21 Pentecost Proper A22                      
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 21:33-43 Sermon                                        
October 5, 2008

Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
151 "Built On The Rock The Church Doth Stand"
557 "Fight The Good Fight With All Thy Might"
562 "The Son Of God Goes Forth To War"
---- "Precious Lord, Take My Hand"


TEXT (vs. 43): "Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit...."

            This morning, I'm going to share a true story with you.  There was a church in a city right next to a supermarket.  The church had limited parking available, but the supermarket had an entire paved parking lot. 

            Since the supermarket was closed on Sundays, the pastor of the church approached the supermarket owner to ask him if he minded if they used his parking lot on Sunday mornings.

            The owner said, "Sure, I don't mind at all if you use my parking lot, but you need to know that it will only be available 51 Sundays out of the year.  For one Sunday, you will see the parking lot access chained and padlocked."

            This puzzled the pastor.  "Why is this going to happen on one Sunday?  What's going on?"

            The owner replied, "The week I will chain off the lot will be so that you will always be reminded that the lot belongs to me and not the church."

            In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is presenting yet another parable about a vineyard.  This makes the third week in a row that a vineyard is used by Jesus as a metaphor.  Last week we focused upon a father who asked his two sons to go and work in his vineyard.  And the week before that, we focused upon a landowner who hired workers to work in his vineyard several times during the day.

            In each instance, the kingdom of heaven is being compared to a vineyard, and God himself is the owner of the vineyard.  It's a good comparison, and each parable has taught us some valuable lessons.  In the first instance, we learned that we can't be envious or jealous of those who have received God's blessings in different proportions than we have.  And in the second instance, we learned the importance of doing the Father's will, and not trying to placate him with empty promises.

            So now in today's Gospel, Jesus speaks of the vineyard in terms of a landlord and tenants, and the importance of the understanding between the two parties.

            In our Gospel lesson, we are told about how the landlord regarded his property.  He prepared his vineyard with a lot of careful planning and thought.  He fenced it off with a wall to keep it secure.  Most likely this also included the installation of some sort of irrigation device to keep the grape vines watered.  Then he constructed a winepress which enabled him to process his grapes after they were harvested.  And finally he constructs a watch tower, which enabled him to view the entire vineyard from one spot.  The vineyard was indeed well constructed.

            The owner of the vineyard was what we would call an "absentee landlord;" that is, a landlord that was not in close proximity to the premises.  So he rents the vineyard to some tenants who were to care for it.  In exchange for their duties, they would receive a proportionate amount from the crop that was harvested.  This is similar to the sharecropping arrangements many farmers have today, where the farmer gets three-fifths of the profit from the crop, and the landlord gets two-fifths.  The arrangement is a fair one, and it wouldn't be out of place for us to think that the landlord and tenant in Jesus' parable did pretty much the same thing.

            We also need to bear in mind that vineyards don't start to produce a crop right away.  It takes a period of several years for the vineyard to become productive and profitable.  We can assume then that the landlord in our story today wouldn't have expected a share of the crop right away, but he would have waited an appropriate amount of time for there to be a good harvest that would net him some return for his investment.

            So the time was right and the harvest had been gathered.  The landlord sends three of his employees to collect the rent that was due.  But instead of paying the rent that was due, they beat one guy up, they stoned another guy, and they killed the third one.  After this first episode happens, the landlord dispatches another group of his employees, and they get treated the same way.  Finally the landlord sends his son, thinking that the tenants would certainly respect his authority.  But they kill him instead.

            The landlord would have certainly been both upset and angered by the whole situation.  When he would finally show up himself, he would bring the tenants to a "wretched end" as our Gospel for today says, and then find new tenants who would be faithful and honest.

            The whole chain of events is, for the most part, a logical progression of things.  The landlord definitely wanted his tenants to know that he was serious and that he meant business.  It would appear that the tenants sort of "forgot" who was in charge, especially if it took a more extended period of time for things to get to the point where the landlord felt he could begin to ask for his share.  They figured that they more or less had "squatter's rights," which somehow gave them the impression that they could obtain the rights to the land as long as they occupied it. 

            But of course nothing could be further from the truth.  The landlord had his way of dealing with things, and in the end it would mean that those thieving and conniving tenants would get their just desserts.  They would be driven out of the land, and most likely face execution because of what they did.

