Fifth Sunday in Lent
Luke 20:9-20 – But Jesus, having given them a look, said, “What then is this that is written, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
Back in my growing up days, my dad and I were pretty strong Minnesota Twins fans. We would listen to games late into the night on little transistor radios, and my very first hero in life was Harmon Killebrew, #3, an aw shucks kind of a guy who struck out a lot, wasn’t particularly good in the field, but he hit all kinds of home runs. In 1965, when it was the Twins vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, I remember the school office playing the games over the intercom in our little school / would play full nine inning games between dreaded Yankees and Twins / would see to it that Killebrew would hit at least one grand slam home run each game / would dream of playing in Metropolitan Stadium, hitting home runs to win games / would dream of the crowd standing and roaring and watching balls sail over the fences/ My dream ended in about 7th grade summer Babe Ruth baseball, when I figured out I wasn’t a very good baseball player. I wasn’t particularly good in the outfield, and I had a really hard time even making contact with the ball as a batter, much less being a home run hitter. My dream wasn’t really rooted in reality, it was all about me, wasn’t at all a prayerful approach to what God’s plan for me might be. To use the language of our Gospel lesson for today, my first dream in life was missing a (Cornerstone).
Our sermon theme today is “Living The Dream.” You have perhaps heard it said that there are three kinds of people – those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened. Another version of that might be that there are folks who are living God’s dream, those who are living their own dream, and those who have stopped dreaming and maybe never did have a dream. The prophet Joel predicted that in the latter days God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh…your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.
In our Old Testament lesson, Israel was focused on the glory days of the past, but God wanted them to see Him as their present day provider and to see an even more glorious future. They were fixed on days gone by when God had delivered them out of slavery in Egyptian, they were fixed on their triumphant crossing of the Red Sea, but God wanted them to fix their eyes on Him as deliverer from Babylon. But their return to the homeland wasn’t at all the climax of the dream God was calling them to live. God’s ultimate dream for the Babylonian exiles was that they would spend their lives (declaring His praise!) Yes, God was doing a new thing for their nation, and yes He was going to make for them a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, and yes He would be providing water for His thirsty people, and yes they would be living their dream and living happily ever after, but the joy was meant to be contagious, “the people I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.
In today’s Epistle Lesson, we see that Paul had a vision for how to live out his life as well. We see that once Jesus Christ got ahold of Paul, His life long dream was to (lose) Himself and (gain) Christ. Prior to meeting up with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Saul’s passion was to destroy Christianity, but once Jesus got ahold of him, his passion was to spread far and wide the good news of Jesus Christ. Prior to conversion, Saul was on fire for the status quo of Judaism, but once Christ called him out of darkness into a marvelous light, He was all about forgetting what was behind him and knowing Christ. He wanted to be found in Christ. He wanted nothing to do with his own righteousness and everything to do with the righteousness from God that depends on faith. His dream was to share in the sufferings of Christ, it was to become like Christ in his death and know the power of resurrection. Living the dream for Paul meant that that whatever he could do for the sake of the Gospel, he would do. Whatever he could suffer for the sake of His Savior, he would suffer. Wherever he was called to go for His Lord, even if it turned out to be a nightmare, there he would go.
As it was with the people of God in the days of Babylonian exile, as it was with St. Paul, so it is with us this very day, in this very place. God has to shatter our self-centered dreams before we can (share His vision). We see that principle getting played out also in our Gospel lesson for today. In Luke 20, Jesus is getting on the nerves of Jewish chief priests, scribes, and elders. In fact, he’s doing more than that, he’s driving them crazy with rage and jealousy. Their dream was to live out their divine appointments as the teachers of Israel, but here was Jesus standing in temple, teaching their people, and horror of horrors, the people were listening to Jesus and more than a few were believing and they were following.
When they asked Jesus by whose authority he was teaching, he answered their question with his own question.”You tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” They knew if they said John’s baptism was from man, the people would stone them to death, and if they said John’s baptism was from heaven, Jesus would ask them why then they didn’t believe John. And so they answered the way my 7th and 8th grade students occasionally answer, with a shrug of the shoulders, and “I don’t know.” And so Jesus says, if you won’t tell me and answer, then neither will I tell you by whose authority I do these things!
