I love to read! I don’t always read as often as I would like to, but it still remains a passion of mine. I can remember taking trips to the library as a young elementary student and checking out as many books as I could carry. Upon arriving home, I would sit down in the living room recliner, crack open a book, and read. I would read for hours, sometimes finishing an entire book or two in one day. It was like I couldn’t get enough!
There were several factors that played into this enjoyment of reading and how it grew throughout my lifetime. My mom would always read to my siblings and I each day. We would read stories during our afternoon quiet time or at night before going to bed. But another memory that I have that played a role in this love of reading was Story Time at our local library. Some of you have wonderful memories as well from this activity. These are awesome! I can remember sitting on the floor with a bunch of other kids, listening to the librarian read through several stories with all the inflection and excitement that piqued my interest. There were so many good stories and so many new worlds and characters that waited each week to engage my ears and mind.
It is in this picture of Story Time that we continue looking into some of the parables of Jesus that are found embedded in the Gospels. The best part about this is that you can picture the best librarian storyteller imaginable and Jesus is even better! He is the Ultimate Storyteller and yet His stories go far beyond fiction novels, character development, or simple life lessons on manners. Jesus’ stories are meant to reshape our worldview. They are meant to confront us with reality. They are meant to showcase God’s grace to us. They are meant to set us free from our sin-filled lives and give us a new perspective on life and how God is on the move.
This week, Jesus sets the harsh tone of reality when He talks about the depths of our need and brokenness as human beings. He talks about the sin-filled core of our hearts and how it can destroy us if it is left unchecked. Jesus wants us to see the full nature of the evil that is naturally inside of us so that it drives us to Him for the healing and transformation that each of us need. Only Jesus can take a sinful heart and renew it into something holy. Only Jesus can breathe life into an area that only brings death.
How humbling it is to be confronted with our own brokenness?! But how amazing it is to see that God does not leave us as helpless and hopeless. Rather, He desires to make us clean and He gives us His Spirit that is alive in us that is renewing and transforming our hearts and minds each day. Now that is a story worth reading and talking about!
For most of us, when it comes to how we operate our lives, all of us can fall into familiar rhythms, patterns, and reactions that just come naturally to us. We have this built-in set of expectations that derive from our context, our culture, our personality, family, or just our nature as human beings. For many of you, you spent the first 18+ years of your life operating in this norm. You only knew what you knew and what you knew was best…at least, that is what we each may have thought…
But then, some life changes occurred. You may have left your confined comforts of home and normalcy for the workforce or for additional schooling or some may have even married and started a family. In all of these scenarios and situations, you more than likely rubbed shoulders and encountered some thoughts, ideas, and patterns of life that were different from yours; that did not fit your prefixed worldview. Some of these behaviors you might have thought as odd or strange, some were frustrating, and yet others you learned from and they made an impact on shaping your own worldview.
This week, we wrap up our two-month study looking at some of the parables that Jesus told about the Kingdom of God. We have been both confronted and invited to see this Kingdom like never before. This Kingdom is an upside-down, counter-cultural reality that really makes us think and revisit some of the natural expectations that we might have living here on Planet Earth. Each time, God’s Word comes to us with this life-giving reminder that His ways are best, His promises are sure, and His invitation remains intact to receive and be welcomed into Kingdom Life.
Our final parable this week from Matthew 20 shows us a great picture of this tension that exists between our sinful tendencies and worldview compared to the overwhelming grace given to us in the Gospel. In the end, the only reason we are given a place as a citizen in this Kingdom is by the mercy and generosity of the Savior. God did not have to include us in His plans, and He did not need our company for His happiness and contentment. Yet, He chose to create us, die for us, redeem us, sanctify us, and set us free to live with Him forever in paradise. How good is that?! As those who are both citizens of the Kingdom and those that are invited, we can rejoice in the fact that God calls us to Himself each day and He offers us glimpses of how He is at work in our lives and in our world as He is leading us home.
One last unique and special opportunity we have this upcoming Sunday is to have God’s Word proclaimed to us by a son of this congregation. Many of you know that our youth director, Drew Skog, grew up attending Oak Hill and is also in the midst of his journey in ministry as he is taking online classes through our Lutheran Brethren Seminary. As a part of Drew’s seminary experience, he gets the opportunity to get to create and preach in preparation for both his schooling and future ministry. This will be such a wonderful time for many of you who remember Drew as a young man and others who know him and see him in his role as youth director. Please be in prayer for him as he prepares to share God’s Word with us this week!
“Forgive and forget.” Do you remember being told those words? It probably occurred during an instance where you were in conflict with someone else. Maybe it was an argument with a close friend where you felt that you had been hurt deeply. Perhaps it was a dispute with a sibling, and you felt that you had been wronged. It may have even been a situation at school or at work where you felt that justice was not served. This phrase would have been uttered by the person trying to cool you down and help you through this moment. Whether it was mom, dad, a grandparent, or a teacher, many of us can recall this advice during moments like these: “Forgive and forget…”
For most of us, our natural reaction when we have been hurt, wronged, or slighted is to enact revenge or to get even with those that have caused us to feel this way. We feel right and vindicated when we attempt to make them feel as horrible and rotten as we are, and some can go to great lengths thinking up ways to get back at others. There are many times when we don’t even think about any other option. Our natural, sinful, broken tendency when we are hit is to hit back. How much time and energy can we be tempted to waste when we think this way? This is one of the many reasons we need a Savior!
