< back to Sermon archive

Sermon for Sunday 3 April 2022

First Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21

16Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, 17who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: 18“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. 19Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 20The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, 21the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.”

Psalm 126

1When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dream. 2Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy. 3Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” 4The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad indeed. 5Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses of the Negev. 6Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy. 7Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

Second Reading: Philippians 3:[4b-7] 8-14

4b… (T)hough I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, 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 — 10that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Gospel: Luke 20:9-20

9 {Jesus} began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? 18Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” 19The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. 20So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.

The Rejected Cornerstone

Someone has said that the average parishioner’s idea of a good sermon is one that goes over their head and hits a neighbor.  By that definition, I don’t believe Jesus’ parable in today’s gospel reading could be a good sermon.  Clearly, it did not go over the heads of those listening that day.  And while this story may seem a bit strange to us, the religious leaders of Israel knew exactly what Jesus was saying.  Jesus took a well-known Old Testament metaphor from Isaiah chapter 5, that of the vineyard, and used it to illustrate the point He was making.

For those listening that day, the vineyard stood for the nation of Israel.  The tenants were the rulers of Israel into whose hands the nation was entrusted.  The messengers were the prophets who were disregarded, persecuted, and killed.  The Son is Jesus himself.  The wrath of the owner would be felt by the nation and the fruitful vineyard that Israel should have occupied will be taken away and given to others.

In this parable, Jesus also quotes Psalm 118, verses 22 and 23.  Again, He’s calling on what His hearers would know — words with which they would be familiar — words from the Old Testament — to drive home His lesson.  It’s a poignant picture expressing a powerful truth: “the very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.”  That’s the climax of the parable, but before we jump to the end, we need to look at the parable itself that Jesus uses to introduce His formidable claim.

As one theologian (Barclay) reminds us, this parable does two thing, it teaches us about us as humans, and it teaches us about God.  First, it tells us of human privilege.  “The tenants were not the ones who establish the vineyard.  They were privileged enough to take possession of it.  The owner didn’t stand over them with a whip and micromanage the operation.  Instead, He chose to step away and leave them to work it in their own way, to tend, cultivate and receive the fruits of their labor.  Secondly, it tells us about human sin.  

The sin of the tenants was that they refused to give the owner his due.  They wanted to control that which was the sole right of the owner to control.  Doesn’t that give us a clear picture of sin?  Sin consists in our failure to give God His proper place in our life.  We want to usurp the power which belongs to God.  Next, the parable tells us of human responsibility.  For a long time, the tenants were left to their own devices; but, as expected, the day of settling the account came.

Recently, I came across a story about an absent-minded professor who, every morning at the same time, would go out to water his flowers.  One day, as he was going through the motions of watering his flowers, no water was coming out of the container.  He had it tilted over, but nothing was coming out.  A kind neighbor, knowing how absent-minded the professor could be at times, saw the situation, came over and said to him: “Pardon me professor, but you’ve forgotten to put water in your watering can.”  “Doesn’t matter,” answered the professor.  “These are all artificial flowers anyway.”

Well, it does matter.  

Our call to work in God’s vineyard isn’t a game we’re playing.  This isn’t an artificial garden we’ve been called to tend.  Sooner or later, we’ll have to give an account for all that has been committed to our charge.  So, this parable is packed with profound teaching about humankind — it tells of human privilege, of human sin, and of human responsibility.

With that in mind, we need to acknowledge this significant truth: it’s possible to have a life of abundance without having an abundant life.  Let me repeat that.  We may have a life of abundance, yet not experience an abundant life.  An illustration about two men might help.  First, Howard Hughes.

All Howard Hughes ever really wanted in life was more.  He wanted more money, so he parlayed inherited wealth into a billion-dollar pile of assets.  He wanted more fame, so he broke into the Hollywood scene and soon became a filmmaker and star.  He wanted more sensual pleasures, so he paid large sums of money to indulge his every sexual urge.  He wanted more thrills, so he designed, built, and flew the fastest aircraft in the world.  He wanted more power, so he secretly dealt political favors so skillfully that two U. S. Presidents became his pawns.  

