Sermon GMC 30/10/2016
I guess at first glance it might seem a bit odd placing a gospel parable about the evil tenants that we heard in Luke with the celebration of a baptism, a time when the church praises alongside the Angels and Archangels in Heaven when a soul reaches out to accept God’s love and forgiveness.
However; and in scripture there is always a however. Baptism is more than a feel good day and a time of celebration. It is that of course, but it is also a public demonstration of an individual’s decision to follow Jesus; and it’s more than that. It is a reminder to all of us who have passed through the waters of baptism of the promises we have made before God and before our fellow people. A reminder too, perhaps, of where we all are on our own journey of pilgrimage. A time perhaps for reflection. Are we making progress? Are we growing? Have we taken a wrong turning? Do we need to seek out again the author of our faith? Do we need to reach out and to hold on to Jesus if we have thought we could walk on water by ourselves and then find ourselves sinking fast, in a life of tumult and storms? Of such is Baptism.
And then we have this parable given by Jesus towards the beginning of Easter week. Let’s set the scene for a moment. Jesus has entered Jerusalem the day before, riding on a donkey. A deliberately symbolic challenge to those in power. It is a reminder from Zechariah 9:9. This is the messiah riding in to his chosen people. It is of course even more than that. It is God coming back to his people as their King, and he is going to take over; just not in the way everyone was expecting. Then there has been a skirmish of sorts in the temple.
Some people think this is what got Jesus killed, but it seems that it happened at the beginning of the week and the decision to kill him had been already taken anyway. Probably initiated for the Saduccees in the temple leadership by the raising of Lazarus, dd to this the facts that neither the Temple guards or Roman guards, who would have been overlooking the Temple areas, on the look out for potential unrest at such an important and tension filled festival, got involved makes me less than sure. However the temple leadership are definitely out to discredit Jesus in order to isolate him from his security base – his crowd of followers. So they send people out to embarrass him in front of the crowds, to undermine his natural authority. So they challenge him, “By what authority do you do this?” You know, in the vernacular – who gives you permission to Waltz around raising the dead and causing trouble. Just who do you think you are? Jesus, following a tradition of Jewish rabbinical training, asks his questioners a question in turn. It works like this, if you can answer my question then I will answer yours. If you can’t then wait until you can. “Where did they think that John the Baptizer get his authority from?” If they can answer this then he will answer their question. The sadducees are outmanoeuvred, they can’t risk offending John as he is still such an icon to the crowd, even if they felt themselves that John was just mildly off his rocker.
And so Jesus speaks the parable that we heard. Not a nice story at all– Definitely a chocolate coated chilli pepper- without the chocolate.
He talks in imagery that First Century Jews would immediately understand. It is as if I were to speak of MPs and duck houses, you would immediately have in mind a rampant abuse of expenses. ` So Jesus talks about a vineyard, which is the standard image for Israel. The King then, the owner of the vineyard, can only be God. He had gifted Israel to the people. When God sends Prophets to the vineyard to see what is happening they are rebuffed, when he sends them to remind them that they are getting lost they get beaten up or killed. The people have stopped listening because they have forgotten that God is King, they have actually come to think that they are.
So the King (God) sends his son (Jesus) who Jesus says will be killed by the vineyard owners, by the leaders of Israel. Jesus here is explicitly talking about himself. He is telling the Sadducees, “I know you want to kill me”. Jesus associates himself with the rejected cornerstone, he is the friend of sinners, the ultimate outsider, and the warning is paramount.
You are going to kill me and throw me away, but Judgement is coming here and now, everything will be taken away from you and the vineyard, Israel will be taken away and given to others.
It’s a powerful parable, and the Temple authorities know it is directed at them and they are not happy, in the slightest. Even more they are out to get Jesus if only they can get him away from the crowds.
Following Jesus therefore is not without risk. Life won’t be easy or easier than it was for declaring our allegiance to him, but know this: God has come and has become King of this world, which on a daily basis is being re-integrated with Heaven. The breach that occurred with sin, is being mended. You can be certain of victory, you can have full confidence that the powers of darkness have tried their best, they have done their worst on that dark Friday, and they failed. Jesus’ resurrection is the living proof. We may yet, like the early disciples, have to suffer our own crosses, but like Jesus we will experience our resurrection.
What then does this mean for us in our comfortable 21st century churches. Do we sound like the outsider or part of the ownership? Have we thought that the vineyard is ours to do with as we please? Are we in danger of making the same mistakes as the Temple leadership? We sometimes create so called Gurus or thought leaders. People we like to follow. St Augustine, Thomas Merton, The Desert Fathers, Paul, John, The Wesleys, A fellowship, A guild, a certain denomination, a style of worship. We sometimes mistake the reflection for the real thing. Let us then not forget the cornerstone, the one we pledged to follow at our baptism. God isn’t our to fashion to our own wims. We are God’s
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit