Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sermon for Pentecost 17: "Old Story, New Ending"

Pentecost 17 – October 5th, 2014
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A, proper 22: Isaiah 5:1-7; Philippians 3:4-14; Matthew 21:33-46

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

Have you ever listened to a song on the radio and thought to yourself…I’ve heard this before (and not déjà vu). Like Vanilla “Ice Ice Baby” and Queen / David Bowie “Under Pressure”. Musicians call it sampling. Old and familiar stuck with the new.

Or when you read a story or watch a movie where The Prince gives up his life for the Princess. The hero dies to save the world. Good overcomes evil. And then you think to yourself: “I’ve read or watched this story before. This sounds familiar.”

Well, that’s what Jesus is doing. He’s sampling an old song from Isaiah “The Song of the Vineyard”. The first verse goes like this:

Let me sing for my beloved
    my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
    on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
    and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
    and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
    but it yielded wild grapes.

Fast forward 700 years or so and listen to what Jesus says.

“Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country.  When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit.  And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Finally he sent his Son.

Did you hear it? Jesus picks up right where Isaiah left off. Isaiah records YHWH’s song for his vineyard and Jesus sings the same tune in his parable. Jesus tells an old story, but with a new ending.

Jesus told this Parable of the Wicked Tenants right on the heels of his entry into Jerusalem. In fact it’s part two in a trilogy of parables told in rapid fire succession.

There’s The Parable of the Two Sons (the one says he’ll work and doesn’t; the other says he won’t work and doe). The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (where they beat the Master’s servants one after another and then finally kill his son). And the Parable of the Wedding Feast (the king throws a party and invites everyone).

Al three parables this in common: faith and unfaith. Receiving Jesus’ teaching and authority or rejecting it. Falling on Christ the cornerstone in repentance and faith or being crushed by it.

And so this is a parable of judgment. But judgment of what? Of whom?
It is not…A class judgment: rich or poor. An ethnic one: Jew or Gentile. It’s not a labor dispute: about one’s goodness or badness, what they’ve done or failed to do.

No it is quite simply a judgment of faith alone. Faith in Christ or unfaith. Belief in Jesus or unbelief.

When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on earth? That’s the question. And that’s the basis upon which Jesus tells this parable.

The Pharisees were right when they perceived that Jesus was speaking against them. He was speaking against them. And against the world too. For Jesus stands in judgment against anyone who will not accept his acceptance of the world by faith alone. In other words, judgment is there only for those who would seek to justify themselves, only for those who would look for a righteousness apart from Christ, only for those who put their fear, love in trust in themselves.

That was the problem in Isaiah’s day. That’s why YHWH called Israel a bunch of wild grapes. They had been unfaithful tenants. They abandoned the Lord’s Word and promise for faith in idols of all kind. They were unfruitful tenants as well, neglecting the poor and those in need. They had born fruit of rebellion and unbelief instead of repentance and faith.
This was the Pharisees problem too. They challenged Jesus’ authority at every turn. Disbelieved his miracles and teaching. Abandoned the Word of God for the words of men. Produced the fruit of rejection and rebellion instead of repentance and faith. They wanted Law, not grace. They wanted to be judged by what they did, rather than what Christ was going to do for them on the cross.

How sad. All Jesus wanted was for them to believe, to give up trusting in themselves and trust in him. To abandon all hope of self-justifying and find true hope in Christ who justifies the ungodly.

But no, they wanted to be in control. To tell the Master of the Vineyard to go pound topsoil. Take a hike. Find other tenants.

So he did.

He found you. Jesus took us, wild shoots and non-Israelites that we are, and grafted us into the living branches of his body on the tree of the cross. Just a little water and Word and that’s all it took. Your Baptism plants you firmly into Christ’s death and resurrection. Baptism grafts you into the vine who is Christ. I AM the Vine and you are the branches, declares the Lord.

So, what kind of tenant are you? Faithful or unfaithful? Fruitful or unfruitful? Truth be told, we are both. In this life we are saint and sinner. Like the Pharisees and the Israelites of old, we’ve abandoned the Lord’s Word in favor of the words of men. And though they sound comforting and enticing, they bring only death. We have been unfaithful tenants of the Lord’s vineyard: our prayers and study of God’s Word falters. We have not loved others as ourselves. All we like wild grapes have grown sour in our life and conversation with our neighbor. Instead of bearing fruit in love for our neighbors, in caring for their needs or giving them a word of Good News, we’ve born fruit to devour for our own sinful appetite. Sin is a deadly appetite for destruction. In Adam we are all dead, lifeless, unfaithful, unfruitful branches fit only for the fire.

But in Christ you are alive, a living sacrifice for your neighbor, faithful to the Lord, and fruitful in good works that Jesus prepares for you to walk in. In Christ you are faithful tenants who listen to His voice and hear him faithfully. You hunger and thirst for righteousness from Jesus’ Word and Jesus’ table. In Christ you bear the good fruit of love and humility towards your neighbor, not asking what you’ll get in response but simply for the joy of giving. In Christ you are humble and selfless because you are alive in him and he is alive in you through the first fruits of the Spirit given to the Baptized.

And so this parable is both warning and promise for us.

Warning us not to be unfaithful tenants. Warning us to flee the fruit of unbelief and rebellion and rejoice in the fruit Christ provides: repentance and forgiveness.

And also a promise. What more could the Master do for you his vineyard? He sent prophets and apostles. And finally, he sent Jesus, his Son. For you.

Here’s the new twist to the old song, the new ending to the familiar story.

“Let’s kill the son,” they said, “and the vineyard will be ours.” Those wicked tenants were right! The Son of God is killed and his inheritance is yours.  Christ’s rejection for your reconciliation. Christ’s faithfulness to cover your unfaithfulness. Christ’s fruit of salvation from the cross to forgive the fruit of your iniquity.

Jesus takes the punishment of Israel’s sins, of the Pharisees sins, yours and mine – he takes it all on himself as he is thrown outside the vineyard walls of Jerusalem, beaten, and killed. The Son is devoured in death and destruction for his vineyard. The precious Vine withers and dies to give life to dead branches. Jesus is the faithful tenant for you. Jesus bears good fruit for you, and sends the Holy Spirit who works in you to keep on bearing fruit with repentance.

This is what Jesus wants more than anything: to give you his vineyard, fruit, and wine, the joyous harvest, his bountiful goodness and steadfast love.

Jesus excels at giving. He died to give you life. And he lives to sustain your life. His holy fruit is your sustenance: Holy Baptism is your divine irrigation, a water tower flowing with forgiveness to cleanse your sin. Holy Absolution opens the kingdom of God to you; you are a forgiven and faithful tenant. Holy Communion is your banquet table: taste and see that the Lord is good as you eat and drink his body and blood.

And the wonderful thing about these gifts - the fruit of Christ’s victory from the cross to you, the Good News that we are found in Christ not having a righteousness of our own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, that we are given the righteousness from God that depends on faith – well, that is the one story that never gets old and never ends.

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

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