Sunday, October 05, 2008

A New Lease

Pentecost 21 Year A

A sermon based on Matthew 21:33-46

In the name of Jesus; amen.

People have been taking stock of what they have lately. This is a pun, perhaps a bad one, but if you have been paying attention to the news lately you know that things are not in the best shape.

I don’t understand economics. My husband pays our bills and manages our money. I know how to spend it and that’s about it. I honestly admit that I am a capitalist and that I have lived on credit just like most Americans do.

Capitalism in itself is not an evil thing, but neither is socialism or even communism. It’s all in how the system is used. We can use it well or we can use it poorly. We can use it to the advantage of ourselves and others or we can have happen what happened the other day when the stock market dropped almost 800 points.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus tells a parable about a vineyard. He tells it to the chief priests and the scribes who are angry at him because the day before he had entered the Temple in Jerusalem and turned over the money changers’ tables. The money changers were not in and of themselves evil, in fact they were considered necessary because their job was to exchange the money that the people used every day with the money that was used in the Temple to purchase animals for sacrifice.

I could preach a whole sermon on that, but it isn’t our story for the day. Our story for today is Jesus’ response to the people who were angry at him because Jesus didn’t like the system that was being used. He didn’t like that people believed that they had to buy sacrifices in order to be forgiven or made right with God.

So he tells this story about a landowner who puts his land in the hands of tenants to take care of it for him. When it’s time for the tenants to pay the rent they kill the rent collectors. They even kill his son.

Really Jesus is telling a story about God and the history of God’s people. God creates a world and puts tenants (that’s us) in it to take care of it. But the people (still us) are terrible tenants so God sends prophets and they get killed off. Then God sends more prophets who are also killed off until finally God sends his son, Jesus… and guess what happens to him.

Simply put, the world belongs to God; we are only tenants living in it. And what do tenants do? They pay rent to the one who owns their home.

This story that Jesus tells should make us a bit uncomfortable. We can be late in our payments, skip them, ignore them, feel entitled to live here for free, or decide that we don’t owe anybody anything because there is no one to owe anything to. And many times we all do just that.

When Jesus finishes his story he asks the people what they think will happen to the tenants when the owner of the vineyard comes. They have killed off his slaves and his only son and the people are certain that “he will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will produce at the harvest time.”

It makes sense. That’s what would happen in the movies. The owner would send in commandoes that would utterly destroy those murderous tenants, but Jesus doesn’t end the story like that.

Instead he randomly quotes Isaiah saying, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes.”

Today A.C.B. is going to be baptized. Today Christ Jesus will make A. his own. A. will become more than just a tenant in the eyes of God; he will become one of God’s own children; a part of the vineyard that God wants to produce fruit.

Baptism is not a free ride; God does have expectations of us to produce fruit.

We have hope that A. will do just that. We hope that A. will come to love God, worship God, trust in God, and do works that will glorify God throughout his life. But just like the rest of us who are tenants, but more than just tenants through baptism, he will probably do many things that displease God.

He will take stock of what he has and forget that it is only a loan from God because that is part of the nature of being human and he, like the rest of us, will deserve exactly what the people said the tenants deserved: a miserable death.

But Jesus doesn’t end the story that way. His parable about the vineyard owner doesn’t end with the death of the tenants, that’s the way the people ended it. Jesus ends the story by proclaiming himself the cornerstone on which salvation is based.

Jesus goes to the cross rejected and becomes the cornerstone of our faith through resurrection.

This story should make us all uncomfortable, but it should also produce hope in us. We have been given the vineyard because God loves us and baptism gives us a new lease on life because through baptism God promises to make us children of God who share in the inheritance of the vineyard.

God has given us the vineyard so that we might also enjoy the fruits that grow and so that we might also find forgiveness and renewal when our plants wither and our fruit begins to rot.

A., you are being called to live in the vineyard, to work the land and to let your light shine so that God might be glorified in the fruit that you produce. But you are also called to be loved by God, who is your Father in heaven.

May we all be blessed in our baptismal call to produce fruit worthy of the Father and may we experience the forgiveness and renewal that comes along with the work that we do.


No comments: