10/05/14 Sermon (October 5, 2014) World Communion Sunday

posted Nov 6, 2014, 12:09 PM by David Hawkins   [ updated Nov 6, 2014, 12:09 PM ]

“The Discipline of the Kingdom”

Scripture Reading: Matthew 21:33-46

“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.

“When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way.

“Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

“But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

“Now 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 the harvest time.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

Sermon: "The Discipline of the Kingdom"             Rev. David Hawkins

Last week, we caught up with Jesus the day after Jesus trashed the temple in Jerusalem, the day after he threw out the money lenders, turned over their tables, generally created a mess. We read about how he was brought back to the temple to answer for his actions. The leaders of the temple questioned his authority, and he replied with a parable about doing the will of the Father.

Today, it is still that same day, he is still standing before the authorities. The situations is still tense, the priests and the scribes are still angry, and Jesus is still telling stories. Today it’s about an absentee landlord and his leased vineyard.

Now, in our part of the world, we don’t have a lot a vineyards. There’s Caprock, down near Lubbock, and I think there’s about 50 acres over by Halfway where we grow the grapes for Messina Hof. And there’s others, of course.

But vineyards are relatively rare and new to our area. And so I’d like to think that if Jesus was telling this story to us today, in our part of the world, I’m not sure that he would use a vineyard as an example. I think maybe he’d go a little bit more old western, a little more Tex-Mex.

And so, this is how I hear Jesus telling this story in our part of the world.

You see, there was this cattleman, a rich one, who owned some land over by Quitique. He built some ranch houses, put up some fences, stocked the place with a few hundred cows, and hired some locals, some trusted friends of the family to run the operation for him. Then he moved away, we don’t know exactly where, maybe let’s say to California. Bought a house on the beach.

Anyway, the ranch operation goes along by itself for awhile, doing its own thing. The ranch hands take care of the cows that the owner bought, showing them where to eat, where to sleep, in fact, showing them every moment of their existence. They live in the ranch houses that the owner built, adding on, redecorating, buying some nice furniture. They take care of the fences that the owner put up, even building them just a little bit higher, a little thicker, a little more harder to get through, year by year. They really like their fences. And everybody is pretty happy with the arrangement.

But then the owner doesn’t hear from the ranch hands for awhile. Communication from Quitique has dried up, like water in a playa lake. The rich cattleman decides it’s time check in with his ranch, to recoup some of his investment, and he sends some of his people over to the Panhandle to collect the rent.

The problem is, the local ranch hands have gotten used to being on their own. It’s been a long time since they’ve seen the owner, and they’ve started to think maybe he’s not coming back. They like being their own boss. They like living in their nice houses. They enjoy the nice high fences. They especially like telling the herd what to do. They’re making good money, and they have a good life.

And so, when these strangers show up, these messengers from some absentee ranch-owner in California, well, they don’t cotton to it much. And they show it. The owner’s representatives are beaten and killed. The ranch hands send a strong message. They’ve earned the right to be here. This is their land, This is their house, these are their cows, and some fat-cat Californian isn’t going to tell them how to run it.

Well, word gets back to the ranch owner that the locals have dug in, and are refusing to honor the original agreement. At first, I’m sure the owner considered the possibility of sending in the army and simply wiping them out, but he decides to give them a second chance. Maybe they didn’t realize the messengers were speaking on his behalf. Maybe they had forgotten their agreement. And so he sends another group of messengers to reason with them, this time a bigger group, hoping to defuse the situation.

But these messengers meet with the same fate. Their words are ignored, their orders from the boss are refused, and they are also beaten and killed.

At this point, one would expect the ranch owner to simply give up on the ranch hands, pull out the heavy artillery, and take them down. But something stays his hand. Maybe it’s the fact that he still feels some kind of connection to them. Maybe he remembers the way they used to be together. Maybe, he thinks, they have just lost their way, and need some sort of personal reminder of their relationship.

And so he sends his son to them. Not the police. Not the national guard But his son. I can hardly believe that he thought it would work, but this is how he hoped to get the message to his ranch hands. He sends his son to the ranch in Quitique to carry his father’s words to these murderers in person.

And tragically, his father’s message of peace, of hope, of forgiveness, even in the face of such violent disobedience, is ignored. The promise of reconciliation is rejected, and the hired hands kill the son like they killed all the others. We know the rest of the story. The boss bac, the ranch hands are kicked out, there is general wailing and gnashing of teeth.

OK, we get it. God gave the temples priests their positions and their authority, they abused it, and they abused the prophets God sent to warn them, and now they are bringing charges against Jesus, the Son. It’s not too hard to connect the dots. And it would be very easy to hear this story as only applying to the Jews, wouldn’t it? That this is an allegory about how Israel rejected Jesus and is therefore locked out of the kingdom forever. That would be an easy conclusion to make.

But I think that we might be letting ourselves off the hook a little too easily if we think that this story only applies to other people, that it holds nothing for us. And I also think that it might be a little bit presumptuous to think that the whole point of this story is that God has abandoned the people with whom he sworn an eternal covenant on Mt. Sinai.  And if there is one thing in this world and the next that we can count on, it’s that our eternally faithful God does not break his promises.

So let’s begin with the  premise that God has not forgotten Israel. And let’s remember that Jesus is not in the habit of telling simplistic, one -dimensional parables. That means that there might more to this story than just an allegorical rebuke of the temple priests and their rejection of the Gospel.

Because if we are honest with ourselves, the temple priests are not the only people in the world to have rejected the Gospel message of forgiveness and welcome and reconciliation that Jesus brings. They are not first or the last people to have mistaken their allegiances or forgotten their responsibilities.   

We all live in world in which there are two realities:  A reality in which everybody is on their own, a reality that rewards the survival of the fittest, a reality in which the goal is to get as much as you can, while you can, and don’t worry about the bodies you might be climbing over in order to get it. But, there’s also the reality in which the last will be first, the sinner will be redeemed, the outcast welcomed, the hungry fed, and the meek will inherit the earth. This second reality is the kingdom Jesus is talking about, a reality that we can almost see, one that we can almost touch, that is so close to us, a reality that is both right here and now, and yet also frustratingly distant. And when we live our  lives in the first reality, without regard to our neighbor, we reject the promise of the second.

Jesus invites us to remember which reality we’re working for, which reality we’re working toward. And this requires kingdom discipline. Because  we’re not working for ourselves. We’re not working for our salvation. We’re not working to earn our place in the kingdom, because we have already been given a place in it. And every day, we have opportunities for our lives to bear fruit worthy of that gift. Every decision we make, every offer of peace, every attempt at reconciliation, every kind word, every second chance, every gesture of good will, every act of compassion is an opportunity to participate in the second reality that Jesus is talking about, the kingdom of heaven.

And this meal before us is the sign and seal of that reality. Today we celebrate the reminder that our God is not an absentee landlord. He is not in some Malibu beach house in California. He has not forgotten us, or left us alone to our own devices. In the Bread and the Wine, our eyes are opened, and we see Jesus for who he really is. In the power of his Holy Spirit we are brought into his presence to be fed at his table.

Come, taste the food of the kingdom, and see that it is good. Thanks be to God. Amen.