Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sermon - Lent 5 - Luke 20:9-19

Lent 5
Immanuel Lutheran Church, West Plains, MO
Luke 20:9-19
“Crazy Bad Tenants. Crazy Good Lord.”

Preparing for our move overseas, we've sold our home, and for the last few months we've been living in a rental home. It's had its ups and downs, but all in all we've tried to be good tenants. I try to keep my kids from trashing the place, getting dirt on the new carpet or freshly painted walls. Hopefully when we leave the country, we'll leave the place in good condition – as close to how we found it as possible.

In Luke 20 today we read about some decidedly bad tenants, or renters. It's not a home, but a vineyard, in Jesus' story. But the people living there don't own the place. When the sends messengers to collect the “rent”, or the fruit, they show just how bad they are. They treat those servants shamefully, violently, in escalating fashion. Finally when the owner sends his own son, they plot against him in the misguided notion that they will kill him and inherit the vineyard... what?

Obviously God is the owner of the vineyard, and the Jewish leaders are the tenants. The abused and rejected the prophets God had sent them over many years, in his long suffering patience. He wasn't looking for fruit but repentance and faith. Finally, God sends His own Son, Jesus, whom they plot against and finally kill. Thus far the paralells in the story.

One thing this teaches us right out of the gate is that Jesus knew exactly what would soon come to pass. Here it is, Tuesday of Holy Week, and he knows what's coming on Friday. But He had been predicting this for some time. He told His disciples He would be crucified, and rise on the third day. He knew His Old Testament scriptures, and He knew that the Messiah had to die.

While the people who heard His parable said, “May this never be!” Jesus responds with a prophecy, and shows that that it must come to pass. He knows the plan, and He knows His own part in it.

The parable also illustrates how little sense sin makes. In fact, it's crazy. OK, you might say, the tenants might have thought they could get away with it when they rejected the first few messengers. But when the owner sent his own son, their logic shows how twisted it is. Let's kill the son and become the heirs? In what world does that make sense?

But you, too, sinner, make as little sense in your own sins. Apart from the fact that sins bring consequences – and a man reaps what he sows. Apart from the fact that violence begets violence, hatred begets hatred, laziness, deceit, greed, pride... pick your sin – they all have a tendency to grow and escalate.... But add to that the silliness to think our sins will somehow escape judgment. That the omnipotent and omniscient judge will turn a blind eye to our wickedness, or that he'll let us off the hook because of some paltry offering of supposed good works.

Well who ever said sin made sense? It is as irrational and ridiculous as it is unholy and wicked. Sinners are constantly doing things we know are wrong, and doing them against our better judgment, to the detriment of ourselves and others. We simply can't help ourselves.

But the parable also illustrates another nonsensical actor, the owner of the vineyard. What parent in his right mind would see the escalation of violence against his servants, and then finally send his own son? But this is the logic of God the Father, who sends His own Son for us. In a divine reasoning that is far above and beyond our understanding – His mystifying plan is to do just that – full well knowing He sends His Son to die. And by the way, what Son in his right mind would obey such a father, and go to face certain death. But that is just what Jesus Christ does.

And this was always the plan! The Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world. Christ crucified for sinners – a scandal to Jews and foolishness to gentiles, but to us whom God has called, both Jew and Gentile, Christ the power and wisdom of God. Baptized for us to fulfill all righteousness, even though He had no sin. Crucified for us, made to become sin, that sin might die with His flesh.

And look at the rest of the foolishness we believe, that Christ rose from the dead and lives forever. That he is present here in the forms of bread and wine, and that receiving it forgives sins. What sense does it make that water can wash away sins? But with Christ's promise, it is so. Or that a pastor, a sinner himself, can forgive sins on earth and they are forgiven in heaven. Or that faith comes by hearing the word of God. Or that the Holy Spirit will raise us to life again on the last day. And the list goes on and on... but we believe these outlandish realities because of the nonsensical and amazing grace of the Father, in His Son Jesus Christ.

One commentator picks up on this theme in the parables, and puts it this way:

“A father who does not trade forgiveness for good behavior, but who kisses the prodigal son before he gets his confession out of his mouth. A vineyard owner who pays what he pleases, not what the laborers earn. A shepherd who allows no sensible business considerations to keep him from leaving ninety-nine sheep in jeopardy to bring home one safely. A wheat grower who runs his farm, not for profit, but for the sake of letting everything grow as it pleases till the end. An Incarnate Word who won't talk to Pilate; a Carpenter of Nazareth who saves the world by nailing down his own hands; a Risen Lord who runs everything by going away. A God, in other words, who does all things well by doing practically nothing right, whose wisdom is foolishness, whose strength is weakness - who runs this whole operation by being no operator at all and who makes no deals because, in the high Mystery of his being, he's got it made already.”

Can this crazy grace be, even for me, who sins like crazy? Yes. It can be, and it is. For all people, even for bad tenants, the Son has died, and paid the price. So also for you. Though you abuse and shame God's Word, and by your sins despise his message, and though it was your sins that Christ carried to death on the cross... rejoice... that Jesus in His wisdom did so... for you. That in his grace and love and mercy beyond comprehension, he forgives even you.

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