Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Nineteenth and Twentieth Sundays after Pentecost

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 23)
October 15, 2017
Text: Matt. 22:1-14

            The grapes have been gathered in and the wine is now ready.  The food has been prepared and the Table is set.  The LORD of hosts makes for all people a Feast of rich food and aged wine.  The meat is full of marrow and marbled, and the wine is the very best (Is. 25:6).  Our Lord Jesus has swallowed up death forever in His death on the cross for our sins and His resurrection from the dead.  The veil has been removed.  He wipes away our tears.  For He has saved us.  Our life is in Him.  And in Him we have joy.  Jesus lives, the victory’s won.  He died, and He is risen from the dead, and behold, He lives forevermore.  And now it’s time to party.  This is no time for fasting.  This is time for feasting and drinking.  The Kingdom has come, and soon everyone will know.  The Bridegroom has come to claim His Bride and enthrone Her by His side.  Rejoice.  Raise your glass, a toast to Christ and His holy Church.  Come to the Altar and drink deeply of His mercy, and know that this is just the beginning of the celebration, a foretaste of the eternal Feast to come.  His body, His blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, your eternal life and salvation. 
            Don’t let anything keep you from this Feast.  There is nothing more important for you to do right now than be here, where Jesus is, the Bridegroom, bestowing His gifts on you, His wedding guests, His Bride.  He washes you and clothes you in His own righteousness in Holy Baptism.  He bespeaks you righteous and forgives your sins in His Gospel and Absolution.  He sets a Table before you that makes the miracle at the wedding in Cana look like child’s play.  Where else could you possibly be than here, where heaven comes down to earth and you’re surrounded by angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, the Church of all times and places, all your loved ones who have died in the faith, and Jesus enthroned on the Altar in bread and wine?
            But so many do not want to come to the Feast.  And it breaks our hearts.  We all have loved ones who have received the invitation, from our own mouths.  “Come to Church with me.  I want to share this with you.  I want you to know the peace that passes all understanding.  I want you to know Jesus and His love for you, that God is your loving heavenly Father, and I want you to have His Spirit upon you and in you.  I want you to have eternal life.  Come to the party.  Come to the wedding Feast!”…  But they say no. 
            Now, in one sense, this should give us great boldness in confessing Christ all the more and inviting people to Church all the more.  The worst they can say is “no.”  Once you get past that fear and that initial sting of rejection, you just keep praying for that person and you keep speaking of Jesus and even inviting them as the opportunity presents itself.  Love can take the rejection.  Love, remember… true Christian love… says and does the hard things for the beloved and even bears the pain of rejection willingly for the sake of the beloved… as Jesus did for you and for me on the cross. 
            But it is the reasons people give for missing the Feast that is so heartbreaking, the excuses and the misplaced priorities.  In the parable, one goes off to tend his farm, and another to his business.  These are the folks who are too busy with the real matters of the world for all that Jesus stuff.  Those, at least, are better excuses than I usually hear as a pastor.  I’ve been told, “Pastor, Sunday is the only day I can possibly do the laundry!”  Okay.  “It’s my only day to relax.”  “It’s my only day to sleep in.”  “Your sermons are always the same anyway.  Too much doctrine.  Your preaching doesn’t inspire me.”  “The service takes too long.”  “Church is boring.”  “Mrs. Grumpypants said a mean thing to me once.  I don’t remember what it was, but it really, really, hurt.”  “I don’t like the music.”  “I don’t like the people.”  “I don’t like you, Pastor.”  Well, except for the last one maybe, these are actual excuses I’ve heard from the mouths of real people.  Beloved, don’t let them ever be your excuse.  Be here, as often as possible.  Not just because that’s the Commandment (although it is… review your Catechism, the Third Commandment and its meaning: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”[1])  But come because of the Promise: Here is Jesus, with all His gifts, for you!  To not come would be like a Bride refusing to come to her own wedding.  Don’t be ridiculous.  And remember that the things you receive here from Jesus are eternal.  Everything out there in the world, even the very best of the world for which we give thanks to God, only lasts the few measly years of your earthly life.