As difficult as it can be for us to forgive others at times, it can be even harder to forget. You may think of a case in your own life where you have forgiven someone but are still carrying around a grudge or some animosity toward them for what they have done. All of us can be tempted to not truly let go of our inner nature to hold on and return evil for evil. And let’s be honest, this idea of forgiveness is hard, it’s challenging, and it goes against how we might naturally think and operate on our own. There are some of you that have been wronged, hurt, and slighted so often and to the point of immense, emotional pain that forgiveness isn’t even on your radar. Many of us can think at times of those that have sinned against us and think, “I could never forgive them…”
It is in this raw reality that Jesus enters the scene with a parable that is quite well-known to many. In Matthew 18, He tells the story of a servant who was forgiven an unpayable debt by a king. Upon having this debt removed, this servant sought out a fellow servant who owed him some money as well. But his intent was quite different than the reaction he had just received from the king. Rather than showing the same mercy and grace that he was just shown, this servant demands repayment. He has his fellow servant thrown in jail to pay back the debt. Let’s just say that the king was not happy to hear about this and instills some harsh justice on the servant for his wicked actions.
The lesson from Jesus comes to us today: On our own, we will never be able to truly forgive someone. We will remember, we will hold grudges, we will seek revenge. Only God can create the ability to even think about offering and extending forgiveness toward someone who has wronged us. This kind of forgiveness can only flow out of a life that has experienced an out-of-this-world forgiveness that God, our Merciful King, offers to us as members of His Kingdom.
We are forgiven people. We have been forgiven much! God has given us a clean slate and a new ledger and the debt that we owe for our sin and rebellion against Him has been paid. Isn’t that Good News?! When you know that you are loved like that, when you receive that undeserved mercy, when you live in the freedom that this forgiveness brings, how might that shift and transform your view of those who have and will hurt and wrong you? When we realize and recognize how much we have been forgiven, that makes it possible for us to truly forgive others from the heart. As another saying goes, “Forgiveness known is forgiveness shown.”
Even though it is not technically “wedding season,” it sure feels that way as we move through our series on the Kingdom Parables in the Gospel of Matthew. Last week, we took a look at how God’s Kingdom is like an immaculate wedding banquet that would put any earthly reception party to shame. This table would be overflowing with the best food and drink and the atmosphere will be unrivaled. The invitations have gone out (everyone is invited) and the party is on! This will be a gathering you won’t want to miss.
This week, we again get to hear the truth and power of God’s Word shared with us by one of our own. Manley Olsoe will be walking us through the beginning portion of Matthew 25 where Jesus describes another aspect of His Kingdom and likens it to a bridegroom that is coming. When He comes, He will bring the full party with Him, but in the meantime there is waiting. But before the wedding festivities can begin, there are preparations to be made. Key elements and logistics must be set and made ready so that when the bridegroom arrives, the celebration can begin.
This aspect of being prepared and being ready has always been a cultural component both in Jesus’ time and in ours today as well. This imagery we get about the importance and value of being ready for His second coming as illustrated in this coming wedding party reminds me of a story I read recently about a couple who wanted to have a destination wedding in Wales. They sent out some “Save the Dates” nearly a year in advance to inform their friends and family of their decision to get married across the pond on July 6, 2008 and wanted to see who would be able to make the necessary preparations and commitment to be there. Now, unfortunately, one of their best friends named Dave was so excited to arrive that he misread the invite and assumed that the wedding was happening in just a few short weeks…on July 6, 2007. Needless to say, that after booking a very expensive plane ticket and arriving in Wales to an empty venue with no one he recognized, he realized that he had been a little overzealous on his arrival.
While some of us smile and can chuckle at this oversight, I hope we can at least appreciate his conviction and his resolve. Dave was committed to making things happen to ensure he would be ready for his friends’ big day. In much the same way, Jesus uses this parable of the coming bridegroom to invite us to be ready and prepared for His return to take us home to be with Him forever. We are to be watchful and anticipating His coming again because we do not know when it will be. How should this excitement and uncertainty play itself out in our lives? On the one hand, we are not called to just sit around looking up at the sky, but we are also not to become so invested in the things of this world that we miss being ready. There is a fine balance and, thankfully, we have the power of God’s Spirit living inside of us that teaches and reminds us of everything He has said and gives us a directed hope for what lies ahead.
This week, let us also be given eyes to see and ears to hear this gracious and joyous reminder that our Bridegroom, Jesus, is coming soon and let our prayer be that we are among the ones that are eagerly waiting for Him, ready to join the party!
Pastor Ben Bigaouette