Sunday, April 01, 2007

Lent 5 Preaching

Pastor Rick Sawyer
Shepherd Lutheran Church
Brandon, MS

Luke 20:9-19/Lent5.07

Dearly beloved: Jesus is the capstone of God's Kingdom; He holds the whole realm together. By coming into our flesh, He became the best friend of sinners. But remember what a sinner is: one who is crushed; one who admits mistakes, pleads God's mercy for the sake of Jesus' good life and innocent death. As Jesus said, He did not come to call the vast majority of men, those who can point to themselves and brag that they are not like other men. Jesus came for sinners; to call us to repentance.

That is what He means by the stone that falls on men and they are crushed. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." That was Ash Wednesday, remember? Christ only came to call such into the Kingdom of God. So, when He calls out, "Repent!" sinners repent all the way, make no excuses, rise up trusting in the capstone of God's kingdom, and thank God by their lives. We may be crushed, but we are crushed by Him!

But those who stumble at what Jesus accomplishes and teaches, these are broken to pieces. They are the chaff that the wind blows away; they will not stand in the judgment of the truly righteous. The leaders of Israel knew that Jesus was talking about them being broken to pieces, killed and cast out of the vineyard. So, fulfilling Jesus parable, they plotted to kill God's Son.

Friends, our Savior and our God calls on us today to judge everything and everyone only on the basis of His Word. What He calls sin and death we must trust is so. What He calls true righteousness in His eyes must be righteousness in our own.

There is a real temptation in this world to judge according to our own whims, feelings, prejudices. Thus, people may say that they believe in God, but they deny that God would punish men harshly for their sins. "After all," the world chants, "we're only human." You and I are tempted to fall for this also. This does our friends and relatives no good, since we lose any urgency then to teach them God's Word. And this sort of lazy, hazy, self-satisfaction does us no good either.

In place of that, God's Word had us calling on Him for judgment today in the entrance Psalm: "Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; rescue me from deceitful and wicked men." Those words, of course, belong in the prayers of Jesus to His Father. He is the truly godly Man, Who fell into the hands of the wicked. But by faith, trusting that what counts for Jesus now counts for us, these words, "Vindicate me, O God; judge me righteous; rescue me from a wicked world,"- these words belong in our prayers too.

Hard words to pray; for they are hard words to believe. There is something in us, the Old Adam, that just does not want to admit that we are surrounded by evil people, or that we ourselves could be labeled as evil, unrighteous, ungodly. The great herd of humanity basically sticks together, denying any great sins, except in a few notorious criminals; and this world's religions tell us that you can buy God's favor on the cheap, with minimal effort. Just get on God's good side, somehow.

How far is this from our Lord's words of crushing and breaking to pieces! How far the world's opinion is from today's parable!

The leaders of Israel knew that Jesus was talking about them. Of course they did: they knew their Bibles! The Lord had often spoken of His people as His vineyard, the most famous being Isaiah 5, in which the Lord laments that the vineyard He planted produced no fruit. They worshiped other gods, alongside the true god; they lived only for their own pleasure. Therefore, He threatened judgment against the vineyard, taking down her hedges, removing her towers, tearing it all up. The Lord brought down that punishment in the Exile of the Jews, all the way back to the land Abraham came from originally, as if Abraham's people had never come out of Ur or the Chaldees, out of Egypt, or taken the Promised Land.

But then, as Isaiah 43 tells us today, the people were to forget all about Abraham coming out, or the Exodus from Egypt. "Forget the former things! Behold, I am doing a new thing!" That "new thing" was to bring Israel out AGAIN, back from Exile, back from Abram's native land. The desert that stood in the way would be no problem, with God providing streams in dry places. He would choose Israel again, despite their great evils of worshiping multiple gods. He would make them His people again, who would proclaim His praise.

God brought them back, as He promised. Then He did THE new thing, "the only thing that ever REALLY happened!" The Lord God of Israel sent His Son into our flesh. God had sent many great men into this world: Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets. But each sinned in his own way; none could redeem himself, much less his brothers.

But God's Son never sinned; and being God, His never-sinning counts for all men, for all who share His flesh. And God's Son suffered for sins; again, being God, His suffering removes THAT threat from us. Not one of us will ever suffer God's displeasure for what we have done.