            But then there are those who have a violent reaction to the festal invitation.  There is the one in the Parable who seizes the King’s servants and treats them shamefully and kills them.  That’s the world’s reward for Christians, for pastors, and especially for the Apostles.  We think of the great persecution suffered by our brothers and sisters throughout the world who are being seized and abused and killed on account of Christ.  We’re very blessed here in the United States with our freedom of religion.  But how easily that can and will slip through our fingers.  It’s slipping as we speak while Christians are made to pay for abortions and bake cakes for gay weddings and our preaching is legislated against as hate speech.  So it goes.  This is what we are promised in this fallen world.  Jesus never said it would be easy.  He said we should take up our cross and follow Him.  To Golgotha.  The road to resurrection always leads through death. 
            What does the King do to those who refuse His invitation?  This is a tough one for us to read.  We don’t like it, but then again, don’t blame me.  Blame Jesus.  He says it.  The King is angry and sends in His troops.  He destroys those murderers and burns their city.  In the context of the Parable, Jesus is speaking about the Jews’ rejection of Jesus and refusal to have any part in His Kingdom.  He is speaking of their persecution of the Prophets and Apostles and the holy Church.  What happens?  Here come the Romans.  A+D 70, the Holy City is destroyed and many Jews are killed.  But this, of course, is not the whole sum and substance of our Lord’s warning.  The siege of Jerusalem is a type of the greater wrath to come on all who reject the King and His Son, Jesus.  There is a Judgment Day and there is a hell and people really do go there.  This world will be destroyed, St. Peter says, by fire (2 Peter 3:7, 10; ESV): “the heavens and the earth that now exist,” he says, “are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly… But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”  Those who reject the Lord’s invitation will perish eternally with the devil and his angels in hell, where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 22:13).  That is the Word of Jesus Christ.  It’s no joke. 
            But the Lord will not have His banquet Table empty.  So when the invited guests refuse to come, He sends His servants, His pastors and His Christians, you, out to the highways and byways to invite to the wedding as many as they find.  Jesus eats with tax collectors and prostitutes, so you can imagine the kind of crowd He wants us to gather in.  He even wants the Missouri Synod Lutherans.  He even wants you.  Yes, you.  In spite of all you’ve done.  In spite of all the mean words you’ve said.  Even you, Mrs. Grumpypants.  And you, you Mr. Oversensitive who can’t let the mean thing Mrs. Grumpypants said go.  You’re both forgiven, and Jesus wants you for Himself.  Forgive each other, and let’s move on.  And you, Mr. Looks At What He Shouldn’t on the Internet.  Jesus wants you.  He forgives you that sin.  And you, Ms. Gossip, and you, little Jimmy Mischief.  He wants you at His Table.  And He forgives you all your sins.  There is even room at the Table for Pastor Krenz, so great is the Lord’s mercy.  And so we rejoice.  Always.  I will say it again, rejoice.
            When a great noble, like a king, threw a wedding feast in the ancient world, he would clothe the guests in splendid robes upon their arrival.  This tells us what is going on with the last part of the parable.  The man, whom the King, incidentally, addresses as “Friend,” has had the audacity to walk into the wedding Feast like he has a right to be there.  Like he’s worthy.  Like his own clothing is splendid enough.  So he refuses the robe offered him freely upon his entrance to the Feast.  He refuses the free gift of the King.  Beloved in the Lord, you have no right to come to this Feast, and you are not worthy.  The robes you bring to the Feast are torn and tattered and smeared with the ugliness of sin.  What Jesus does in Holy Baptism is wash you and anoint your wounds with the salve of His Gospel, and put a new robe on you, the robe of His righteousness, the robe of Christ Himself.  “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” St. Paul writes (Gal. 3:27).  The robe is free.  It is provided for you when you enter the Holy Church.  It is a gift.  Baptism is not your work for Jesus.  It is Jesus’ work for you.  He does it.  And so you are clothed with Him.  If you refuse to wear His righteousness, though… If you insist that you are worthy and you can wear your own works, your own righteousness, and that you deserve to be here… You are the man who is cast into the outer darkness.  The Feast is for you, but it is for you on Jesus’ terms, not your own.  The Feast is for the baptized who have been instructed and absolved.  Everyone is welcome at this Table, but there is a way you come to it, and that way is what Jesus tells us at the end of the Gospel of Matthew: Make disciples by baptizing and teaching.  Baptism and instruction.  That is the way.
