Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Rejection Overcome. . .

Sermon for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 22A, preached on Sunday, October 4, 2020, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

  Rejection is a painful thing.  There are very few things more painful.  It cuts us to the heart.  It rocks us to our core.  When a child rejects a parent’s love, love shown through years of care and self-sacrifice, it’s devastating.  When a parent rejects a child’s love, that child can suffer greatly, having low self-esteem and trouble forming other relationships.  This can last for many many years, well into adulthood.  The rejection of love is painful, earth shattering, and in response, many of us just give up.  We stop loving.  But not God.
    St. John in his 1st letter says “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8).  God is love.  That’s who He is.  Love defines Him.  He has to love.  But the love of God, it isn’t just some philosophical ideal.  It isn’t generic.  It isn’t aimless love.  God’s love has a direction, it has an object, and that object is His creation, that object is you.
    God’s love drove Him to create.  We often wonder why God created the world, why He made Adam and Eve, even though with His omniscience He knew they were going to reject Him and choose instead Satan’s temptation and lies, sinning, plunging all life into death.   It’s because God is love.  He had to create.  He had to give life, otherwise, there’d be no love.  God is love, and He will continue to love, even when that love is rejected, over and over again.  
    It was rejected by His people of Israel.  With poetic language, the prophet Isaiah described God’s love.  It’s like a man who put his heart and soul into a vineyard.  That vineyard was a labor of love.  He chose the best spot for it.  He worked the land, clearing all the stones, planting just the right vines to produce just the right grapes.  He did everything he could to make that vineyard the perfect vineyard.  But, when the time came, the vines didn’t produce the right grapes, only wild and useless ones.  
    This vineyard imagery represents God’s people of Israel.  God did everything for them.  He freed them from slavery in Egypt.  He gave them the Promised Land, and land flowing with milk and honey.  He established the kingdom of Israel and prospered it through King David.  All of this He did by grace.  Israel did nothing to deserve it.  It was all a labor of love, God’s love.  But that love was rejected, repeatedly.  Over and over again the people of Israel turned from the Lord, worshiping false gods.  Just like the useless wild grapes that grew instead of choice ones, instead of faith, justice, and righteousness, Israel produced bloodshed, outcry, and unbelief.  
That violent rejection Jesus pointed to in His parable about a vineyard.  Similarly to Isaiah’s words, Jesus tells the story of a man, a master, who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress, built a tower, and then gave the vineyard to tenants to watch over it.  It was the ideal vineyard, and the tenants did nothing to establish the vineyard; and yet, the master willingly promised them it’s yield.  The master would receive his portion, and then the rest would go to them.  So when the time came, the master sent servants to collect.  But instead of being faithful tenants, giving the master his own, the tenants seized the servants.  They beat one, killed another, and stoned the third.  Instead of giving the master the blood of his grapes, they gave him the blood of his servants.  Out of nowhere, the tenants violently rejected the master.    
Hearing this we’d assume that the master would respond in kind, but he didn’t.  Instead, he sent more servants, and they too suffered the same fate.  Surely now, after a second time, the master would come in with swords drawn.  But again he doesn’t.  Instead, he sends his own son.  Foolishly, we’d say, he sends his heir, thinking the tenants would respect him, but of course they don’t.  Seeing the son coming, they plotted to kill him as well.  They thought they’d be able to keep the vineyard for themselves.  They thought they could steal what belonged to the master by killing his son.  And so they do.  
There seems to be no explanation for the evil of the tenants.  Reasonable people don’t behave that way.  Their violence and wickedness can only be explained by complete and utter hatred of the master, a complete and utter rejection of him.  Their violence shows just how deep and evil humanity’s sin is.  Even though he willingly gave them everything, they showed no respect, no love, only rejection.  
Jesus doesn’t tell us what happened to those wicked tenants.  He simply ends the parable by asking the chief priest and elders what the master will do, and they obviously say he will kill the tenants and give the vineyard to faithful ones.  After all, that’s what they deserved.  But Jesus doesn’t say how the parable ends.  Instead He speaks words of Scripture.  He quotes Psalm 118 (22,23): “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”  With these words, Jesus condemned the rejection of the chief priests and other religious authorities.  He is the Son that the Master sent.  He is the cornerstone of God’s kingdom.  
The tenants rejected the master, and they rejected the son.  They rejected them thinking they could get what belonged to the master by another way.  They didn’t want to receive the gifts of the master on his terms, but on their own.  In the same way, the religious elite rejected Christ.  They didn’t want to receive God’s gifts through Christ.  Instead, they sought it another way.  They rejected the Son, and in so doing, they rejected God’s love.  Is that how we treat God’s love?  Do we reject His gifts and try to get them another away?  Do we receive the Son with faith?
In the rite of private confession, the penitent says, “I, a poor sinner, plead guilty before God of all sins.  I have lived as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most.  My Lord’s name I have not honored as I should: my worship and prayers have faltered.  I have not let His love have its way with me, and so my love for others has failed.”  We haven’t let God’s love have its way with us.  We’ve rejected it.  Like our first parents, like the Israelites, like the tenants, the chief priests and the elders, we’ve rejected God’s love.  We refuse to listen to His Word.  Instead, we choose the word of Satan and the word of the world around us.  We give in to their temptations.  We choose sin.  Over and over again, we choose sin.  And because of that, we rightly deserve to be killed, just like those wicked tenants.  But even in the midst of all our rejection, God still loves, and it’s because of that love that He sent His Son.
    Because of God’s love, He sent His Son in response to our rejection, in response to our sin.  How crazy is that!?  What sense does that make!?  We reject God the Father, and in response He sends His Son.  He sends His Son to overcome our rejection, through His rejection.  
    Through Christ’s rejection on the cross, He overcomes ours.  On cross, the Son took our sin and rejection upon Himself.  Even though He was without sin, He became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21).  And in that, the Father rejected Him, so that our rejection and sin would be forgiven.  From the cross, our Savior cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matt 27:46).  On the cross, God the Father forsook His Son so that He could have you.  So that you’d be a part of His kingdom.  That’s the love of God.  That’s the love of God that He has for you.  
    Christ Jesus is the cornerstone of God’s kingdom.  Through Him the Lord builds a kingdom that will never be overcome.  Through the waters of Baptism that joins you to the death and resurrection of your Lord, through the words of Absolution that gives to you the forgiveness of your sins and rejection, through the Body and Blood of Christ that gives to you life, God brings you into His kingdom.  He makes you His own.  
    The Lord knows what it is to have His love rejected.  From the very beginning, His love drove Him to give life: in creation, in establishing Israel, and in giving each and everyone of us life.  And yet, that love is answered by rejection.  Let us repent of that.  Let us turn from our rejection and with faith embrace the Son the Master has sent.  The Lord never stops loving.  Because of His love for you He sent His Son to suffer rejection on the cross so that you’d be forgiven.  And receiving that forgiveness and love, you are brought into His kingdom, forever.  In Jesus’ name...Amen.  

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