God-willing Pastor Peter Hage from St John’s Perth is our guest preacher and will also help with the baptism that will be held today. Pastor Hage advises he will preach on the Greatest Commandment – see Matt 22:34-46. There is connection with our text of a fortnight ago (by the time we get to the 25th) on the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-4). The father expects his guests to be attired in wedding gear at the banquet he throws for his Son the groom. Saved by grace, we still ‘ought to try and do our best for God’ in response (Eph 2:8-10; 4:1). So it’s pretty simple in so far as this is where the Greatest Commandment fits in. In response to the great (sacrificial) love of God of sending his Son Jesus for our salvation (1 John 4:9-10) we in full freedom (Gal 5:1) love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind, and our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40).
Today’s sermon text is based on 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10. This is the beginning of St Paul’s letterboxing to what was the very young church at Thessalonica. It’s also likes his earliest serving letter. I will focus especially in verse 2-3, which from the New International Version reads ‘We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Part of this verse in many translations reads along the lines of ‘… your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ’ (NRSV). It strikes me that so often we look to ourselves for our motivation. We may not mean to. We may even mean to include God more. But it’s easy to forget. And it’s also easy to seperate our ‘church/faith’ life from the rest, when God sees no such difference. Today we receive the praise of how Christ is at the base of of our work, toil and steadfastness. The giver and the purpose.
Today we continue with the teaching of Jesus from the last week of his life. It’s serious stuff. We have come to the parable of the wedding banquet (Matthew 22:1-14). We’ll go through that. Yet I will especially spend a little bit of time on it’s ending. There we have the strange story of the man who gets in, but then kicked out for not wearing the wedding garment. From what I can see that’s a warning to Christians. As someone said to me about this text “We always ought to do our best for Jesus”. I know we love grace. And I know God is grace. But part of God’s grace is that he warns us from falling away. And so I invite you to receive his teaching here as the gift by which it is meant, and to address in your lives those areas where God’s way is not directing your way. What sort of clothes are you wearing to the wedding banquet?
The Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 5:1-7) and Gospel (Matthew 21:33-46) for today work in parallel. They both tell the story of God giving a vineyard every chance of succeeding. All the right equipment and infrastructure. The best vines. In other words, ‘built with the very best’. Yet one yields only bad fruit – literally ‘stinkies’ in the Hebrew of Isaiah 5. The other one doesn’t give up any of fruits because its owners won’t hand it over. That’s despite God’s patience in sending a long lineup of people to ask (Matthew 21:34-36) – read Israel’s judges and prophets. Eventually the son is sent in. He is killed outside the city walls. These are powerful illustrations of God’s action and nature. Generous, patient, forebearing. Yet just. That’s what we look at today. The ‘bottom line’ reminds me of Galatians 6:7 “Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked.” It’s stark, but proceeded by grace upon grace. God wants us to be guided by these accounts, going neither the way of Jerusalem (Isaiah 5) or the religious elite of Jesus day (Matthew 21:23). Yet as his family through baptism and the repentant living that results, he also wants us more than anything to be comforted by his grace and provision which he has laid out in his vineyard. Then, in freedom, as St Paul put it in today’s epistle, ‘live up to what we have already attained’ (Philippians 3:16). For your contemplation…