Monday, March 18, 2013

Lent 5 Sermon: "The Lord of the Vineyard"

+ Lent 5 – March 17th, 2013 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C:  Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:4-14; Luke 20:9-20

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

             Some of Jesus’ parables are simple, other are complex, but many others are a bit odd to us, backwards really; the opposite of what we’d expect.  Like a rich father who gives his son’s demanded inheritance and later runs to his wayward son even though his son wanted him dead. Like the shepherd who goes looking for one stray sheep when he has 99 perfectly good sheep in the pen already. Like a Good Samaritan who helps a bloody, beaten, mess of a man and expects nothing in return. The Gospel is anything but expected.

            Today’s parable from Luke 20 is no different.  It’s a parable of promise, warning and unexpected forgiveness. Promise in the Lord’s merciful patience and long suffering. And warning, judgment. Don’t reject the Beloved Son as the people of Israel were about to do to Jesus during Holy Week.  And above all, this parable reveals Christ’s shocking forgiveness in the face of outright sin and rebellion. Even after the tenants beat, shame, and traumatize and cast out his servants; The Lord of the vineyard still sends his Beloved Son.

            What’s most astounding about this parable isn’t the perversity of the tenants but the patience of the owner; not their evil, but his good. This parable, at its core, is about the heart of God—the God of second, third, and, yes, fourth chances and even more: 70 x 7. He is portrayed as a man of business, but he doesn’t act according to the ways of the world, for he isn’t a Lord of commerce but a Father of compassion (Chad Bird, w/ slight edits).

            Of course, we understand second chances; we’d even like to think we’re worthy of a second chance if when slip up.  But at some point – perhaps after the third or fourth time - we’ve got to draw the line; fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me. The vineyard owner sent three servants to those murderous tenants. When will that vineyard owner get a clue? And what’s he thinking sending his beloved son? Those deadbeat tenants don’t exactly have the best track record.

            That’s the way we see things.  There has to be limits. Regulations. Conditions.  You can’t just go off giving mercy, forgiveness or even food away for free or giving people second, third and fourth chances; you’ll be taken advantage of. Problem is, that’s the same way the Pharisees saw Jesus’ teaching too. “Look at this guy; he eats with sinners and tax collectors.” They perceived correctly. Jesus taught this parable against them, the religious leaders of Israel. They’re the murderous tenants. They had forgotten the words of the prophet Isaiah:

Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am doing a new thing… I give water in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.

And in forgetting the Lord’s Word, they forgot that the Lord is the owner of the vineyard, not them.

            Jesus speaks the same warning to His Church, the new Israel. There’s no bride without a groom, no vineyard without the vineyard owner, no church apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. The church that doesn’t proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness, life, and salvation of the sinner has the same fate in store for it as OT Israel.

            No wonder Jesus delivers this parable to the religious leaders, the pastors. It’s a reminder of why your pastors are here. We’re not farm owners but tenant-farmers. We’re not the Good Shepherd, but under-shepherds. We’re not kings, but stewards of the mysteries of God, servants of the Word. We dare not take ourselves too seriously…but we dare not fail to take Christ’s Word and confession seriously.

            But Jesus also warns the people as he speaks this parable. Why does this congregation exist? Is it a country club for Pharisees to pat ourselves on the back and bask in God’s favor? No, we’re to be ground zero – an outpost and oasis – of Christ’s mercy and grace for the world. We live like Israel of old – by mercy, not by merit, by looking to Christ, not ourselves.

            We’re tenants, not owners. Everything we have is on loan from God. And we’ve been wicked, violent tenants. We imagine that we’re owners. “It’s my money and I can spend it as I please.” “It’s my body and I can do what I want with it.” “It’s my time to use it however I wish.” “It’s my life and I don’t need God or the Church or anyone to tell me how to live it.” “I can worship God in my own way on my own time.” “It’s our church and we can do as we please.” This is the myth of our old Adam. But it’s a lie.
            Truth is, the Lord is the owner; we’re his tenants, stewards of His gifts, called to use them wisely and faithfully. And He who called you is faithful.
            We live, like Paul lived and confessed. If anyone had a reason to boast in himself it would’ve been Paul. But he calls his entire religious life a loss, rubbish – literally raw sewage. Paul considered his righteousness a bucket of raw sewage, when compared with being found in Christ; but your righteousness isn’t based on what you do but on what Jesus has done for you.

            The Lord of the vineyard sees things completely differently from us and the Pharisees.

            “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son.” What a marvelous picture of God’s patient, relentless mercy. What sort of father would send his beloved son to a lot of murderous deadbeat tenants?
            God loved the world in this manner, He gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.
            God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
            In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)
            Jesus is that beloved son in the parable, cast out of the vineyard. But he who was cast out brings you back in, alive with him. He is not ashamed to call you brother, sister, and fellow heir of his kingdom. That’s why he came. Not to die for the righteous but for those whose lives are full of one failure after another, for his love never fails. He came to die not for the clean but for the dirty. And his blood washes away even the filthiest of stains embedded in your soul. He came to search out not those who come running to him, but those who have fled from God, who hide in the darkness of their doubt and unbelief, to find you no matter where you are, to give you hope in place of despair, faith instead of doubt (Chad Bird, w/ edits).

            While we were still His enemies, cut off from God, turned against Him in rebellion, the Father sent His Son into the world, to take on our humanity, to become one with us, to save the very world that rejected him. This is the nature of God’s mercy. He keeps coming back again and again, hounding you with mercy, seeking the fruit of repentance and faith, risking everything to save you. This is God’s way of forgiveness.  He keeps no record of how many chances he’s given you. For in the end, it’s not about how many times you’ve messed up, but how constant, how unwavering, this Father’s love is for you in Christ.

            That’s what Lent is all about – not somber scrunched up faces, gloomy with self-loathing and self-righteousness – but repentance and rejoicing in Christ the Beloved Son who goes to die for you, to be rejected for you, to be buried and raised for you. 

            And that’s what the Pharisees missed. Instead of rejoicing in the Cornerstone, they reject him. Instead of falling upon Christ, broken in repentance, they are crushed in judgment.

            There’s no way out of this parable unscathed. Either we fall on the rock in repentance; or get crushed by the rock in judgment.  But therein rests the fruit of the kingdom: to be broken. To die and rise. For “The sacrifices of God are broken spirit; a broken and contrite spirit, O Lord, you will not despise.” The Lord makes whole what is broken; he restores you, forgives you. And he makes you into living stones in a new temple, the Church, Christ’s body.

            And the same rock that breaks our sin, also breaks our chains. Christ smashes to dust the rock of our judgment by letting the rock of punishment fall upon himself. He stands under the rock of judgment for you and lets all the weight of God’s wrath poor over him so that you might have his inheritance.

            To our world and sinful flesh this sounds utterly ridiculous. Christ’s mercy defies our reason. And in these unexpected ways of God, you are saved. You are made into faithful tenants and stewards that you may bear fruit: the fruit of repentance. The fruit of sharing the unexpected joy of sins forgiven with your neighbor. The fruit of reckless, relentless compassion. And I bet your neighbors and friends will find that just as unexpected.

This is the Lord’s doing; and it is marvelous in our eyes.

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



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