the one about the wicked tenants...
October 9, 2017, 12:00 AM

Sermon from October 8, 2017

Text: Matthew 21:33-46

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, how do you define crazy? Something that seems utterly impossible?  Something so extravagant that it can't be real? How about the age-old definition – Crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

There are so many 'crazy' things that go on in our world today and in our lives. For those of you who are sports fans how maddening is it when the coach of your favorite football team continually runs the same play on 3rd and long in hopes that maybe this time it'll work and go for a big gain.  A number of years ago, I remember an old coach at Newberry who would always run the same play in the same situations every game. Everyone knew that on 3rd and long, Newberry would run a delayed hand off to the running back in hopes that this time the running back will go for a long run and convert the 3rd down play. It never did. Crazy.

Or how about the crazy family who continually support and attempt to help one individual despite that one's glaring addiction to alcohol and/or drugs? Or the crazy teacher who reaches out to the student who refuses to learn and continually berates the teacher, yet she never loses her cool and never gives up? Or even the group who continually speak up and out against those who oppress others, who destroy lives for the sake of gain, who discriminate others who are not 'like them'? They rise up despite the fact that they can be silenced by any sort of means. Or that their actions are continually ridiculed, misinterpreted, and threatened against.

Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.

Today, in our Gospel text we learn a lot about crazy. Crazy in how this landowner continually sends servants to the tenants of his vineyard and expects them to give them what he seeks – the fruit that is due him. The tenants beat, stone, and kill the servants of the landowner. And when the landowner learns that not one, but BOTH of his servant delegations have been treated so harshly he does an absolutely crazy thing. He sends his son because surely, they will respect him.

Of course, they do not respect him, and they instead throw him out of the vineyard and kill him in hopes that they will receive the inheritance of the landowner.

As I read this parable, I was continually reminded of a quote from Martin Luther, “that one should squeeze a scripture text so that it leaks the gospel.”  Sisters and brothers, this text takes some squeezing.

This is crazy folks. This is ridiculous. How can the vineyard owner be so naïve, so ignorant, so off base in his actions? Why not send an army to thwart these rebellious and wicked tenants and be done with them once and for all? There must be something the vineyard owner wants in addition to this fruit... it’s just grapes. Why is he so relentless?

How crazy is it that the tenants continually beat, stone, and murder those that the landlord sends, including his son, and expect to 'get away' with it? This landlord is obviously not as 'absentee' as they'd hoped for. He has continued to send servants and his son. What is to keep him from sending even more servants or even an army after them to shut down their operation and forcefully take what is rightfully his? Even more so, they kill the son of the landlord with hopes that the owner will hand over the son’s inheritance to them. What?!

Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.

Jesus then asks the chief priests and elders, “What will he do to those tenants?” They rightfully answer that the landowner will do away with those 'wretches' as he should. That is no way for them to act.

Of course, the chief priests and elders quickly realize that they have just condemned themselves. For Jesus calls them out for being those wicked tenants whom the vineyard owner, God, continually sought to obtain the fruits from. 

These are some very harsh words from our Lord. This is a harsh parable. It has been used in an assortment of terrible ways throughout the history of the church. One of those ways has been to support anti-Semitic views. Though, we must remember to whom this parable is directed, not at the nation of Israel nor at the Jewish people as a whole, but it is directed at the religious leaders of Israel. Those who Jesus compared to the wicked tenants. The religious ‘right’ who withheld from God what was rightfully God's – the fruits of the vineyard – the people and works of those who follow and love the Lord. Jesus was a Jew and it would be the wrong 'crazy' had he been condemning the entire Jewish people which he is a part of. 

Of course, as we have learned in the last few weeks. Just as we can see ourselves, the church, as those new tenants who the vineyard is handed over to; we then must also be aware that we too can be those wicked tenants.

Today, we too thwart God from taking from us what is rightfully God's. Ourselves, our time, our possessions. We too are stewards of the vineyard.  We do not own creation, only the creator, God our Lord, owns creation. God has graciously given land, possessions, talents, and gifts over to us so that we can take care of it, cultivate them, and give them back when we are called to do so. 

What is amazingly crazy is that God, despite our best efforts to thwart God’s callings, hasn't come back and dealt with us, the 'wretches' as the wicked tenants are called, in the way that fits our actions. No, what God has done is sent us God’s son and given him up to die on a cross for us.

It's absolutely crazy.

Who would do such a thing? No one... except maybe a crazy landlord so intent to be in relationship with these tenants that he will do anything, risk anything, to reach out to them.

This landowner acts more like a desperate parent, willing to do or say or try anything to reach out to a wayward child than he does a businessman. It's crazy, the kind of crazy that comes from being in love.

Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.

We learn of two crazies today. One good and one, not so good. The not-so-good is the crazy of the tenants who attempt to get something for nothing.  Their attempt to hold onto what is not theirs in hopes that it'll just 'end up theirs' anyway.

We do this with our time and talents. We attempt to have our cake and eat it too. We do this with the works of God, through our hands we are called to those who are in need around us, desperate to hear the Word and see the love of God at work. But, we shirk our baptismal promises in hopes that 'someone else' will cover it. Or that it really isn't my business to meddle. Or I'm just not good enough, or I don't have the right words to express my faith to those around me. In one way or another we fall from our promises.

We continually lift up how much the Lord means to us, and how thankful we are, yet never express it by living out our lives with Jesus as our center, with Jesus as our cornerstone.

We see the one who is standoffish, the gruff individual and instead of reaching out we quietly ridicule, judge, and dismiss them.

We literally see people speaking out, asking and calling our attention to their lives because they are hurting in such a deep way that, so many cannot comprehend. Do we listen? No, we demonize them because of the means in which they use to get that attention.

We continue to do all of that, and expect everything to magically change for the better.

Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.

Of course, there is good crazy in this story too. The crazy love of God, who continually reaches out to us. Who continually seeks us and calls us to work in the vineyard. Trying any way that God can to unharden our own hearts so that our love of God and thankfulness can only burst forth from our hearts because it cannot be contained. This God who desperately wants to be in relationship with us despite our fallings, failings, and sins. This God who has washed are lives clean through our baptisms. This God who is crazy enough to love us that our God boldly walked to the cross and suffered death for the entire world.

Our God is crazy. Our God is crazy good and is crazy in love with us. 

Our God isn't crazy like the coach who continually runs the same plays over and over again, God isn’t crazy like those who continually steal and horde and pollute in hopes that they'll 'get away with it.' Our God is crazy in how God reaches out to the lowly, lifting us up, holding us in arms of Love despite how unworthy we truly are.

As we read this parable, let us notice not what will the landowner do. But let us notice what did that landowner do. And to that question we have Jesus' own answer: the landowner sent his son, Jesus, to treat with all of us who have hoarded God's blessings for ourselves and not given back what was due. And when we killed him, God raised him from the dead, and sent him back to us yet one more time, still bearing the message of God's desperate, crazy love.

Our God is crazy. And thank God that crazy is love.


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