Missing the Point

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Matthew 21:33-46
Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

20:1 Then God spoke all these words: 2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work.

12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13 You shall not murder. 14 You shall not commit adultery. 15 You shall not steal. 16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. 18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” (Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20, NRSV)

21:33 “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. (Matthew 21:33-46, NRSV)

Let us pray: Holy God, you set before us new life in Christ. May we live in the power of Christ’s resurrection and bring forth the fruit of your loving rule. Give us generous and loving hearts, and eyes to see the splendor of your creation, that we may live in truth and honor, and praise you for the transformation of our lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

I remember it like yesterday. I was a senior in high school and I was out with my friends. Most nights it was my mother who stayed up until I got home. My curfew was midnight. This time, however, my mom was out of town and it was my dad who was in charge. He was an early to bed early to rise kind of guy. That meant he was in bed by 9:30 or 10 at the absolute latest and up at 4:30 or 5:00 AM. So, this night we were having fun, so much fun I don’t even remember what we were doing…I decided that my dad would go to bed early so I could stay out and enjoy my friends and the fun we were having. Midnight came and went, so did 1:00 o’clock and 2:00 o’clock, I walked into the house at 2:15 AM fully expecting to walk in and go straight to my room. However, this was long before the days of cell phones and other modern conveniences. So, as I opened the door I noticed a light was on, hmm that is funny why is a light on? As I walked into the den I saw why the light was on, it was my father sitting up waiting on me…all he said was, “I am glad you are home.” Off he went to bed. You can imagine how I felt. Crushed! That I had kept him up, crushed that I had been caught.

As I look back on that night, what sticks with me is the point of rules, curfews, and laws. I had always seen them as punishments, restrictions, limitations and now that I am the adult who has the wonderful opportunity to wait up for children to come home I see them much differently. They are guidelines for life. Encouragement for good life and better choices.

The Ten Commandments, much in the same way are guidelines for life. Encouragement for good life and better choices. One commentator calls the 10 commandments God’s plan for your life. They are not a roadmap to heaven or a checklist for salvation. The Ten Commandments are really pretty simple, Love God and love your neighbor. Ten Commandments tell us how do you do both of those things. They also tell us that God trusts us to live our lives and God has entrusted us to live them in this way. The Ten Commandments are less about proper behavior and actually more about identity. Who are we? What is our relationship to God? What is our relationship to one another? We tend to separate these foundational questions, and we think of the Ten Commandments as a set of universal rules, a binding list of do’s and don’ts for all people at all times and all places. They were given to them as a gift for ordering their new life, as boundaries for their new-found freedom.

So, our response to the Ten Commandments is not to see them as restrictions placed upon us but as guides to the good life. To see them as negatives is to miss the point.

Jesus knew the Ten Commandments by heart, he did not talk about them instead he lived them. They permeated all his actions and all his words, even his confusing parables.

Like this crazy parable, he tells. How do these tenants think that they’re going to inherit the vineyard? It may be a legal possibility. But it’s not like that landlord has disappeared. He sends servants and more servants, and then he sends his son. The tenants are crazy to think they can get something for nothing.

But they’re not half as crazy as this landowner! First, he sends servants, and they’re beaten, stoned, and killed. Then he sends more servants — not the police, not an army, just more servants — and the same thing happens again. Then the landowner sends his son, his heir, alone, to deal with tenants. It’s crazy. Who would do such a thing?

Well, no one of course…except maybe a crazy landlord, who is so desperate to be in relationship with the tenants that the landowner will do anything, risk everything, to reach out of them. The landowner acts more like a desperate parent, willing to do or say or try anything to reach out to a beloved and wayward child than he does a businessman. It’s crazy, the kind of crazy that comes from being in love.

So, we hear this crazy parable about the vineyard; and it is a bizarre text for stewardship. After all, it is October and it is stewardship season. We have this parable for stewardship. It is a challenge to our job as caretakers of the vineyard that has been entrusted to our care. I imagine that if we try to see ourselves in this parable we see ourselves as the ones who have had all the benefits and advantages of living and working in a vineyard that is not our own. We may even see ourselves as the ones who act as if we own the vineyard. There is plenty of room in this dark parable for all of us.

At first glance, we may not like this crazy parable, it is too violent, it is mean, it does not have anything to do with us. But if we give this parable a chance there is actually good news amid the craziness. If we let this parable lead us it will take us directly to face the truth of our own stewardship of God’s gifts to us and for us. If we let it, this parable will lead us to face the truth about how we have failed to manage and care for the vineyard (the earth, creation, the church) in which God invites us to labor. If we allow it, this parable will cause us to consider our response to the gifts and blessings God has entrusted to our care. If we allow it, this parable will reveal our true generosity. If we allow it, this parable will expose our compassion, our care and our response to God’s graciousness.

If we let it, this parable can open to us the truth. The truth that is simply this: the vineyard is never taken away from us as the parable warns because the owner of the vineyard is never going to give up on us. You see the landowner keeps coming back. The landowner will not let us go. If we let it this parable will open us to see the wondrous love of God.

What wondrous love of God that keeps coming for us, even with a beloved son, even at the expense of the life of that son, keeps coming for us, to claim us. So, how will we respond to so wonderous love as this? How do we respond to the gifts and blessings that have been showered on us?
Will we accept the gifts of God’s love?
Will we accept the gifts of life, and love and freedom?
How will we who are so greatly loved respond?
The response to such wondrous love is to love God and our neighbor and to be generous with all of our many blessings.
Or will we miss the point?

Let us pray: