Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lent 5, Series C

Sermon on Luke 20:9-20
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
March 17, 2013 (Fifth Sunday in Lent)

When you use someone else’s property, whether for a place to live or a place to work, or if that property is a car or truck, you’ve got to pay rent.  It’s not your property, it belongs to the property owner.  And so you pay him for the privilege of using it.  But these renters didn’t want to pay the rent when the owner sent his slaves around to collect.  They beat the slaves and sent them back empty-handed.  After the first time this happened, most owners would get a little more forceful; they’d either call in the authorities, or the next slave would have a weapon up his sleeve to defend himself.  I know that when a person simply says “no” to the IRS they don’t take it lying down.  But three times this owner simply sent his slaves into the vineyard, unarmed, hoping that the tenants would repent.

In fact, he goes even further.  He sends his own son to the tenants, hoping that they will listen to him if they listen to nobody else.  Now, these tenants had proven by their actions that they were violent, bloodthirsty men who didn’t care what the owner of the vineyard thought; they were going to do what they were going to do and nobody was going to stand in their way.  Why would the owner send his own beloved son unarmed to try to reason with these characters?  I don’t think any human owner of a rental property would ever do something that foolish.  And of course, the tenants are true to form.  They kill the son, thinking foolishly that by doing that they will somehow become the heirs of the vineyard.  Of course, that isn’t going to work.  Finally the owner loses patience, comes with soldiers, kills the tenants, and rents the vineyard out to others.

Of course, this parable was about the nation of Israel.  The people of Israel had been given a good land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  God had given them the land and had defended them against their enemies.  He had treated them much better than the owner in the parable treated the tenants.  He had treated them as His own children.  But they continuously refused to recognize Him, and instead continued to worship other gods, to disobey the Lord’s commandments, which had been given for their own good.  The Lord sent His prophets to Israel a lot more than three times during their history, and each time the prophets were killed by the leaders of the nation who did not want to hear the message.  This trend culminated in the beheading of John the Baptist.  Instead of destroying Israel outright the first time they sinned, which He could very well have done, the Lord had mercy on them and kept sending His preachers to them, to give them more opportunities to repent.  While many individuals did listen to these prophets and mend their ways, the nation as a whole kept sliding back into idolatry.

Finally God sent His own Son, Jesus Christ into Israel’s vineyard.  The nation’s leaders, the Sanhedrin, knew exactly who Jesus was.  They knew that God had sent Him to them to get them to turn away from their corrupt and selfish ways and to trust in God as the one who gave them every blessing they enjoyed as a nation.  They also knew that if they were to repent in this way, it would mean the loss of their own power, and so they decided to kill Jesus so that God would maybe leave them alone.  Of course, it didn’t work.  Because Israel’s leaders rejected Christ, the nation was destroyed by the Romans a few decades later, the Temple was torn down, and the land was turned over to the people we now know as the Palestinians.

Although Jesus told this parable specifically about Israel’s religious and political leaders, the lessons in it are for us as well.  While we are not part of an earthly nation that has been specifically chosen by God for some special purpose the way Israel was, we Christians are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.  The Christian Church is the spiritual continuation of the people of God, the people who were known as “Israel” in Old Testament times.  We have been given many blessings by God, and every day His blessings are new.  But do we thank and praise, serve and obey Him as we ought?  No.  Even if we strive to do these things, even if we try our hardest to produce righteous fruits, the old sinful nature is right there with us corrupting everything we do.  And more often than not, we don’t even try that hard.  We would prefer that God leave us alone and stop expecting so much of us.  We’re only human, after all.  What does God want, that we’re perfect or something?

In fact, that is exactly what God wants.  But by nature we can’t do that.  We aren’t perfect.  And so instead of coming down with the heavenly hosts right away to punish our sinfulness and send us to eternal torment, He sends His Son.  He sent His Son to pay the penalty we deserved by our sins.  He sends His Son even now to nourish and edify our faith in Him.  But just as the tenants in the vineyard, just as the Israelite leaders, we put Him to death.  When we hear His Word and receive His body and blood, and then go out and continue to live the sinful live we have always been living, without even making a serious attempt to resist temptation, we are the ones who kill Christ in our own hearts.

But of course Christ isn’t like the other prophets who came before Him.  The other prophets were silenced by their deaths.  Christ’s death doesn’t silence Him; instead it gives Him the victory.  He preaches even louder to the whole world by rising to life again on the third day.  No matter what you do to Christ, it will turn out to be a victory for Him.  This is both a warning and a comfort for us.  It is a warning, because as sinners we are by nature His enemies.  It is a comfort, because as those who have been baptized into Him and who hear His Word and eat and drink His body and blood we win the victory with Him.  Christ cannot be defeated.  He is the rock, and no matter whether His enemies fall on Him or He falls on them, they’re gonna lose.  What looks like His greatest defeat is in fact His greatest victory.  Good Friday and Easter Sunday are two sides of the same coin.

The tenants in the vineyard sealed their own fate by killing the son of the owner.  Satan and those who followed him, namely the Israelite leaders, sealed their fate by killing the Son of God.  But for us for whom He paid that price, we are now the ones who inherit the vineyard.  We are now the ones who inherit the blessings that God gives, not just in this life, but for eternity.  We are now the ones who are God’s people, the new Israel.  Because of Christ’s death, we need not fear death; death has become the gateway to everlasting life.  Because Christ became sin for us, we will live forever in a place where there is no sin.  Because Christ suffered for us, we will be with Him forever, and He will remove all suffering from us.  We now inherit the richest vineyard imaginable, and we partake of the fruits of that vineyard even now.  The great feast of victory which we will celebrate with Christ eternally is available for us now in His own body and blood.  The perfect life of good works which we will live eternally before Christ’s throne becomes ours even now as we are transformed by this feast into His saints.  He is not only the owner of the vineyard, He is the vine by which we are strengthened and nourished.  We are the ones to whom the vineyard has been given, and we now partake of its fruits for our eternal salvation.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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