Matthew 21:33-46 • October 5, 2014
Click here to view a video of this sermon.
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
About a month ago, the ushers handed out a yellow postcard that looked like this. It says, “This week, I am being called to serve the Lord by…” It was an effort to help you and I connect the reality of our everyday lives to the charge that we receive at the end of every worship service to “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” The question that I lifted up in that sermon was why don’t we check in with one another more often to see how we are doing with this charge from God to go in peace. To serve the Lord.
I was pleased with the response to the yellow cards that weekend, about 15% of the cards that were distributed were in fact used. In the world of church work, we’ll take 15% participation and effort any day. The cards that were returned were prayerful offerings about challenges and struggles and celebrations and longing for hope that you and I experience each day in our walk of faith. It has been humbling and a great honor to hold these hopes and dreams, fears and failures in prayer over the past month.
There are many times in scripture when it is possible for us to put ourselves inside a text. To look at it and hear the text allegorically. In today’s gospel reading for example…the landowner with God, the vineyard with God’s reign and Israel, the landowner’s slaves with prophets, and the son with Jesus. But, who are the tenants? In this parable, the tenants are the religious elite, the leaders of the Temple, the people who are starting to get a little irritated with this guy named Jesus.
So, are you ever the landowner – maybe the boss at work or a parent or friend who has authority over others?
Or, are you ever one of the slaves – you’ve been killed by someone else at one time or another? Remember the fifth commandment – You shall not murder. Our Lutheran Small Catechism explains this commandment by saying “We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.” Brothers and sisters, you and I kill our neighbors on a daily basis in ways that have nothing to do with ending their physical existence in this world.
And then we come to the tenants – the farmhands of the landowner. I don’t like these characters! But as I’ve prayed through this gospel reading, maybe the reason I don’t like the tenants is because they speak most directly to who I actually am or how I often catch myself behaving.
Bishop Andy Doyle believes that placing ourselves as characters in scripture is challenging. He makes this claim because so many times we like to put ourselves in the place of Jesus or the prophets. When we do that we end up creating the gospel and forming God’s mission for the world into our own image instead of God’s image. And by doing that, Pastor Doyle argues, we close the doors to Jesus and the prophets and essentially close the doors to what God is calling us to be as God’s children. Just what is God calling us to be?
CS Lewis once wrote that “you never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life or death to you.” So, brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow tenants of God’s vineyard at this time and in this place – I ask you, do you believe that the mission God is calling you to live out is a matter of life or death?
Another leader in the church today might be of help here. She says that “our call is to be fruitful while we are here, not struggle for ownership or control. We don’t run the show; we aren’t in charge. All authority belongs to God, indeed every atom and molecule of creation.”
Your call and mine is to be fruitful while we are here. I ask you, is being fruitful a matter of life or death for you?
Let me share a couple of ways that this can happen as we live out our faith together in this little part of God’s good creation called North Dakota, in a community of faith that we know and love simply as Good Shepherd.
It might mean that you and I can be fruitful by raising money for Camp of the Cross so that our Bible camp can build a Long overdue fellowship center that will bless fellow brothers and sisters in Christ for generations to come.
It might mean that you and I can be fruitful as we gather at the Shepherd’s Table events this fall. Through Bible study and prayer we will wrestle with big questions about God’s Call and mission for our congregation. The first event is next weekend where we will ask the question – “Why for God’s sake does Good Shepherd exist?”
It might mean that you and I can be fruitful by supporting one another as we journey through each week trying to go in peace, to serve the Lord, knowing full well that we will fail from time to time. And when we fail, we will be fruitful in picking each other up and encouraging each other to give it another try.
Or it might mean that you and I will be fruitful and succeed in going in peace and serving the Lord from time to time. And when we do in fact succeed, we need to celebrate together the goodness of God working though our hands!
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, I look forward to seeing more yellow cards from you. I’ll keep holding them in prayer. Because together, you and I have been given the opportunity to discover the goodness of the work that God is calling us to live out. And let’s not forget, let’s never forget, who the true cornerstone of our life together in faith is, the savior of the world – Jesus the Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.