Saturday, October 4, 2014

Rent

Sermon on Matthew 21:33-46
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
October 5, 2014 (Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Obviously the tenants were being stupid.  How could they possibly think that by committing murder, murder of the owner’s own son, no less, that they would inherit anything from the owner?  Who in his right mind would think that by beating up or killing the guy that came around to collect the rent check that they would become owners of the apartment?  It just doesn’t make any sense at all.  Of course they would be evicted.  And not only would they be evicted, they’d be thrown into prison, and possibly (depending on what state they lived in) sentenced to capital punishment.  What kind of stupidity is this?

It’s the kind of stupidity that comes from the same place in our hearts as the place where Eve’s idea that she could be like God came from.  God is the owner of everything.  He is the one who made it all, and so He’s the one that gets to decide what to do with it all.  We’re merely tenants when it comes to this world.  Even the stuff we legally own from the perspective of this world and its social order, isn’t really ours, because even the social order that determines what we do and do not own, is something God made.  We’re strangers here.  We only inhabit our homes, use our cars, and even use our own bodies for a short period of time.

But we like to think we own these things, don’t we.  The classical definition of the word “property” is that you get to determine what happens to something.  If you are the one who determines whether to sell or keep something, whether to give it away or not, how much you’re going to sell it for if you do decide to sell it, and so on, that thing is your property.  And in this old world, that idea is very important, because it keeps people from abusing each other by simply taking what they need without regard for the needs of the original owner.  The Seventh Commandment has something to say about that.  But where we get into trouble is when we start to apply the idea of ownership to our relationship with God.

We don’t own our own bodies, God does.  We don’t own our own stuff, God does.  We don’t even own our own reputations.  God owns all of that stuff.  And we don’t like that.  After all, there are plenty of things we could do if God didn’t have a claim on our bodies and lives.  In fact, we do that stuff anyway, don’t we?  Disobedience and hatred for those in authority, murder, lust, theft, gossip, are all things we do, as if we owned our own bodies and possessions and could do whatever we wanted with them.  What’s worse, is that we think we own our relationship with God Himself, as if we could get Him to do what we wanted.

But that’s not the case.  The vineyard isn’t ours.  We’re disobedient, hateful, and lazy tenants.  When this is pointed out to us, our old sinful natures rise up and want to kill those who point it out.  Some even get so mad at God that they wish He didn’t exist (and that’s what most–but not all–modern atheists are, by the way, not people who objectively believe He doesn’t exist, but people who resent His existence and and wish He weren’t there).  We don’t want to pay the rent, because it would mean admitting that someone else owns what we think is ours.  And so we kill the Son.  We are the ones who, by our rebelliousness drove the nails into His hands and feet, the crown into His head, and the sword into His side.

But when it comes to our relationship with God, and the fact that He is our landlord and we merely tenants, our response to Him becomes even more bizarre.  Yes, we try to kill Him and pretend that we owned ourselves and our stuff.  But what rent is it that He demands?  Most would say that He is looking for good works.  Most, even among Christians, would say that He is looking for works of charity.  Or that He’s looking for a pure life in which we, by our own willpower, resist temptations to sin.  Some would even say, as silly as it sounds, that God is looking for the good work of saying the Our Father, the Creed, and the Hail Mary a certain number of times.  And it is true that God doesn’t want us to break His commandments, as much for our own well-being as because He told us to do these things.

But these good works, by themselves, are not the rent which God demands of us.  The “rent” He would have us show is very easy and very light.  In fact, it’s something He creates inside of us.  It’s not something we can or should bring forth in and of ourselves.  Why we would rather kill God than pay the “rent” He is looking for is completely absurd.  The “rent” He demands of us is simply that we believe and trust in Him as the one who forgives our selfishness.  And even this trust is something that He did, that He created.  He was the one who created in us a clean heart and renewed a right spirit within us.  He is the one who put us on that cross that we used to try to kill Him.  He is the one who made us into creatures who trust in Him.  He is the one who sustains and nourishes that new self by giving us His own body and His own blood, which we nailed to the cross, as our heavenly food.  The “rent” he demands is that we receive from Him the good gifts He gives.  In other words, it’s not really rent at all in the sense in which we use this term.  What God expects is what He Himself gives.  We pay our “rent” by getting gifts from Him.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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