            So, now, here you are, baptized into Christ, clothed with Him by grace alone, and the Table is set.  Come to the Feast!  Come, you rich.  Come, you poor.  Come, oh sinner, sainted by the blood of Jesus.  Come with singing and great rejoicing.  Your sins are forgiven.  Jesus died for you.  Jesus is risen for you.  You shall not die, but live.  Let’s eat, and let’s drink, and let’s be merry, for tomorrow we do not die.  We live forever with Christ, who will raise us from the dead.  And He’s here, now.  Really and substantially.  His body.  His blood.  On the Altar.  For you.  Rejoice in the Lord, always, beloved!  I will say it again, rejoice!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.             

[1] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 24)
October 22, 2017
Matt. 22:15-22

            Our Lord Jesus teaches us that now, in this earthly life, we do owe certain things to Caesar, to the earthly government that God has established for the ordering of our outward life together.  St. Paul tells us in Romans 13 that every person should “be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (v. 1; ESV).  That means that government is God’s good gift to us, to be received with thanksgiving and honored by proper use.  We call this in theology, “The Kingdom of God’s Left Hand,” which He rules by human reason, the coercive force of the law of the land, and the sword placed in the hands of human rulers.  He gives us this gift to protect society from descending into chaos, with each person doing what is right in his own eyes.  God gives the gift of government to approve what is good and to carry out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer, again, St. Paul’s words (vv. 3-4).  This is a Fourth Commandment issue: “Honor your father and your mother,” and by extension, all who are in authority over you.  “What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”[1]  This is what we owe Caesar.  And so we should render tax money.  We should render service to our neighbor by participation in civil society.  We’ve been granted the marvelous privilege of voting here in America, and we should do so with our biblically informed Christian consciences.  Those of us who can should serve in public office.  We should honor our leaders.  We should respect their office.  St. Paul reminds us that we should pray for them (1 Tim. 2:1-2), a very important responsibility we have as members of the Christian Church.  We should support them.  We should speak the truth in love to them and to our fellow citizens.  And we should obey them in everything, with one major exception: When the governing authorities ask us to violate God’s Law, then “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).   Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s (Matt. 22:21).  Our citizenship is in heaven, to be sure, but God has placed us in the world to love and serve our neighbor in the world, and to participate fully in the world as Christians, as Christ’s emissaries who work faithfully in our various vocations and confess Christ to those around us.
            But Jesus says you are also to render to God the things that are God’s (v. 21), and this is really the point of our text.  What is God’s?  Everything.  You are to render to God everything.  Your very self.  All that you are and all that you have.  No exceptions.  After all, you are not your own (1 Cor. 6:19).  God created you, body and soul, for Himself.  And in spite of your unfaithfulness to Him, your selling yourself to other masters, to the devil, to the world, to the sin that dwells in your flesh, God has redeemed you by the blood and death of His Son, Jesus Christ.  You were bought at a price (v. 20).  And now God has made you His own by applying that redemption to you in Baptism.  He has breathed His Spirit into you, so that by faith in Jesus Christ you are a true son of the Father.  Now you live under Him in His Kingdom, under His rule.  This is what we call in theology, “The Kingdom of God’s Right Hand,” ruled by the Word of God.  And that which you owe God in this Kingdom is comprehensive.  You owe Him everything.  You are to render unto Him everything. 
            But you haven’t so rendered, neither to Caesar, nor to God.  You haven’t rendered to Caesar.  You regularly break the speed limit.  You fail to report income paid under the table.  You don’t just criticize your leaders, you disrespect their office.  You so often fail to serve your fellow citizens, all the while patting yourself on the back for all that you do and for the model citizen you are.  And as for God, you have not begun to render unto Him the things that are His.  It is not just a matter of what you do or don’t put in the offering plate (though you should note how you think nothing of it when you spend $5 on a cup of coffee at Starbucks, but you feel oh so generous when you drop an extra five dollar bill at Church).  You begrudge the Lord the demands He makes of you, the time He wants you to spend in the Divine Service, in Bible Study, and in prayer and devotion at home.  His Commandments with which you disagree or which you don’t like.  His demand that you love the neighbor you can’t stand, forgive the brother who has sinned against you, live for others, live for God, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.  Repent.  You have not rendered to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.  You have not rendered to God the things that are God’s.
