– Not Ownership
(Proper 22, Mt 21.33-43)
Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, the
Exasperation is an emotion that we have seen and heard a lot of in the
guess that there is nothing quite like a 36-hour trip to
is something about knowing that you have
done everything right – prepared in great detail - planned all the probable
outcomes – and still it gets messed up by others that irritates and
exasperates us to no end.
is a very human trait to feel anger and frustration, to
be exasperated, when we see our very good work turn out to be all for
notice, I said exasperation is a very “human”
response. One that we blame on our
humanness; it is not a quality that we nurture or one that we are particularly
we rarely imagine God, or Jesus, as exasperated.
Rather, always loving, always forgiving.
That is much more the way that we like to think of our Christian God.
in our gospel reading today – we meet a very exasperated Jesus.
If we look back a few verses at those that most of us missed last week,
we will see that just the day before, Jesus had arrived in
like exasperation to me.
Jesus was just getting started. Because
after he drove away those profit makers
and began to teach and to heal the sick, the chief priests and elders caught
wind of what was going on. And they
came and confronted him and questioned Jesus’ authority.
Who was he to come into their
course Jesus has some very pointed things to say back to them.
And in this morning’s reading, it is the next day and they are back in
this time it is God that is portrayed as exasperated.
In answer to another question from the religious authorities that is
intended to trap him, Jesus tells them a parable.
A parable which mirrors our reading from Isaiah.
And in the parable, God is depicted as the vineyard owner who does
everything possible to see that things will work out well for the caretakers of
sees that the soil is cleared of stones and tilled.
Fences are carefully constructed to keep out animals.
A watchtower is built to help keep workers from harm.
And the owner even plants the vines and supplies a winepress.
All the workers
have to do is nurture the fields. And
then of course, bring in the harvest and give the owner back his fair share.
as easy as that sounds, and as good a deal as that may seem for the workers,
they could not and would
not live up to their side of the bargain.
bottom line is that they were unwilling to accept the authority and control that
the owner would have over their lives. The
workers wanted to be in control
themselves, and they resented the authority
of the absentee owner. After all, he
may have provided a nice piece of land to work, but where was he when the going
really got tough? Where was he when
they were sick or when a loved one died? And
what if there was a hurricane or a flood? What
then? So the workers decided to just
take the land for themselves – after all, why did they really need the owner??
am reminded of a story – a modern day version of today’s parable - that I
recently read in an article about church growth.
The story is told by a college professor who was asked to speak at a big
conference out of town. He decided
to go early, so he could take his family along to enjoy the weekend sightseeing
with him. As they
were driving around on Saturday, they passed a large, impressive church
that was near their hotel. The man
said, “we’ll go to that church tomorrow.”
The next morning they got up, got dressed, and walked to church.
As they neared the building, they could hear music, loud music, with
guitars and drums, emanating from the neo-gothic building.
“What kind of church is this, Dad?” his son asked.
it’s one of ours,” the father said, “you’ve just got to remember that
me take you to the Methodist church.” And
the usher took his family and him around the corner of the building to a small
chapel where there gathered a small group of mostly older folks who were
plodding through a traditional service. On
the way back home, as they made their way through a sidewalk filled with people
from the larger service that had also just ended, the professor looked back at
that throng of all ages, nations, and races, and said to his family, “That WAS
the Methodist church. That WAS the Methodist church.”
wish I could tell you that the demise of mainline churches is an uncommon story
– but it is not. Many of those
churches of my youth have grown old and have withered on the vine.
it is even worse in
what happened? Is
the moral of the story that if we don’t get some drums, we might as well turn
our building over to someone who will?
lesson of that story and of our Scripture readings today is not
that we need to get a rock band or God will take our church away.
lesson IS about authority and it IS about
WHO is in charge of the Church – and it is not you – and it is not me.
is the owner of this vineyard and it is God’s purpose that we must seek in
this place – not our own.
The mistake that the religious leaders of Jesus' day made, was they
thought that the temple was theirs to use as they wished.
We do not want to make that same mistake today.
if we decide that God is not needed. If
we look around and say, “Who needs God? After
all aren’t we doing all of the work?”
we decide that we are the owners of the
Church – then most assuredly we will lose it – Just like the owner of the
vineyard took it back from the ungrateful workers.
know, the Church of my youth was just part of our culture.
Everybody went – it was the accepted social custom.
But that is not the church of today. People
who become Christian today are more likely to do so out of conviction than
custom. Therefore, I believe that
the integrity of our faith (that is, the proof of God’s authority in our lives
and in our church) is evidenced by whether or not we have spread the Good News
of Jesus Christ.
are entrusted with the gospel. And
we are told to plant and harvest and give God back his fair share.
Churches do not go stale and die
because they don’t keep up with the latest musical trends or change the
message to fit what people want to hear.
Churches die because they forget that their purpose is
to love God and to share the gospel message with all others. That is the fruit that we are
intended to produce for God in this vineyard.
die when we worry more about who might get mad if we try something new than we
do about making newcomers feel accepted and welcome.
lessons this morning are all about our stewardship of God’s vineyard – about
caring for the church. And we are
plainly told that as we are to be about God’s purposes – not making up our
own rules for how things should be. And
Jesus makes it very clear that the penalty for taking over the vineyard and
doing it our way is steep.
annual Stewardship campaign will begin at Grace in a couple of weeks.
So it is very appropriate that we read this gospel lesson this morning
that tells us that, we – the people of God
- are to be about stewardship – not ownership.
usual, our lay people will make talks about stewardship and about their
experiences at Grace Church. But
their underlying messages are really about accepting
God’s authority in our lives. And responding
to that authority.
Because stewardship is not about money.
It is about entrusting everything in our lives to the one who
gives us life.
Jesus Christ is the cornerstone
of this church.
And I pray that we will always look to him
in caring for this place and in sharing his gospel message with all who come
through those doors. Amen.