Generous Beyond All Imagination
Wednesday of Pentecost 16
27 September 2017
We are comforted as we come to the altar to receive Christ's body and blood. Do we receive just part of Christ's body and blood if we struggle or are weak? Do we only get partial forgiveness because we've only worked part of the day? Does God open His account books when you are kneeling before the presence to determine how much grace you get out of the sacrament of the altar? No. He doesn't do that any more than the master of the vineyard chooses to give different laborers different wages (Mt 20:1-16). What  we receive with our mouth is Christ's body and blood, because it depends on God's generosity. It doesn't depend on my faith, my work, my labor, my effort, my anything! And that's wonderful.
 
Is it wrong for God to be so generous? Should we complain at God for this incredible mercy? Heaven forbid we should ever complain at God in such a way. For we may indeed find ourselves with those who have worked only from the eleventh hour. That's just fine, because God pays the full price for all.
 
How difficult it is to charge God with unrighteousness when He's working not on some scale of good or bad, closer and farther, but God is working purely by His generosity. How difficult it is for us humans to understand God's incredible grace. Why? We work on the basis of good and bad, closer and farther. God does not. How could it be otherwise, for if God entered into judgment with us and paid us our just desserts, who of us has worked sufficiently hard to receive the denarius? Not a one.
 
However, such generosity troubles us. How can God be so open-handed? Why has He given His grace and mercy to somebody like me? We Christians are still be plagued by the opinion of the law. The opinion of the law is that we are always wondering what we owe God for his mercy. And yet owing God is itself unbelief. A pastor friend of mine walked into the hospital room of an elderly member of his congregation. Her children had told him that their mother was dying. They talked for a while of spiritual things when the pastor asked, "Helen, do you believe you are going to heaven?" She replied, "I hope so, pastor. I feel that I have done enough good things to offset the bad things in my life." The pastor was shocked by this blatant work righteousness. He patiently explained the way of salvation by grace through faith in Christ to the woman. She confessed her faith in the Savior who died for her and renounced her reliance on her own works. Now ready to die, the Lord had other plans for her. Upon recovering she came and thanked her pastor for sharing with her the way of salvation that she had never properly believed and trusted, even though she had been a church member and regular worshiper for more than 80 years. She was an eleventh hour conversion! Now she had a new reason to live and spoke often of the mercy that God had shown her in Christ.
 
How difficult it is to believe that Jesus has paid the full price and earned a full day's wage for each one! Yet, that is what we do believe. We believe it only because he has given it to us to believe. Faith remains a miracle given by God. Faith lets God be God. For to be God is to be generous; generous beyond all imagination. 

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther

"'For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar' (Ps 138:6). How wonderful is this God above all other gods! He sees what is remote and far off; the others, however, see only what is right next to them. He does not recognize what is close to him; they do not recognize what is remote from them, just like the rulers of this world. Therefore, it is the true nature of humility to retire far off from God and from all that is God's. On the other hand, it is the true nature of pride to approach as close as possible to God and all that is God's, as Isaiah 58 says of the proud Jews: 'They delight to draw near to God' (Is 58:2). And both of these things are clearly disclosed in those two men in the Gospel, the Pharisee and the tax collector (Lk 18:9-14). But whatever is to be like God and the being of God, which is life, wisdom, power, righteousness, riches, beauty, and all good, must conform with the rule of the Apostle in Romans 12: 'Associate with the lowly' (Rm 12:16); no matter how humiliating and difficult it may be for the rich man to put himself on the same level with any beggar who comes along, for the virgin to identify herself with a harlot, the chaste woman with an adulteress, the wise man with a fool, the strong man with a weakling, the living person with a dead one, the beautiful with an ugly one, the superior with an inferior one. If you say, I cannot do it; very well, then erase this statement: 'Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth' (Ps 113:5-6)? How will it ever happen that the proud will do this? My answer is that they will do this only through this one word: 'Take what belongs to you and go' (Mt 20:14), or through this other saying: 'What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it' (1Co 4:7)?"

Martin Luther, Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity
1 Corinthians
4:7-14

What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
 
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
 
I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.   (ESV)
Prayer
Almighty God, heavenly Father, you have brought us into your vineyard to be about your work. You have assured us that you will be with us, whether we bear the heat of the day or only work for an hour. Destroy within us the soul-poisoning envy we feel when we see the blessings you in mercy pour down on others. Lead us to bless your generosity and graciousness in giving to all the faithful the blessings of eternal life and blessed vision of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
 
For Susan Narr, that she would be strengthened in the midst of chemotherapy
 
For Sheryl Murphy, who has cancer, that the Lord would grant healing and a full recovery of health
 
For Rev. Dr. Christopher Ahlman, who is deliberating on the call of God the Holy Spirit to be Associate Pastor and Director of Parish Music at Memorial Lutheran Church and School, that all wisdom would be granted to him as a divine gift
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
©  Scott Murray 2017