            But there is One who has: Christ Jesus, your Savior and your Substitute.  His rendering counts as your own.  He perfectly rendered unto Caesar, even in His mother’s womb, traveling to Bethlehem for the Census, for the tax.  He was obedient to the governing authorities.  He stood before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, submitted to his judgment, confessed that Pilate’s authority had been given him from above (John 19:11).  He submitted to the soldiers, bore their insults, their mockery, their torture, as they carried out His execution, crucifixion between two thieves.  And this He did, even as He rendered unto God the things that are God’s: Himself, all that He was, and all that He had, right down to the very last drop of His sacred blood.  He never sinned.  He perfectly fulfilled God’s Law.  He loved God with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And He perfectly loved His neighbor, loved you, giving Himself up for you, for your redemption and the forgiveness of your sins. 
            Therefore God, His heavenly Father, raised Him from the dead.  And now, incredibly, incomprehensibly, this Jesus, the Son of God, your Savior, renders unto you the things that are God’s.  He renders unto you forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation, His love, His care, His protection, His divine help, His Holy Spirit, His divine Sonship, the inheritance of the Kingdom of God, heaven, the resurrection, and all things.  He renders unto you His Body given for you, His Blood shed for you, His Words spoken for you, His intercession before the Father for you.  Mystery of mysteries, He renders unto you what He does not owe you, to you who owe Him everything.  He renders unto you, that He might render you to the Father.  “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one,” He says to His Father (John 18:9).  He renders to God all that you are and all that you have.  He renders you wholly and completely.  He renders everything.  He renders you as God’s own Child, and as one who can pray with Him, as He has taught you, “Our Father who art in heaven.” 
            Now you are a citizen of God’s Kingdom.  And this frees you to render unto Caesar, to live in this world for the sake of the world.  Earthly governments will never be perfect and most earthly rulers won’t even be Christians.  America will never be the Kingdom of God on earth, nor will Israel, or any other nation.  In fact, many earthly governments and rulers will be patently evil.  They will persecute Christians.  They will rule tyrannically.  They will kill the unborn and the elderly.  They will commit genocide.  They will make marriage meaningless.  They will be cruel taskmasters.  But behind them, and in spite of them, and contrary to their wicked designs, God will be ordering and preserving the world through them for the sake of His Christians, for you, and for those to be added to God’s Kingdom by coming to faith in Christ.  So in spite of it all, do what Jesus and St. Paul tell you to do.  Pay your taxes.  Obey your leaders (but give your first obedience to God).  Honor them.  Serve them.  Love them.  Pray for them.  But remember they and you belong to God.  The earthly authorities may rule a town, a state, or a country, but God rules everything.  And He loves you.  He will prevail in the end.  You will be saved, and justice and righteousness will triumph in that Day.  You’ll see.  “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Ps. 27:14).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. .Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Seventeenth and Eighteenth Sundays after Pentecost

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 21)
October 1, 2017
Text: Matt. 21:23-32

            The question is one of authority.  Who authorized Jesus to do and speak as He did?  Who authorized Him to enter Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:10; ESV)?  Who authorized Him to cleanse the Temple, driving out the merchants and the money changers, and calling the sacred precincts, “My House” (v. 13; emphasis added)?  These are the events just prior to our text.  Who authorized Jesus to criticize and rebuke the Pharisees and Scribes, the Chief Priests and the Elders of the people?  Just who does this Jesus think He is, anyway?  And it is an incredibly important question, that of authority.  Because it makes all the difference between whether Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior… or a self-appointed, delusional (or fraudulent) maniac.  “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (v. 23).  Jesus answers the Chief Priests and Elders with a similar question.  “The baptism of John, from where did it come?  From heaven or from man?” (v. 25).  What authority did John have to preach and to baptize, to call the people to repentance, hear their confession of sin, and baptize them for forgiveness?  Was John’s ministry from God, or from man?  For if John’s ministry is from man, he is a counterfeit prophet.  But if John’s ministry is from God, then you must believe him, including and especially his testimony about Jesus, that He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).  So the answer to both questions is one and the same.  Jesus’ authority to do and speak as He does is the same as that of John.  And despite the Jews’ inability to answer the question, the conclusion is inescapable.  The authority is that of the living God, who made heaven and earth.
            The question of authority is as important to you as it was to them.  Because you follow the authority you believe to be legitimate.  Unbelievers don’t think Jesus has divine authority.  They believe His authority is from man.  So they don’t follow Him.  You Christians believe Jesus’ authority is from the Father in heaven, and from His own nature and essence as God in human flesh.  So you believe His Word and you trust Him for the forgiveness of sins, salvation, daily help and assistance, and provision for your every need of body and soul.  You trust Him because you believe He has authority to deliver these things.  And so also you believe that He exercises authority in His Church through the ministry of the Word.  So you believe the Absolution spoken by your pastor.  You believe what he teaches and preaches.  You believe what you hear from his mouth about water being a Baptism of rebirth and renewal, about bread and wine being Christ’s true Body and Blood.  You believe it, not because you believe in the man under the robes, but because you believe in the Christ who sent him.  You believe in the divine authority of the Words spoken in the stead and by the command of the Lord Jesus.  The question of authority is vital.  Because the forgiveness of your sins and your eternal salvation hang in the balance.  This is a matter of eternal life and death. 
            The problem comes when we let our own authority trump that of Jesus.  Of course, we have no real authority, but we think we do.  And we think others do.  We are so puffed up by our own perceived authority, power, prestige.  We believe we are the judges of good and evil.  We say things like, “I just can’t believe in a God who would…” do this, that, or the other thing we disagree with or that doesn’t fit our definition of love.  And so we make the same mistake Adam and Eve made in the Garden.  You can just hear Eve saying to herself, “I just can’t believe in a God who would withhold from us fruit that is so pleasing to the eye, good for food, and able to make one wise.”  And Adam saying, “I just can’t believe in a God who wouldn’t want me to make my wife happy by eating this food she has set before me.  After all, it’s just a little bite, and how can God be so judgmental when my wife and I are acting out of love for one another?”
            The reality is, though, Adam and Eve had no authority to take and eat.  And the serpent had no authority to speak to them.  And the authority Adam and Eve thought they possessed, was, in reality, slavery to demonic deception.  Just as our own perceived authority is, in reality, that same slavery to deception.  In other words, there is nothing autonomous, self-determining, about this.  It’s all an illusion, a deception from the evil one.  The reality is, too, that our perceived authority is beholden to the unbelieving world.  We pander to the wise of this world, the elite, the influential powers, the culture, and we shape our opinions accordingly.  We trust in the media.  We worship our entertainers, even calling them idols.  We believe our politicians can save us from ruin, disaster, and death.  Because we trust their authority above that of Jesus!  And most of all, we trust ourselves.  Why is the authority of Jesus and His Word such a threat to us?  Because it threatens our idols, and chiefly the idol of self.  If Jesus has authority over me, I can no longer live for myself, for my own pleasure, power, and wealth.  If Jesus is my King, He rules over me by His Word, and my every thought must be taken captive to Him.  If Jesus is my Judge, I must confess I have no righteousness of my own, but only sin, rebellion, and death.  If Jesus is my Savior, I must give up all thoughts of saving myself.  I must admit that I have been deceived, that I am in slavery to the devil.  I must admit that it takes the blood and death of God to free me from my chains.  If Jesus has the authority, I do not.  And if Jesus has the authority, I must die.  I must daily die in repentance and confession of my sins.  I must daily emerge and arise from the waters of my Baptism to live before God in the newness of life that is the life of Christ, under His authority, in His Kingdom, with His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness as my own.
            The incredible reality is that this Jesus, God in human flesh, the eternal Son of the Father, through whom all things were made and by whose Word of power all things are held together… this One who has authority over all things in heaven and on earth, submitted Himself to us, for us and for our salvation.  He submitted Himself to the Chief Priests and the Elders of the people, submitted Himself to Pontius Pilate and the Roman Government, to the soldiers, the whips, the nails, and the wood.  He who is without sin submitted Himself to our sin, bearing its burden.  He who is the Life submitted Himself to our death.  He who is the beloved of the Father submitted Himself to the Father’s wrath.  For us.  For you.  For me.  To bring our sin to justice.  To cancel our debt to God.  To render the full payment for our sin by His Blood.
