“Caring for that which is entrusted to us!”

Matthew 21:33-46, October 4th, 2020

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

“Hear now these words from the gospel according to Matthew, chapter, twenty-one, verses thirty-three thru forty-six.”

Matthew 21:33-46

33 “Listen to another parable.  There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower.  Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.  34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce.  35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.  36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way.  37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’  38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.”  39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.  40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”  41 They said to him, “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.”  42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?  43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.  44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”  45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.  46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

“Having heard this fascinating parable attributed to Jesus, let us glean its intended meaning and what it infers about us, here in the Twenty-First Century.”

“Caring for that which is entrusted to us!”

Here we are at the first Sunday in October, in the year 2020.  Lost in the chaos of this point in time, is the celebrated coming together of the family of God in “World-Wide Communion Sunday!”  Why have Christians worked so hard to rally around a common understanding of the life and death of Jesus Christ?  Even in our diverse understandings of the ‘Word of God’ as written in the Holy Bible, we still all recognize that that last meal Jesus celebrated was meant to be a ‘coming together’ of all believers to unit in the ‘Living Body of Christ’.  This ‘coming together’ comes far after the powers of evil within humankind had executed the Living Man Jesus.  It is the Living Spirit of Christ which has infected all of humankind; all those who are willing to accept ‘on faith’ that God has a better plan for us all.  Better then pitting ourselves one against another, simply because of our human instincts which have gone astray!  The words of Jesus; they permeate far beyond our divisive division known by many names.  Such as: The Red States verse the Blue States; The Gray Confederacy verses the Blue Union; Democracy verses Dictatorship; Socialism verses Communal Living.  North American verses South American; Native American verse European.  Immigrant verses Settler.  Cattle Rancher verse Sheep Herder.  White verses Black.  The Rich, the Haves, verses, the Poor, the Have Nots.  Gay verses Straight, and on and on the lines of division are drawn!  No!  No, that is not what Christ wanted for us! 

When Jesus fed the five thousand that day on the hillside, he included the women and children also, not just the five thousand men!  He did not tell the disciples to feed the men first.  No, he simply instructed them to break the donated food into baskets and give it to the crowd.  They shared the blessed food, it seemed to multiple in the doing and there was more left over then before, even after the gathering had had their fill!  Jesus brought people together.  He broke down the barriers which we humans repeatedly keep trying to build up!  Jesus united rich and poor, smashed the barriers of race and culture, over, and over again.  All we need do – is open our hearts when we read the scriptures.  That is what Jesus did when he was but twelve years old while in Jerusalem with his parents, Mary, and Joseph.  The religious leaders in the temple that day were mesmerized by his understanding of the scriptures.  Remember how he met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus – after his resurrection?  Jesus opened the scriptures to them in a way they had never known!  The living Christ, the Spirit of Christ, was set free after the man Jesus gave up his human life – for our personal freedom from our sinful human nature!  Free will is a gift, which makes faithfulness such a challenge.     

What makes today’s reading so hard for so many to understand is that it is the story of human nature’s free will run riot with corruption and hardheartedness!  Some theologians would leave the interpretation of this writing to you the people, believing we each may see it differently, based on our realities, and our experiences with life.  This may work or it may not work for you.  So, with this as our basis let us make some assumptions upon which we may agree upon.  First off, as we look at this parable which Jesus gives us, it is reasonable to suggest the writing refers to the setting in which Jesus, as the Son of God, finds the world.  Jesus being the cornerstone, and of course, the Landlord, being the Heavenly Father; leaving the chief priests and the Pharisees, perhaps even the institutions as well – as the tenants.  (The care takers of the crops left in their care by the Landlord.)  With this as a premise, the parable is telling us the story of the Bible of ‘How’ God has sent the prophets and finally Jesus to bring us together into the family of God.  The bringing together, of course, is the salvation process by which we our nurtured as our faith grows and grows.  Yet, Jesus is clearly saying to the chief priests and the Pharisees, that they are the ones who rejected Jesus, as those before them rejected the ‘Word of God’ brought to the people by the prophets which God had sent to them.  Thereby, denying the people the spiritual nourishment they needed to be part of the harvest which belongs to the family of God.  As a family of course, we are meant to contribute to the needs of the entire family.  Thus, the reference to the ‘fruits’ of the vineyard, in our allegorical story today, the fruits of the ministry which the chief priests and the Pharisees were ‘called’ by God to nurture and care for! Consequently, the fruit, the harvest was meant to be the people of God!  Yet instead these hardhearted religious leaders persecuted those which were sent and ultimately executed the Son of God.  This is one scenario we can work with to grasp the plausible message Jesus was giving that day, so long ago.

So, what is this meant to mean for all of us?  As we come back into our setting here in our time, in the Twenty-First Century, after the time of Christ, we must look to this story and reassess where we are in the dialog!  Humankind is still having its problems with the dark side of human nature.  Hear me, I am not referring to the color of our skin.  Skin color is not the issue!  Selfish, self-centeredness and grandiosity are the problem.  Corruption can be summed up in a couple words: power and greed.  Bigotry is humankind’s fear that ‘the other guy or gal’ will deprive us of our fair share of ‘whatever it is’ we seem to want today or in the future!  The big issues we all seem to pick sides over… is all about our personal understanding of what God has tried so hard to communicate to us as we continually debate and argue over the message.  Things like when does life start and when ought death occur.  Our fears and our anger and disagreements all stem from the same tree: the tree of life.  Pastor Edward F. Markquart, from Grace Lutheran Church, in Seattle, Washington wrote this about today’s scripture reading.  “The tree looks healthy, but it is not.  A religious life looks healthy, but it is not.  A Christian can use all the right buzz words, read the Bible, attend church and do all the churchy things but lives a lie and does not demonstrate the love of Christ in daily actions.”  We could easily insert each of the other religions of the world, in place of the word Christian.  Nevertheless, me and you, we look for the answers to life and death through our Christian understanding.  So also do those who faithfully follow the teachings from their religious upbringing, though they differ from Christian theology.  Thus, they follow their understanding of the Power of the Universe, the God of their understanding. 

So, what has happened to that ‘ecumenical’ movement? This word, an adjective, means, ‘representing the whole of a body of churches

promoting or tending toward worldwide unity or cooperation,’ according to my ‘on-line’ dictionary.  My first mentor, a Pastor I called ‘Uncle David’, told me his understanding of the word.  He told me how important it was for churches to cross the street and talk with each other and find common roads for ministry.  He told me how they would meet as pastors from different churches, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Unitarians and a few others.  He died a few years after I entered seminary so some of the details I have lost along the highway of life.  I do remember one story he told me.  The Monsignor at the big Catholic church died suddenly.  David went to pay his respects.  Seems there were people waiting in the streets to go in.  A Priest saw David and waved him in, pointing to the crowd, he said, there are so many, and we are short priests who can serve Communion to this crowd.  Will you help us?”  He said sure.  As David, the pastor at a protestant church, stood there serving communion at this large Roman Catholic church, there were members from numerous other churches who also came to pay their respects to the Old Monsignor.  That is Ecumenicism!  People of different faiths gathering under one common causeWe need more of that!  Let us pray there are numerous churches throughout the world remembering this is World-Wide Communion Sunday.  Let us also pray they remember its meaning.  Amen.

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