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TITLELive to Receive a Blessing! SCRIPTURE:    Matthew 21:33-46

Our parable today is called The Parable of the Wicked Tenants.  If you manage an apartment building or own a rental house, you might know about wicked tenants -- but I hope not.  Wicked tenants move in, but they won't move out.  They live in your apartment but refuse to pay the rent.  Sometimes they poke holes in the wallboard -- and stuff up the plumbing-- and paint the bedroom purple. 

Some of you may rent out one house while living in another.  For the most part that’s O.K., but a wicked tenant can become an expensive nightmare. 

In our parable today, the wicked tenants were even worse.  The rental property was a vineyard, and the rent was grapes.  The tenants were to share the fruit of the vineyard with the landowner.

Before the landowner rented the vineyard, he fixed it up -- put a fence around it -- dug a wine press -- built a watchtower.  He made it as nice as a vineyard could be, and then he leased it to the tenants and went away.

At harvest time, the landowner sent servants to collect his share of the fruit -- but the tenants beat one servant and killed another and stoned another.  That's even worse than poking holes in the wallboard.

So the landowner sent more servants.  The tenants beat and killed them too.

So the landowner sent his son, expecting that they would respect his son.

Now by this time, you are probably thinking that the landowner is not very smart.  Why would he, after the tenants mistreated his servants, send more servants?  Why not call the police?  Why not put the wicked tenants in jail?  Above all, why would he send his son?  If the tenants were violent twice, why would he think they would treat his son with respect?  Was this landowner a bit thick in the head?

The answer is that the landowner was not thick in the head but was thick in the heart.  The landowner in this parable, you see, is God -- and this is a parable about God's longsuffering patience -- his love -- his desire to redeem the wicked tenants. 

That might not seem to make much sense, but God is like that.  God loves us even when we least deserve it.  God wants us to love him so that he can bless us.  God keeps trying to win us even when we have proven to be losers. 

So this landlord put it all on the line.  He sent his son to collect the rent, hoping that the tenants would respect his son.  But they didn't respect the son.  When they saw the son, they said, "This is our chance.  This is the heir to the vineyard.  If we kill him, we can have the vineyard."  And so they forced the son out of the vineyard and killed him.

The son, of course, is Jesus.

Before Jesus began telling this parable, he had cleansed the temple -- had used a whip to run off the moneychangers.  He had made quite a nuisance of himself, and the religious leaders had been critical of him.

So Jesus told them this parable about the wicked tenants killing the landowner's son.  Then he asked this question:


"Now when the owner of the vineyard comes,

what will he do to those tenants?"

They answered:

"He will put those wretches to a miserable death,

and lease the vineyard to other tenants

who will give him the produce at the harvest time."

Then Jesus quoted a verse from Isaiah that talked about the rejected stone becoming the cornerstone -- the most important stone.  And then Jesus said:

"Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you

and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom."

And finally Jesus said:

"The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces;

and it will crush anyone on whom it falls."

That last sentence is a bit mysterious, but Jesus was warning them that God's patience has an end.  Those who persist in rejecting God will find themselves crushed by the stone with which God had intended to help them.  Jesus was warning us to be careful about stretching our rebellion too far -- because it will snap back in our face. 

But it is even more serious than that.  Jesus was telling us that our relationship to God is a matter of life and death.  God has placed us in his vineyard, and wants nothing more than to see us do well.  He is loving, patient, and forgiving.  But there will come a time when his patience will come to an end.  When that happens, the stone that he sent to be the cornerstone of our lives will crush us -- and we will die.

We have seen it happen. We know that it is true.  We have seen young people who have burned out their brains using drugs.  We have seen people who drink their breakfast from a bottle.  We have seen young women standing under streetlamps, selling their bodies and their souls.  We have seen gangs of young men in our city streets -- living by the sword and dying by the sword. 

We must not forget that God loves those people -- the people in rebellion.  But we also must not forget that, at some point, God abandons them to their rebellion.  At that point, the stone that was meant to be the cornerstone of their lives becomes instead a crushing stone that takes their lives.

We must remember all of this, in part, so that we will be motivated to carry the Gospel to those in rebellion.  We must remember it, too, because we too are tempted to rebel against God -- to ignore God.  And our children are tempted to rebel -- to ignore God.  We must remember the potential for death so that we will be motivated to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  We must remember that it is critically important to give them a strong spiritual foundation so that they will be able to resist the many temptations with which they are faced daily.

Rebellion against God is deadly.  As one example, we know that God has established certain physical laws, such as the law of gravity, which know that we must respect.  We can't ignore the law of gravity, or it will crush us.  We might find another law to counterbalance gravity so that we can fly -- but we dare not ignore gravity.  If we try to ignore the law of gravity -- or if we toy with it too lightly -- we are likely to find that there is a price to be paid.

