17 Pentecost Proper A22
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 21:33-43 Sermon
October 5, 2014

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
364 "How Sweet The Name Of Jesus Sounds"
533 "Nearer My God To Thee"
657 "Beautiful Saviour"
465 "Christ Is Our Cornerstone" 

TEXT: (vs. 38-39) “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’   And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”

            Everybody has problems.  Everybody, including you and me and everybody we know.  Sometimes those problems are trivial, and sometimes they are a bit more complicated.  And if you are like a lot of people, myself included, you look at other things or other people to take the blame.  And some people can be so caught up in this that they spend a lot of time and energy in this area.

            Some people blame their problems on their health or their appearance, thinking that being healthier or better looking will fix everything.  And of course there is always the money issue; most people will immediately tell you that they can use more money, or they're short on money, or something to that effect.    

            Or perhaps we blame things on something more tangible, an object of some sort.  People believe problems will go away with a new car, or a home instead of a rented apartment, or maybe living in a better neighborhood.

            Perhaps there's something more chemical involved here.  My favorite here is: "I take no responsibility for anything I say or do before I've had my morning coffee."  Okay, I guess my secret is out!

            All humor aside though, we have places like Center Pointe and Valley Hope and the Independence Center and St. Monica's that deal with a whole variety of chemical addictions.  Some people have convinced themselves that the cure for all their problems can be found at the bottom of a bottle, or at the end of a needle, or vaporized and inhaled.

            Generally speaking, we need a certain amount of tangible things to live.  Some physical things are necessities.  Some physical things are luxuries.  Some things, like illegal drugs, are absolutely wrong.   But, however you classify them, they're all things.  Physical necessities, luxuries, illegal substances:  They're all things. 

           The issue is not what things you need to maintain or improve your life.  The main issue is this:  What is your attitude regarding these things?  How important are they?  If you are miserable, do you blame your problems on things that you want but you don't have?  Or is your misery a result of selfishness and materialism?  

            If so, and if you're in the habit of grumbling, "If only I had," then you should come clean.  Admit what you really are.  You are guilty of idolatry!  Think about it.  You, myself, or anyone else who looks to these things to find happiness falls into this category.  After all, what's an idol?  An idol is a dumb, lifeless thing to which people devote themselves.  In pagan lands, you find people giving their time, their energy, their affections to idols, to dumb and lifeless things.  This is how they try to find life's solutions. 

            So now, you blame your problems on things?  Do you go around thinking "If only I had..." this, that or whatever?  Do you strain your energies to get things?  This all sounds to me like 21st century idolatry, pure and simple.

            In our text for this morning, we find Jesus using a parable.  It’s a parable of a vineyard owned by a man who lived a long ways off.  He had tenants working that vineyard, and they became greedy.  They were selfish and materialistic; so much so in fact, that they would not give the land owner his fair share of the income.  The land owner sends numerous servants, only to have them beaten and cast out.  Finally the land owner sends his son, and the tenants kill him.

            The obvious parallel here is that the vineyard represents the world, God is the land owner, the people of the world are the tenants, the prophets are the servants, and Jesus is the son whom the tenants kill.  That’s the obvious parallel.

            However in this story, we see something else too.  We see some of the more base elements of human behavior.  We see things like jealousy, anger, murder, and idolatry.  We see selfishness and materialism.   We see the sins of the human race.  And of course, we are all members of it.

            I’d like to illustrate this with another story from the Bible.  The story is about another vineyard, in the Old Testament.  This story is one of the classic “If only I had…” stories of the Bible, that shows how wicked people can be when they are controlled by sin.  It's a story that shows how ridiculous this crazy appetite is, that so many of us have for things.

            The story is recorded for us in 1st Kings chapter 21, and it is called Naboth’s Vineyard.  I think that every Sunday School teacher has shared this story.  Now, I’m going to paraphrase it a bit, however I encourage you to read the entire account in 1 Kings chapter 21 for yourself.  

            The story of Naboth begins like this.  "There was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite.  The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria."  (I'll interrupt reading the story here to tell you that Ahab was one of the most evil kings to ever rule over ancient Israel.  He's the bad guy in this story).  "Ahab said to Naboth, 'Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace.  In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.'"  (No problem so far.  Ahab wanted the vineyard and so he offered to buy it.  But from this point on, Ahab's insatiable greed takes over.)

           "But Naboth replied, 'The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.'

           "So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, 'I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.'  Ahab lay on his bed sulking and he refused to eat.

           "His wife Jezebel (now there's a name you probably know.  Jezebel.  The name personifies evil, and you're going to see why.)  Jezebel came in and asked him, 'Why are you so sullen?  Why won't you eat?'

           "He answered her, 'Because I said to Naboth the Jezreelite, 'Sell me your vineyard, or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard in its place.'  But he said, 'I will not give you my vineyard.'

           "'So Jezebel his wife said, 'Is this how you act as king over Israel?  Get up and eat!  Cheer up; I'll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.'

           "So she wrote letters in Ahab's name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth's city with him.  In those letters she wrote:  'Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place amongst the people.  But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them testify that Naboth has cursed both God and the king.  Then take him out and stone him to death.'  (Now this is one wicked woman! and she's doing it all to satisfy her husband's crazy  selfish greed, "If only I had....")

           "So the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth's city did as Jezebel directed in the letters she had written to them.  They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth in a prominent place amongst the people.  Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people saying, 'Naboth has cursed both God and the king.'  So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death.  Then they sent word to Jezebel:  'Naboth has been stoned and is dead.'    

          "As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, 'Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you.  He is no longer alive, but dead.'  When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth's vineyard."

