The Gospel: Matthew 21:33-46
Jesus said, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: So, as many of you know, one of the roles I have been asked to take on in my relationship with the Diocese is to be on the staff of the Lay Preaching College.
Four times a year we gather people from around the Diocese, who feel called to Preach and work with them to improve their skills and abilities. These are generally folks who are lay people, in parishes where they have no Priest or perhaps are members of a bigger parish where the Priest takes the opportunity to have them preach two or three times a year.
They are authorized to preach in their own parish. They have a mentor, who works with them to make sure they are prepared and what they do is presented well.
One of the tools or techniques we sometimes encourage these preachers to focus on, as they prepare, is who, in the scriptures of the day, do they identify with.
So, they develop a sermon or a homily based on what they learn about themselves, and their relationship with the Lord, in a particular story, or parable, or Gospel lesson. Then they use that as the basis for developing their message.
Do you see how that might work? This can mean that the message they share is about how they are challenged or encouraged in their spiritual life or their life in Christ.
Another way that we sometimes approach teaching is to say to them: "How do you encourage your listeners to ask questions for themselves about who they relate to in the scriptures of the day." Then they can ask how the passage challenges or encourages their listeners in their spiritual lives or their life in Christ.
This morning I would like to ask us all to turn to the Gospel from Matthew. If you don't have a Bulletin you can look in the Pew Bible for Matthew 21: 33- 46.
Now, I am making an assumption here, and I know how dangerous that can be. But I wonder if most of us find it difficult to identify with the characters who are involved in the story. Most of us are not wealthy absentee landlords. Most of us, I would believe, would not behave the way that the tenants do when the rent is due on the property.
After all, it doesn't take us long to identify that the tenants break just about every single one of the Ten Commandments in a very short period of time.
Now, you will remember that was the reading we heard from Exodus this morning. The ten basic rules of life that God laid out for the Israelites. These are the basis of most, if not all the laws, of our modern democracies.
The people of Israel were familiar with these 10 basic guides for their behavior within their community. They would have understood what Jesus was referring to. They would have known what was expected of the tenants. They would have understood the relationship with the landowner.
They must have been shocked by this story and how these tenants show little or no regard for the landowner.
I am pretty sure that when we read this story we think to ourselves: "I am sure glad I am not like those people." "I know I wouldn't act like that."
OK, can I offer a slightly different perspective for looking at and relating to this story?
I believe that a key to understanding this story is the fact that the landowner is absent. Not only is he absent, but he has been gone for a long time. The tenants have become used to needing to take responsibility for the vineyard. They are the ones who have maintained it, nurtured it, and cultivated the vines. There may even have been in their minds some thoughts that the landowner may never return.
So, can I ask, do any of us find ourselves wondering, at times, about how it feels to be "responsible" when the landowner seems to have gone off and left us holding the bag, so to speak?
Because of our faith, and our understanding of Christian theology, when we look at the world, we can accept that God created. But then God put human beings in charge. Some people would suggest it is easy to see, God as the landowner in this parable.
God appears to be like the Absentee Landowner who has gone away and occasionally sends messengers to communicate to or make demands of, the tenants.
Some people would suggest that "clockmaker" theology makes the best sense of the situation. You know that's the theology that suggests that God put everything in place and walked away. Like a clock that has been wound up and runs on and on, on its own without any involvement from the builder of the clock.
Or, some people would say, well, it is not quite like that, God created and then he interacted with his people on and off throughout the history of the Jewish people. Then he sent Jesus. Jesus ministered, healed, shared a fresh understanding of the relationship between God and humanity, and then left. Jesus did promise the coming of the Holy Spirit to be with us after his resurrection, but we aren't really sure what that actually means.
In any case, the creator/landowner and the son are now absent. We are the ones maintaining, nurturing, and cultivating the property. We are the ones who have to pay the bills and make sure the property is maintained, and the doors are kept open.
Does anyone else relate to this scenario? Or have there been times in your life when you felt this way?
So why are we doing all this striving? Well, I believe that the answer is contained in the Psalm we heard this morning. Psalm 19 verse 7 through verse 11 says:
"The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent. The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb. By them also is your servant enlightened, and in keeping them there is great reward."
Or as Paul puts so succinctly in Philippians 3 this morning:
"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus."
God may feel absent at times but we live in the sure knowledge that Jesus has done all that he can to draw us into a relationship with him.
May we as we serve and love Christ seek to draw others into that same loving relationship.
Bishops & Father Mike