Updated: Oct 8
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bulletin for drive in service
Service for October 4th
Due to technical issues, the video has no sound.
Here is Rachel's sermon for the week.
18th Sunday after Pentecost
October 4, 2020
If Matthew and Luke -- the gospel writers -- each had a church in town, I'd personally choose to go to Luke's church. Matthew's church would be much more of a fire and brimstone kind of church, with lots of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew seems to have a very black and white view of people. You are either a sheep or a goat. A wheat or a tare. A wise maiden or a foolish one. You are in or you are out. Taken or left behind. Matthew is a challenge for us grace-filled Lutherans.
Luke, on the other hand, seems to have a much gentler tone. Luke is the Gospel with the parable of the prodigal son, returning to his father's open arms. Fire and brimstone? Weeping and gnashing of teeth? Comes up maybe once in Luke. Matthew's Gospel is full of it.
Today’s parable is a perfect example. The parable appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But the ending in Matthew is striking. In Mark and Luke, the answer to what happens to the wicked, murderous tenants is the landowner “will destroy those tenants and give the land to another” Matthew gives a more intense answer: “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”
I mean destroy vs. put the wretches to a miserable death are both pretty grim -- but recall what the tenants did in this parable. They stole from the landowner and then beat and killed all those the landowner sent to them including his own son! But Matthew’s version, in context with all the rest of that gospel’s weeping and gnashing and eternal torment, seem pretty grim unless you feel really confident you are one of the chosen ones.
And that is part of the problem with scriptures about judgement, isn’t it? We, all too often, place ourselves in the judgement seat, and inside we feel we know who is the object of the judgement. We may outwardly try to express ourselves as being full of grace, mercy, forgiveness, but I will admit that there is a place in my heart that spends a lot of time being the opposite. The increasingly polarized state of our nation and community has not helped that in us. Exercising grace, understanding, compassion - I believe it is more challenging now than ever, no matter where one stands on particular issues.
So it is tempting, when faced with a judgement text like this one, to just let it all loose and put ourselves into the judgement seat. To assume we can categorize based on our human judgements who the wicked tenants are today. Who has taken the precious gifts of God and stolen them, abused them, used God’s riches for their own gain? Who are the violent ones, the ones who do harm to others to protect their own ill gotten gains?
Was that Jesus’ or Matthew’s intention with this parable? We know Matthew’s community was a small, religious minority at odds with the synagogues around them. They felt abused and persecuted in every way. It would have been tempting for them to heap God’s judgement on their neighbors. Was that what Matthew intended for them in his framing of Jesus’ parable?
One of my favorite preachers, David Lose, noted something that I had never noticed before. In this version of the parable of the tenants - Jesus does not answer his own question at the end. “what will the landowner do to those tenants?” Instead, it is the people who answer - and they give the logical answer for humanity - justice in the form of a violent death. An eye for an eye.
That is definitely the human answer when confronted with people behaving horribly. Let them “get what they deserve.”
That is how the people answer Jesus’ question. And their answer feels to us to be just and true. People should get what is coming to them.
Of course, we can see in this parable God’s own story: gifting people with the goodness of a land, a place, the bounty of creation - and they hoard it for themselves and refuse to give God what God is due. So God sends prophets who are beaten and stoned and killed. And then God sends God’s own son… and what happens in the parable is exactly what happens to the Son.
But that is where the stories diverge.
If the real story of Jesus followed the parable, what would come after the cross would be retribution, more violence, the human version of justice where the wicked get their due.
Because rather than return violence for violence, in the cross of Jesus God absorbs our violence and responds with life, with resurrection, with Jesus triumphant over death and offering, not retribution, but peace, mercy, forgiveness.
Jesus’s own story does not follow the parable of the Vineyard, where in the end everyone gets what is coming to them. Jesus does not shrink from the sacrifice on the cross, he does not return with vengeance, he does not kick anyone out of the kingdom of heaven. Instead, the resurrected Jesus, having taken on the worst that our violence can inflict, comes back and instructs his disciples to take the good news of the Gospel to the very ends of the earth, promising to be with them always.
And for me, this week, that good news means in part that violence, wickedness, injustice do not get the final word. Tragedy and death and loss and hatred and injustice are, in the end, no match for God’s love and life and forgiveness and peace.
“He will put those wretches to a miserable death,” may feel like a satisfying answer in the short term. Perhaps that’s all the religious authorities in the story could imagine, or maybe it was all Matthew the Evangelist could imagine. Maybe at times it’s all our leaders can imagine, and perhaps all we can imagine, too. But there is another way forward. For while Jesus’ words, Matthew’s words, and our words all matter, Jesus’ deeds matter even more, as Jesus’ death and resurrection creates more possibilities than those we can see, including a world truly healed of all that ails and breaks it.
Jesus, the stone that the builders rejected, truly is the cornerstone. And when confronted with that stone - built of unreasonable love and undeserved mercy and forgiveness, we sometimes are broken. And then we are raised up and rebuilt and remade in God’s image, and see the world through the eyes of love.
Sorry for the inconvenience this week.
Go in Peace. Christ is with you.
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