Matthew 21:33-46 (Pentecost 19A)
St. John, Galveston 10/8/2023
Rev. Alan Taylor
+In Nomine Jesu +
Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
As a Pastor, I’ve always considered it my responsibility to teach the whole council of God, even if a particular issue addressed in the Scriptures on a given Sunday is not of immediate concern to our congregation. I approach things in that way, at least in part, because I’m fully aware of the fact that not all of you will remain members of this congregation forever. I’m also aware that I won’t be here forever either. And so, while the issue to be addressed from this morning’s Gospel reading may not be a of great concern for us now, it may be in another congregation of which you may become a member. I realize it may sound like I’m saying this sermon isn’t going to be very relevant to you, but I hope you don’t take it that way.
The issue from this morning’s Gospel reading is that of the relationship between God’s servants, whether prophets, apostles and pastors, and the people they serve. It’s also about the fruit of faith. In this case, mainly the fruit of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
In the Book of Hebrews, there’s a startling and rather graphic series of verses regarding the way people treated the prophets of old. “The prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight…Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy.”
As Jesus prepared to enter into Jerusalem one last time, He wept over the hard hearts of the people of the city. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem (He said), you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you. How often I longed to gather you together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not have it.”
Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, God sent His servants to speak His word to His people. In the Old Testament period, and early in the New Testament period, He called His servants directly, or as we say today, He called them immediately, that is, without the agency of other people. He then gave them His words to speak. And speak they did, oftentimes resulting in their own deaths. Which is what the parable before us this morning is about. Some of the master’s servants the people beat, others they killed, and still others they stoned. In short, they treated God’s servants, His messengers shamefully.
And, of course, when God sent His own Son into the vineyard, His people killed Him too, thinking rather perversely that they would receive their master’s inheritance by killing His Son. Those who did so were judged by their own actions and by their failure to repent of what they did. “Therefore I tell you (said Jesus), the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone (that is, Jesus) will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard (Jesus’) parable, they perceived that he was speaking about them.”
The parable is pretty straight forward. But how does it relate to us today? What is the connection between the people of Israel’s poor treatment of the prophets and us? Well, for sure, God no longer calls prophets and apostles immediately. But He does call Pastors through the agency of the people, namely through the Church. Again, as we say today, Pastor’s are called mediately, that is, through others.
The divinely ordered process of calling of a pastor is central to our understanding of the Pastoral Office in the Lutheran faith. And yet, we often forget the divine nature of the Pastor’s call. In years past, as a Circuit Counselor, I have worked with Call committees many times in other congregations and virtually every time, someone will begin to refer to the Call process as hiring a Pastor. “We’re here to decide what pastor we want to hire for for our congregation,” someone would say. As insignificant as that distinction may seem, it is critical that we understand the difference between calling a pastor and hiring one. The one you hire, you can also fire, and, I suppose, you can also choose to listen to His council or not.
The pastor, on the other hand, is called by God, through the congregation, to stand as a servant of the word, in the stead and by the command of God. That doesn’t mean he is perfect. It doesn’t mean he is infallible either. What it does mean, is that when he preaches and teaches God’s word rightly, according to that standard, he is to be honored and supported and his council is to be heeded.
The Divine nature of the pastor’s call, while of great comfort to the pastor himself, is of greater comfort to those he serves. Luther made that abundantly clear in his explanation of Confession and Absolution, which were given to to the Church by God. Confession, he says, has two parts. First, “that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.”
Thankfully, the validity of the tasks the pastor performs do not depend on the worthiness of the pastor. Whether, they depend on God, who has chosen to distribute the Word of Life into the world through weak and frail servants.
Thus, St. Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth, saying, “this is how one should regard us (in this case, meaning the Apostles), as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” Certainly, those mysteries include the sacraments, which are beyond our ability to comprehend, that God, reaches down through time and space in simple elements like water, and bread and wine, and He saves sinners from sin and death.
The Gospel itself, that is preached here and around the world, week after week, is a mystery, because according to our own way of thinking, it is foolishness. “Where is the one who is wise (asks the apostle)? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” The folly that we preach is none other than the cross of Jesus. “We preach Christ crucified (says the apostle), a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
And the master sent servants into His vineyard. God grant that His mysteries fill the earth and that His servants not abuse the tenants, nor the tenants the servants. God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
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 +