Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sermon -- 5th Sunday in Lent (March 17, 2013)

LUKE 20:9-19
In the name + of Jesus.

      The prophet Isaiah penned the words to a song.  “My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.  He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.  And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.  What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it?  When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?” (Isaiah 5:1-4)
     The kingdom of God is pictured as a vineyard by the prophet Isaiah.  Jesus picks up on that picture in today’s parable.  The vineyard is the Lord’s, and he hired servants to go to work in his vineyard.  The master went away to a far away country, but his absence did not mean he had no expectations.  He wanted to enjoy the benefits of the harvest.  The master of the vineyard was looking for fruit.  But as you already know from the parable, the workers refused to give him his due.  What’s more, they despised, insulted, and assaulted the master’s servants who were sent to get his share of the harvest.
     While some of Jesus’ parables will make you scratch your head, this one is an easy one.  The workers in the vineyard were wicked.  Even though they were chosen by the master for service in his vineyard, they hated the master, they hated the master’s messengers, and they even killed his son.  They will be rejected and put to death for their rebellion against the master.  It is an easy parable to unravel.  Even the Pharisees got it.  The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. (Luke 20:19)  Sadly, they did not heed the warning of this parable.  They fulfilled it.
     When Jesus told this parable to the scribes and the chief priests, he warned them what would come upon them if they continued in their stubborn rebellion and hatred.  Jesus said, What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” (Luke 20:15-16)  When the master of the vineyard sees that they would not produce the fruit he seeks, they would be condemned and cast out.  The vineyard would be given to others.  And that is you.  You are not Israelite stock, and yet the vineyard his yours.
     Now, your master is a long way off.  He has been for a while.  I don’t know when his return will be.  I pray it’s soon.  But the Lord’s absence does not mean he has no expectations.  The master of the vineyard still looks for fruit in you.  And you may wonder, “Well, what must I do so that I do not forfeit my place in the vineyard?”  The answer is not hard.  God tells you what is good and what is evil.  He wants you to stop sinning against him and to do the good God desires.  But your problem is not that you don’t know what God wants.  If you are unsure, relearn the Commandments.  They tell you the good to do and the evil to avoid.  The problem isn’t that you don’t know; the problem is that you don’t do.  Sometimes you don’t even want to.  You may know that your deeds or desires are wicked, but you just don’t want to give them up.  Is this not defiance against God’s word?  Is this not a rejection of God himself?
     So, if you cannot do the works, what hope is there?  Your only hope is Jesus.  That is always the only hope you ever have.  Your hope is not that you have a place in the vineyard now.  The Pharisees had a place there, too.  That did not keep them from producing bad fruit.  Jesus remains your only hope.
     Jesus told the people, “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.’  Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” (Luke 20:17-18)  Jesus is the rock that everyone comes up against.  You end up crashing into him and are broken to dust, or he falls upon you and crushes you.  There is no dodging Jesus.  One way or another, he will break you.  Now, no one wants to be broken and shattered.  You would rather stand your ground and watch the Lord submit to you and excuse you.  But the one thing that will not happen is that the rock will give way.  He is the cornerstone on which everything rests.  He is the capstone which holds everything together.  The Lord and his word endure forever, no matter how many join together to oppose it, no matter how belligerent the attack.
     But in mercy, the Lord breaks you.  He shatters your self-righteousness and pulverizes your self-centeredness.  But this is good; for this is what the Lord says: “You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it…. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17)  This is the fruit the master of the vineyard is looking for: brokenness.  The Lord destroys your hard heart so that he can plant his seed in it, which is Jesus.  Having planted this sacred Seed into your crushed heart, the Lord brings forth new life, a new spirit, and new fruits.  The master of the vineyard is seeking these fruits.  And what is more, he is the one who produces in you these fruits.
     The master of the vineyard sent his Son to receive fruits from the wicked workers.  The Son went, even knowing that he would be killed for doing so.  We would call that reckless and foolish.  Our Lord calls it merciful.  Our master chooses to associate with those who are full of anger, full of jealousy, and full of themselves.  His love, even for the wicked, compels him to be merciful and to save them.  He sent his Son to sinners.  He sent his Son for sinners—for sinners who would despise him, defy him, and destroy him; and for sinners who think they are better or who think that their sins are excusable.  Jesus came knowing that he would be killed.  But Jesus came; for, his Father sent him.  Jesus came to love and honor and obey his Father.  Jesus came to love his neighbor as himself.  Jesus came to die for all of us—the righteous for the unrighteous.
     Jesus produced the precious fruit which the Lord desires in life and in death.  In life, he obeyed his Father’s will and died for sinners.  In death, Jesus became the fruit that hangs from the Tree of Life, which is the cross.  There, he was crushed in his Father’s wrath.  There, the juices poured forth from his veins.  Blood and water came forth from Jesus’ side by which he gives life to his Church.  You have been washed in those holy waters.  In Holy Communion, you feast on the blood of Jesus which was shed for your forgiveness. 
     Jesus has not only has brought you into the vineyard, he also works in you so that you produce the fruits that God desires.  It is Jesus who has saved you, and it is Jesus who works in you to will and to act according to God’s good pleasure.  This is why you unite yourself to Jesus by continually being nourished by his word and sacraments.  This is where Jesus fills you with all good things so that they can flow out of you to others.  This is how you remain in Jesus and Jesus remains in you.  In this way, you will bear much fruit.  In Christ, your works are pleasing to the Father.  And if you remain in Christ, the master finds exactly what he is looking for.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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