St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church, Trinity 17, Oct 4, 2020 Canon Claude Schroeder
Sermon on Matthew 21. 33-46.
In today’s gospel lesson today from St. Matthew, Jesus is in the Temple in Jerusalem addressing the crowds who had come to celebrate the Passover. We are here on the day after Jesus made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, on what we call Palm Sunday, where and the crowds hailed Jesus as their King.
But no sooner does Jesus enter the city, than he makes a bee line for the Temple where he proceeds to turn over the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons, declaring, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers” thus provoking a confrontation with the religious leaders as the ones responsible for the corruption at the centre of the Israel’s spiritual life.
The issue here was one of authority. They asked Jesus, “By what authority do you do these things, and who gave you this authority?”
The quick and simple answer of course was… God! Jesus had come not only proclaiming the coming reign and rule of God on this earth, what we call the kingdom, but through his words and his actions was ushering in that kingdom. So it is that we have come to believe that through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, and the sending of the Holy Spirit, God has established his reign and rule in our midst. And as involve we involve ourselves in His words and His actions, he gives is a share in the life of his kingdom, whereby He has overcome the power of sin and death.
By way of an answer to this question, ‘By what authority do you do these things, and who gave you this authority” Jesus proceeded to tell a series of parables.
Our parable today is a very timely one, because in it a landowner sends slaves to collect a portion of the harvest from the farmers to whom he had rented out the land. It’s harvest time here in Saskatchewan, and next Sunday will be Harvest Thanksgiving.
But it’s not only harvest time in Saskatchewan, it’s also election time. And isn’t there also some kind of election about to happen south of the border…? Elections are all about who is going to have authority to govern. And in our parable today, Jesus announces a change in government, but it’s not the one that some folk perhaps are hoping for. “Therefor I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.”
Most commentators call this The Parable of the Wicked Tenants, and it’s easy to see why. Beating, killing, and stoning the vineyard owner’s slaves was thoroughly wicked to thing to do!
How are we to account for such extreme, violent behavior? They were clearly playing with the idea that the vineyard and all its produce belonged to them. This is what happens when you take God out of the picture. People become violent consumers, instead of faithful stewards of that which God has entrusted them with, the cultivation of the vineyard that is the good earth and the kingdom of God.
I don’t know about you, but if I was that landowner, I would have called the police, and had these tenants arrested and sent to prison. 10 years to life!
For some strange reason, this landowner thought he would give it another try. He sent in other slaves, more than the first, but the tenants treated them the same way. More bruised, bleeding, and dead bodies.
So now, what? Now, it’s surely time to put a stop this outrageous behavior!
But no. In a final attempt to honour the relationship and collect what was owed, this landowner decided to send his son, saying “Surely, they will respect my son, and acknowledge his authority…” because in sending his son, he was really sending Himself.
Given what’s happened in the story up until now, we are not surprised to hear that when these wild tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come let us kill him and have his inheritance. And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him.”
It’s an outrageous story that Jesus tells here, but such was the story of God’s dealings with the people of Israel. The vineyard, as we heard in Isaiah’s love song in our first lesson, is the house of Israel which God planted on a very fertile hill. He digged 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 vat in it. And he looked for grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. He looked for justice, but behold violence, for righteousness, but behold, a cry!
When God sends his servants the prophets to call the people back to Him, to repentance and faith, time and again, they beat one, killed another, stoned another. And now within four days’ time, on what we call Good Friday, they would take His Son, and cast out Him of the vineyard, and kill him. Jesus was taken outside the city to be crucified.
In his love song, Isaiah wrote, “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge I pray between me and my vineyard…”
And here Jesus addresses the inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, “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 harvest time.”
And Jesus said to them, “Have you never read the Scriptures, “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
The cornerstone sometimes called the foundation stone is the first stone set in the construction of a foundation. All other stones will be set in reference to this one stone, which determines the position of the entire structure. Here at St. Mary’s the cornerstone is on the north-east corner of the building.
But what, spiritually speaking is the cornerstone of the church? The cornerstone is found in the preaching of the crucified and risen Lord according to the Scriptures and in the celebration of the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. This very stone, Jesus, which the builders rejected, who was crucified so that sins could be forgiven, has become for us the head of the corner, the solid foundation upon which to build not only the church, but our lives.
But what about you? What has been your experience with rejection? Nobody likes to be rejected. It’s an incredibly painful experience, and people will go to great lengths in order to win acceptance and make themselves acceptable, and it’s usually by means by means of some kind of performance.
So how has this pandemic effected your performance?
“If the truth be told, I’m not doing very well…”
But acceptance that depends on performance is not acceptance. You say or do the wrong thing, or don’t measure up in some way, and out you go!
But in the Gospel the experience of rejection has become for us the entry point for the grace of God into our lives, where God cannot help but accept us for who we are, because He has forgiven us. This is an acceptance that has nothing to do with performance. And so, where there is forgiveness, the search for acceptance is over.
This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes. What a relief that is!
And not only that, but all those things that I used to reply on for my acceptability, ethnic background, family name, social status, education, career, accomplishments and so on, I now, in the words of St. Paul, “regard as loss compared with the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him… I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 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.
For St. Paul the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ wasn’t just an historical fact which you could about in the Bible. It had become the defining reality of his life. Gaining Christ by suffering the loss of all things…knowing the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, totally surrendered to the love and will of the Father.
Here is the thing about the stone that is the death of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins: either you build your life on this stone, and make this the determining factor in all your relationships, or you will fall on that stone and be broken in pieces, or even worse, that stone will fall on you, and crush you.
So it is, says Jesus, that “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation who produces the fruits of the kingdom”
Who is this nation that God is giving His kingdom, and share in his victory over the power of sin and death?
Who is this nation that is going to produce the fruits of the kingdom?
Is it a European nation, an African or Asian Nation, or maybe one of the First Nations of this land?
I don’t think it’s any of these.
The nation in question is a holy nation, a nation belonging to God, that embraces any and all the nations of the earth. It is the nation that knows itself to be forgiven through the Cross of Christ. It is the nation that turns to God in repentance and faith. It is the nation that knows how to pray, “Turn us again, O God of hosts; show the light of thy countenance, and we shall be whole.” (Psalm 80.7) And finally, it is the nation that puts its faith and trust in the authority of the One who through His suffering, death, and resurrection has come to save us.