Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Sermon for Third Mid-week Lent service - Matt. 21:33-46

                                                                        Mid-Lent 3
                                                                        Mt 21:33-46

            Most people would agree that Tom Brady is not just one of the best quarterbacks today, but also one of the best to ever play the game. Brady, along with Coach Bill Belichick, has been the cornerstone of the sustained success that the New England Patriots have had during the last fifteen years.  Brady has led the Patriots six times to the Super Bowl and has won four championships.  He has thrown for the most postseason yards and touch downs in NFL history, and the most touchdowns in Super Bowl history.
            Yet even more remarkable than his success, is the fact that Brady was rejected as a draft pick 198 times before he was taken in the NFL draft.  Brady played his college ball at Michigan where he was a back up his first two years.  His junior and senior year he played, but always was in competition with fellow quarterback Drew Henson.  Brady had success had Michigan – he was a honorable mention All Big Ten player both years. But as the “honorable mention” part of that title indicates, he also wasn’t overwhelming.  There was nothing that made you think this was the next great quarterback in the NFL.
            In the 2000 NFL draft, Brady was chosen by the New England Patriots in the sixth round.  He was the 199th player taken.  This means that 198 times, teams rejected Brady and chose someone else over him.  He was the seventh quarterback taken in the draft – so teams thought that there were six quarterbacks who were a better prospect. The player rejected by so many teams – the sixth round draft pick – has gone on to be the cornerstone of a Super Bowl dynasty.
            In our text tonight, Jesus continues in his Holy Week confrontation with the Jewish religious leaders.  He tells a parable that convicts them of their rejection of Jesus.  Using the text of Psalm 118, he identifies himself as the stone rejected by the builders which by God’s doing has become the cornerstone.
            Last week we heard Jesus tell a short parable about how a father told his two sons to go work in his vineyard. The vineyard was a symbol in the Old Testament for Israel.  If someone missed this in the last parable, the beginning of the parable in our text makes it impossible to overlook.  He talks about the master of a house who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower for it.
            It immediately becomes obvious that the vineyard is Israel because this is the very description found in Isaiah chapter 5 where the prophet writes, “Let me sing for my beloved
my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it.”
            In Jesus’ parable the owner leased the vineyard to tenants, and went into another country. The absentee landlord was a common phenomenon in first century Palestine.  When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. However the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them.
            Then the owner did something surprising. He sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ However, when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
            Jesus then asked the religious leaders, “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” The leaders were caught up in the story and they indignantly replied: “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”
            And in that statement they walked right into the trap.  Our Lord had been describing Israel and the way that she had treated the prophets sent to her by God. The son sent by the owner was, of course, Jesus himself.  Then Jesus responded with words from Ps. 118: “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.”
            Jesus was the stone which was at that moment being rejected by the builders – the religious leaders of the people.  In a few days they would reject him by putting him to death.  But in raising Jesus from the dead, God would show that in fact Jesus is the cornerstone upon which forgiveness, salvation and the Church herself is built.  In a surprising and marvelous move, God was taking the stone rejected by the builders and making it the cornerstone – the most important and foundational stone in the building.  And God would do something else surprising.  He would take the kingdom of God and give it to all people who believe in Jesus Christ – both Jew and Gentile alike.
            The builders – the Jewish religious leaders – rejected the Jesus for a number of reasons.  For the chief and priests and the Sadducees, Jesus was a threat to their wealth and status. The temple and its worship was the basis for both of these and they wanted these things more than for God to provide the temple’s fulfillment.
            For the elders of the people and the Pharisees Jesus was a threat to the perception of their status before God and before others.  They thought they knew what they had to do in order to have a right standing before God.  They thought that they could do it, and also that they could tell others what they should do.
            Jesus Christ blew all of this away, and so the religious leaders rejected this stone.  Instead of a cornerstone, it became a stone of stumbling – a scandal.  The same thing is true for you.  You want Jesus to make your life comfortable.  He can give you the peace of knowing that you have salvation and eternal life, so that then you can get on with enjoying life on your terms. Put in an appearance at church on some Sundays and you’ve got it made.
            Yet this is not the way things work with Jesus.  In fact, to think in these terms is to reject the stone.              Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Jesus calls you to the all encompassing dedication of faith that puts him first and you second in everything.  As we saw dramatically displayed on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea not long ago in the witness of the twenty-one martyrs who were beheaded – we may even be called to place Jesus before our own life. 
            In our own setting it is more likely to be the cost of saying my child can’t play soccer or baseball on Sunday morning because that is when we go to church.  It is more likely to be the cost of the world’s contempt as we speak the truth about God’s gift of sexuality.  It is more likely to be the cost of having a little less money for the fun things you want to do, so that you can support the work of the Gospel here at Good Shepherd and around the world.
            The season of Lent calls us to examine our lives and consider the ways that in which we choose something else over Jesus.  It calls us to repent – to confess this openly as the sin that it is.  It calls us to embrace in faith the stone rejected by the builders, yet made by God to be the cornerstone. In the events of Holy Week and Easter we will see that this is indeed God’s doing for our salvation, and it is marvelous in our eyes.  

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