How Then Shall We Live?
A Homily for Lent V – Passion Sunday
March 29, 2020
All Saints Anglican Church – Prescott, AZ
Text: Luke 20:9-18
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Pride is a strange beast to wrestle with. Of the sins we are warned against repeatedly in scripture pride seems to be the most slippery and toughest to really nail down. Anger, lust, greed, these are evident in our hearts when we give them quarter, but sometimes pride can manifest itself in false-humility, or pop-up like a game of whack-a-mole where you overcome one form and turn around to find it waving to you in some other part of your heart.
I suspect that pride is something many of us struggle with, but I am almost certain it is an incredibly common enemy of the priest and Christian leader. Nothing can ruin a ministry quicker than the subtle shift of it being Christ-centered to man-centered. I say subtle not because this is a minor shift, but because I have watched it happen, and you don’t notice it right away. Yet suddenly, the purpose of the ministry becomes about pleasing the leader and not Christ.
I have struggled with pride. In fact yesterday – I found myself wrestling with it, more than I care to admit but as it boiled up a little voice in my head kept reminding me – this work you are doing isn’t about you – it is about glorify God – it is about building up men and women to know Christ and walk with Him.
I kept being reminded to keep my eyes focused on Christ, not myself, and to dutifully do that which I was called to do. Then, in my reading I read the following from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “what then? Only that in every way whether in pretense or in truth; Christ is proclaimed that I rejoice.”
Too often, I am quick to judge people’s motives in ministry. Yet – St. Paul reminds us – if Christ is proclaimed – if Christ is pronounced – we should rejoice and be glad. We may not like the manner in which others do it, and some may even do it out of pride or to glorify themselves. But what is that to us? Christ is still proclaimed and this is worth us rejoicing.
And what is the point of this story?
One of my favorite verses from the Psalms is found in Psalm 95 – “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” As we read scripture, as we pray, we can read things we do not like, that reveal in us sin, or shatter our preconceptions of how we think things should be and we can harden our hearts out of distaste or we can allow God to minister to us. Today: if you hear the voice of the Lord in your reading, in your time of prayer: do not harden your heart.
The question then – is what are we going to do with this time that God has given us?
We are living in a strange and historic time – we are living in a time of pestilence, of isolation, and of fear. I have watched the reactions of those around the world and they are fascinating. Some are reacting with total terror and others with peace. Some are reacting with anger and others with kindness. Some have reacted with a heart to love others and others are reacting with a heart to promote themselves.
As Christians our calling has not changed – but we are still called to love God and love our neighbor but what that looks like has changed, I will ask various forms of this question for the remainder of the sermon, as we explore the text today, but we must ask ourselves – probably daily or more: will we arise to the challenge that is set before us, we will enter into our closets to pray faithfully? Will we seek to dwell in intimacy with Christ? Or will we become stagnant and apathetic? Will we figure out how to love our neighbors well not risking their health and wellbeing? We will sacrifice our desires so they do not feel quite so alone? Are we willing to live every moment to the glory of God?
I believe strongly that God is calling us into this deeper intimacy with Him, I believe strongly that God is calling us to learn to love better than we ever have before, I believe strongly that God is calling us to learn to be a more vibrant, more beautiful, more glorifying Church. So let us prayerfully set ourselves to that task. Let us be the hope that so many people need in this dark day and age.
Now – as we turn to the gospel passage for this morning, I want to start by talking a little bit about prophetic ministry, in particularly that of the Old Testament because these are the servants that the master sent to collect his due from his vineyard.
While the prophet had many gifts and some specific callings, his ultimate role was that of a “covenant keeper,” or “covenant enforcer.” In other words, his call was to continually remind the people of their calling as God’s chosen people.
We know, that our hearts are prone to wander, prone to turn away from God and turn to all kinds of false gods, whether they be of our own creation of cultural creations. The Hebrew people were no less prone to wander. Yet – they were given the prophets to remind them, come back or people, come back.
Christ came as the ultimate prophet, Christ again and again called God’s chosen people back to the covenant that God made with them. Furthermore, he came to finally fulfill the covenant, finally fulfill the law and the prophets. He was the one that the law and the prophets pointed towards.