            But in submitting to this authority, He takes the authority captive.  He seizes the authority of death by dying.  He snatches away the authority of sin by drowning it in the water and blood flowing from His pierced side.  He crushes the authority and the very head of the serpent by taking the serpent’s venom into Himself.  All of that false authority is at an end in Christ.  He has taken the authority for Himself.  He is risen from the dead.  And He leads a host of captives in His train.  The tax collectors and prostitutes go marching into the Kingdom of God (Matt. 21:31).  For they believe the preaching of John.  They repent.  They recognize the authority of the preaching.  They believe the authority of Christ who forgives their sins and calls them out of captivity to new life in Himself.  And so you.  You hear the preaching of repentance.  You believe it has divine authority.  So you repent.  You repent of your idolatry.  You repent of your self-determination.  You repent of following after every false authority.  You confess your sins.  And now you listen only for the voice of Jesus.  You take every thought captive to Him.  For His is the voice of forgiveness.  His is the voice of salvation.  His is the voice of life. 
            All authority in heaven and on earth has been given by God to our Lord Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20).  It is on that authority that Jesus commands His Church to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching.  We are gathered by His authority into one holy Christian and apostolic Church.  And He is with us always to the very end of the age.  The question of authority has been answered decisively in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  He is the Word of the Father.  And with all the authority of Almighty God, He bespeaks you righteous.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 22)
October 8, 2017
Text: Matt. 21:33-46

            In the Old Testament, God planted the Vineyard of His people, Israel.  With them He established His covenant.  He made them His own.  Not because they were a big nation, or a strong nation, or even a holy nation prior to His call, but by grace, because God’s love does not find its object already loveable, but it creates its object out of that which is unlovable.  They were His people, because He declared it so.  And He was their own, their God, a God for them and not against them, who released them from their bondage in Egypt, brought them through the wilderness by way of the Red Sea, gave them His Word, His commandment, and the blood of His sacrifices to cover their sins.  He dwelt with them in the Tabernacle, seated upon the mercy seat, enthroned between the cherubim.  He went with them and led them through the wilderness, in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  He saved them from their enemies with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  He brought them through the Jordan and into the Promised Land.  He drove out the nations before them and settled them in a good land, a land flowing with milk and honey, a land where every man enjoyed his inheritance, possessed his own plot and his own vine and fig tree.  It was a holy dream that puts the American dream to shame.  And it all pointed to something even bigger.  From this nation would come the One, the Promised Messiah, who would save Israel and all people from their sins. 
            Yes, through Abraham’s children, through Israel, through the Promised Seed, the Savior, all the nations of the earth would be blessed.  God expanded His covenant, expanded the walls of His Vineyard, to include people from every nation, tribe, people, and language.  In the New Testament, Israel is the Holy Christian Church.  She is the Vineyard.  And here you are, seated comfortably in the pew, planted firmly in the Vineyard.  By grace.  God has made you His own.  Not because you deserved it.  Not because you merited it.  But because God is good.  And He is your God, a God for  you and not against you, who has released you from your bondage to sin and death and brought you through the Red Sea of Holy Baptism, given you His Word and Gospel and the blood of the once for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for your forgiveness and life.  He dwells with you here, in the Vineyard, in His Word and holy Sacraments.  Jesus dwells with you here, on the altar, enthroned between the candles.  He leads you through the wilderness of this fallen world into the Promised Land of Heaven and the Resurrection of the dead!  In this Vineyard, Christ is the Vine, you are the branches.  As long as you abide in Him, you bear much fruit, but apart from Him, you can do nothing (John 15:5).  The Kingdom is yours, beloved.  And here you are in the Vineyard to drink wine with the Master, His true blood, poured out for you.
            In the parable, the Master of the House is God the Father.  The fruit He seeks is mercy and forgiveness and love for your neighbor, fruit that blossoms out of faith in the Master.  The tenants are the religious leaders, the chief priests and Pharisees.  The servants are the prophets.  And that is something worth thinking about.  The priests (i.e. the Sadducees) and the Pharisees (i.e. the rabbis), do not act like the servants God has called them to be.  They act like tenants whose only ambition is to make money and live in luxury.  So God sends His servants, the prophets.  He sends them to preach.  He sends them to call the people, including the clergy, back to faithfulness, to produce good fruit in keeping with their status as the children of God, the fruit of mercy, the fruit of love.  But what do they do, these worthless tenants?  They persecute the servants of the living God.  They beat one, kill another, and stone yet another.  They saw Isaiah in two.  They cart Jeremiah off to Egypt and kill him there.  They murder Zechariah the son of Berechiah between the altar and the sanctuary.  Yet God, in an act of unimaginable grace, sends even more servants than the first.  He keeps sending His prophets, keeps sending His Word.  Still, the people do not listen.  They plug their ears, kill the prophets, and stone those sent to them.  It’s enough to make one weep.  But God does not give up.  In an act of mercy beyond all telling, to make the tenants His own once again, He sends not a servant, but His Son.  “They will respect my son,” He says (Matt. 21:37; ESV).  And what do they do?  Well, you know the story.  It is the foundational story of the holy Christian Church, and that upon which the whole destiny of the world hangs.  They throw Him out of the Vineyard, outside the walls of Jerusalem.  They nail Him to a tree and lift Him up between two criminals and leave Him there to die, accursed, writhing in agony, heaving for every breath that gives Him no relief, but keeps Him alive all the longer to suffer.  The stone has been rejected by the builders.  The Master’s Son has been abused and murdered.  His own people have rejected their Messiah.
