Monday, March 7, 2016

Lent 4 Sermon: “The Vineyard Owner’s Mercy”

+ 4th Sunday in Lent – March 6th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
(Lent 4 and 5 were switched due to guest preacher)
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, have a shocking turn of the plot. What kind of father would run to his son, greet him with an embrace, and restore him after he wished his father dead and wanted his inheritance up front? What kind of shepherd leaves 99 to rescue 1? What kind of man helps a beaten, bloody, mess of a man by the roadside and expects nothing in return?

Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenants is yet another example. Jesus intention with this parable is clear. Israel is the vineyard. The people are the tenants. The servants that received repeated beatings are God’s prophets. Finally, God the vineyard planter sends his Son, Jesus. And Jesus knows what happens next. He knows the Pharisees’ plot to kill him. He sees what’s in their heart. So he tells this parable of warning and judgment.

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

Jesus’ point is clear. Don’t reject the Beloved Son as the people of Israel were about to do to Jesus during Holy Week. Fall upon Christ the Cornerstone in repentance, not rebellion. The vineyard can be lost.

Jesus delivers the same message to us as well. It’s the message of Lent, and the Christian life: repent. And this message is for all. For pastors, it’s a reminder of what God calls us to do. We’re not land-owners in the Church, but tenants. We’re not kings or CEO’s but servants of the Word and stewards of the mysteries of God.

And Jesus warns us as a congregation too. What kind of tenants are we to be in the vineyard? Are we a country club, where, like the Pharisees, we pat ourselves on the back and bask in God’s favor? No, we’re an outpost and oasis of Christ’s mercy and grace for all. The Gospel of Christ Crucified for you is the epicenter of all we say and do. We live like Israel of old – by mercy, not by merit.

This parable also reveals our own non-necessity. We’re tenants, not owners. Everything we have is a gift. And yet, we’ve been wicked, violent tenants. We imagine that we’re the 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've always done it that way.”

Fall upon Christ your Cornerstone in repentance, not rebellion. Our place in the vineyard can be lost too.

But there’s something else going on in this parable, something we usually overlook. Yes, there’s warning and judgment. But above all, this parable reveals Christ’s shocking forgiveness. Even after the tenants beat, shame, and wound his servants, the Lord of the vineyard still sends his Beloved Son.

The shocking truth of 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, fourth chances and even more: 70 x 7. For God isn’t a Lord of commerce but a Father of compassion.

The Lord of the vineyard sees things completely different 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 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.

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. The Son who brings his life-blood and his holy body for you to eat and drink as faithful tenants. The Son who invites you to live in his vineyard and rejoice.

That’s what the Pharisees missed. Instead of rejoicing in the Cornerstone, they rejected him. Instead of falling upon Christ, broken in repentance, they were crushed in judgment.

And the same rock that breaks our sin, also breaks our chains. Jesus stands under the rock of judgment for you and lets all the weight of God’s wrath fall upon him so that you might have his inheritance.

It all sounds rather shocking, too good to be true. But it is true, all of it. For you. The Lord of the vineyard sends his beloved Son to you. And in him you are true heirs. You are faithful tenants. You bear good fruit: the fruit of rejoicing in the Lord’s promises. The fruit of repentance and forgiveness of sins. The fruit of reckless, relentless compassion. And that’s something I am sure your friends and neighbors will find just as shocking, and just as joyful.

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

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