First Congregational Church
October 4, 2020
World Communion Sunday, 18th Sunday after Pentecost
“One More Time”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I’m not certain that many people know that it’s really tough to fall in love with symphony orchestra directors, mainly because they get rejected by their overtures.
After almost thirty years of working hard in school, applying himself at college, and training and serving in the Air Force, Ole’s application to become an Astronaut was rejected. Turns out his mom was right, if he applied himself, the sky's the limit.
Depending on one’s perspective, it is either with joy or sorrow that we get to the end of the consecutive vineyard/farmer parables. Bible translator, Eugene Peterson, suggests that parables are like narrative time bombs that steal into people’s hearts, confusing them initially, throwing them off balance for a while. People back in the day had no defenses up to keep the tales out of their minds and hearts. Why would they? These are such nice stories, interesting, vivid, well-told.
I need to quote Mr. Peterson, because he puts it so well. “But at some later point the “Ah-ha!” moment may arrive as the real meaning of the story suddenly explodes in people’s minds like a time-bomb. The parables were meant to blast people into new awareness, new understandings, new ideas. “Oh my!” people would exclaim, “We thought he was talking about farmers and crops but he was really talking about us and God!!! And we maybe don’t come off looking all that great, either!!”
The parable for today is one of only three that appear in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Only the parables of The Sower, The Mustard Seed, and The Tenants get repeated in triplicate in the New Testament. It seems that these evangelists each concluded that no gospel account of Jesus’ life and ministry could be complete without these particular parables being in there somewhere. You could pick and choose among the others but not with these three parables.
Another note before we get to the reading of it. Today’s passage takes place after that first Palm Sunday, during the week of high tension in the capital of Jerusalem, as political unrest undermined the religious holy day of Passover - the night of violence that passed among the Jewish people that threatened to kill the first born of everything while they were slaves in Egypt, including Egyptians and their livestock. Against that highly charged background, Jesus changes focus - from speaking mainly to the disciples and the Jewish people - to the entire world.
And just so that you catch it when it comes, there will be a place when Jesus says something about bringing the “wretches to a wretched end.” Literally, the word wretch means evil. So the evil ones will have an evil end. Piling up the evil - twice - is like saying evil - squared.
Scripture Matthew 21:33-46
33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.
35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.
38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’[a]?
43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”[b]
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.
Thank you, Mary. In the reading of this passage, it’s easy to get drawn in, and forget to draw out. Drawing back, there is the rejection of the servants and the son, then the rejection of the cornerstone, all pointing to God rejecting those who don’t help others in the building of God’s kingdom.
Taking one more step back, the picture of God as landowner reminds us that God owns it all - and that we all are the tenants, leasing out the talents God has granted to us to be used for the greater good in the kingdom. None of it is ours, never has been and never will be.
While we are at this distanced place from the parable, thinking in terms of broad, overarching themes, we can miss a big one if we fail to take in the point about the cornerstone element. It comes from Psalm 118, where it reminds us that God sent prophets, but the people killed them, so God would send his Son, and people would kill him.
Taken as one great picture, there’s a lot of violence going on, and the question could well be asked, what does one do in response to all this violence?
From this parable, it isn’t long before Jesus gets to the Temple, where he overturns the tools of injustice - the money-changing tables in a system that kept the poor poor. Instead of returning violence - human harm - with more violence, Jesus makes a point about justice for those didn’t have any power to change things for themselves. In fact, after all of that, Jesus invites the blind and lame into the Temple, which was a huge deal, because until then, these very people were forbidden to make sacrifices in that holy place.
One more time, we will lift up the bread of life as it also symbolizes the cup of love, with millions and millions of people around the world, as we are reminded that we are all in this work together, all intended to share our gifts in making God’s kingdom come alive in all the lands and lives over which we have been given the charge to care.
On this World Communion Sunday, we come together around common elements, reminded that while they may be ground and crushed, they don’t become garbage to be cast aside, but life-giving sustenance that remind us of Christ’s overcoming of death, allowing us a life that can grow greater than any of us can realize. As we come to this time of communing with God and one another, let us give over our hearts and minds in quiet preparation to once again be the life of love to the people God has given us.
Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper
During Communion, we will pass the bread to you in your pew. You may wish to hold the bread to be able to partake of it together. Feel free to drink from the cup as you feel lead. We serve only Grape Juice. This is an open Table. All are welcome.
Let us pray. Holy and Heavenly God, we are not always cognizant of the holy work you have for us. So once again we come before you to receive your cleansing, feeding and preparation to take up the tools with which you have gifted us - tools of kindness and gentleness and truth and honor - tools that can change the world more into your kingdom. Help those who are weary to receive the rest they need for today. Help the lonely to know their work is not solitary. Help those who need inspiration to receive new light in your gifts of cup and grain, cross and hymn, love and grace. For all the gifts with which you make us rich people, all your children say, Amen
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.