            Therefore, what will the Master do to those wicked tenants?  That is the question, and we all have a stake in it, for we are all, according to the flesh, the wicked tenants who nailed our Lord Jesus to the cross by our sins.  We all have failed to produce the fruits of repentance and faith, mercy, forgiveness, and love.  We all have failed to hear and heed the Word of the Lord, proclaimed by His prophets, to hold the Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it.  And we… we put Him there on the wood.  We did it.  We don’t get to use the old excuse that we’re innocent by virtue of not yet being born.  It is just as much our sin that nails the Lord as it was the Jews and the Romans.  What will He do to us?  How is God toward us now that we have crucified His Son?
            He does not do what human justice demands.  The beautiful thing is, our gracious Father in heaven uses that very death of His Son on the cross, not as a reason to throw us out and put us all to a miserable death, but to save us.  The incomprehensible mystery of the Gospel is this: The Father sends His Son for this purpose, that He bear our iniquity and suffer and die as payment for our sin.  And that in His death, we receive the inheritance, the Vineyard, the very Kingdom of God.  The tenants were right in this respect: In killing the Son, the inheritance is ours.  And the stone the builders rejected?  It has become the cornerstone, the chief stone in the building of the Holy Christian Church.  For Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  This is the Day that the LORD has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  Your sins are forgiven.  Your debt is paid in full.  The Vineyard is yours.  And you reign with the Son of God in the Kingdom of His Father. 
            Unless, of course, you don’t want this indescribable gift.  He will not force you.  This is the issue with the Jews, the chief priests, the Pharisees, the scribes.  Even after they crucified the Lord of glory, God sent His servants.  He sent the Apostles and Evangelists.  To this very moment He sends His pastors.  There is still room for repentance and faith.  But the time is short.  For Jerusalem, the time was up in the year A+D 70.  By then the Gospel had been preached.  They had Jesus Himself for three years, preaching and healing and casting out demons, not to mention raising the dead.  They had all the signs that accompanied His death: the darkness, the earthquake, the tearing of the curtain, and the bodies of the saints popping out of their graves alive!  And they had the eyewitness accounts of His own bodily resurrection from the dead.  What more did they need?  The Apostles preached, and the Apostles died.  James, at the very least, died at the hands of the Jews.  Stephen was stoned to death with the future St. Paul standing by, nodding his approval.  And Paul goes to Rome where he will eventually be martyred because of the accusations of the Jews.  At some point, God gives unbelievers what they want.  He forsakes them.  He will not force Himself on them as a Father.  But He is the only true God, and if they will not have Him in His mercy, they will have Him in His wrath.  Jerusalem serves as the warning.  In A+D 70 the Romans lay siege.  They sack Jerusalem and destroy the temple.  Let this be a solemn warning for all who persist in rejection of Jesus.  There is a hell.  What happened to Jerusalem will happen to you outside of Christ.
            But you who are in Christ, baptized into Christ, who live and dwell in Christ, and Christ in you, you who believe the preaching of God’s servants… Yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.  Yours is the Vineyard.  And you are not tenants.  You are sons.  Yes, even you daughters, you are sons in this sense: You are the heir.  You get the inheritance.  With Jesus Christ, who died, and who is risen from the dead.  And here we are, beloved, gathered into the Vineyard where the Holy Spirit has planted us, and the Father spreads His Table before us, where the Son Himself serves up a Feast, His Body, His Blood, vintage wine and the Bread of Life.  Yes, this is the Lord’s doing, this Feast of resurrection joy.  And it is marvelous in our eyes.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.