*This was the sermon from The Journey on Oct 2. Narcie was out of town and the preaching was left to me, let’s see if that happens again…
Our text this morning appears in three of the gospels, Matthew, Mark & Luke. So there must be something key – something rather fundamental within this story.
The text is pretty hard-core. I don’t think 91.9 would give it 4 out of 4 stars for “Family Friendliness.” It is a rather gruesome story, greed, violence, murder. All to make it über clear – no matter what the world may throw at the followers of Jesus – it is Christ through which our salvation lies.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Being a musician I tend to look at the macro; because this moment (maybe a triumphant bridge- like in I Will Rise, a super catchy chorus – Behold He Comes, Riding on the Clouds, or even some fantastic ending of a song – like the end of the Beatles “A Day in The Life, the two songs coming together, the orchestra building, all slightly out of tune until…. BOOM! That last chord which is held for something like 45 seconds). These musical ideas can only be effective if they have been properly set-up. It is important that they occur after we have approached them with delicacy and fall away from our musical idea of desired importance in a manner to further support it while moving the listener away to a new sonic landscape.
So what is the set-up for our text this morning?
Directly before our reading is the story of the Parable of the Two Sons. The quick and dirty run-down is how even the worst sinners and low-lifes in our society, can get the Kingdom of God. While the religious leaders, with all their knowledge and power sometimes remain clueless. In this story two sons were asked to work the fields. One said, “No.” But later changed his mind and did go out and tend to the fields. While the other said, “Yes.” But then piddled the day away on his Playstation and did not go. The son who changed his mind and went was to be praised. The change of heart and the subsequent actions were heralded over a false promise with nothing to back it up.
Jesus ends this Parable with this in Matthew 21:32:
For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
A dire warning indeed.
Which brings us to our text this morning, which as we discussed earlier would get a PG-13 if it came out this past weekend.
In our gospel reading the vineyard represents the people of Israel – this was a common reference during Jesus’ time. In fact this was directly invoking Isaiah 5: 1 Let me sing for my loved one (God) a love song for his vineyard (the people of Israel). In both our parable and in the Isaiah text the Landowner (God) has planted fruit. But there is a problem.
In Jesus’ parable today the slaves are sent to collect the fruit. Mind you, these “slaves” are often interpreted by those with fancy degrees hanging on their walls, probably spectacles, and elbow patches on their sports coats, to represent the prophets who have come before. And what happened to many of the prophets? Remember how Jesus ended the previous story, chastising the people for not hearing and believing John’s words, and we all probably know how John the Baptist’s story ends… It almost sounds like Jesus’ patience was running a little thin on this particular day.
Back to our story.
After all the slaves/prophets have been rejected, God/the landowner sends his only Son. Thinking surely they will respect and listen to him! But no, the tenant farmers kill the Son. They did so out of selfishness and a refusal to listen – they rejected Jesus.
In this setting Jesus was speaking directly to the Pharisees. We know they were there, they are mentioned about being fearful of the crowd. Can you see them, huddling together in the back. Mocking what Jesus is saying – of course they would be picking up in the reference to Isaiah 5, which has a much more dreadful warning than our Matthew text. These Pharisees, who had built up positions of spiritual and political power, by adhering to rules, and making allegiances with those who were in power during this time. But they had turned their backs to the truths within their rules, the truth that was revealed to them in Christ. Mind you the Pharisees knew that Jesus was…thumbing his nose at them. They wanted him arrested, but they were too selfish, and in an act of self-preservation did nothing. The Pharisees rejected Jesus as the tenant farmers rejected the land owner’s son.
In this text I find it a bit hilarious how Jesus polls the audience. What will the land owner do with the tenants?
Did he get a timid response? No – the people’s response was pretty clear: He should kill them and get new tenants! A little pent up aggression?
We all know when Jesus spoke there were certain political overtones to his teachings. The Pharisees were sometimes seen as agents of the Roman government and were often present in these discussions like we find today. The people wanted Jesus to overthrow the wicked Pharisees and Romans then start fresh. To leave the vineyard to tenants who will yield fruit.
Then Jesus shifts and makes the statement:
The stone the builders reject will be the cornerstone. Excuse me?
We’ve seen a lot of construction. The bridge on 21 is only closed when I’m in a hurry, and I’m pretty sure all of you drive everyday past a group of a dozen people in orange vest watching one-person work on a daily basis. But imagine what the construction was like during the time of Jesus. The Romans had conquered the known world, or were working on it. Then they were building roads, bridges, and waterways – all with Roman construction methods; all using the arch, which will only work with the support of the cornerstone. These many construction efforts of the Romans were only successful in their scale because the Romans understood the significance of the cornerstone/keystone; and each Roman arch still present in Europe rests upon a singular cornerstone.
Jesus, who was rejected, is the cornerstone to our salvation.
One thing I find a little fascinating about these stories this morning is how they use farmers – especially sharecroppers. My family was nearly all farmers (except for my Dad’s father, his father was a railroad mechanic in Hannibal, MO). My Granny grew up on a farm in Illinois, my Grandfather grew up on a farm in east TN, and my mother’s mother was indeed a sharecropper in rural GA. The stories from her childhood are absolutely nuts. They (she had a twin sister, Sadie) stopped going to school in the 3rd grade because their help was needed to bring in the cotton. One thing was clear, on the socio-economic ladder, they were at the bottom; they were just dirt poor. As a kid I had no concept of what that looked like so she told me how she and Sadie went to town once and this little African-American girl their age, who apparently had pig-tails, was making fun of their sack dresses (sack dresses because they were made from potato sacks) and how they couldn’t afford to buy a lollipop like she had. This was in the racially charged times of 1930s rural GA, even the taboos around those issues didn’t stop this little girl from making fun of my Grandmother and her sister’s lot in life. This was only a few generations ago – imagine the socio-economic level of someone in this line of work over 2,000 years ago.
But if Jesus is telling stories about the poorest of the poor, it would have been clear that this Jesus character is here for us all. The tax collectors, prostitutes, even the poor sharecropper who lives in servitude to the land.
Jesus came – and became our Rock and Salvation. Jesus offered and offers a chance to turn our hearts from sin. The son in Matthew 22:28-32 who changed his heart, was lifted up.
In our text from today the land owner did not give up on the tenant farmers – a multitude of opportunities to collect the produce was offered.
Just as God was in the Old Testament to the people of Israel, leading them out of bondage to the Promised Land. And how in the New Testament Jesus offers clear illustrations of how God’s faithfulness still endures. Jesus is saying these things probably knowing that he will ultimately be rejected and killed as was the son in our Matthew text.
But the chance, the opportunity to turn from sin; to do as our Heavenly Father has asked, is made available through Christ.
This offer of Salvation that is made to all, and might be best seen by the ones who might not feel the most comfortable if they were to walk in the doors of worship this morning.
Though there does seem to be one little part of our text here at the end we haven’t yet touched.
“The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruit of the Kingdom.” Ouch. This is a clear message to the Pharisees, “Get with the program.” How does your life bear fruit?
If Jesus were here today telling us these stories, which side would we fall within?
Do we live our lives out as shining examples of the sacrifice made by Christ?
Are we living selfish Christian lives – seeking to preserve what we know, and maintain the status quo?
Or, are we seeking to be the bearers of fruit?
Are we the laborers in the vineyard declaring the Word, and Works of the Lord?
And for those who don’t like to read, here’s the video from Sunday: