Sermon from Rev. Zickler for October 8, 2017

20171008 Sermon Proper 22 2017
October 8, 2017
Matthew 21:33-46

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson previously read.

Hear another parable, Christians. You’ve been hearing parables from Jesus, and here is another. This time it’s clearly not original. This time, hopefully you heard the similarity to the Old Testament lesson we read from Isaiah, because the story is the same. Hear those words from Isaiah again, “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.” And as you hear that, hopefully you hear the point: love. This is the love of this land owner, this master of the house. In His affection for His possession, He cares for this vineyard. He provides for her. He cultivates her. He digs out the land. He plows the ground. He clears it of stone, and He plants choice vines. He gives her life. Then he puts a watchtower over her, protecting her that she would bear fruit. Then the wine vat. The heart of the vineyard’s productivity: to take the fruit of the field and produce the nectar of her labor. One can’t but help think a bit of the descriptions of the life to come, the feast mentioned in Isaiah 25, of rich food and well-aged wine, well refined. Yes this is a labor of love, a labor performed with affection.

And of course we know the master don’t we: it’s our Lord and God, our heavenly Father. And we see in this picture the love that He has shown us. He has formed all of creation with His hand. He has given light and dark. He has given sun, moon, and stars. He has given land and sea, and animals, and the whole creation. And then in that same love that an artist has for His masterpiece, He has formed man from the ground and woman from His side. And this is His love. His love for His beloved. He has cultivated us in His love, formed us, provided for us. Given us all that we need, guarding and protecting us. And He has sent us His Word.

You see that’s the sending of the servants, the sending of the prophets of old, isn’t it. And what did we do with those servants? We took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another, as the parable says, right? Of course, not literally us, but mankind, in particular God’s people. Then He sent more, and this time what? They did the same to them. More of the same, more rejection of the Word. More of a rejection to give that fruit—that fruit of righteousness and justice mentioned in Isaiah. More of a refusal to believe a duty owed to this master. More of a denial even of the love of this blessed God. And yet what does He do? He says, “They will respect my son,” and He sends His own heir.

Now we know that this is talking about Jesus, so from that perspective it seems odd. It seems like God said, “well if I send my Son into the world, they’ll listen to Him.” But we know from what Jesus said there was no such delusion on God’s part. He knew exactly what would happen. He knew that mankind would say, “Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance,” and they would take him and [throw] him out of the vineyard and [kill] him. But from a human perspective, we can understand this master saying this. We can understand him thinking that this son of the master might get the respect the servants and didn’t. And yet they look at this Son and they see an opportunity to further their own interests, the chance even more so to use this fruit for their own selfish and damnable purposes.

And yet coming back to our God knowing this ahead of time, what did He do? He still sent the Son, didn’t He? He still sent Jesus into this world, and Jesus for His part came most willingly. He stepped into this vineyard and was beaten, and was shamed. He was flogged, cursed and condemned on the tree of the cross. This is that love the Master of the House. And what love it is.

Of course, as I read this, I always think it’s odd that the tenants respond the way that they do. I mean think about that for a second. How does that make sense? Why would these tenants, having killed the servants, think that they would now receive the inheritance intended for the son if they kill him? What would motivate them to think that the master would give them even the inheritance of that land that they were on upon the death of the son? After all, that’s how inheritances work, when the person dies, the heir receives the inheritance. So why would they think that they would get it? Just by living on it? Didn’t they think the master would at the least hire enough servants to usher those tenants off of the property? The people even know it. Look at their response when Jesus asks what will happen: “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” Those wicked tenants will pay for what they’ve done.

But yet, isn’t this our brokenness in sin? We are so broken, we always think wrongly about things. We always think we can outlast God in a fight. We always think that we are smarter, stronger, and more qualified. Those of you who have been in my adult information class hopefully remember what I say about this. We should remember that we always—ALWAYS—underestimate the effects of the fall. That’s what our brokenness does. And we see what that brokenness does as those people have the Son right before their eyes and, in the confusion of their sin, what do they do? They do take Him outside and kill Him. They have Him right there and they yell out in their rage, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!”

And we shouldn’t look down on them for their mistake, because we are not any better. I remember when I was growing up how I could never understand the crowds. How could they do this? How, when the Son of God was right there could they demand that He die? Or the disciples. How often did the disciples not trust, or how often did they have to argue about who was greatest, and in either case Jesus would have to rebuke them. Why didn’t they get it?

Why don’t we get it? Why don’t we see just how deeply our sin runs? After all, we should see how deeply sin runs in us, so that we aren’t surprised when we see it in the world. As I say that, I think about what we witnessed this last week: the massacre of over 50 people with over 500 injured in Las Vegas. And we look at that we shake our heads at how tragic this is—and don’t get me wrong it is incredibly tragic. It is a tragedy of the most horrid kind. But don’t we see how this sin fallen world produces all sorts of tragedy? Don’t we also see the tragedies of inequity and rebellion? Don’t we see the tragedy of aborted human lives? Don’t we see the tragedy of the assumption that we as people really aren’t so bad, and that this world really can be a utopia despite its brokenness?

As I say that, this is a part of what Paul was getting at in the Epistle, wasn’t it? Look at what He says there, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” In other words, “If anyone was righteous because of his own goodness and efforts, it was me. But that wasn’t real. No, hear what he says then, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ.” All that I thought was good, I have lost, and it’s all worth it because what’s left after Christ is loss. It’s rubbish, literally it’s manure, dung, and worse.

You see when we look at that goodness and righteousness of the Son, when we look at how we are the tenants, we see just how far we’ve fallen. In fact, as we look at this parable, we should relate to the Pharisees and the chief priests and we should take heed, as Jesus was calling them to. We should hear how they had been given the vineyard, they had been given the Word, the Son had been sent to them in the fullness of His grace, and yet they rejected Him, they rejected that Word incarnate. And what we see was the vineyard was taken from them. Christians, we should take heed that the vineyard is not taken from us, that the Word is not removed from our presence. As we look around that this culture, we see it fleeing from the Word, and the Word is being taken from us. We’re celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this month and the world we’re in sees the Word being taken from Europe, from Luther’s home, from here where we as his heirs live, and its being sown elsewhere.

And all of this is enough to make us give up hope. Shootings, and sin. Rejection of God. The loss of the Word. But don’t. Don’t give up hope, because the Stone that the builders refused has become the Cornerstone. The Son slaughtered by the tenants has been cast out, but given new life. He in fact came to overcome all of this sin and brokenness. He has come in that loving hand of the master of the house. He has come to win the vineyard for you. Dying for your brokenness and your sin. Dying for the broken world, dying even to make right what is wronged by broken men with assault rifles who fire into crowds of concert goers. Rising again to show that even His rejection is known beforehand by God to be used as the act which makes the Son the cornerstone.

Christians, don’t give up hope, because the master has planted His vineyard in His love. He cultivated it, He will make sure it gets taken care of in that love. Don’t give up hope because the Master knew that the Son would be rejected, and He used that rejection to make the Stone the Cornerstone of it all. Don’t give up hope because this God is so good, He brings about good from the worst of the brokenness of this world. Don’t give up hope because that Cornerstone was raised from the dead overcoming death. He ascended into heaven and now rules all things. And in Him we see what is true worth, and not rubbish. And in Him, we see that this master is still cultivating His vineyard in His love, and that He has placed you in that vineyard. Amen.