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LSB Lent 5C Sermon – Luke 20:9-20

April 10, 2016

March 13, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

Hearing a statement of judgment from Jesus’ mouth is startling. It should be so. Whenever divine verdicts are rendered, all creation is called to attention. So it is with Jesus and the parable that He speaks against the scribes and chief priests. The verdict is rendered: “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” And that causes great concern among all who hear it.

Jesus’ story is called the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. That title is very fitting. What those who were leasing the vineyard do in the story can only be labeled wicked, evil, and vicious. What justification do they have for their mistreatment of the owner’s servants? The owner sends them to collect only what is owed: “When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.” The owner desires the expected return, the agreed upon share of the crop as payment of the lease, nothing more. “But the tenants beat [the servant] and sent him away empty-handed.” And as if that were not bad enough, “They also beat and treated the [second servant] shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed…. [A third servant] they wounded and cast out.”

But the tenants’ wickedness doesn’t end there. It is fully shown by what they do to the owner’s son. The son is dispatched to the vineyard by his father: “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.” Despite the father’s thinking, the son’s arrival is given anything but respect: “But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.” That is the wickedness of the tenants put on full display. Craving to obtain what is not rightly theirs, they kill the owner’s son.

When all that is considered, it is no wonder that the owner of the vineyard brings judgment and retribution against his tenants: “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” What else should be done? What other action is right? Could the tenants’ wickedness be treated any other way?

You already know that this story told by Jesus is a parable. It isn’t a recounting of a past murder of a vineyard owner’s son. In fact, it is more. The story is a telling of a deeper truth, an even worse evil. Jesus’ parable reveals what was happening to Him. For He is the vineyard owner’s “beloved Son.” He had been sent, like the LORD’s prophets before Him, to seek and collect the people’s worship and righteous acts. Jesus had come looking for those who had put their trust and faith in the LORD and His Covenant, who desired to follow the Divine Will, who wanted to live as the LORD’s chosen and special people.

But just as in the Israel’s days of old, Jesus doesn’t find such a reception from many. Instead, the leading tenants of the vineyard, the scribes and chief priests who should have welcomed the LORD’s Son, spurn Him. By doing so, they followed in the footsteps of their ancestors—the ones who beat, tortured, and murdered the prophets. Their actions led to the killing of Jesus—casting Him outside the city walls of Jerusalem to the craggy hill of Calvary where He was crucified. Jesus comes with the Father’s full authority. But instead of receiving respect, He suffers rejection. For those who treat the Son shamefully, there is a dreadful end: “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” It results in the scribes and chief priests losing their status—both temporally and eternally. New tenants are found who welcome both the owner’s servants and son.

Historically, Jesus’ parable is a foretelling of His passion and death, as well as a statement about how the leaders of Israel are replaced. Jesus speaks about His crucifixion as an act of rejection. That becomes vividly clear when the account of His trial and death are read, as will be done next week on Good Friday. But Jesus also tells of how there will be another group of people who belong to Him, those whom the Father chooses. It is a foreshadowing of the great Gentile mission of the Church. It is also a revealing of how the apostles would be leading the LORD’s people instead of the scribes and chief priests.

But this parable is not solely applicable to days and people of old. No, it is meant to be heard by those who are tenants of the vineyard now. It is told for your benefit. This is true in both aspects of the parable.

Jesus wants you to know that what happened to Him was necessary. Even as the people who heard Jesus’ statement of judgment said “Surely not!” or “Let it not happen!” the events take place. He is rejected. He is crucified. What Jesus suffers is the fulfilling of the Scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

Even though Jesus endures this fate, it is how the LORD’s Will is accomplished. For in doing so, the necessary atonement is made for the sins of the world. He is rejected, but that does not removes His identity as the One whom the LORD had sent. Even though the religious establishment of Israel killed Jesus, it doesn’t mean that He hasn’t fulfilled His purpose. For the LORD raises Him, making Him the Cornerstone. And this Cornerstone is what the Church is based on. It is how you are established within the LORD’s household. As you receive the testimony about the LORD’s Beloved Son Jesus, you are brought into salvation. You are made tenants of the vineyard.

But the parable also serves as a needed corrective to those tenants whose actions are trending toward wickedness. For in the arrangement that the LORD has made with His tenants, He still expects the agreed upon return. He desires to receive His people’s worship and righteous acts. This is part of living in the Covenant that the LORD has made with you. As Paul states, you are “found in Christ, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” That faith in Jesus, His identity, His work, and His teaching includes a way of holiness that you are called to live by. This is the expected return that the LORD seeks.

So what does that look like? It is summarized in what is asked of individuals who become communicant members of the Church through baptism and instruction. Renunciation of Satan and his ways. Confession of who God is and what He has done for mankind’s salvation. Acknowledgment of the gifts that God has bestowed through baptism. Calling to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully. Exhortation to live according to the Word of God, particularly the Ten Commandments and the Table of Duties. Pledging to remain true to God in faith, word, and deed. Expectation of support of the congregation with prayers and the gifts that God has granted.

We might call that list the responsibilities of confirmed membership. Or we might label them other ways: discipleship, kingdom living, new obedience, the sanctified life. In the terms of Jesus’ parable, this is “the fruit of the vineyard” that the owner desires to receive from his tenants. This is what the LORD seeks to find among you whom He has established as His tenants, His kingdom, His people. This is the way of life that He has created for you.

So when you hear Jesus’ parable, the question can be asked: “Am I acting like those wicked tenants concerning the LORD and His Son Jesus?” When that is answered affirmatively, then the statement of judgment that Jesus speaks about them is addressed to you as a way of correcting. It directs you away from that wickedness, no matter what form it takes—rejecting Jesus’ identity as the LORD’s Son, thinking that you owe nothing to the LORD, believing that you are owners and not tenants, or holding the notion that you can change the Covenant that the LORD has made. Such thoughts lead to the evil deeds performed by the wicked tenants—rejection of the LORD’s servants, rejection of His Son, and rejection of His Covenant. Jesus’ startling statement of judgment rebukes and corrects those thoughts now, so that the act of taking the vineyard away from you and bringing destruction need not come later.

Jesus’ parable restates the truth about you. You are the LORD’s tenants. He has graciously granted that status to you. It has happened because His Beloved Son was sent, rejected, and killed. But He has been raised to life again. His identity was not changed, but confirmed. The Cornerstone was laid, despite the builders’ rejection, so that you could be established in faith on it. That is what the LORD has done for you. It is how He made you recipients of His Covenant. It is how you have a share in His righteousness and new life. So when the LORD comes seeking “the fruit of the vineyard,” offer it to Him. Let worship and righteous acts flow from your faith and trust in Him. For then the vineyard will not be taken from you, but will rightfully be made your inheritance that is yours through His Son’s death and resurrection.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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