Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday in End Times; Last Judgment (November 10, 2013)

LUKE 19:11-27

In the name + of Jesus.

     There are times when Jesus told parables that his disciples came to him and said, “Explain the parable to us.”  I feel a close kinship to these disciples.  There are many times I would also like to ask Jesus questions about his teachings and his parables.  Parables can often be misunderstood and misinterpreted.  The parable that we have today is certainly a victim of such wrong interpretations.
     On the one hand, part of the parable is easy.  Jesus said, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return…  But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’  (But) he returned, having received the kingdom….” (Luke 19:12,14-15)  Jesus is the nobleman.  After his sufferings, death, and resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven where he lives and reigns over all despite the hatred and the protests of many.  From there he will come again to judge the living and the dead.  And as Jesus declared in St. John’s gospel, “Those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:29)  Jesus is the great king, and he will come with a great reward.
     But this is where Jesus’ parable can get misinterpreted.  “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.  Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’” (Luke 19:12-13)  When the king returned, he began to reward his servants who reported an increase in their minas. 
     It is easy to conclude that your heavenly reward will be based on your production of good works now.  And, to be fair, preaching that message over and over again will probably goad you into behaving better and seeking ways to do more good things.  But it will not get you closer to heaven; for the Lord does not demand effort, but perfect obedience.  And no matter how devout, how sincere, or how ambitious you are, there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20)  
     The endless pursuit of compiling more and more good works will only drive you to despair.  No matter how hard you work and no matter how many your works, you are not done.  The Law always demands more.  The Law demands good, but it will not make you feel good; for the Law always accuses.  That is why you feel more guilt than good from your works.  And you will end up being afraid of Jesus, viewing him as a severe man who takes what he did not deposit and reaps what he has not sown.  Jesus is not preaching this parable to show you that your heavenly reward will be based on your production of good works now.  He gives his reward as a gift, not a wage.
     Nevertheless, when the king gave the minas, he expected a return.  And when he returned…, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. (Luke 19:15) 
     Before we unravel the parable, we ought to recognize some important information that Jesus has given us in this parable.  All who were called were the king’s servants, and all received a mina.  The servants had nothing of their own.  Everything they had received, they received from the king.  A mina was a wage for about three months.  So, each servant was entrusted with a good treasure, and they were expected to be faithful with it.  Being faithful with the king’s gifts meant putting them to work, not burying them.  And finally, it was not the servants who produced the increase.  The very first servant confessed, “Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.” (Luke 19:16)  The king had given the mina, and the king’s mina was productive. 
     So, what is it that your Lord gives you to make you his servant?  What does the king give you to make you a member of his kingdom?  He has granted you a treasure greater than any wage.  He has given you faith, which receives the benefit of all of Jesus’ works, Jesus’ promises, and Jesus’ mercies.  By faith, you are partakers of Jesus’ blessings, forgiveness, and salvation.  By faith, you received the benefits of Jesus’ obedience in his holy life and his obedience in his death on a cross.  By faith, you have been granted a righteousness won by Jesus’ life and a pardon won by Jesus’ death.  The Son of God has made you sons of God, not mere servants.  You are children of the kingdom and heirs of eternal glory.  These gifts are the mina, the treasure, and the reward you have received from Jesus.  They are yours not because you have worked for them, but by faith in Jesus who has done the works for you.  Jesus is a great king with a great reward.
     The first servant came to the king and reported, “‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’  And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’  …Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief…’” (Luke 19:16,18,20)  Each servant was given a mina, that is, each was granted faith.  And while faith produces more fruit in some than in others, the Lord clearly does not want you to bury your faith so that it does nothing and remains hidden throughout your life. 
     Dear Christians, do not let your faith be mere theory.  St. James wrote, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17)  You are saved by faith alone, but faith is never alone.  Faith is a living, active, busy thing which works in this world, which loves its fellow man, and which bestows kindness, compassion, and charity.  Faith is the mina which the Lord gives you, and the Lord expects that it will be put to work and produce fruit.
     The king’s mina is to be busy, not buried.  While faith cannot be seen in your heart, it is made evident in words that evoke kindness and patience, in actions that continue to seek the good of friends and strangers, and even in attitudes which refuse to be self-glorifying and self-absorbed.  Therefore, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)  It is his light that shines, and it is his goodness that people see.  In this way, the great King gives his great rewards even through you.
     But your greatest reward is given to you by your king week after week.  Your king continues to increase your mina.  Jesus grounds your faith and grows your faith as you gather to receive sustenance and strength through him.  Everything you receive, you receive from him.  And your Lord and King gives generously. 
     Your King has marked you for salvation.  Jesus has marked you with the blood he shed for you.  He was wrapped in a cloth and buried for you so that your death and burial will not mean that you lose your place in his kingdom.  Rather, Jesus rose from the dead and went to a distant country.  He ascended to heaven and was made king.  He has deposited his mina within you, and he will come and collect you with it.  His treasure is yours.  His royal decree of forgiveness and salvation are yours.  Jesus is a great king with a great reward.  And he is pleased to give you the kingdom.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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