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10.05.14 Products that Last Matthew 21:33-46 Sermon Summary

by on October 6, 2014

This is not a parable about God’s blessing the Christian church, but about God judging the church’s leadership.

Summary Points

  • The metaphor of the vineyard in the Bible: three views
  • The three audiences of Jesus’ parable about the unfaithful tenants
  • How Faith Presbyterian Church intends to be faithful tenants: five directional goals
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

The (complementary) Lectionary today gives us three views of the vineyard. Throughout the Bible, the vineyard represents the people of God, and often includes intimate romantic overtones. See the Song of Solomon as a concentrated example. This intimacy is apparent in the first view which comes from Isaiah. It is actually a preview, and shows us the vineyard from God’s perspective.

God joyfully envisioned and labored to create a vineyard. He had hopeful expectations regarding it. God looked for justice and righteousness but instead found bloodshed and cries from the oppressed. In the following verses and chapters, Isaiah identifies some of the problems with the vineyard: unrestrained accumulation of wealth, feasting without gratitude, bribery, and perversions of justice. Giving this, God promises to cease cultivating vineyard, allowing it to suffer the consequences of nature.

The postview comes from the psalm, and offers us a perspective from within the vineyard after God’s judgment has come. It recalls earlier times of deliverance and blessing that have been replaced with judgment. It pleas for deliverance, not on the basis of its own righteousness, but because God is the owner of the vineyard.

Matthew gives us the long view. Jesus parable summarizes the life cycle of God’s people using the metaphor of the vineyard. The cycle is that we receive blessings, but withhold appropriate and active thanks. God continually invites us to be a thankful and generous people, but we ignore God’s many invitations. In the graphic description of the parable, we beat, kill, stone the servants of the owner and refuse to do right. Eventually the owner sends his son, whom we also kill, and Jesus promises that the landowner will evict the present tenants and bring in others who will bear the “fruit of righteousness.”

Whenever we read the Gospels, and especially the parables, we have to remember that there are really three audiences: Jesus’ first audience, the writers’ audience, and us.

Jesus’ first audience, when they heard this parable, would have immediately had Isaiah and the other Older Testament references to the vineyard in mind. They would recognize God as the landowner and the vineyard as themselves. And when the landowner sends his son, they would have identified him with the king, for the Older Testament often refers to the king as God’s son. They would have wondered about the tenants, however, since that is a new layer on the metaphor introduced by Jesus.

Matthew’s first audience would make the same connections as Jesus’ original audience, except that they would recognize the son as Jesus. They would see the new tenants as themselves, the Christian church. And because Matthew says so explicitly, they would understand the old tenants as the chief priests and Pharisees. It’s helpful to know that Matthew was written to a primarily Jewish Christian community, Jewish followers of Jesus whom other Jews criticized.

As we receive this parable today, as Matthew’s second audience, we realize that this is not a parable about God transferring his blessings from Jews to Christians. The vineyard is the same—the people of God. The expectation is the same—justice and righteousness, or as Jesus calls it, the “fruits of the kingdom.” This parable is about the stewardship of the vineyard. In other words, it’s about church leaders.

Who might this include? In a Presbyterian church, it certainly includes ministers of Word and Sacrament, the ordered ministries of Elder and Deacon, paid and unpaid Staff, and Volunteer ministry leaders. But because of the priesthood of all believers, everyone is implied also. One of the ways we talk about membership in our congregation is the move from being a “receiver” in the church to taking “responsibility” for the church. So this parable about church stewardship addresses a lot of people.

The Session has the responsibility to “discern and govern” a congregation. We’re the “first line” stewards of a particular vineyard. So it’s up to us to articulate how our congregation will grow Jesus’ “fruits of the kingdom.” In our congregation, we have identified five directional goals to help us do this. They are:

  1. Bible knowledge: we should know generally what’s in the Bible and how to apply it to our lives
  2. Prayer, personal and public: we should know how to give thanks to and trust God regarding our own circumstances, and be able to pray for others when called upon to do so
  3. Community: we should have friendships within the church in addition to the friendships we have outside the faith community
  4. Service: we should be a people who naturally seek to meet needs in, through, and beyond the church
  5. Worship: we should understand and appreciate the value of what we do together in worship

We believe that God has invested in this church, loves this church even as the scripture depicts in the metaphor of the vineyard, and hopes our church will produce justice, righteousness, and the fruits of the kingdom. We believe these five directional goals will help us be good tenants.

As God has invested in this church, we invite our congregation to invest in it as well. But producing the fruits of the kingdom requires more than money. It requires more than the leadership of Session, Deacons, paid and unpaid Staff, and Volunteers. It requires all of us—we’re all stewards of this vineyard, and God will hold us accountable for it.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • In what ways have you seen “fruits of righteousness” present in your congregation?
  • How would you judge the stewardship of the tenants of your congregation, beginning with the leadership, but also realizing that you are a tenant?
  • In what ways are you involved in helping your congregation achieve the five directional goals?

 

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