O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
A CROSSROADS, NOT A BEDTIME STORY
A CROSSROADS, NOT A BEDTIME STORY
Based on Luke 20:9-20
Preached on March 13, 2016
In Christ, the great Lord of Lent, friends! Do not block God's Holy Spirit by treating this parable of Jesus as though it were just a story. Do not block God's Spirit by deciding that, yes, there is a message in it, but that message is only aimed at other people who lived long ago and far away from here. This parable is like a crossroads where you are set before a choice. Which way are you going to go? The true God does not force people to do what He wants them to do. He does show you how the road you choose can take you up ... or down. He does that here by sounding a frightening warning. And He does it by showing phenomenal patience and love toward people. It's all wrapped up here in this "Parable of the Tenants." I ask God's Holy Spirit to bless your personal hearing of this word from Jesus as we all come closer and closer to Holy Week. I. Jesus showed His listeners a crossroads approaching. HE WENT ON TO TELL THE PEOPLE THIS PARABLE: "A MAN PLANTED A VINEYARD, RENTED IT TO SOME FARMERS AND WENT AWAY FOR A LONG TIME." This isn't really about grapevines. You read in Isaiah that this vineyard was really a word-picture for God's people, God's family. A MAN PLANTED A VINEYARD is about the true God and how He called a people together, created a family in our world. After He planted that vineyard, He rented it out. He let people live in it and live from it, even though they didn't start it and weren't really the owners. And when He went away for a long time, it's clear that He gave those people lots of freedom. He did not peer over their shoulders every minute, forcing them to do things His way. He loved them. He respected and trusted them enough that He gave them space and let them conduct their lives as they chose. AT HARVEST-TIME HE SENT A SERVANT TO THE TENANTS SO THEY WOULD GIVE HIM SOME OF THE FRUIT OF THE VINEYARD. It's only right. The guy who owns the place should get a share of what grows there. SO HE SENT A SERVANT TO THE TENANTS SO THEY WOULD GIVE HIM SOME OF THE FRUIT OF THE VINEYARD. BUT THE TENANTS BEAT [the servant] AND SENT HIM AWAY EMPTY-HANDED. HE SENT ANOTHER SERVANT, BUT THAT ONE ALSO THEY BEAT AND TREATED SHAMEFULLY AND SENT AWAY EMPTY-HANDED. HE SENT STILL A THIRD, AND THEY WOUNDED HIM AND THREW HIM OUT. I repeat: This isn't really about grapevines. What you've got here is the history of God's people in the Old Testament wrapped up in a few powerful words. God created a family in the world. He invited people to live in that family, even though He didn't owe it to them. He let people have their space and did not watch over their shoulders, forcing them to do their thing a certain way. Every once in a while He sent messengers. These were the great prophets of the Old Testament - guys like Samuel and Elijah, Isaiah and Jeremiah - and a bunch of lesser ones you can't even name. They came looking for fruit; not everyday grapes, but precious fruit like sincere regret over your sin, precious fruit like grateful trust in God's promises, precious fruit like a personal resolve to walk the way of the Lord's commands. These messengers had a tough go of it. People beat them up. Made fun of their preaching. Hurled personal insults at them. Threatened to kill them. Tortured and shunned them. I'll tell you what I would have done if vineyard-renters handled my servants that way. I'd call the cops and have them hauled off to jail where we could be done with them for good. The Lord didn't behave the way I would have. He showed an unbelievable patience. After they abused His messengers that way, He just kept showing kindness, gave people another chance, sent more servants. Jesus talked of three servants. That's really just a summary of the wave upon wave of rejected preachers and messengers God dispatched to the vineyard to collect its sacred, precious fruit. Finally THE OWNER OF THE VINEYARD SAID, "WHAT SHALL I DO? I WILL SEND MY SON, WHOM I LOVE, PERHAPS THEY WILL RESPECT HIM." BUT WHEN THE TENANTS SAW HIM, THEY TALKED THE MATTER OVER. "THIS IS THE HEIR," THEY SAID. "LET'S KILL HIM, AND THE INHERITANCE WILL BE OURS." SO THEY THREW HIM OUT OF THE VINEYARD AND KILLED HIM. WHAT WILL THE OWNER OF THE VINEYARD DO TO THEM? HE WILL COME AND KILL THOSE TENANTS AND GIVE THE VINEYARD TO OTHERS. This was a train-wreck in the making! The incredibly patient Lord of the vineyard decides to send His beloved Heir to gather in fruit where others failed. The tenants come full-speed against that patience. They decide they'll seize control and run things their own way. Oh, yes, on the surface it will still look like a vineyard, with leafy vines and a secure appearance. But it would be a dead and hollow place, because it was a vineyard totally cut off from its founding, loving, Owner-Lord. The owner's patience had finally run out. He did what He could have done much sooner, but in His patience had postponed doing. He got rid of those tenants. He gave the vineyard to other people. He didn't just rent it to those other people, but He gave it ... as an undeserved gift ... to people who had never lived there before, to people who realized from Day One that they had not earned a right to live in that family, but were being invited in by undeserved love alone. The people who heard Jesus tell this parable knew it wasn't just a story. He was talking about Israel, God's chosen people ... God's people, planted in the world ... God's people, who had pushed away messenger after messenger ... God's people, whose leaders were plotting at that moment to destroy the Son, the Heir, He had sent them as the greatest loving messenger of all. II. Do you know when Jesus told this story? As near as I can figure, it was on Tuesday of Holy Week. It was three days before He died. He wasn't just telling His listeners they were approaching a crossroads. Here He points to the crossroads He was coming to. The vineyard-parable tells of the heir thrown out by the tenants and killed. Less than three days later it went exactly that way. The