Instead Jesus tells them a parable meant to shatter their own self centered vision for Israel and call them to repentance. In this parable, the vineyard refers to God’s people, God is the owner of the vineyard who has done everything necessary for fruit to be produced, and the Jewish religious leaders are the tenants hired to manage the vineyard while the owner is good. Two questions we ask today to learn what it means to have our self centered dreams shattered, then replaced and aligned with our shared vision in this place to mature as disciples for Jesus Christ.
Question #1 - What kind of renters would see themselves as (owners?) The problem with these tenants was not that they were not doing their job of working the vineyard. The problem was that they refused to provide the fruit of their labor. Instead of honoring their God with their work, they were serving themselves. They were dreaming big dreams for themselves. The owner had provided them with a comfortable arrangement, they had solid employment and a secure future. Their ultimate dream wasn’t to produce fruit, it was to have the inheritance for themselves. Their dream was for the status quo to continue, for old traditions to be maintained, for their positions of power to be increased, for Roman oppression to end, for the temple of Jerusalem to be central, and for the glory days of old to return. Instead of striving to be faithful stewards of all the owner had given them, they were living with the illusion that they if they would kill the owner’s son, the vineyard would be theirs to keep.
The kingdom of God is like a man who almost dislocated his arm the other day patting himself on the back. He was congratulating himself for paying off the mortgage on his house, congratulating himself for owning nice vehicles, congratulating himself for having his finances in order, congratulating himself for planning his estate well. Yes, he is living the dream, he thinks to himself, and he doesn’t mind it at all, if others comment on what a nice life he has fashioned for himself.
Question #2 - What kind of owner would send his only son to his (violent death?) We can understand an owner who would send a servant to collect his share of the fruit, that’s what absentee landlords would do in that day. But once they beat him up and sent him away empty handed, we do not understand how a clear thinking owner would send a second servant all by himself. And when they beat up the second servant and send him away empty handed and do the same with a third servant, what owner in his right mind would send his beloved son and think they would respect him? The same kind of God who would send one prophet and then another and then another dozen to a rebellious people over the course of thousands of years, in hope that his people would repent. The same kind of God who would send his only begotten Son into this world, that whoever would believe in him would not perish but have eternal life. The same kind of father Pastor Muther preached about last Sunday, the father who would run with reckless abandon to greet and love and forgive his returning and rebellious son, the same kind of father who would kill the fatted calf and throw a party and plead with the entire family to celebrate that the lost had been found and the dead son was now alive. The same kind of God who would look you in the eyes today and say that no matter how far you have strayed, no matter how self-centered you have been, no matter how ungratefully you have lived, no matter how often you have patted yourself on the back and congratulated yourself for being so hard working and successful….he says fix your eyes on my son and do not be distracted, he has suffered all that you deserved to suffer, he has paid the price you could never begin to pay, for the joy set before him, he endured the cross and he scorned the shame, his dream is for you some day to be with him in paradise, and until that that day comes, would you do me just this one favor……….just let your light shine, let your light so shine before others that they might see your good works and give glory to my father in heaven.
THE LOOK In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus giving his listeners THE LOOK, he looks them in the eyes and tells them in no uncertain terms that you either build your house on the true cornerstone, or your house will collapse into rubble. You either believe in Jesus as Lord and are saved or you believe not and are condemned. You either live the dream that God has called you to live, you live your own self centered dream, or you just sort of wander through life with no particular dream.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where Jesus is looking them in the eyes in a regular kind of a way and inviting them to live out their dreams in a way that gives Him glory and binds them together. It’s like a young mother of five children who posts on FB, “my dream is simple. Be married to the right man and raise beautiful children.” It’s like a single person who loves to go to church, she listens closely to the sermons, she has a passion for serving ina quiet and behind the scenes way. It’s like a busy and hard working couple whose marriage has all kinds of ups and downs, and one of their favorite times in life is when they look each other in the eyes, they say they are sorry, and they forgive as they have been forgiven. It’s like a single mom whose son is going down the wrong path in life and she spends her days crying her tears and worrying until she is sick to her stomach, but at the end of most days, she is still, she knows that God is God, and she endures. Finally the kingdom of God is like an elderly couple doing less and less what they would like to be doing and more and more their dream is to take care of each other, to season their conversations with grace, and that their Christian joy would be contagious. Amen.
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