Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Fifth Sunday in Lent (C)

March 13, 2016
Text: Luke 20:9-20

            What wondrous love is this, O my soul?  What wondrous, reckless, extravagant love is this?  The owner of the vineyard sends his slave to collect the fruit of the vine from the tenants.  And what do those tenants do?  They beat the slave.  They cast him out.  They reject him, and in rejecting him, they reject the owner who sent him.  They reject the owner’s ownership over the vineyard, and so deny his right to the fruit.  They send the slave away empty handed.  The vineyard is Israel.  The Owner is God, who sends His slaves, the prophets, to gather from Israel the fruits of faith in YHWH, fear, love, and trust in the one true God, and fervent love toward one another.  The tenants are the religious leaders of Israel, the unfaithful kings and priests, the false prophets, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the chief priests, and the Jews who reject the preaching of the prophets.  These tenants beat the prophets, stone them, kill them, and utterly reject the preaching.  And in rejecting the prophets and their preaching, they reject the God who sent them.  What will the owner of the vineyard do?  We know what we would do.  And we’re almost rooting for God to do it.  Kill those wicked tenants!  Obliterate them!  Rain down fire from heaven to consume them!  Let’s have another Sodom and Gomorrah! 
            But what wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!  The LORD sends more slaves.  He sends more prophets.  In spite of what happens to the first, He sends another, and the tenants also beat him and treat him shamefully, and send him away empty handed.  Surely the LORD’s patience has worn thin.  Surely this time He will judge these wretches and give them what they deserve.  But no!  He sends another!  And this one they wound and cast out!  Prophet after prophet, slave after slave.  Elijah is hunted by Jezebel.  Isaiah is sawn in two.  They drag Jeremiah forcibly to Egypt, precisely where he warned God’s people not to go.  And Zechariah, son of Barachiah, they kill between the altar and the Temple.  Still, the LORD sends His prophets, the last of whom is John, and we know what happens to him.  Off with his head, the price for preaching against the adultery of a king, and the reward for the lewd dance of Herodias’ daughter.  Now, surely, the LORD must act!  Surely His patience has an end!  It is time for justice!  It is time for vengeance!
            But what wondrous love is this!  What madness, O my soul!  “What shall I do?” says our Father who art in heaven.  I know what I will do.  “I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him” (Luke 20:13; ESV).  What wondrous love is this?  What insanity, to think that if they so treated the slaves, they will respect the Son!  Surely God knows what will happen.  Surely God knows they will reject Him, beat Him, cast Him out and kill Him!  Yes.  God knows it.  And this is the wondrous love of our God for Israel, for the wicked tenants, for you.  He sends the Son for that very purpose.  The tenants believe that in killing the Son, the inheritance will be theirs.  The great irony of it is, in killing the Son, the inheritance is ours.  “And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him” (v. 15).  And they led Him outside the city and crucified Him between two thieves. 
            What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!  St. Paul tells us what kind of love this is in his great love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13.  This love is patient.  This love is kind.  We see this in the sending of slave after slave.  We see this in the sending of the Son.  This love… It does not envy or boast.  It is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way, and it is not irritable or resentful.  It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  This love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (vv. 4-7).  We read this chapter as if it somehow describes our love for one another.  We read it at weddings as a great love poem about the love of husband and wife.  But could this ever be a description of you?  Are you capable of this love?  Really?  Always patient and kind?  Never boastful or rude?  Never insisting on your own way?  Bearing and enduring all things?  My wife and I, we love each other deeply, and she’s a pretty wonderful lady.  But I hope it doesn’t scandalize you to know that we are sometimes impatient with one another, and rude.  And when we have a disagreement, it is because each of us is insisting on his or her own way.  And my children, I love them fiercely, and they love me.  But we daily, and multiple times each day, have this discussion about which one of us will get our way.  If you insist that isn’t true of you, I hate to call you out like this, but let me be frank: You’re a liar.  Repent.  1 Corinthians 13 is not describing you!  You could never love like that.  1 Corinthians 13 is describing Jesus and His love for you.  And what wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!  This love is agape, self-giving love, the love that sacrifices itself for the beloved, expecting nothing for itself in return, the love that loves even though the beloved is unlovable and hostile and kills the Lover in His love.  This is the love that swallows up your sin and your rejection of Jesus.  This is the love that suffers your punishment in your place, your death, your condemnation, your hell.  This is the love that, even as the nails are pounded into His flesh, prays: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  He’s not just praying for the soldiers, or Pilate, or the Jews.  He is praying for you.  “What wondrous love is this That caused the Lord of bliss To bear the dreadful curse for my soul” (LSB 543:1)?  It is love so deep, so broad, so high, beyond all thought and fantasy (544:1).  It is love unknown, love that takes frail flesh to die for you (430:1).
            And note this very carefully.  There is nothing and no one who can separate you from this love but you.  It is only in the rejection of this Son who died for you and who is risen from the dead, that you be cast out of the vineyard and be destroyed.  To be sure, there is a Judgment.  And it is coming soon.  A foreshadowing of this Judgment has already taken place.  The Israel of the flesh has lost the vineyard.  Jerusalem was sacked and the Temple destroyed in AD 70.  The vineyard, the Church, has been given to others, to Gentiles and Jews who believe in Jesus and receive His death for their salvation.  And the reason is simply this: The LORD came to Israel, and Israel rejected her LORD.  He came to her in love, and she killed Him for it. 
            Still, the LORD sends His slaves.  He sent the Apostles.  He sends His pastors.  He sends them to tend the vineyard, to preach the Gospel and nourish it with the Sacraments and collect its fruits of faith and love.  Christ is the Vine.  You are the branches.  As you remain in Him and He in you (via the Word and Sacraments), you bear much fruit.  Apart from Him you can do nothing (John 15:5).  So He sends His slaves to keep you in Him, and to graft in more branches to the Vine by preaching.  It is all by grace.  It is all the wondrous, reckless, extravagant love of our God.  Now is the time of grace.  Now is the time of the Church.  The LORD sends slave after slave, preacher after preacher, and many are rejected, beaten, killed, and sent away empty handed.  You know that persecution is a very real thing throughout the world.  And it is always a danger, even here.  It could happen any time.  And what happens when the Gospel is rejected and the preachers are sent away empty?  The vineyard is given to others.  The Middle East was the heart and center of early Christianity.  Now look at it.  Germany was the birthplace of the Reformation.  The West and Christianity were, for a long time, synonymous terms.  Now the cathedrals of Europe sit empty.  And what of the United States?  It remains to be seen.  But as our churches decline, Christianity is exploding in Africa, where many pay with their blood to be baptized and hear the Gospel.  Still, the LORD sends His slaves to every continent (there is even a Catholic priest who lives on Antarctica and tends a Church for whoever happens to be there).  The LORD sends His Gospel to the ends of the earth.

            What wondrous love is this, O my soul!  Jesus is the embodiment of God’s love for you.  “Love to the loveless shown That they might lovely be” (LSB 430:1).  This love takes what is unlovable, sinners like you and me, and re-creates us into the object of His love.  By His blood and death.  By His suffering and cross.  That you and I may be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom, in His vineyard.  What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul?  It is Jesus on the cross, Jesus risen from the dead, Jesus in the font and in the pulpit and in your ear, Jesus on the altar with His true Body and Blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins, and placed on your tongue.  It is Jesus, the Love of God incarnate, who gives Himself for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

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