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the sermon for

the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

08 October 2017

Matthew 21:33-46
"I will not come in wrath!"

10082017Holy week. Day one. Sunday. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The cleansing of the Temple. Sellers and buyers thrown out. Chairs and tables cast aside. The healing of the blind and lame. Jesus spends the night in Bethany, about a half-an-hour east of Jerusalem.

The next day is Monday, day two of Holy Week. Jesus is back in the Temple teaching. Last week, we read about his confrontation with the chief priests and the elders. This morning, it's still Monday. Jesus is still in the Temple. Still teaching. But this time, he speaks to the people. "Listen," he says. "Listen to another parable." The parable of the Wicked Tenants is what we call it. "A landowner plants a vineyard and goes all out! He puts a fence around it! Digs a winepress in it! Builds a watchtower! He leases it and, then, goes to another country. When it comes time to collect the rent, he sends his slaves. The tenants – the wicked tenants – seize one, beat another, stones and kills, yet others. The landowner sends other slaves, sends more slaves! The same thing happens! Finally, he sends his son. Surely he will be treated differently! With dignity! With respect! But in the end, even he is seized and through out and killed!" Now, the $64,000 question... "When the landowner himself comes, what will he do? What will he do?"

Almost without thinking! Right away! Without hesitation! They say, "He will put those wretches to death! He will put those wretches to a miserable death! And then, he'll lease the vineyard to good tenants who will pay the rent! And they all said, "Amen! Amen! This is most certainly true!" And even we, sitting here today, say the same! In the silence, in the calm, we, too, nod in agreement! The bullies! The thugs! They should get what they deserve! But that's not, exactly, the response Jesus had in mind! It may be the one we're only too willing to give, but Jesus was looking for something else.

Like Isaiah in the First Reading, he's talking about Israel, Canaan, Palestine – metaphorically speaking. Even the chief priests got that much. The landowner is god. The tenants – for now – are the Jews. God's prophets, the slaves. That leaves Jesus as the son. Now remember. It's Monday. Of Holy Week. Just seventy-two hours before "the night in which he was betrayed." Four days before he suffers under Pilate, is crucified, dies, is buried, descends to the dead. So the words of the parable have special meaning. "They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him!" Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday looms on the horizon.

"When the owner comes, what will he do?" "When the owner comes, what SHOULD he do?" Put them to death, kill them, the people said! But that's not what Jesus had in mind. "Almighty God,[ in his grace,] in his mercy, has given his Son to die for us and, for his sake, [for Jesus' sake, for Christ's sake,] forgives us all!" Remember those words? No one putting anybody to death! Nothing taken away from anyone and given to another!

For twenty chapters, now, Matthew has been beating the drum. Slowly, at first, but steady. Softly, barely heard. Blessed are those who are persecuted! Blessed when you are reviled! Rejoice, he said! Be glad! But the rhythm got faster, louder. Deny yourself! Pick up your cross! Follow me! Lose your life! For my sake! For the gospel! Ominous, threatening! The drumbeat continued! And right when you thought you couldn't take any more, that's when Jesus told the parable. And then, it stopped. Silence. Total. Absolute. Hear a pin drop silence. And he asked the question. What will he do? What will he do? And the people said, Make them pay! Make them suffer! And Jesus looked the people right in the eye and he says, "No! No! He will save! And he will redeem! And he will deliver!"

You see, that's how a parable works. That's what it's for. You go fishing. You cast the lure. And when the crowd takes the bait, you set the hook...

The stone that the builders rejected has becomes the cornerstone.

The stone that the builders rejected has becomes the cornerstone.

The keystone! The foundation! Necessary! Essential! And all the Lord's doing!

It's like god's rantings and ravings in Hosea. Israel has sinned, one more time. The people have fallen short. They've missed the mark. And god tells the world what god will do! Send them back to Egypt! Back to the mud pits! Back to the taskmasters! Undo everything god has ever done for them! Take it back, once and for all! Swords raging and consuming and devouring! The people will cry out for help and no one will hear them, no one will answer! It's all Hosea's way of saying, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death and take the vineyard and give it to someone else!
But then, god changes god's mind! God relents! God repents! God says, "How? How can I give you up? How can I let you go? I love you! I'm yours and you're mine!" And God ends with these words... "I will not come in wrath!" "I will not come in wrath!"

The stone that the builders rejected has becomes the cornerstone!

Like the people before us, we expect wrath and retribution! We expect fire and brimstone! Damnation and hell! We expect that from god because that's what we would do! But fortunately, god isn't us! God isn't us and we aren't god! And instead god comes with forgiveness! God forgives! Not just once or twice or three times! Not, even, seven or seventy or seventy times seven times! God forgives! Always! Forever! Turning the other! Going the extra! Doing unto! Handed over! Condemned! Mocked! Flogged! Crucified!

Reckoning and reprisal have no redeeming value! It changes nothing, no one! There is no justice in exacting revenge! Not by us! Not by god! And dying – well – dying sometimes can be a good thing! Especially when it's done for others! We aren't saved by crucifying Jesus. But we are saved – we all are saved – by his death, his dying! And that is what he had hoped the people would see! Not that god was petty and vindictive like them! But that god was patient... and full of mercy... slow to anger... and abounding, overflowing, with unwavering, unfaltering, unswerving love!

So, my friends, you've heard the parable. And I'd like to ask you the question, once again. "When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do? When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do?"

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the sermon for

the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

01 October 2017

Matthew 21:23-32
The church – like the temple – exists not for the holy,
but for the blind and for the lame!

