, acclaimed by many voices as king and deliverer.” Well, yes, that’s right….on Sunday. But the Sunday celebration was the beginning of the week, not the end. Sunday wasn’t the reason he came to Jerusalem. Sunday was only a checkpoint on the way to Friday where He became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
People don’t embrace pain. We put it off. We wiggle out from under it. In Gethsemane, even Jesus himself, fully human, recoiled at the thought of death on a cross. Of course, we should mention that it was more than crucifixion that sat heavy on his heart. It was the anvil of humanity’s evil, yours and mine. So what kept him from running? Putting off, shrinking back and shirking out of his mission’s agonizing culmination? Why would he show up at all on Sunday, knowing that rough wood and soldiers’ spit were waiting for him on Friday? Why would he willingly ride into his destruction? The answer’s simple. You.
He became obedient to the point of death, because he knew that only perfect obedience could make you right with God. He died on a cross because he knew that blood spattered wood was your only hope for heaven. So he showed up on Palm Sunday, the Strangest of all creatures, moving forward with determination toward the struggle that was coming, knowing that his pursuit would lead to unimaginable pain. That is so strange, and foreign to us. And marvelous. That is indescribable love. That’s why we call him our king.
And it is right that we should do so. For that is what he is. Paul writes, “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” Including mine and yours.
Jesus had his heart and mind unshakingly focused on us that Palm Sunday. Now we unshakingly focus our hearts and mind on him. That’s why Paul can write. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”
If we’d talked about that first without a whole lot of context, you might’ve said, “Thanks a lot, Paul. The same attitude as that of Christ Jesus? Should I also have the same athletic ability as Giannis Antetokoumpo? Should I also have the same brain power as Albert Einstein?”
But while Paul is encouraging something that doesn’t come naturally to us—being like Christ—he’s not encouraging something that is impossible for us. There’s something more going on inside of God’s people than just what comes naturally. We have something that comes super-naturally. We have a new heart, created by the Holy Spirit at baptism and powered the means of grace.
Through Him, we are able to do something that doesn’t come naturally to us. We carry our crosses, painful though they may be. We are drawn toward the struggle rather than only seeking to avoid it. What is that Christian struggle and pain for you? Is it the pull of the world which promises ease and happiness if you fall in line with their way of thinking? Is it the nagging angst of a future full of questions, but no apparent answers? Is it a specific set of temptations that the devil has custom fabricated for you over the years? They loom in your memory, they poke at your conscience, they beg for your attention, and they don’t show any sign of getting tired. You know who else isn’t getting tired? The God who neither slumbers nor sleeps, the God who gives you daily strength. He doesn’t get tired. The power of his Word. It doesn’t get tired. The promises of daily renewal and forgiveness and life in your baptism. Those things don’t get tired.
See your king still comes to you today. That is so very unusual and so very beautiful. For in this life, we go to see powerful people, they don’t come to us. We might buy a ticket and pay for parking and gather in one place with thousands of others to see them perform or speak, but we go to them. Powerful people don’t come to us. But this one does. Our God does. See your king comes to you. To save you, to serve you, to sustain you. Heavenly King, thank you. Now one more thing. Make us like you. Amen.
Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “The Stone The Builders Rejected” based on Luke 20:9-19 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, April 7, 2019
During the most holy of weeks, starting with his procession into the city of peace on the first Palm Sunday and finishing with his resurrection on Easter Sunday, Jesus spent his time among the people who lived inside that city, preaching and teaching.
The reading from Luke that you just heard is a recording of one of those times of teaching and, on this particular occasion, Jesus used a teaching tool beloved by him and billions of Christians throughout time. He used a parable; that is, an earthly story with a heavenly meaning, a made up tale meant to instruct its listeners on the inner workings of God’s Kingdom and the attitudes and actions expected of the subjects of that Kingdom.
Is it safe to assume that, while there may not be any of you who are actively growing or cultivating a vineyard, you understand the responsibilities of the characters in this story? The owner hired people to work in the vineyard. The workers of the vineyard tended to the plants until the time of harvest. The owner’s servants went not only to check and make sure the workers did their job, but to reap the benefits of their labor – likely bushels of grapes to make wine.
However, in all honesty, the point of this parable doesn’t have so much to do with the process of planting and harvesting grapes. Rather, again, it is much more focused on the attitudes of its major players—the attitudes of the owner, the workers, the servants, and the owner’s beloved son.