storyteller Jesus was indicted for crimes He did not commit. He was ridiculed by the vineyard-tenants and Roman soldiers. He was flogged 39 times. He started staggering because of the blood-loss. He was forced out of town to a spot called "Skull Hill," because the vineyard-tenants thought their holy city, Jerusalem, was too honourable a place for Him to even be allowed to die in. They watched Him twist and cry out and stop breathing. They thought they were now free to run their vineyard, their Israel-family, their own way. They didn't see they were cutting themselves off from the owner who planted the vineyard in the first place. Yes, it was a train-wreck, when their actions collided with what the Owner decided to do. In a sermon later that same year, the apostle St. Peter told a crowd of Israelites what had happened: YOU, WITH THE HELP OF WICKED MEN, PUT [JESUS OF NAZARETH] TO DEATH BY NAILING HIM TO THE CROSS. BUT GOD RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD, FREEING HIM FROM THE AGONY OF DEATH, BECAUSE IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE FOR DEATH TO KEEP ITS HOLD ON HIM. God smashed the tenants' schemes. He turned them upside-down. The tenants plotted to take the vineyard away from God's Son. God answered that rebellion by taking the vineyard away from them ... and, in the process, He gave it to others. God gives a place in the vineyard to people anywhere anytime who pin their personal hope to the Jesus thrown out of the vineyard and killed. Jesus foretold that, too, in His little parable-story: THE STONE THE BUILDERS REJECTED HAS BECOME THE CAPSTONE. The builders thought they would throw this Stone out on the ground and discard it. By raising Jesus to life, the God of the vineyard picked up that Stone and put it in the spot that embraces the whole building and holds it together. I asked you at the start not to block God's Holy Spirit by treating this parable as though it were just a bedtime story. Different groups of people who heard it that Holy Week Tuesday did not treat it as an idle tale. The religious leaders understood very well what Jesus was saying about their rejection. It enraged them. They stepped up their campaign to get Him arrested; they sent spies to collect evidence against Him. Other Israelites in the crowd understood, too. They were horrified by the idea that God would take the vineyard away from Israel and give it to other people. They grasped what Jesus' story was saying. III. Now a vital question: Do you realize how this parable takes direct aim at you and me? By this parable, God sets you now also before a crossroads with urgency and hope. Christians like you must never try to wriggle off the hook by pointing fingers at those Israelites and imagining this is only their problem. The truth is, church people - at far too many times and places - behaved exactly like those vineyard-tenants. They wouldn't give the vineyard's Lord the fruit He has every right to expect: Honest repentance for the sins of our life without a lot of excuse-making; trust that knows you've failed and that pins its hopes to nothing but the shed blood of Christ for pardon; a humble submission to the Lord's word and the resolution to go His way in everything you think or say or do. I'll say it again: Church people in far too many situations have behaved exactly as the tenants did. This has happened in whole religious denominations and local churches. It has happened in entire societies - as see around us - since the Christian faith has largely lost its hold on our Canadian people. It has happened in individual lives where men and women who had a place in the vineyard might as well have thrown out the messengers the owner sent, because they just plain stopped listening. And if the vineyard's Lord came to the point where He took the vineyard away from tenants way back when, I must never con myself into thinking that He couldn't do that with me. That's how Jesus wants you to see this crossroads as urgent. Still, you could get so hung up on the urgent warning here that you miss the glorious love Jesus Christ aims at you in these words. The vineyard-Lord did what people almost never do. He gave those tenants chance upon chance upon chance. When they pushed one messenger away, He sent another. When they injured and insulted that one, He patiently took it and tried again. The history of the Old Testament, friends, is not just that God's people rebelled against Him. The big story of the Old Testament is that God hangs in there with people, far beyond what human beings would count right and reasonable. It's why the Bible calls Him SLOW TO ANGER, AND BIG ON MERCY. And you can hear the hope in God's voice, even after all those prophets were pushed away. I WILL SEND MY SON, WHOM I LOVE; PERHAPS THEY WILL RESPECT HIM. Heaven's great Father has the hope that people will embrace this dearest treasure of His, this Son and Heir, even though so many of them turned Him a deaf ear in the past. He hopes that for you, too, dear friend, as He hopes it for me, even if we have also behaved like thankless vineyard-tenants. That never stopped God from sending His Christ into this broken world of ours. That doesn't stop God from holding Jesus out to you again this day in the word I am sounding and at the blessed table where we shall kneel a few moments from now. I'm so glad our pastor today has us singing hymns like, My Song is Love Unknown and What Wondrous Love is This? This seeking, life-giving love is a treasure you don't find anywhere else. The love of God in Jesus Christ does not give up easily on people. The love of God in Jesus Christ has not given up on you. That's the treasure unwrapped for you in this Gospel parable. It is the treasure I, in Christ's Name, now ask you to hold very close to your heart and to take home with you today. It's the treasure that can move you and me to run and meet the Lord with some of the precious fruit He wants to harvest from your life. As Holy Week draws very near, this parable is a gift Jesus prepared for His children just three days before He died. It's out of this world. And it's yours. Amen.
Robert Bugbee Pastor