Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sermon for 21 March 2010, Lent 5C

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.

St. Luke 20:9-20

It Is Marvelous In Our Eyes

Fifth Sunday in Lent, 21 March 2010

Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Jesus was teaching the people in the temple. Some receptive people were there, but others were there too. The chief priests, scribes, and elders questioned His authority. That’s not so new.

God’s Old Testament people often had a problem with authority. That what led to the fall. That’s how one brother was not his brother’s keeper. Later, God’s authority as King was questioned. Exit Judges, enter Kings. And false gods. When Israel and Judah went after false gods in addition to or in replacement of the Lord, prophets of the Lord didn’t fare too well. Persecution was common. Prophets were beaten, treated scandalously, wounded, even killed. The Lord had made for Himself a people, and there was always a faithful remnant. But the people rejected their God and His servants. That is Our Lord’s point in today’s Gospel.

Isaiah 5, The Song of the Vineyard, like many other Scripture passages, calls Israel, the Lord’s people, a vineyard. What a vineyard! It appears to need some tending! Isaiah sings of the Lord and His people. And shares the Lord’s future plans for His vineyard.

Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: 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? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!

The Lord gave His vineyard the best care. The Lord gave His people His best Gifts. But the Lord was rejected. His servants were rejected. His gifts were rejected. And so Jesus wanted to drive these points home.

And he [Jesus] began to tell the people this parable: "A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out.

End of story? Not quite. By this point in the parable, Jesus has only brought us up to His time. The verbs change to future tense now. What Jesus speaks about now will soon happen. It has already begun to happen.

Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.'

But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.' And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Yes, the tenants threw the Son out of the vineyard and killed Him. The chief priests, scribes, and elders called Jesus a heretic, a blasphemer, and rejected Him. Then, they called for Pilate to scourge and crucify Him. Golgotha, Calvary—it is outside the city gates of Jerusalem. Jesus here predicts His passion. And what would happen in the future. Listen for the word, “will.”

What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others." When they heard this, they said, "Surely not!"

Jesus answers His own question. He is met with the not-so-sincere response, “Surely not! May this never be!” The response reflects a Hebrew phrase spoken by people who are not completely sincere in their speaking. Jesus knows their thoughts. He presses further.

But he looked directly at them and said, "What then is this that is written: " 'The stone that 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."

Difficult words which are prefaced by a verse from Psalm 118. The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone. The next verse of Psalm 118 is missing. The chief priests, scribes, and elders could hardly say of Jesus, The Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes. No. They could not confess this joy with the Psalmist. And so, they are given law, crushing words.

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed. We must ask the Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” Jesus is certainly a stumbling block to the chief priests, scribes, and elders, who represent the Jewish people. He is not the kind of Christ they wanted or expected. Jesus is not only a stumbling block. For those who reject Him, He is a crushing meteor crashing down from above. This is difficult teaching.

Jesus is still a stumbling block for many today. Some try to remake the stone into something more palatable to the modern taste. A Jesus who is true God? We can’t have that. Let’s chip this corner off. A Jesus who calls homosexual acts sinful? No. That will not do. Let’s remove this portion of stone. A Jesus who takes away all sin? That can’t be possible. Let’s cut this stone down to size. Many still stumble at Christ and His Cross. They reject the kind of Christ Jesus is, just like the chief priests, scribes, and elders did. That is not a good position to be in. One will be crushed to pieces!

St. Paul relates to the Corinthians, “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” (1 Corinthians 1:23) and to the Romans (9): They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

And we who believe in Him will not be put to shame. Believers build their house on the rock. Believers stand upon Peter’s rock-solid confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Built on the Rock, the Church Shall Stand. Disciples who follow Him are crushed, broken in repentance and contrition. Christians are raised up as living stones that proclaim, the Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes.

It was not marvelous to the eyes of those who were going to be crushed by the capstone in judgment.

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. So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.

This delay would not keep them from arresting, trying, and crucifying Jesus. But it did give them time and opportunity to be crushed in repentance. For after the Resurrection and Ascension, after the Day of Pentecost, Peter (Acts 4) preached a sermon to the members of the Sanhedrin, the very group that convicted Jesus, using the same Psalm 118 verse, personalized: The stone you builders rejected has become the capstone. There was yet time to repent.

And there is still time for us to repent, though the time is short. Reject not the Son. We can learn from the experience of Israel what not to do. Often, that is the benefit in Christian reading of the Old Testament. What then did the owner of the vineyard do to them? He came and killed those tenants and gave the vineyard to others—Us—gentiles and Jews who believe in Jesus! In 70 AD, the city of Jerusalem was taken by Rome. The Temple was destroyed. Not one stone was left upon another. Many were killed, crushed. And the vineyard was given to others—faithful Jews and Gentiles like us who believe in Jesus, the Son, the Capstone.

We are not saved by being Lutheran. We are saved by Jesus. We pray that all Lutheran Christians and all Christians would have faith in Christ alone. In this, too, we can learn from others’ mistakes. In Romans 11 Paul reminds us,”But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19Then you will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." 20That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. 21For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.” We dare not become complacent and take Jesus and His gifts for granted.

Jesus is the stone at the head of the corner, described in antiquity as the stone used at a building’s corner to bear the weight or stress of the two walls. It would have functioned somewhat like a keystone, capstone, or cornerstone in an arch or other architectural form. This stone was essential, crucial to the whole structure. Hence, it is translated either cornerstone or capstone.

The Lord has built us into His new building, the Church, with Christ as the key to the whole structure. Built on the Rock of Christ, the Church Shall Stand. The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone. We are also the new tenants of the vineyard. The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. Amen.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.