I learned an interesting piece of trivia this week.  Eight-four years ago (Nov. 21, 1921), the first air-to-air refueling took place over Long Beach, California.  Wing walker Wesley May walked across the top wing of a biplane with a five-gallon can of gas strapped to his back.  A second plane flew near, and May caught its wing and hoisted himself aboard.  Then he poured the gas from the can into the second plane while in flight.  It was a historic moment -- but a dangerous one.  Wesley May was toying with gravity. 

May was a brave man, but a foolish one.  When another wing walker barely escaped a fatal fall, May sent a telegraph that said, "When present wing walker is killed, I want the job."  The other wing walker fell and was killed, so they hired May -- but he didn't last long.  His chute malfunctioned, and he was killed when he hit the ground in -- of all places -- a cemetery. (Justin Hardy, "Legacy of Flight," Aviation History, Nov. 2005).

I doubt that there is a person in this congregation who will be tempted to ignore the law of gravity.  I doubt that any of us are tempted to walk across the wing of an airplane with a five-gallon can of gas strapped to our back. 

But there are people here today who are tempted to toy with other things just as dangerous -- drugs -- the excessive use of alcohol -- promiscuous sex -- gambling -- gluttony -- and a host of other self-destructive behaviors. 

There are people here today who are tempted to ignore their families -- tempted to spend their time making a living instead of making a life -- tempted to major in minors -- tempted to live their lives in such a way that, when they are added up at the end of time, they will amount to little more than zero.

There are people here today who are tempted to give God short shrift in their lives -- tempted to give God an hour on Sunday morning and call it good -- tempted to ignore God's call to love their neighbor and to serve those in need -- tempted to believe God's promises, but to ignore God's claims on their lives.

We need to hear the warning and the promise of our parable.  The warning is this.  Jesus tells us that he is the cornerstone -- intended to be the strength of our lives -- but Jesus says to the unfaithful:

"Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you

and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom."

That is the warning, but it is also the promise.  It is a warning to the unfaithful and a promise to the faithful.  If we are unfaithful, God will strip away the kingdom.  But if we are faithful, God will give us the kingdom.  He will bless us, and he will make us a blessing to others.

As you go through this coming week, I invite you to remember the Parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard.  You are living in the Lord's vineyard.  Assess your life.

-- Ask yourself if you are paying your rent -- giving God his due. 

-- Ask yourself whether you are rebelling against God or cooperating with him. 

-- Ask yourself if you are trying to obey the great commandment -- to love God and your neighbor.

-- Ask yourself whether you are giving your children a solid spiritual foundation -- if you are serious about their Christian education -- if you are raising them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  Do you pray with them?  Do you read them Bible stories?  Do you bring them to Sunday school and worship?  Do you encourage them in the ways of faith?

-- Ask yourself if you are trying to follow God's plan for your life.

You are a tenant in God's vineyard.  If you honor God, he will bless you.  Live to receive a blessing!

Benediction:  Go with the blessings of the One who was despised and rejected and who understands our every trial and tribulation. Go with the blessings of the cornerstone of our faith, Jesus Christ our Lord.


CHILDREN'S SERMON:  Fruits of the Kingdom

Objects suggested:  Various types of fruit

If you were to make a fruit salad, what kind of fruit do you like?  Bananas, oranges, apples, grapes, cherries, pineapple, kiwi, pears.  What about melons?  Watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew.  Berries are good too.  Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries.  What a beautiful fruit salad. Yum!  Tastes good too.

In the Bible Jesus talks about the "fruits of the kingdom."  He tells a story about a landowner who has a vineyard that produces grapes.  He allows renters to use the land and when it is time to share the grapes with the landowner, the renters refuse.  He sent people, three times, to collect the grapes and each time the renters kept the grapes for themselves. The landowner's land produced fruit, but none of the fruit was given back to the landowner.

Let's think about this story and try to figure out what the lesson is. Imagine the landowner as God.  God gives us the ability to grow and produce fruit.  Our fruits are the loving things we do to honor God.  Just as there are many different kinds of fruit in a fruit salad, there are also many ways we can serve others and honor God.  Pray for someone who is sick.  Be kind and friendly to a new kid at school.  Help your parents with chores around your home. Visit the elderly in nursing homes. Share your special talents, such as singing, playing an instrument, or painting lovely pictures. Can you think of others?  Each time you do a loving thing for another person, you are producing "fruit for the kingdom of God."

The lesson, then, is that we receive God's love, share it with others, and when we do that we are giving that love back to God - producing beautiful fruit for the kingdom of God.

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