And what of prophets in the new covenant – I am of the opinion that new covenant prophets behave the same way as old covenant prophets. They are called to remind people the new covenant, they are called to bring people back into a right relationship with Christ and to beckon people into fidelity to Him.
In many ways, the ministry of the priest is a prophetic ministry – not that we receive charismatic words from God – but that we are called to rightly study and understand the Word of God and to exhort people to understand and delve deeper into a relationship with our Lord.
It is the same for others as well, every Christian is called study God’s word, in so far as they are able, and then to live it out, and share that with those whom you love. We are called to remind the tenants of the vineyard who the owner is. The owner, the sovereign, the king over all is God our Father.
Now our passage this morning is a parable that Christ tells us and starts as such: A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while.
First – we are reminded of man’s calling on this earth. If we remember way back to Genesis 1 and 2 – God creates man and woman in His own image. This is an allusion to the carving out of statues to tell us who is the king of the land.
In America we do not have statues of our rulers, but we do have flags. For we do not see a man as the ultimate authority in the land but a document, and so when we go into a public square and see an American flag raised high, our minds should think, yes, we are here in America, yes, the ultimate authority is the constitution.
But in days of old, especially in the ancient Near East and even today in some Middle Eastern countries and places where there are dictators you go into a town square there is a statue of the king or the ruler of the land. This reminds the people “yes, this is him who is our ruler, we must remember this.”
This is what the creation narrative echoes when it speaks of God creating man and woman in His own image. We are created in the image of God, we are created “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Ultimately – this is our calling, that we would glorify Him in all we do.
And God also tells Adam and Eve to tend to the garden and so we are to be good stewards of all that we are given. Even this very present time that we have been given, even this time of “social distancing,” when we are called to give deep care as to prevent the spread of the virus – we are also being called to use that time wisely.
A challenge to you this week, as we go about our daily tasks be in prayer as to if there are ways that God is calling you to use this time? Is it the grow in your prayer life? Is it to read more deeply in the word? Is it to love your neighbor better? Is it something altogether different? Ask God these things, and he will open the right doors.
Now, we must also have a word of caution here. This first statement could be read by the deists and they may say “a-ha, see God is far off, letting us do our own thing.” This is not what Christ is trying to say here, and it should not be read in a way to establish the doctrine of the imminence or lack thereof of God – but rather it is a reminder that we are called to use the gift that God has given us to glorify God
Next Christ tells us: When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.
Now, he reiterates and makes it clear – our calling is to use the gifts we have been given wisely – we are called to be good stewards of all that we have. Do you find yourself with lots of time on your hands now, what is God calling you to do with that time? Do you have some talent or skill that could be put to good use to the glory of God during this season, how is God calling you to use that gift? Are you wealthy or find yourself with extra money, what does God want you to do with that money?
How we use the gifts we have been given tells us a lot about the state of our heart and this is what Christ gets to when he says: But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out.
Sin makes it hard for us to do all things to the glory of God. Sin makes us want to enjoy the desires of the flesh, sin makes us want to make it all about us – but it isn’t all about us – it’s all about God, it is all about glorifying Him in all we do.
Now – I think one opportunity that we have in this time of pestilence is a the change to prayerfully consider if there are sins that God is calling us to repent of. First prayerfully consider it in your own life, is there a habitual sin that you are having a hard time setting aside? Perhaps now is a time of modification of your flesh. Perhaps now is a time of putting that sin away.
Are there sins that we are unaware of in our own church? In our own Christian community that we as a Church need to turn away from? Let us pray about that as well.
One of you sent me an article about this – about how quickly we are to say “well, God is judging us for this sin or that.” And people have said that, even now in this present time of pestilence. I would urge you to take care to point fingers so quickly. We do not know the mind of God in this – but we do know that God is a loving God, we do know that God will not let even the evil of this pestilence go to waste.
No – God will use it to draw men and women to Himself. God will use it to sanctify us, God will use it to glorify Himself. What may have been meant for evil by the evil one God will use for good. Let us not fear, but let us prayerfully allow God to draw us closer to Him and mortify our flesh. Let us be aware of our own sin and need for repentance and let us turn away from that which destroys our souls and communities.