10012017For the past sixty-or-so days, I've been doing something a little bit different, getting read for the five hundredth anniversary celebration at the end of the month. Each morning, I've been posting one of the ninety-five – in chronological order – on our congregation's Facebook page. The reasoning behind it, first of all, is that very few of us have ever read them – pastors included! We talk a good game. But we don't have any idea what they are! And secondly, if for some reason, we did decide to read them through in one sitting... Well, it would never happen! All you have to do is read the first ten to understand why. Don't get me wrong. They have their moments. But those moments are few and far between and there aren't near enough to keep us motivated and inspired! So, I thought it would be a whole lot easier to read just one thesis a day for ninety-five days, than attempt to read ninety-five theses in just an hour!

And, dare I say, it's been enlightening. This morning, I posted thesis number sixty! Sixty down, thirty-five to go! But I have to admit, so far, there have been no more than a handful of theses I've found interesting! Truth be told, there have been only a handful that I've, even, understood. Like the forty-third... "Christians are to be taught that a person who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than the one buying indulgences!" Or the forty-fifth... "Christians are to be taught that the person who sees someone in need and passes by, yet gives money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but god's wrath!"

I read these and a few others like them and I realized, right from the start, from the very beginning, the Reformation wasn't about being more and more religious. It was about love! First and foremost, it was about being loved by god; and then, because of god loving us, it was about us loving others!

So much of faith – popularly speaking – is either about going to church on Sundays or getting into heaven. Climbing Jacob's ladder higher and higher, passing through the pearly gate! Or reading our bible or saying our prayers or singing our songs. But according to popular opinion, love... Love has nothing to do with it! And that's what Luther was reacting to! That's what the good doctor was pushing back against! The going to mass and the doing penance! The relics, and the pilgrimages, and the fasts! And, of course, the offerings. Lots and lots and lots of offerings! Much of it going to erect places like this where we can do religious things! And Luther said, "NO! That's not how it works! That's not how any of this works!"

Faith isn't about earning forgiveness! It's not about deserving love! It's, simply, about being loved and being forgiven out of the goodness of god's heart! And then, once we are loved and once we are forgiven, it's turning and loving and forgiving the people around us! In faith, people – not god... people are the priority. As is this world and not the next! And that's the point today's gospel is making!

First, we have to know, in the twenty-first chapter of Matthew, we're back in Holy Week. Palm Sunday! The triumphal entry! Jesus cleansing the temple! Overturning tables and chairs! Driving out the money changers and the dove sellers! It's Monday – the day after all that – and Jesus is back in the temple, teaching. And that's where the chief priests and the elders of the people come in! They are angry! Furious! We read it as if it's a discussion about the weather. "Pardon me, sir. By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" It was, probably, more like... "Who do you think you are? And what do you think you're doing? What in the world do you hope to accomplish?" Especially after the stunt Jesus pulled with the moneychangers, just the day before!

But there was another part of the story. Something I'd never noticed, until this week! A part of the story told only by Matthew! Jesus enters the temple. He drives out all who sold and bought. He overturns the tables. He knocks over the seats of those selling pigeons. "My house shall be called a house of prayer," he shouts out, "but you make it a den of robbers!" So far, nothing new. We've heard it all before during other Holy Weeks! But then, Matthew adds this... "The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them." When I saw those words, I got goose bumps! "The blind and the lame came to him in the temple – came to him in the very place they'd never been allowed to enter – and Jesus cured them!'

That's very fourteen and just nine verses later, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching. It wasn't an accident. It wasn't a coïncidence. "Who do you think you are," they asked him! "What do you think you are doing?" More an accusation, actually, than a question!

Now, I know, in the past, I've been critical of Matthew. He's not... He's not lutheran enough for my taste, I guess. But I have to tell you, this one verse makes up for everything else! "The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and Jesus cured them!" This has to be one of the most "gospel" passages in all scripture! Jesus driving out the sellers and the buyers! Jesus throwing over tables and chairs! Jesus emptying the temple! All so there would be a place for the blind and the lame!

You see, the temple had never been there for them! It was there for god, not for the very people who needed god the most! "Christians are to be taught that a person who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than the one buying indulgences!" "That the person who sees someone in need and passes by, yet gives money for indulgences, does not buy the pope's forgiveness but god's wrath!" It's all about love! For Jesus! For Matthew! For Martin! It's, always and forever, about the love!

That's why I've used this image, one more time. I know I've used it a lot, before. But this is what believing looks like! This is the image of faith! It's god loving us and, then, it's us loving others! Enemies, as well as friends! This is why Jesus came! This is why Jesus comes! This is what Paul proclaimed! This is what inspired Martin to change the world! What inspires us to continue changing it! Love! God loving us and us loving others! God loving us and us loving others! God loving us and us loving others! And each time, the status quo, the way it's always been, asks the same question... Who do you think you are! What do you think you're doing! This is Good Friday and it's Easter! This is denying ourselves and picking up the cross and following after! This is the greatest commandment and this is the gold rule! This is the image of god in which we were created and this is the same image of god in which we are recreated, again and again and again!

It's the temple filled not with people buying and selling, renting and trading, in religious, spiritual things. But filled with the needy and poor, with the blind and lame! Filled with people who have nowhere else to go, who have no one else to go to! But when the tables are overturned and the chairs are toppled, the questions are always same. Who do you think you are? What do you think you're doing? The priests looking for piety. The pharisees for righteousness, for holiness. But Jesus – Jesus and Jesus' people – look for the people who need him, for the people who need them! Those who have been pushed away! Those who have been locked out! And he tells them, "This, all of this, is for you!'

Who do we think we are, my friends? Who do we think we are, indeed!

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