            The parable in our Gospel lesson for today is something that Jesus aims directly at the Pharisees.  God is the landlord, and the Pharisees are the wicked tenants.  God established the world at creation.  When he created the world and everything in it in six days, the Bible says that what God did was good.  God was like that landlord who carefully planned and established his vineyard. 

            After the fall into sin, God's people became more and more unfaithful.  In our Old Testament Lesson for today, we read in verse 7 of Isaiah chapter 5 about the comparison between God's vineyard and the unfaithful servants amongst the Israelites.  We read,        "The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight.  And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress."  Certainly we can see how those whom God put in charge of the vineyard of this world had become corrupt and unfaithful.  Time after time, they neglected to remember who was in charge, and they took it upon themselves to usurp God over and over again.

            And now as Jesus is addressing the Pharisees, he takes aim with this parable and makes a bulls eye hit.  The Pharisees had gotten so wrapped up in themselves that they forgot who was in charge.  Instead of being faithful servants of God, they were more interested in the power they had.  Instead of using the church treasury to do the work of the kingdom, they were more interested in how much money they could stockpile.  They had their priorities all mixed up, and they had forgotten who was really in charge.

            In order to promote their own agenda, the Pharisees actually became wicked tenants and enemies of God.  In Luke chapter 13 verse 34 we hear Jesus lamenting over this whole issue:   "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!"  And of course Jesus being the only begotten Son of God the landlord, he would wind up being killed by those whom God had put in charge of his church.  The Pharisees and the whole Jewish Sanhedrin would have the blood of the Son on their hands.

            So now let's fast-forward from first century Israel to twenty-first century America.  Instead of the Pharisees, let's insert ourselves into this picture.  God is still the landlord, but now we are the tenants.  What kind of tenants are we going to be?  Are we going to be good and faithful tenants, or are we going to fall into the same trap that the Pharisees did?

            As I was studying this text, I found one person's comment rather interesting.  He said, "God is the landlord, we are the tenants, and it's time to pay the rent!"   At first I thought it sounded rather work-righteous; but as I thought about it, it makes a lot of sense.  Are we the type of people who faithfully pay our rent for what our gracious God has given us?  Do we always remember who is the landowner and the person in charge?  Or are we more inclined to want to take ownership ourselves and try to be masters of our own destiny?

            If we look at ourselves as individuals and collectively as a congregation, we can readily see how God has blessed us.  God has provided for us with his loving and gracious hand according to his grace.  Like the Bible says in John chapter 1 verse 16, "From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another."  Or if you prefer the King James translation, it reads:  "And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace."

            From the very onset of this congregation, I have said that our church doesn't belong to any one individual, or to a group of people, or to the AFLC, or to myself as the pastor.  Our congregation belongs to Jesus Christ and to him alone.  We are part of the Church that is Christ's holy bride.  We are part of the Church for whom Christ gave his very life by dying on the cross.  And we are part of the Church to which Christ has given the victory over sin, death, and hell by his rising from the dead. 

            Even though our actual number of members isn't that large, yet we have a treasure that is God's gift to the whole Christian church on earth.  We have the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We know that we can come here and receive the forgiveness that Jesus offers through the words of absolution and through the Lord's Supper.  We can come here confessing our sins with the knowledge that the forgiveness Jesus has won on the cross is ours.  We can come here with the assurance that through faith alone in Jesus our Saviour that we are saved and that we will inherit a mansion in eternity.  When we gather here, we know that we have God's divinely inspired and inerrant Word recorded for us in the pages of the Holy Bible, preached and taught in its truth and purity.   We have right here in our midst every gift that God has given to the entire Christian Church on earth.  We have every spiritual gift there is, and it's right here for the taking.

            But we must always remember that God is the landlord and we are the tenants.  And yes, it's time that we paid the rent.  One of the ways we do this is to take what we have and give it to others.  The blessings we have here are blessings that need to be shared with the world. 

            And so we pray that God will keep us faithful to him.  We pray that we will be continually given strength to do battle with Satan whenever he rears his ugly head.  We pray that we will be always united in faith with our Saviour Jesus Christ.  And we pray that we will always be faithful tenants, ready and willing to pay the rent that is due through our time, treasures, and our very lives.  We live our lives gratefully out of love for him, who willingly gave himself up for us, so that we might be his faithful tenants on earth, who will ultimately dwell with him in our very own mansion in heaven forever.