Yet this man ended his earthly life emaciated and colorless; with a sunken chest; fingernails in grotesque, inches long corkscrews; rotting, black teeth; tumors; and innumerable needle marks from his drug addiction.  He was frightened, obsessed, paranoid, morose.  Howard Hughes was robbed.  He was robbed by the deceiver who broke in and stole his abundant life.  Howard Hughes mistakenly worshipped “more.”  Another man, in another century, gained an abundant life without a life of abundance.  His name was Lorenzo Ghiberti, born in Florence, Italy in 1378, died in 1455 at the age of 87.  Lorenzo was an artist.  What Lorenzo primarily did in his 87 years was to build 6 doors.  

Most of his artistic career was consumed in building 3 pairs of doors for The Baptistery in Florence.  The doors are exquisite.  The magnificence of them come from the intricate detail of the bronze sculptures which depict various scenes from the Old and New Testament.  Ghilberti’s initially trained as a goldsmith, and the fine details show that training.  The first two pairs of doors took 21 years.  The last two doors took 27 years to complete!  They were his contribution to the faith.  Years later, Michelangelo called the last two doors the “Gates of Paradise.”

Today there isn’t much left by the Howard Hughes legacy except contempt and a huge wooden airplane that flew only once.  But Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise still stand, a magnificent testimony to human responsibility, to spiritual awareness, high purpose and a life-centered in Christ.  (Dr. Norm Lawson, “Abundant Life…What Is It, Really?”)

So, the truth is, we may have abundance in life, yet never know what it means to have life abundant.  That’s the first point: the parable teaches us about humankind.  The second thing we learn is that it also teaches us about God.

First, it tells us of the patience of God.  The owner didn’t swoop in and strike at the first sign of rebellion on the part of the tenants.  He gave them chance after chance to do the right thing.  Isn’t God’s patience amazing?  If a human had created the world, in all likelihood they would have, in exasperated despair, wiped it out long ago.  Thankfully God is patient…so very patient.  Think about how patent He’s been in our own lives.

How patient has God been with us as we played with life in the far country of self-interest, lust and pleasure, as though life was a game, and we could do with it as we wished?  How patient has God been with us in the use of our talents? — talents that He has given us, natural gifts with which we’ve been blessed.  Have we used our talents and gifts according to our own design, disregarding any consideration that God may have something special in mind?  How patient has God been with us as we’ve taken the material blessings we’ve received and used it without regard to His call to faithful stewardship?

Or, have we instead lavishly spent our money on cars, houses, clothes, vacations, pleasure, summer camps for our kids, and a fat nest egg for retirement?  Not that any of these things are bad in moderation.  But what have we done in response to God’s call? God through the prophet Malachi reminds us, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (3:10).  How patient has God been with us?

If any one of us were God, I doubt the rest of us would be faring so well.  In this season of Lent, we need to seriously examine our own life.  What is it that God has been waiting patiently for us to do?  What decisions and changes has He been waiting patiently for us to make?  The question we need to ask is, how long are we willing to put God’s patience to the test?  This brings us to the next thing the parable tells us about God.  It tells us about the judgment of God.

Bishop Monk Bryan, who is now retired and living at Lake Junaluska, told about finding a large floral arrangement at his retirement party with a slanting satin ribbon that read “Rest in Peace”.  The bishop was shocked.  The florist was a friend of the Bishop’s and was present for the retirement party, so Bishop Bryan asked him about the ” Rest in Peace ” floral arrangement.  “What kind of cruel joke was that?  He was retiring, not dying.”  The florist was flabbergasted.  

