10/5/2014 The text for today’s sermon is Matthew 21:33-46.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It has been said, “Don’t ever lend money to relatives or friends.” It can ruin the relationship. To this, I’d like to add two additional truths which I have learned through the years: 1) don’t ever lend money or anything else to anyone, expecting full restitution without hassles; and 2) don’t ever rent a house to relatives or friends, or to those recommended by either.
I learned the second axiom after my father died. Upon his death, I inherited his fix-me-upper, along with the mortgage. Once I finished renovations, I rented it to a family which was recommended by a relative. At first, all seemed to be okay. Marie seemed to like the house and she and her husband agreed to the price I was asking for rent, after a little haggling, of course. Yet, it didn’t take long to find out that all was not as it seemed. Their expectations of me as landlord and my expectations of them as tenants were not in agreement.
First, there were the overflowing complaints…some of which made no sense. Then there were the recommendations, the most memorable of which was one suggesting that I replace the field stone foundation because a little puddle of water would leak into the basement during torrential rains. Finally, there were the late payments of rent, which seemed to get later and later each month.
As a landlord, I attempted to deal constructively with their complaints and recommendations. I was even flexible when it came to the payment of rent. But when my flexibility was taken for granted as the tenants became later and later with payment, I warned them about the late payment clause and penalties in the lease.
Now, if I had such problems with renting out such a small amount as a single family house to someone who came highly recommended, just think of the headaches and heartaches that God must have to deal with when it comes to us. For, everything on earth and in the heavens above belongs to God for he created it all and God created it good. The wonderful thing for us is that in God’s divine goodness, he has chosen to dole it out to us for our use, and that makes us tenants in God’s vineyard.
As a landlord, God is much more gracious than I could ever be. We might call him a little naïve in that he doesn’t make us sign a contract. He trusts us to be good caretakers, who produce good fruit. And, he trusts that we will be faithful in our dealings with him. God allows us full use of what is his. We can do with it as we please. He doesn’t stand over us and watch our every move. We are free. But, God does expect us to remember who is landlord and who is tenant, and to pay him what is his in due season.
In order for me to get what was owed me in rent on a timely basis, I had to warn the tenants that there were consequences for late payment. The warning was enough for them. They heeded the warning and changed their way. God has also issued us a warning in the form of a parable told by Jesus. “There was a vineyard,” Jesus said, “and in that vineyard there were tenants.” Those renters were so blinded by greed that they refused to pay rent to their landlord. Employees of the landlord were sent. The renters killed one, beat another, and stoned a third. By rights, the landlord should have done away with those tenants, but instead, he sent another batch of loyal servants to speak with them and collect what was due. But, these were treated in the same fashion as the first envoy.
Once again, the landlord was merciful. Rather than doing these wretched people in, he decided to send his son to them, thinking that this would get their attention and that he would finally receive the rent that he was owed. But, in their warped minds, the renters thought that if they killed the son, then they would inherit the property. Fat chance on that one! Who would give his property to those who would steal it away by plotting and murdering his son??? In the end, the wretches receive what is due them…and to their surprise, it isn’t a full inheritance.
Now, long before they received their just deserts for poor behavior, they were given three chances to do what was right – three chances to realize whose property they were given the privilege of using; three chances to repent and pay what was rightfully due the landlord; three chances and they blew each of them. They were simply too stupid to accept reality. They were too blinded by greed to understand the foolishness of their actions. For, rather than rejoicing in the many blessings they were given, they refused to listen to the messengers and servants of their benefactor as they wanted it all…all for themselves even if it meant killing the landlord’s son.
When this parable was originally told by Jesus, it was told to the Pharisees and the chief priest. They listened to Jesus’ words. They understood what he was saying and they didn’t like what they heard. For, everyone likes to see themselves as landlords, as self-made and independent men and women, full owners and developers of everything. We like to think that what is ours is ours and no one else’s. But, we are the caretakers and not the owners of the many resources at our finger tips. We are stewards and not creators of the many gifts and talents that we have. And whenever we begin to act like owners, we push God away.
We need to remember who and whose we are. The earth is the Lord’s and we are his children. As beloved children, we have been provided with plenty, but we do not own what we have. We are but tenants enjoying the fruits of the vineyard that we did not plant. If we lose sight of that fact, we will lose the vineyard and ultimately destroy ourselves – for, it is then that we live as though God doesn’t exists.
To live as tenants is to respect God and each other. It is to share the talents and time and blessings we have received, not to gain recognition and possession for ourselves, but to serve the world. To live as tenants means that we bring our children to the font so that they too can experience a life in God’s vineyard. To lives as tenants is to live lives which reflect the compassion with which God has dealt with us, a compassion and mercy that prevail against all human reason and is decidedly foolish by the world’s standards. For, in his compassion, rather than destroying the human race for what we have done in his vineyard, God has chosen to hold out to us the way of salvation. Rather than starting over and creating beings which can choose to do no wrong, God has chosen to set us free.
Yes, God would have us be faithful stewards who reflect his love in lives of worship, prayer and praise…in lives of first fruits giving, offering back to God a full portion for the work of his church…in lives which demonstrate care for all living things…in lives which put the needs of others as top priorities…in lives which do not seek to accumulate treasures on earth but treasures in heaven. For, God does not take joy in throwing the tenants out of the vineyard.
There is enough in the vineyard for all to share. So may we not be like the foolish tenants in today’s parable. May we not take God’s grace for granted, living as if God were dead. But may we see ourselves as blessed children of a heavenly father who has given us full use of his vineyard. May we not abuse these gifts, but may we be good stewards who remember our benefactor. Amen.
And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.