Monday, April 4, 2022

What will the owner do?

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent (C), preached on Sunday, April 3, 2022.

The haunting question behind Jesus’ parable of the vineyard and unworthy tenants is this question “What will the owner do?”  Three times the owner of the vineyard sends His servants to collect what is His right.  And three times the owner got back his servants, beaten within an inch of their lives.  The owner asks the question first.  What should I do?  It is the ultimate foolish question.  We don’t get the problem.  You have tenants who refuse to pay rent.  You evict them.  With all the force necessary.  Duh!  Problem solved, right?  Wrong.  The owner is not interested simply in punishment.     

So what does the owner do?  He refuses to use surrogates and sends his own son whom he loves.  Surely they will respect him and set things right.  By this time, the mercy of the owner has been interpreted as weakness.  The tenants have judged the owner a fool.  So they presume that if they kill the son, the owner will have no choice but to abandon His vineyard and it will all be theirs.  At least that is what they think.  And so they kill the heir, the beloved son of the owner, and they think it is all done.  What will the owner do?

The tenants have misjudged the owner.  He is not simply interested in the fruits of the vineyard but in the tenants.  His patience is not weakness but strength.  His goal is not simply to get the fruit he is owed as rent but to turn the hearts of the sinful tenants.  His mercy may appear to be foolish but it is the otherworldly wisdom that cannot be understood or trusted unless the Holy Spirit change the heart.  What will the owner do is the wrong question.  What has he done?  That is the question.

The stone the builder’s rejected has become the cornerstone.  The prophets were sent over and over again to God’s people and they treated them badly but they treated the message even worse.  They rejected God’s Word and rejected God.  Any normal God would have washed His hands of them and delighted in making them suffer.  But not this God.  This God sends His one and only Son.  This God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and makes all time point to the most important moment of all – that moment when His Son will come to the tenants – to you and to me.

John’s Gospel says it all.  He came to His own but His own knew Him not and rejected Him.  Jesus’ disciples got it.  
They wanted fire and brimstone rained down from heaven on all who opposed them.  Peter lashed out with a sword and managed the mortal blow of a chunk of an ear cut off.  He thought he was Jesus’ protector.  He was fighting for Jesus’ honor.  But the honor Jesus came for is faith and for the redemption of the vineyard Jesus needs no protector.  Judgment will come but not yet.  First He must manifest such mercy as the world has never seen before.  He will suffer.  He will die.  And when it seems the sinners have won, He will rise on the third day and come back to claim what is His – you and me!

You ask all the time what will God do?  To a world finding its way through the darkness of a pandemic.  What will God do?  To a culture so far askew from the will and purpose of God.  What will God do?  To a world of injustice, prejudice, and hate.  What will God do?  To a world that has squandered His vineyard and turned it into a sewer of sin and sorrow.  What will God do?  It is always the wrong question.  That foolish little question that was once such a fad is the wrong question?  What would Jesus do?  That is not where we live.  We live in the world of what Jesus has done, what love the Father has shown us in Christ our Savior.

The Gospel is gift and blessing to those who believe it and rejoice in its promise but to those who are perishing it is a word too hard to hear, too difficult to believe, and too unrealistic to practice.  The same Word is the stone that holds up the entire vineyard or it is the vineyard stones fallen down on the vineyard.  What marks the difference is faith.

The truth is that we wounded the prophets who came to address us with a Word of God none of us wanted to hear.  The truth is that we put Jesus on the cross – not Pilate or Herod or Caiaphas.  Our sins put Him there.  But God used His death to deliver hope to the sinner, a future to those captive to death, and a life the grave cannot claim.  What matters is not what we think God might do but what He has done.  That is the only thing that counts.

God does the unthinkable.  He takes the vineyard and gives it to the tenants who wounded the prophets and rejected their message.  He takes the vineyard and gives it to the tenants who nailed His Son to the cross.  All He asks of you is faith.  Faith that is the fruit of His Spirit’s work within you.  Faith that shows itself in repentance.  Faith that does not hide your sins but confesses them.  Faith that does not trust in anything but the mercy of the owner of the vineyard.  
Faith that does not daydream about what might have been but rejoices in what God has done.    

The tenants in Jesus’ parable thought they knew the owner.  Though they had ignored the owner’s words and his works and thought they could figure him out on their own, they had missed the whole point.  The owner was not weak or foolish but patient, gracious, and merciful.  They were consumed by what the owner might do and missed what the owner had done.  

Don’t make the same mistake.  Don’t waste your time wondering about what God might do and miss what God has done to save you, to redeem you, to forgive your sins, to rescue your life from death, and to deliver you to everlasting life – the real vineyard God has given to you freely and lovingly through the very death of His Son.  How easy it is for us to dwell in the same foolishness.  We want God to lead us to the right future in this present age and the right decision for tomorrow, thinking this is His most important work.  But in our focus on what God might do or will do, we diminish what He has done.  We make the cross small and His salvation less important than a word or a sign for this moment.

Rejoice, people loved by God.  He has given You His Word that you may know with confidence and believe with joy that He loves you, He has forgiven all your sins, and has prepared for you a place in heaven forever.  He came to His own and His own knew Him not but to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave the power to become the children of God.  

In the holy name of Jesus.  Amen.

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