And now Christ tells us that His death is coming: Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
We are drawing near to Holy Week, we are drawing near to our walk with Christ towards the last supper, the crucifixion, and mystery of Holy Saturday, and the joy of the resurrection. But before we get to the resurrection we must pass through the suffering of the cross.
Christ came to earth to set sinners free, to redirect them, to remind them that the earth is the Lord and all that is in it. Yet, we so often fail to recognize this – Christ came to set us free from our sins, and to adopt us into a right relationship with God but we know that the people did not recognize him then, just as we can grow discouraged and not recognize Him in our present age.
Yet, we are called to know him, we are called to walk with him, and we are called to suffer well, we are called to take up our own crosses and follow Him. Again, perhaps I have said this too many times – but I do not think this is possible – how is God calling us to suffer well amidst this present age? How is God calling you to take up your own cross and follow Him? How is God calling you to die to yourself that you might live to glorify Him?
My friends – do not miss the opportunity to see God at work, do not miss this opportunity to draw nearer to Him, do not miss this opportunity to glorify him, and to let Him live in your life.
And then he says - What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!”
This foreshadows the coming of the new covenant, God’s covenant with all who would know Christ, with all who would prefer to dwell in Him and not in the world.
But here’s the challenge for today – let us not allow anything we are given go to waste. This morning I read a quote – and I think it is worthy of sharing – and worthy of our consideration a writer wrote: in this rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worthy rushing back to.
Let us not let anything we have been given – even this time of distancing go to waste. What is worth returning to? What is not? What is worth giving up? What is worth keeping from this time? What gifts has God given you that you are being called to use more wisely?
And then we are reminded that what the world may see as foolishness – is in fact the cornerstone to our faith: But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.’
Christ is our cornerstone, Christ is our hope, Christ is our solid rock amidst the storm. Are you afraid – cry out to Christ. Are you worried – cling to Christ, are you sorrowful – pray to the Lord and remember his promises.
The past couple of weeks I have been watching people’s reactions to this worldwide crisis and they have ranged from anger, to sorrow, to denial, to hope, to love, and kindness. As God’s people we are called to be hope-filled, we are called to know that even in this God working out all things for our good. This attitude may seem as foolishness to the world, yet – we know that God became incarnate in Jesus, that the world knew Him not, that he was rejected and despised, that he was lead a sheep to slaughter, that he died for our sins and that he rose again.
We know that Christ is our Lord.
We know that Christ is the good shepherd.
We know that Christ will see us through to the end.
So in all of this take heart dear friends and know that it is in resting in Chris that our hope is found. It is in Resting In Him that we are given a firm foundation to weather even this storm.
Christ closes with this statement: Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
We are reminded time and again that Christ came in humility to die for his people, but his second coming he will come to judge the living and the dead, we are reminded time and again that Christ came as a lamb – but in his return he will come as a lion, he came in humility but will come again as a triumphant king.
How then shall we live our lives? Will we live as servants to that king, redeemed by the lamb? Or will we will live as our own kings to be judged at the end? We will we hear “well done good and faithful servant?” or will we hear “be gone from me, I never knew you?”
Let us live in the humility and joy that Christ has given us, that Christ has modeled for us. We may find that we are still confused, still overwhelmed, still feeling pain from our present crisis, yet our good shepherd is calling you to rest in Him, He is calling you to himself so that you may know His peace.
The lamb who was slain for our sins, now calls us to let Him be our shepherd, let us take comfort in knowing that He is good, that he is there, and that he is ready to be a balm for all our woes.
My dear friends - we may still be confused by all that is going on or we may already weary of living in this time of social distancing – but we have a chance to grow in our intimacy with Christ. This morning I want to encourage each and every one of you to join me in establishing the habits that will continue to draw us closer and closer to Christ.
My prayer for our church, and for each of us – is that during this season of pestilence, we would be freed from our sin, that we would be drawn into a deeper intimacy with Christ, and that we would come to a joy-filled place of knowing him in a deeper and more profound way than we did before. Let us remember – even now – he is sovereign over all the earth.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.