Sermon – October 6, 2002

October 6, 2002

Pentecost 20

Matthew 21:33-46

Now I know you kids may find this hard to believe, but at one time in
my life, I was cool. Very cool. I had a 1965 Mustang 2 plus 2, that was
the model with the fastback. It had a red leather interior, a 289
cubic inch high performance engine, dual exhaust, a stick on the floor.
That car went so fast it scared me. People would wave at me on the
street, strangers, because of that car. It was the coolest car.

Now, I was 18 years old when I bought that car and I did not know
anything about cars. I knew it was cool, but I didn’t know how to take care
of it. I drove that car into ground, sold it for 80 dollars, and for
that some car lovers would suggest I might be condemned.

What I didn’t understand, what I had failed to realize was that no
matter how cool the car is, it ain’t gonna run without oil. Oil is
foundational to the 289 cubic inch V-8 engine, to the 1965 Mustang 2 plus 2. It
was not foundational to keep it waxed, but was to keep the oil changed.
I didn’t understand that, and I was walking.

There was a woman who worked for a large company, had worked there a
long time and was paid well. But one day she was fired because she
walked out with a two dollar packet of copy paper. It wasn’t the money.
She was taking something that didn’t belong to her. She had violated
the foundational tenet of the relationship with the company. .. . trust.
She had violated a cornerstone understanding. . . and it cost her
everything. She had mistakenly believed that tenure or competence was the
foundation of that relationship, . . . but turns out it was based upon
something much more fundamental than that, trust, and it cost her her
job.

I think if we look back at those times when we really messed up, won’t we
discover that we may have replaced the cornerstone, undermined the
foundation of that particular relationship. We can boil just about
everything to one thing on which they hinge, can’t we. In marriage, it’s
commitment, in friendship it is trust, in the church it is faithfulness.
And if that is undermined, if that cornerstone, is replaced with a
weaker stone, then the whole structure can collapse, the entire
relationship can dissolve, no matter how long it has been maintained.

The way to really mess something up is to replace that cornerstone with
our own selves or our own self interest, and I know that we can find in
each of us places where we have done that.

These tenant farmers in our parable today really messed up. What they
had done is put themselves in the position of cornerstone in their
relationship with the landowner. They thought by their own cleverness and
manipulations, even by their own hard work that they had put in there,
they could control that structure. But they couldn’t be more wrong.

For believers, for the church, our cornerstone has always got to be
Jesus Christ. Always must be the one whom God sent and established as the
foundation for God’s kingdom, as the foundation of our faith. We are
fond of making that claim as a church, but often we deceive ourselves.
The most drastic cases you can find on some of these television
evangelism programs which proclaim Jesus as a cash cow, Jesus as a sugar daddy
. . . the way to riches. They’ve replaced the cornerstone of the cross
with the cornerstone of the dollar bill. What is happening there is we
are hiding our own purposes behind the guise of Christ. If we make a
caricature of Christ, hide our own purposes behind him, not only are we
undermining the foundation of our relationship with God, but we are
maligning, using Christ in a crass and self-serving way that can only
bring us far away from where God has called us to be.

We can really mess up our relationship with God if we fool with this
cornerstone, if we forget the love and sacrifice, the life and death and
resurrection of Jesus. Ever, the church must reexamine its
understanding of the cornerstone. Always we must talk about it and teach about
it and pray about it, remembering that our faith is in one sent from
God as an outrageous act of love, to bring us grace and reconciliation
and forgiveness and hope and a new understanding of the world, a new
understanding where the pillars of the world are replaced by the
cornerstone of Christ.

We can mess that up, but once that covenant is established, God will
not break it.

Here is the good news in this parable. Despite the betrayal by the
tenants, God did not tear up the vineyard. This is a straightforward
allegorical parable. The landowner is God, the tenants are the leaders
of the synagogue, the slaves sent to gather the fruit are the prophets,
and the son is Jesus Christ. That is Jesus’ teaching in this parable.

The good news is, that though the tenant farmers messed up, though the
tenant farmers tried to put themselves in the place of the cornerstone,
God did not tear up the vineyard. God did not break God’s covenant.

For years, this parable has been used as an anti-Semitic tool, to claim
that God had rejected Israel and replaced them with the Christian
church. That’s not true. God did not tear up the vineyard.

That’s not to say that the cornerstone did not change. History
changed, the intention of God was revealed in a new way with Christ, bearing a
new understanding. The good news is that God did not tear up the
vineyard, in fact it has flourished and grown.

And it matters. All this could sound like theological posturing and
it would be if it didn’t matter. But with Christ as the cornerstone of
a person’s life, it matters. Listen to what was I read once U.S. News
and World Report.

What is the best guarantee that an American youth will avoid drugs or
crime? “Regular church attendance turns out to be a better predictor
than family structure or income, according to a study by Harvard
University.” . . .and, “David Larson of Duke University Medical Center found over
30 studies that show a correlation between religious participation and
avoidance of crime and substance abuse.” And, “The divorce rate for
regular churchgoers is 18 percent; for those who attend services less than
once a year, it is 34 percent.” and, “Frequent churchgoers are about 50
percent less likely to report psychological problems and 71 percent
less likely to be alcoholics.” This according the September 9th issue of
U.S. News and World Report.

Of course it’s not the churchgoing that is fundamental, but what one
discovers there. . . the words of hope and grace, the comfort and the
power of a Christian fellowship, the promise and presence of the one upon
which our lives our built, must be built.

It matters that Christ is the cornerstone in our lives. It strengthens
us. It protects us. If this relationship is sound, then all those
other relationships where we mess up can be shored up, reconstituted and
forgiven. Because the cornerstone has made it so. Because Jesus will
not abandon his vineyard.

Copyright (c) 2002 by Pastor Robert J. Rasmus