Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “The Stone The Builders Rejected” based on Luke 20:9-19 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, April 7, 2019
During the most holy of weeks, starting with his procession into the city of peace on the first Palm Sunday and finishing with his resurrection on Easter Sunday, Jesus spent his time among the people who lived inside that city, preaching and teaching.
The reading from Luke that you just heard is a recording of one of those times of teaching and, on this particular occasion, Jesus used a teaching tool beloved by him and billions of Christians throughout time. He used a parable; that is, an earthly story with a heavenly meaning, a made up tale meant to instruct its listeners on the inner workings of God’s Kingdom and the attitudes and actions expected of the subjects of that Kingdom.
Is it safe to assume that, while there may not be any of you who are actively growing or cultivating a vineyard, you understand the responsibilities of the characters in this story? The owner hired people to work in the vineyard. The workers of the vineyard tended to the plants until the time of harvest. The owner’s servants went not only to check and make sure the workers did their job, but to reap the benefits of their labor – likely bushels of grapes to make wine.
However, in all honesty, the point of this parable doesn’t have so much to do with the process of planting and harvesting grapes. Rather, again, it is much more focused on the attitudes of its major players—the attitudes of the owner, the workers, the servants, and the owner’s beloved son.
Even if those major players of the parable left you a little perplexed, Jesus’ original audience understood perfectly. They knew that the owner described was God, himself, and that his vineyard represented his Kingdom; not so much a physical space, but the spiritual space of faith.
They also correctly ascertained that God had given those rulers and religious leaders the responsibility of working in his Kingdom, tending to his tender plants, the people of Israel.
When Matthew and Mark recorded this account, they also added a little more color by explaining the care with which the owner, himself, cultivated this vineyard. God provided everything that those rulers and religious leaders needed for the Kingdom. He protected them and the Kingdom with the hedge of his Law and watered and fed his precious sprouts with his nourishing Word of gospel.
But, unfortunately, as those details of this parable unfolded, they had to connect the dots about their treatment of God’s servants – his prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Micah—how they rejected them and their message. How they insulted them, treated them shamefully, and even, at times, physically assaulted them.
This is where the importance of the attitudes of the parable’s participants comes into play. While his servants, the prophets, were being welcomed with hatred and enmity by the people he had loved and cared for, God continued to respond with patience.
And, in the greatest show of love and patience in their history, God finally sent his final servant, one who deserved their respect and honor, the one he loved, his own Son, Jesus. They did not, however, respect and honor him, as you well know.
The problem became so clear. The so-called city of peace, Jerusalem, and the people who lived and worked inside, breathed the plague of loving things more than their creator. They thought that all their work in the vineyard made them the rightful owners of and, with much more self-centeredness, the ones who should receive credit for producing, its fruit.
After hitting the climax of his parable and letting the Law strike with its intended force, Jesus explained the consequences of their repeated disobedience and rejection of their Creator God.
Like a parent who threatens to send an uneaten supper to children starving in another country, God determined to give his Kingdom, the Spirit-worked faith in the hearts of his people, to people who would actually appreciate it.
Do you see now the part you play in this parable? You are the others to whom the vineyard has been given. But, here’s the rub: how have you received it?
Are you feasting where the chief priests fasted, or, so often, does it seem too much like leftovers that you’d rather have sent to someone else who is starving? Are you appreciative of the servants God has sent to you, or have you, too, in your own way, mistreated them, beaten them, and sent them away empty-handed?
Your God has sent Isaiah and Jeremiah to you, too, but he didn’t stop there. With great patience, he has also sent to you Kolbow, Steinbrenner, Waldschmidt, Wittigs, and Washburn. Have you handed over to them the fruits of Spirit-worked faith or, with apathy, ignorance, and pride have you kept the blessings and gifts bestowed upon you, and worked through you, to yourself and sent them away empty-handed?
Brothers and sisters, may this never be! Fast from that kind of disobedience and rejection and, instead, feast on faith by fixing your focus on the inner workings of the Kingdom of your God.
Yes, in patience, and with what seems like reckless abandon, your God did send his beloved Son, Jesus, to those workers of old. And, like his parabolic counterpart, he was killed just a few days after he told this earthly story. But the heavenly meaning hidden inside this parable is that God turned the saddest event in this tragedy into the most compassionate piece of what is the greatest love story ever told.
In sending his beloved Son onto this earth and having him die at the hands of people who should have respected him, your God counteracted the consequences you deserved for your own disrespect and disobedience. Instead of having you be broken and crushed, Jesus was pierced for your transgressions, he was crushed for your iniquities. The punishment that brought you peace was upon him and, by his wounds, you have been healed.
Yes, this story contains a twist better than any theatrical thriller has ever uncovered. The intent of those tenants, in killing the owner’s son, came to fruition. The inheritance of his Father, which Jesus rightly warranted, is instead bestowed upon people who are undeserving; you and me and all the rest of the people in whom God has cultivated his Kingdom of faith.
The stone those original builders rejected has become for you the capstone of God’s Kingdom – everything is centered and built upon him and his work done in you, through you, and for you. And that, brothers and sisters, is no earthly story, made up for instruction. That is his true love story that he has shared with you, through his servants, while you sit in tiny preschool chairs, classroom desks, and these pews week after week.
As you prepare for your holy week observations, listen to your Savior’s love story again and focus your faith on how he has worked all things in his Kingdom for you and for your good. Amen.