Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 22)

October 5, 2014
Text: Is. 5:1-7; Matt. 21:33-46

            By grace God chose Israel to be His own special people, His chosen race from whom He would provide salvation for the whole world, His royal priesthood, His holy nation, His precious possession (cf. 1 Peter 2:9).  He brought them out of slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea as on dry ground.  He was with them in their wilderness wanderings, with them in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, establishing His Covenant with them, feeding them with manna and quail, giving them to drink from the rock.  He brought them into the Promised Land, the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, where every man could enjoy his own vine and fig tree.  He was with their armies.  He drove out the nations before them.  He won the victory for them with His own mighty hand.  He established them in the land.  He blessed them.  He protected them.  He delivered them.  And all of this, not because Israel was holier than the other nations in and of herself; not because she was greater, stronger, more numerous; certainly not because she was more faithful.  God chose her by grace.  He chose her to be His Church.  He chose her to be His Vineyard.  In our Old Testament reading (Is. 5:1-7), He describes what He had done for His Vineyard.  He dug it and cleared it of stones and planted choice vines.  He built a watchtower in its midst, and hewed a wine vat in it.  And what would a Vineyard Owner expect from such a Vineyard which He has so carefully and lovingly established?  He would expect fruit.  He would expect good grapes.  But what happens in this Vineyard is that the Vineyard itself rebels.  It rejects the love and the providence of the Owner.  It rejects the Vineyard Owner’s claim over its fruit.  Israel rejects God.  She rejects God in her idolatry, her running after other gods, worshiping them, trusting in them.  She rejects God by her wild grapes of injustice, bloodshed, wickedness, and oppression.  She rejects God by exploiting the poor, the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger in her midst.  She will not yield the grapes of justice and righteousness.  She will go her own way, do her own thing, do what is good in her own eyes irrespective of the Word of the LORD.
            So what is God to do?  He sends the prophets.  He sends preachers.  Some they beat and send away, like Jeremiah, whom they threw into a well, then into the dungeon, then exiled to Egypt.  Some they kill, like Isaiah, whom they sawed in two, or Zechariah the son of Barachiah whom they murdered between the sanctuary and the altar (Matt. 23:35).  And so all-encompassing is their rejection of the prophets, and really, of the Word of the LORD, they actually convince themselves they are doing God a favor by executing the prophets.  Stoning is the divinely prescribed punishment for a false prophet according to the Law of Moses (Deut. 13).  By stoning a preacher, they are declaring him to be a false prophet.  They tried to stone Jesus (John 10:31).  They stoned Stephen to death (Acts 7:58-60).  They stoned Paul, who miraculously revived (Acts 14:19-20).  But in each case, the stoning was not only a rejection of the preacher, but of the Word of the LORD.  It was a rejection of the Vineyard Owner.  It was a rejection of God.  And so our Lord cries out: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37; ESV).
            One would expect God to do to His Vineyard as He says in our Old Testament, to remove its hedge so that it is devoured, to break down its wall so that it is trampled down, to make it a waste, to give it over to the weeds, and to make it a dry wasteland (Is. 5:5-6).  One would expect God to do to the tenants of the Vineyard (the Chief Priests and Pharisees and Jewish leaders) what they themselves tell Jesus the Vineyard Owner should do: “put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons” (Matt. 21:41).  But what does He do?  He sends His Son.  For He says, “They will respect my son” (v. 37).  Now, God cannot be deceived.  He does not send His Son in ignorance.  He knows what will happen.  And the great mystery of it all is that this is precisely His plan for the rescue of His Vineyard.  He sends His Son, and when the tenants, the Chief Priests and Pharisees, the spiritual leaders of Israel, see Him, they say to themselves, “Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance” (v. 38).  It will not do to have Him displace us in terms of power and influence.  And it will not do to have the Roman government perceive Him as a threat and take away our place and our nation.  The inheritance is ours.  He must die.  And so they take Him and bind Him and set Him before Pontius Pilate.  They betray Him.  They slander Him.  They bear false witness against Him.  And they cast Him outside of the City, outside of the Vineyard, where they kill Him, crucified between two thieves, pierced, bloodied, mocked, rejected.  And they think they have won. 
            But this is what God has done to save the Vineyard.  He laid waste the Vineyard in the Body of His Son.  He sent His Son to tread the winepress alone (Is. 63:3).  He sent His Son to drink the cup of God’s wrath down to its very dregs (Is. 51:17).  He sent His Son for the very men who killed Him, for the wicked tenants, the Chief Priests and Pharisees, for Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers, and for you, who have rejected Him in your own idolatry, who have pierced Him by your own transgressions.  He did this to rescue you.  To save you.  To make you His own.  That here in the Vineyard of His Church, you may bear fruit in keeping with repentance; the fruit of justice and righteousness, the fruit of faith, hope, and love. 
            The stone that the builders rejected, Christ Jesus, has become the cornerstone, for He is risen from the dead.  This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes (Matt. 21:42).  And now every person finds his death in this Stone.  You either find your death in His death, falling upon Him to be broken to pieces in your Baptism, and so find your life in His resurrection, or, in the Judgment, on the Last Day, He will fall on you and crush you (v. 44).  That is the warning.  Die in Him now, and so live, or live now, and be crushed in the end.  Reject Him and live for yourself, and He will reject you.  So the Kingdom has been taken from Israel and been bestowed, by grace, upon the Gentiles, that all who believe in His Name, whether Jew or Gentile, be the New Israel of God, the holy Church.  The Christian Church is now the Vineyard.  By grace you have been grafted in.  Christ is the Vine.  You are the branches.  If you remain in Him, and He in you, you will bear much fruit.  But apart from Him, you can do nothing (John 15:5).  So be warned.  You cannot separate yourself from Christ and survive. 

            But in Him, connected to Him by the life-giving sap of His Word and Sacraments, you live and you bear fruit.  You believe the Scriptures.  You believe the preaching.  Your sins are forgiven.  The Body and Blood of the Lord cleanses you and sanctifies you and makes you strong.  The pruning of the Lord, the sufferings you endure according to His will, these make you even more fruitful.  God has chosen you, by grace, to be His own special people, His chosen race, His royal priesthood, His precious possession.  He has purchased you, His Vineyard, with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  He sent the prophets.  He sent the apostles.  He sent His Son.  And He continues to send preachers to declare it to you: Repent and believe the Gospel.  Jesus Christ has come to give you the inheritance.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

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