But wait a minute! Where do you and I fit in, in this whole scheme? The vineyard is God's people Israel, descended from Abraham. He did new things to THEM, over and over, even sending His Son as a child, descended through Mary and Joseph all the way back to David and father Abraham. Yes; but St. Luke tells us that our Lord's family tree goes all the way back to Adam. He came not just for Israel, but for all of Adam's line.

And the Lord has kept His Word. Since a great many in Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah, their Savior, their God, after all His repeated sendings of His men, the Lord has been pleased to give the vineyard to others. The Promise of being planted in God's Kingdom does not belong to just one race of men. This Promise, the Promise of the Gospel, now belongs to all nations, even to the ends of the earth.

That is why, friends of Jesus, we who bear the Name of Christ, from our Baptism, have been crushed by the Word of God, by the Rock which is Christ. His Word falls on us; today He comes to us, looking. He only helps us if we are sinners. What does the Lord find when He comes to you, looking for fruit from the vineyard?

Does He find a man, woman or child crushed by His Word? Does He find His Word on your lips, in your hearts, in the ears of your children? But wait! Don't get all defensive and self-righteous. Don't do the world's thing and say: "Hey! I do some of that! I go to church. I read the Bible now and then. I'm all for God's Word."

No, no, no! A million times, No! Don't you do that! Let every other church in the world teach people to defend themselves and polish up their resume, and boast of being different. Let's us give to God what St. Paul teaches us, this sort of fruit: "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me...Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
Now, there's fruit!

Is God's Word where it should be in our lives, all over, everywhere, all the time, lighting our path, guiding our ways? "No, Pastor, it is not! But it should be! So there's another sin to admit, then forget, then run from, to the glory of God. We've been called heavenward by the Christ Who lived and died for us. So we'll strive to have God's Word where God's Word belongs."

Know what Jesus calls that response? Fruit; just what He came for; the only thing He wants. All Jesus wants from you and me are our sins. It is not the self-sufficient who need a lawyer, but those who make mistakes now and then; it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick; Jesus did not come to call righteous people, those who have attained perfection. Jesus came to call people just like you and me.

Do you children honor your parents as you should? "No, pastor, we sass back a lot! Thanks for a sin to repent of, what Jesus wants. Then, forgiven, we'll try better to take mom and dad seriously, next to God Himself." Fruit!

Do you love your spouse as you promised on your wedding day? "No, pastor, I do not. Great mounds of stuff for repentance there! Maybe I'll even apologize to my husband, to my wife! Won't that crush the Old Adam? And I can go back to God's promise: what God has joined together, let man not separate!" Fruit, abounding, not there yet, but on its way beyond the stars. That's the judgment of God! "If I got sinners, I got fruit, just what I've been looking for!"

Admit that you envy those who have more, that you lust for what God's given others. Admit, confess, apologize; then trust that your Baptism gives you another day of God's forgiveness, run from what you've been doing and strive toward heaven. In other words: You are going to live in the sky One Day soon, with God your Father and Jesus your Friend-so start getting used to the idea! Don't be smug, thinking you've reached the goal. But don't wallow, self-indulgent; nothing to live from but your sins, your failings. Ick! That's not fruit. That's just more of the same, centered on ME! Jesus and his apostle show us the better way. Jesus tells us just what fruit His Father is looking for.

Learn God's Law, live in it, and tremble. But learn the Gospel, live from sins forgiven, and proclaim God's praise. Confess your sins; but then drop sin entirely, glorify your Father who is in heaven-NEAR, NOT FAR! How can He be far from you, you who are named with the Name of Him Whom they cast out of the vineyard, out of the city, and killed? Heaven is not some distant land for you now. Heaven is where God is with you, teaching, forgiving, planting, watering, pruning, feeding, and producing fruit.

A new thing! No religion man has patched together has anything like this. All that God wants from us are our sins: confessed, fled, forgiven, forgotten. We know this, because He sent us Jesus, to bear our sin and be our Savior. In Him, we're bound for heaven. In His Supper, dear friends, this morning we're already there. In Jesus' Name, Amen

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