Even if those major players of the parable left you a little perplexed, Jesus’ original audience understood perfectly. They knew that the owner described was God, himself, and that his vineyard represented his Kingdom; not so much a physical space, but the spiritual space of faith.
They also correctly ascertained that God had given those rulers and religious leaders the responsibility of working in his Kingdom, tending to his tender plants, the people of Israel.
When Matthew and Mark recorded this account, they also added a little more color by explaining the care with which the owner, himself, cultivated this vineyard. God provided everything that those rulers and religious leaders needed for the Kingdom. He protected them and the Kingdom with the hedge of his Law and watered and fed his precious sprouts with his nourishing Word of gospel.
But, unfortunately, as those details of this parable unfolded, they had to connect the dots about their treatment of God’s servants – his prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Micah—how they rejected them and their message. How they insulted them, treated them shamefully, and even, at times, physically assaulted them.
This is where the importance of the attitudes of the parable’s participants comes into play. While his servants, the prophets, were being welcomed with hatred and enmity by the people he had loved and cared for, God continued to respond with patience.
And, in the greatest show of love and patience in their history, God finally sent his final servant, one who deserved their respect and honor, the one he loved, his own Son, Jesus. They did not, however, respect and honor him, as you well know.
The problem became so clear. The so-called city of peace, Jerusalem, and the people who lived and worked inside, breathed the plague of loving things more than their creator. They thought that all their work in the vineyard made them the rightful owners of and, with much more self-centeredness, the ones who should receive credit for producing, its fruit.
After hitting the climax of his parable and letting the Law strike with its intended force, Jesus explained the consequences of their repeated disobedience and rejection of their Creator God.
Like a parent who threatens to send an uneaten supper to children starving in another country, God determined to give his Kingdom, the Spirit-worked faith in the hearts of his people, to people who would actually appreciate it.
Do you see now the part you play in this parable? You are the others to whom the vineyard has been given. But, here’s the rub: how have you received it?
Are you feasting where the chief priests fasted, or, so often, does it seem too much like leftovers that you’d rather have sent to someone else who is starving? Are you appreciative of the servants God has sent to you, or have you, too, in your own way, mistreated them, beaten them, and sent them away empty-handed?
Your God has sent Isaiah and Jeremiah to you, too, but he didn’t stop there. With great patience, he has also sent to you Kolbow, Steinbrenner, Waldschmidt, Wittigs, and Washburn. Have you handed over to them the fruits of Spirit-worked faith or, with apathy, ignorance, and pride have you kept the blessings and gifts bestowed upon you, and worked through you, to yourself and sent them away empty-handed?
Brothers and sisters, may this never be! Fast from that kind of disobedience and rejection and, instead, feast on faith by fixing your focus on the inner workings of the Kingdom of your God.
Yes, in patience, and with what seems like reckless abandon, your God did send his beloved Son, Jesus, to those workers of old. And, like his parabolic counterpart, he was killed just a few days after he told this earthly story. But the heavenly meaning hidden inside this parable is that God turned the saddest event in this tragedy into the most compassionate piece of what is the greatest love story ever told.
In sending his beloved Son onto this earth and having him die at the hands of people who should have respected him, your God counteracted the consequences you deserved for your own disrespect and disobedience. Instead of having you be broken and crushed, Jesus was pierced for your transgressions, he was crushed for your iniquities. The punishment that brought you peace was upon him and, by his wounds, you have been healed.
Yes, this story contains a twist better than any theatrical thriller has ever uncovered. The intent of those tenants, in killing the owner’s son, came to fruition. The inheritance of his Father, which Jesus rightly warranted, is instead bestowed upon people who are undeserving; you and me and all the rest of the people in whom God has cultivated his Kingdom of faith.
The stone those original builders rejected has become for you the capstone of God’s Kingdom – everything is centered and built upon him and his work done in you, through you, and for you. And that, brothers and sisters, is no earthly story, made up for instruction. That is his true love story that he has shared with you, through his servants, while you sit in tiny preschool chairs, classroom desks, and these pews week after week.
As you prepare for your holy week observations, listen to your Savior’s love story again and focus your faith on how he has worked all things in his Kingdom for you and for your good. Amen.