Tuesday, October 7, 2014
The God whose foolishness is the wisdom of salvation. . .
Most of us prefer to be thought of as mistaken rather than foolish. We do not abide fools. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. But today we encounter a parable of a fool – the kind none of us wants to be and yet the kind of fool we depend upon to be saved.
A vineyard owner gives his property over to tenants for a share of the fruit of the vineyard as his rent. When he goes to collect it, he loses at least three servants and finally his son trying to get what is his. We would call this man a fool. He has sacrificed what is his greatest treasure, his son, for something unworthy of his son’s death. In the end the evil tenants get exactly what they wanted – killing the son, they end up with the vineyard and all the fruit. But that is the point. Our God is not the savvy businessman but the compassionate Father.
Grace always seems weak in our eyes, worse it seems foolish. But it is the triumph of this foolish grace that gives us hope – hope of forgiveness for our many sins, hope of redemption for our lost lives, and hope of life for a people trapped in death. Our God is a fool by every earthly standard and yet His foolishness is wiser than wisdom and His grace beyond all telling. We count on this foolishness for salvation.
The owner of the vineyard is the Heavenly Father. He sent the prophets through the ages only to have them rejected and even killed because they did not want to hear his word. When the fullness of time came, He sent forth His one and only Son, born of a Virgin, to redeem His lost creation. But this Christ was crucified as a common criminal and left to die alone on a cross that was not His.
What would you do to those tenants? The judgment of the world, indeed, our own voices, demand justice. They deserve to die. But that is the shock and scandal of grace. The judgment of the Lord is not against those who crucified Jesus but against those who refuse to be covered by His blood. He does not condemn those who sins make them worthy of condemnation unless they refuse His mercy and grace.
This God is no fool. He is patient, loving, gracious, kind, and merciful. It is this wisdom that offended the Greeks and this sign that scandalized the Jews but it is this cross that saves. He died for all that those who live by Him should not live for themselves but for Him who saved them.
God is still raising up prophets to speak His world over and over to a world caught up in the darkness of sin and deaf to the sound of His voice. He sends forth His Spirit to break through the barriers of our doubt, fear, and rejection so that we believe.
God is still giving to the unworthy and undeserving what Christ merited and accomplished by His obedient suffering even to death on the cross. Where the Word of God is proclaimed in truth and purity, where the water of baptism still splashes over the heads of young and old, and where the bread which is Christ’s body and the cup which is His blood still beckons sinners to come and eat and drink, God is at work calling, gathering, enlightening, sustaining, and keeping His people.
God is still calling a world of sinners to repentance – not just one repentance but to a daily repentance which reclaims us from each and every sin that catches us and steals us from the grasp of His love. He is patient in judgment and does not willingly send forth any sinner to eternal death. It is His gracious will that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth that is Christ and Him crucified.
So you have a God who is a fool, at least according to the world. And He calls us to be the same kind of fools. Fools like. . . Mostly gray haired LWML ladies who put mites into a box. Sunday school classrooms with less than willing children. Food pantries that feed the same hungry mouths over and over again. Sinners who are forgiven of their same old sins over and over again. The dying who are reclaimed to eternal life even though their bodies are surrendered to the grave.
We have a foolish God who has chosen mercy and He calls us to be foolish people who live this mercy before the world. Jesus tells a story which makes God into a fool but the star of this parable is the patient, gracious, and forgiving Father. You cannot help but be shocked because the tenants got exactly what they wanted – except they got it not by taking from the Father what He did not want to give but by receiving from Him what He gave for the life of the world – His one and only Son.
We expect judgment and judgment would be faith but what we get is the God of grace. His only Son is cast out of His vineyard and into death but this death becomes the source of forgiveness and life even for those who killed Him. Grace is not logical, reasonable, or comprehensible but it is wonderful. So I call you, to use St. Paul’s words, to be fools for Christ’s sake. Don’t fear the world’s judgment; live out the Lord’s gracious gift. Be merciful as He is merciful and His will shall be done. Walk worthy of the compassionate love God has shown you.
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Although I am spiritually nourished by this wonderful sermon about God’s foolishness – or grace, as it is referred to in the previous posting - there is one sentence that leaves a jarring note: “God is still calling a world of sinners to repentance – not just one repentance but to a daily repentance which reclaims us from each and every sin that catches us and steals us from the grasp of His love. “
Lutherans have always made a distinction between the Repentance that takes place at conversion, which most of us have experienced as infants in Baptism, and the repentance which we do daily, or hourly, or bi-weekly, or at whatever interval. Nowhere in Scripture is “daily repentance” commanded. Even worse, the implication that we could be lost because we do not perform it is a straightforward denial of the Gospel. Here is what Walther taught, and I have not heard anyone casting doubt on it:
“Law and Gospel
One of the principal reasons why many at this point mingle Law and Gospel is that they fall to distinguish the daily repentance of Christians from the repentance which precedes faith. Daily repentance is described in Ps. 51. David calls it a sacrifice which he brings before God and with which God is pleased. He does not speak of repentance which precedes faith, but of that which follows it. The great majority of sincere Christians who have the pure doctrine have a keener experience of repentance after faith than of repentance prior to faith.”
But that is not the worst problem. The idea that if we do not repent of each and every sin we might be stolen from “the grasp of His love”, is pure Aquinas; it is not Luther. We teach that, first, it is impossible to confess every sin (Have mercy on me, O Lord, a sinner), and secondly, our salvation does not depend on our repentance after we are converted. If it were not so, St. Paul would have been wrong when he wrote, Romans 3: 21, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” See, this righteousness does not come from repentance, but from faith. If it came from repentance there would be no hope for us in the Gospel.
The Gospel is not about making us morally perfect, but about the Kingdom, and what it means to be in the Kingdom. As St. Paul wrote in Colossians 1: 13, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
We Lutherans have to take a serious look at the meaning of the Kingdom of God, Forgiveness, and Repentance, lest we be like the Unmerciful Steward, and when we claim to proclaim the Gospel, we demand from others what we have received as being forgiven.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart
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