The Gospel text that is the basis of the sermon is a continuation of the scene from last week. The result of last week’s questions and parable is that the Priests have been clearly understood as illegitimate authority. The question that gets answered with this weeks parable is what happens under such illegitimate authority, along with what does legitimate authority look like in the current vineyard – the current people of God.
Legitimate authority is only authority that is built on the cornerstone which is Christ. Of course the church constantly experiences “wretched leaseholders” – those that want to build their own towers of babel instead of building on Christ. What happens in these cases? The answer that Jesus puts forward I believe is two fold. First, the vineyard – the people of God – remain fruitful. A bad leader might “withhold the fruits”, but the people of God remain fruitful. Second, the LORD will come and put an end to all such schemes in the proper time. And that proper time is not excessively long because the fruits will be turned in “in their seasons.”
The larger spiritual reality is that we all labor under such a bad leaseholder – Satan, the powers and principalities. They have been given their notice to vacate. And the the LORD will make it so. But today, the vineyard remains fruitful building on Christ. And the fruits will not be lost.
Given the events of Las Vegas, it was a week of horrors. This biblical text is the parable of the wicked tenants which turns on the horrors perpetrated by those tenants. This sermon is a meditation on what we as Christians should discern in horrors. Also what is a Christian response to such horrors. In a search for “why?” that so often ends unsatisfactorily, or ends in too easy answer, the Christian is able to focus on the justice of God. And this justice is good news. I’ve pondered three forms of that justice. 1) Those wicked men will come to a horrible end. We might not be used to this as a good news proclamation, but it is. God is just. 2) That phrase should inspire a holy fear in us, and the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. That wisdom should lead us to repentance and a return to the Lord who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 3) The vineyard will be fruitful. The horrors that we might witness are the groaning’s of the world longing for the revelation of the son’s of God. They are the rage of Satan and those aligned. But the Justice of God will replace them, and the vineyard will produce its fruit.
I have left in our final hymn, LSB 753, All for Christ I Have Forsaken. The melody is the Southern Harmony Restoration which has an interesting minor key feel (give it a listen and you’ll know what I mean). The lyrics are From Calvin Chao, a mid-20th Century Chinese Christian, the chair of the Chinese InterVasity in the WW2 years. He had quite the life as a missionary. Here is an old article on his wife I unearthed. You can get the feel for the source of the powerful words.
The gospel text today is the second “vineyard parable” in three weeks. Two weeks ago it was the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. Today was the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Vineyard parables to me are always, at least in the background, parables of election. I suppose I’m using a technical term there, election. The doctrine of election is the Christian phrase for being chosen or God’s choice. It often gets invoked in debate about free will and determinism. I’m also completely convinced that every person has deep within themselves as part of how they understand the world a doctrine of election. That is because election is about love. Who loves you and why and how and how long.
This sermon starts off with secular parable of election of sorts – the TV show The Voice. It then turns to the vineyard parables to think about election in the Kingdom of Heaven and how it differs. Along the way we look at cornerstone vs. head of the corner in building and how that relates to Christ, the alpha and omega, and how misperception of election causes us to reject the stone/son. It finishes with a reflection on living the sacraments, especially baptism, and how we live into the grace of election. I’d invite you along to think about election and how you view and receive the Kingdom.