           That's the story of Naboth's vineyard.  It's a classic.  It shows how terribly far you can go when you're devoted to things.  Selfishness and materialism are the proverbial green-eyed monsters here.  It shows how destructive it is to blame our problems on things you would like to have but don't.  It's misery that we all have felt at one time or another. 

           Yes, we all blame and yes, we sometimes blame our problems on things we'd like to have but we don't.  But if your record gets stuck on "If only I had, If only I had, If only I had,” then you'll be sulking and pouting just like Ahab did.  Worse, your desire for things you don't have might lead you into worse sins, as Ahab's desire led to the murder of Naboth.  If there are things you want to have but you don't have now, there are better ways to deal with your desires than sulking, pouting, and blaming your problems on things.

           The better way is to be patient and wait on the Lord.  In due time, He may give you what you need.  If He doesn't, then keep on being patient, keep on putting your energies into prayer; keep on telling him what it is that you need.  Or at least, whatever it is you think you need.  Hindsight often tells us that some of the things we think we need; we really didn't need at all. 

            I'm sure Ahab's life wasn't any better when he got that coveted vineyard that he thought he just had to have. Tell the Lord in prayer what you think you need and patiently wait for him to respond.  Instead of blaming your dissatisfaction on things that you don't have, instead of sulking and pouting, instead of constantly whining and complaining, "If only I had...," put your energies into patiently waiting on the Lord.

            This advice isn't something that I just thought up out of the clear blue sky.  It's from the Bible, from the Word of God.  In James chapter 5 God says, "Be patient, fellow Christians, until the Lord comes."  Then God gives an example of someone who wants something he can't have right now.  We read verses 7-9: "See how the farmer looks for the precious crop of the ground and waits patiently for it to receive the fall and the spring rains.  Be patient also, and keep your courage, because the Lord will soon be here.  Do not blame your troubles on one another, fellow Christians, or you will be judged.  You know, the Judge is standing at the door."    

            That Judge is Jesus, the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity.  Jesus is going to come to judge the world.  Someday, today, tomorrow, a thousand years from now, God only knows, someday, Jesus is going to be seen in the clouds of heaven and he's going to judge all people, the living (or the quick) and the dead.  

            Now when he comes, we don't want to be seen as an idolater, do we?  We don't want to come before the one who judges our eternal destiny, the one who can welcome us to heaven or send us to hell, we don't want to come before him as someone who put our time, our energy, and our affections into earthly and meaningless things, do we?  We don't want to look around and see ourselves numbered with Ahab and Jezebel and all the others who sulked and pouted and blamed their problems on those earthly things that cause us to say, "If only I had...whatever it is"  We don't want that.

             What we do want is for this great Judge of the living and the dead to smile upon us, to speak a word of commendation on our lives, and to welcome us into the eternal joys of heaven.  It will be that way for us when we patiently take all of our needs and wants, all of our unhappiness and complaints, all of our faults and failures, and yes, all of our sins, to the Lord Jesus Christ.  He most certainly is the one who will judge us; but most importantly and above all, he is our Saviour.

             He who will be the judge of idolaters is the one who has earned forgiveness for all of us sinners.  He who holds our eternal destiny is the one who died for your sins and mine, so that we need not be punished eternally for what we have done wrong.  And, that includes the times when we've blamed our unhappiness on things we didn't have. 

            Jesus, who died for you and me, was raised to life and ascended to heaven itself.  Since he conquered death and now rules from heaven, he is certainly worthy to receive our faith and our patient prayers.  This Lord Jesus Christ, after he had taken the blame for your sins and my sins upon himself on the cross, and after his physical resurrection and ascension, today sends his Holy Spirit and his Word to us.  He personally tells each one of us, "You are forgiven.  You, your sins, your insatiable and sinful desire for things, your selfishness and materialism, this has all been forgiven." 

              It's all by Jesus Christ, and only by Jesus Christ.  This is the judge whom everyone is going to see someday.  Before you see Him as judge, He wants you to believe in Him as your only Saviour.  And, that will make an eternal difference.  Jesus says in John chapter 5 verse 24:  "I tell you the absolute truth; the person who listens to my word and believes him who sent me has everlasting life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life."

              We can't blame our misery and unhappiness on things we don't have.  Instead, we put our patient trust in what we do have, which is the good news of Jesus Christ who hears our prayers now and one day will come to take us to his heavenly place of perfect joy and satisfaction where misery just doesn't exist.   

              A recent survey found that 96% of Americans think that "everyone has the right to freedom and prosperity."  Well, I've got news for those 96%:  We might have the right to this prosperity, but the sad fact is that many of us won't find it. With our human intellect, we're always going to be tempted to say, "If only I had..."  Just like wicked Ahab and Jezebel, so many people today are like the line from the old Simon and Garfunkel song:  "And the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made." 

              I don't know who it was, but someone has written the following item of interest:   Money will buy: a bed, but not sleep;  books, but not intelligence;  food, but not an appetite; finery, but not beauty; a house, but not a home; medicine, but not health; luxuries, but not culture; amusements, but not happiness.

            Money and things can do so little.  Jesus can do so much.  As it says in John chapter 3 verse 15:  “That everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

            And so we pray that when Jesus comes to judge the world, he will find billions of people who lived lives with faith and patient trust.  We pray that he will find people who treasured the Gospel more than the material things of life.  We pray that he will find people who met the miseries and disappointments of life with joy by focusing upon his redeeming love.  We pray that all God's children will remember that their prayers are heard and answered.  And when that last day comes for us, we pray that we will be numbered amongst the faithful as we experience the eternal joys of our heavenly home.  May this be ours for Jesus' sake.