Luke 20:9-20 (Lent 5C)
St. John, Galveston 4/3/22
Rev. Alan Taylor
+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The message this morning is based on the Gospel reading from Luke 20. The parable of the Wicked Tenants is about the Vineyard, the Church, which is planted in the world by God, the owner of the Vineyard. Having planted the vineyard He sent servants into it to harvest to collect the fruit that the Vineyard might come to its fullest and richest purpose, that is, to produce fruit to the glory of the one who planted it. The Tenants, however, despised the servants of the landowner. The first, the second, and the third were mistreated and cast out of the Vineyard. Finally, the landowner decided to send His own dear Son into the Vineyard. The tenants killed Him too believing that they would then be the rightful heirs of the Vineyard.
We’re going to delve into the parable here in a few minutes. First though, I’m going to ask you to come with me for just a few minutes on a little journey to another time and another place. The setting is Germany. The time is the middle of the 16th century, about 1530, or so.
A letter was written to the citizens of Germany regarding the Gospel of God’s forgiveness and grace in Christ Jesus. I quote, “Germany has never heard so much of God’s Word as now; at least we find nothing like it in history. If we permit it to go by without thanks and honor, it is to be feared we shall suffer a still more dreadful darkness and plague. Buy, dear Germans, while the fair is at your doors; gather in the harvest while there is sunshine and fair weather; use the grace and Word of God while they are here. For, know this, God’s Word and grace is a passing rainstorm, which does not return where it has once been. It came to the Jews, but it passed over; now they have nothing. Paul brought it to the Greeks, but it passed over; now they have the Turk. And you Germans must not think you will have it forever; for ingratitude and contempt will not suffer it to remain.”
That letter was written by Martin Luther. The Gospel of God’s forgiveness and grace in His Son, Jesus Christ, had burst onto the scene, cutting through the morass of the doctrine of works righteousness, giving people hope and certainty regarding their relationship to God, a certainty they had never experienced before. The Lutheran Reformation was a remarkable period in the history of the German people, as well as, in the history of the world.
Luther though, recognized that people too often and too easily take the Gospel for granted. Thus, he warned the people of Germany what might happen if they disdained God’s word of grace and forgiveness, and if they ignored, or, worse yet, mistreated those who proclaimed the word to them. “Ingratitude and contempt (he said) will not suffer it (that is, the Gospel) to remain.”
Sadly, Luther was quite right in what he had to say to the German people. Today, in areas like Brandenburg and Saxony, where Luther did most of his work, upwards of 70 to 75% of the people claim no religion at all. Folks, those are astounding numbers, considering that just 500 years earlier those very lands witnessed the rebirth of the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.
With the parable that Jesus told about those who despised His servants and the Gospel itself, and with the historical record of the German people, we have ample cause to look at our own situation and ask ourselves some pretty serious questions. Will the time come for us when the Gospel is so disdained, or so taken for granted, that it’s presence will have left our shores for other people and other nations?
For now, as a country, our statistics are considerably better than those of Saxony and Brandenburg. In fact, they’re pretty much the exact opposite, since 70% of Americans claim to be Christian. Perhaps though, the more pertinent statistic to look at is what percentage of those who claim to be Christian actually put what they believe into practice by joining the Vineyard week after week for worship? Church, you know, used to be the excuse we would give for why we couldn’t do other things on Sunday. Now, those other things are our excuse for why we can’t go to church.
This parable of the Wicked Tenants is an indictment of a disdainful, or, lackluster attitude toward the Gospel and toward the One who planted us in the Vineyard. The warning at the end of the parable is stark, but true. The people asked, “what then will the owner of the vineyard do to them, that is, to those who reject the word and mistreat God’s servants?” Jesus said, “he will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
Warnings given in God’s word are from the Law. Remember, the Scriptures are made up of both Law and Gospel. The Law tells us what to do and what not to do. It’s harsh and unyielding and we shouldn’t expect it to be anything else. It has no power to comfort, or, to give consolation to the troubled soul. To the contrary, it always condemns. The Gospel, on the other hand, never demands. Rather, it always gives. In that vein, Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of the Landowner, was given up in death that the whole world might be made heirs of Landowners vast Kingdom. The Son whom the wicked tenants killed, died, not only for those in the Vineyard, but also for those outside the Vineyard, including, by the way, the wicked tenants themselves, who were cast out.
The Law and the Gospel are as different from one another as Darkness is from the Light. And yet, Law and Gospel work together to break down our defenses and ultimately to bring us out of darkness and into God’s marvelous Light. In the case of the parable of the wicked tenants, the Law does its harsh work. It puts us on us notice. It puts us on edge. It even troubles us for we know we have within us the capacity to do everything the wicked tenants did and even more. There is a consequence to rejecting God’s grace and forgiveness. It is an eternal consequence. For, he who does so, will be cast out of the vineyard and destroyed.
What then, shall we do? That question, which is asked by those who are of troubled spirit, is a product of the power of the Law. Our conscience is aroused by the Law and driven to seek help. That help is given to us by the God who sent His Son into the vineyard, knowing full well that His Son would be offered up as a sacrifice to fulfill the Laws demands.
Ironically, in their hardness of heart and in their blindness, the wicked tenants expected to become heirs of the landowner’s kingdom by killing His Son. It was, of course, in the death of His Son that God opened the Kingdom of heaven to all who would believe. Indeed, “for God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.”
And so, the Gift is given, as is the power and the grace of God to receive it. The Vineyard is ours because God gave His only begotten to save us from our tendency to grow tired of His gifts.
Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend,
In whose sweet praise
I all my days
Could gladly spend.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +