Saturday, October 01, 2011

Praise to you, O Christ? --> Praise to you, O Christ!

Matthew 21:33-46


There are certainly times throughout the church year where we’ll get done reading the Gospel lesson for the day and it just feels weird to say the words “Praise to you, O Christ” in response. The thing is, those are usually the times when we’ve heard a reading from the gospel that is filled with condemnation against God’s people or a group of God’s people. It feels disjointed to proclaim thanks and praise to God when we hear words like, “The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” Somehow those words don’t make me feel terribly safe, don’t make me feel terribly forgiven, don’t make me feel terribly loved.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it gain: I have never stood here in this pulpit and lied to you all. So when I say that God loves us and embraces us each all, I believe that message to my absolute core with every fibre of my being. So what then are we to do with this odd feeling we get when we say “Praise to you, O Christ” in response to a text that could make us feel like we have been raked over the coals? Well, for one thing, maybe we simply don’t feel like the message proclaimed by Christ is a message for us, because, surely God would not speak like that to a people as righteous as we are, right!? Yet even as I say those words, how can I not remember that Jesus is speaking to the righteous and Godly people of his day? This parable is a parable told specifically to the priests and elders, the leaders of the Jewish society! So to think that our righteousness and godliness saves us from these words being directed as us is folly. Moreover, as we take a closer look at this parable Jesus tells this day, can we not begin ourselves to identify with these wicked tenants?

It may not happen all the time in our life, and it may not be the way we generally view the world; but I wonder if there has been any time in your life where you could have possibly said to yourself, “I worked so hard to get to the place where I am at this day. I’ve put in long hours of study. I’ve been dutiful and conscientious with my time and money and not been frivolous. This life that I have now is mine, and I’ll not let anyone take it from me!” That very well may be true, but it does lose sight of some other truths along the way. No one has gotten where he or she is today all on your own. Family, friends, teachers, mentors have all helped us along the way, and if you are a Christian who believes that God the Father is indeed the creator of heaven and earth, the maker of that is, seen and unseen then you at the very least owe some kind of debt or gratitude to the one who has given you your very life!

And this is exactly what we see going on in this parable today. This landowner is the one who planted the vineyard and did everything necessary for it to produce fruit. Yet the tenants want to claim all of the fruit as their own. So the great sin committed in this parable is not so much that these tenants have beaten and killed everyone whom the landowner has sent to collect the harvest, as it is the profound foolishness that they thought that they could keep the whole harvest and then the inheritance for themselves. And in seeing that, the elders and the priests proclaim themselves a harsh judgment upon those wicked tenants.

So if we are like the elders, the chief priests, and these wicked tenants from the tale, what is the hope for us especially after this Word have fallen on us and crushed us? The hope lies not in what we can do to change God’s mind about this judgment. It lies in how God comes to the earth and acts. Again, look at the parable. When the landowner first heard word that his servants were beaten, stoned and killed, how does he respond? He sends more servants! And when that doesn’t work, he sends his very own son alone. If this landowner is indeed a representation of how God acts within the world, then I think we can see clearly that God acts, not in a way that brings destruction against these wicked tenants, but in a way where God continually seeks us out and seeks to bring us back into community!

Furthermore, let’s not forget where in the Gospel of Matthew this parable comes. This comes near the end of the Gospel, as Jesus has begun teaching in the temple in Jerusalem, before he is betrayed, tried and executed at the hands of Pontius Pilate. This parable comes to us as Jesus is in the very midst of going to the cross for our sins to reveal to us that our God is a God who gives up everything so that we may indeed see that we are forgiven and freed from our sins and death. This parable comes in the midst of the very thing that makes all of what we proclaim here to be GOOD NEWS!! And that is where our hope lies: In Jesus Christ our Lord.

There’s a song you may or may not know very well, but it is a song that I have gotten to know well over the years. Its lyrics come from a very early document that strove to teach the earliest Christians the Christian life. “As the grains of wheat, once scattered on the hill, are gathered into one to become our bread. So may all your people, from all the ends of earth, be gathered into one in you.” There are definitely times when it just may feel like we have been dashed, broken and scattered upon God’s judgment, but God does not leave us there. God seeks to gather us up, to gather us in, so that we indeed can brought into that warm embrace which holds us all even as we are sinners deserving death. And that why in the end, as much as this gospel reading crushes me this day, I can boldly say, “Praise to you, O Christ.”

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