In exasperation, he said, “Oh my goodness, if you think you’re upset, imagine what that poor family across town is thinking because your floral arrangement is at their funeral and the banner reads, “Good Luck in Your New Location.”  Jesus warned us more than once that there will be a judgment.  The tenants believed in the infinite patience of the master.  They thought the vineyard master wouldn’t do anything, nor would he strike back; they thought they would get away with theft and murder.  But this wasn’t the case.  The master’s patience wore thin.  God has not renounced His ownership.  However much we may think we get off Scot free, the day of judgement will come.

Oliver Cromwell mumbled on his deathbed, “It is an awful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.”  It’s a sobering thought, isn’t it?   For the unfaithful, for those pretending that life is a game or that they can get away Scot free, it will be an awful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.  And the truth of the matter is, each and every one of us are in those hands.

Have you ever played the game “hot potato”?  It’s a circle game where someone stands in the middle while the others hold hands behind them and pass the “hot potato” from hand to hand, hoping they don’t get caught with it?  How often do we try to play “hot potato” with God?   We hope that God doesn’t catch us with a “hot potato” in our hands.  We must be honest with ourselves: the day of reckoning is coming, and no one will escape God’s judgement.

Today’s parable reminds us that God’s patience does have a limit –we need to respond to His patience, His love, and His calling; one day we will all be the recipients of His judgment.  This brings us to the final point and the focus for today.  The parable teaches not only about us as human beings and of God, it’s also a revealing picture of Jesus; and here we come to that poignant symbol: “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.”

Jesus knew what was coming.  He was clear-minded in His assessment.  He knew that to fulfill God’s plan meant that there was no escaping the Cross.  But because He knew who He was; because He was clear in His mission; He didn’t back away.  Even in telling the parable, Jesus shared His identity.  Note carefully how the parable reads.  Jesus deliberately removes Himself from the succession of the prophets.  They were servants.  He is the Son.  So, in the parable He makes a claim that none can fail to see — He is God’s chosen one, God’s anointed King.  It’s no wonder that this quotation about the stone which the builders rejected, became a favorite quotation in the early church as a description of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

In Peter’s Pentecost sermon, in which he lays out the whole story of God’s salvation, he talks about Jesus in this way.  In Acts 4, verses 11 and 12 we read: “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’  There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”  And in chapter 2 of his first epistle, he wrote the invitation, “Come to Him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight, chosen and precious” (I Peter 2:4).

Later in verse 7 he quoted these very verses which Jesus quoted from Isaiah, “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.”   So this metaphor of the rejected stone became the favorite description of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  He is the rejected stone that has become the head of everything.  The question is, “Has He become the head of our life?”

Some time ago, I came across the writing of a young and brilliant Chinese student that I’d like to share in conclusion.  It’s very simple and very direct.  It goes right to the heart of what I’m talking about today.  Listen to what he says.  “I took the New Testament home with me, and I sat down on the floor and read it through before I did anything else. It was the most incredible thing that I had ever experienced in all of my life.  I had read the great writings of Confucius; I wanted to satisfy my hungry heart there.  I knocked at the door, but no answer came, for Confucius was dead.  I read the message of Buddhism, too, seeking that for which my soul so profoundly longed.  And I knocked on the door of Buddhism also, but again no answer came, for Buddha was dead as well.  I read the Koran.  My soul longed to find peace there.  I knocked on that door like all of the others, but again no answer came, for Muhammad was dead.

I read the writings of the great patriots and the great religious leaders of the past.  I knocked and knocked on their doors, too, but still there was no answer for me at all.”  And then he said, “I began reading this New Testament, and I found that it claimed that its author was alive.  And so, I knocked at the door one more time, and sure enough I found the living Christ!  He came into my soul, and he filled my hungry heart with peace!”  It truly is that simple. 

Jesus in His sermon on the mount said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain fell, the torrents raged, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because its foundation was on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain fell, the torrents raged, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its collapse!”  “The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.”  The question is, on what foundation have we built our lives?


Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.

< back to Sermon archive