Sermon notes from 13th Sept at The Point. Available to listen here !
Luke 20: 9-19 // Parable of the Tenants
9 He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. 10 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. 12 He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.
13 “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’
14 “But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
When the people heard this, they said, “God forbid!”
17 Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written:
“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’[a]?
18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”
19 The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.
Ok, let’s start with a quick bit of background, scene setting. So, we are in Luke’s Gospel, we’ve been focussing on that for a while now, and we are nearing the end of the book (although not of Luke’s writing as it is generally accepted that he wrote Acts too).
Just prior to this, there has been this wonderful celebratory entrance into Jerusalem, the ‘triumphal entry’ and Jesus knows that his time is coming – he has said previously the time is not yet, my time is not yet come… and yet now it draws near.
And we can see that as the time draws nearer, the Pharisees/teachers of the law/ chief priests are becoming more aggressive. More angry. After all Jesus has come right into what they would think is ‘their turf’ – it’s one thing him being outside the city and proclaiming his message but now he is right in the heart of their city and he hasn’t just come in quietly, he’s come in with a bit of a show! He’s ridden in on a donkey – (Zechariah 9.9) – It is a very obvious step forward. Then he goes into the temple and starts making a fuss, telling them they have made the temple a den of robbers. And he begins to teach in the temple every day. I mean he’s not exactly going about this quietly is he. And of course the Pharisees are a bit narked to say the least. In the previous chapter we hear that they are trying to kill him.
SO, here we are, in the temple courts, he is teaching and preaching the gospel, and he gets a bit of a deputation really. v1 tells us that the chief priests, teachers of the law and the elders came up to him and asked him ‘by what authority are you doing these things?, who gave you this authority?’
Now we are not just talking about a few people here, this is THE main temple, in Jerusalem, there’s going to be a pretty big ‘staff team’ there right?! So, we’ve got 3 separate groups of people clubbing together to come challenge him. I guess it’s a bit like, the Archbishop of Canterbury rocking up with his entire entourage: deans, archdeacons, priests and canons, you name it, they would be there. And clearly gathered together to challenge him in number and to question his authority.
And that’s where we come in today as he responds to them with this parable we have just read.
Now at first read this sounds like a pretty tough passage right? What’s all this violence about, people being sent away, and the killing of the son? Well it is a challenge to us, as we shall see, but it is actually quite simple – if you haven’t worked it out, this is a picture of God’s creation, of his kingdom. Of the messengers he has sent to reveal himself to us here on earth, and how those who should be taking care of his kingdom – specifically here the leaders, chief priests etc and how they have rejected God’s messengers and therefore Him. The final messenger, is of course the son, the Father’s son, God’s son, Jesus. And as Jesus notes in the parable – the tenants plot to kill the son, which as we already know the Pharisees and chief priests are doing at that very time, plotting to kill Jesus, the son. So Jesus is talking of his own future and also letting them know he is aware of their plans.
OK, simple, right ?! So what does that all mean for us? Well, let’s look at it all a bit deeper.
So we’ve seen the Vineyard, is a picture of God’s creation. He planted it, or as Genesis tells us, he spoke it into being. This is God’s creation, he breathed the very life into it. But its not just a creation, it’s his kingdom. A kingdom that brings life, it sows seed, it grows, and produces fruit. It is also perhaps his reason for being.
If we go back to the very beginning, God was in relationship with humanity, that’s all he wants from us, to be in relationship with him. And then that relationship, so precious, so pure, just God and his people, can you imagine what that was like? and then it was broken at the fall.
– The fall – Eve was tempted, and with Adam they both ate the fruit (or the apple) of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which God has specifically told them not to do. Gen 2:17: ‘but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’
Now he’s not talking about death as we know it, as a physical one, but here as a spiritual one, a death which would subsequently remove them from their relationship with God as it was. And from that time on the relationship between humans and God has been flawed.
So, instead of walking and being with God as they were in the beginning, humans heard from God only through his messengers – the Prophets – and could only draw closer to him through following his commands, through sacrifices and attendance at the temple. And that all needed to be overseen by someone, so God decreed people to do just that – the Levites – the Priests.
So what we are seeing here in this passage is Jesus suggesting that those whose responsibility it had been to manage and look after not just God’s vineyard but his relationship with the people – the Chief Priests, the elders etc – have failed at their task. These are the tenants in the passage, and the people who should be protecting God’s word, nurturing his people, his creation. And yet they have become full of their own self -importance, swayed from the task God set before them, focussed on the law and cannot see beyond that. Instead of overseeing the vineyard they have acted as if they have ownership of it. They have protected themselves from outsiders, from those wishing to take anything from the vineyard, by using force and violence. They are not willing to hear from the owner, the one who planted the vineyard, not willing to give out anything, from that which does not in fact ‘belong’ to them but is simply under their care.
And I think we can see how that is easily done. We do this. We take ownership of things that are not ours to own, we assume ownership or just act as if we have it.
How often in the church, even here sometimes I dare to admit, we think well, This is the way we do things. Or we get a bit funny when someone comes along who sees things differently or we get embarrassed when someone behaves in a way we are not used to? We cling to what we know, taking ownership of it. And not just in the church. In all areas of our lives.
Here’s a simple example – and it may be too simple but lets go with it!
My oldest daughter bought a leather jacket last year. It was very nice, I rather admired it J and she kindly agreed to let me borrow it form time to time. As time went on she decided she didn’t like it after all and I wore it more than she did. I started to think of it as my jacket. It hung in my room. On the odd occasion when she wanted it I felt a bit peeved to be honest. I thought you don’t wear it, it’s mine! There was even an occasion when we both wanted to wear it, which I was rather cross about, but all the time it was her jacket, she bought it, she chose it and I was simply borrowing it. But I had easily forgotten (conveniently) that it was not actually mine…
I’m sure you can all think of your own examples far better than this one! But does this make sense?
So the point is here, in our passage, Jesus is very clearly having a massive dig at those rulers. They would have known it and the people listening would have known it, It was a public, slightly veiled, criticism of them.
But when we read God’s word we also want to know what he is saying to us, for us, today, and I think we can read this, well not just can, we should, we have to, read this as a challenge to us too.
Let’s remember also that we don’t have the same relationship with God as they did back then. Jesus came to reconcile us, to enable us to have a personal relationship again with the Father. So for us, we don’t have to follow rules, to sacrifice animals to get closer to God, we just have to turn to him, to seek to know him, to invite him in.
SO… where are you in this story – ask yourself? Let’s think about that, what is God saying to us today?
I think there’s two things we need to take from this:
– Firstly, do you know you are a tenant here?
– And secondly, how are you fulfilling that role?
For example, we are all tenants
In the context of this tory, where are you in it? Where would you be if you were there? Are you standing with the leaders listening in? are you actually recognising the challenge being laid out by Jesus?
Actually is there something God is saying to you right now – like are you actually a part of my kingdom, (and remember the kingdom includes us, his people, humanity) are you tending to it, are you looking after it or are you just sitting there just taking ownership? Are you going through life, just following your own rules and regulations, or have you recognised there is more to life than that?
Or maybe you are someone listening in, a member of the crowd listening in the temple, learning. Perhaps you are sussing out this Jesus guy. Perhaps you’ve heard people talking about him, perhaps you want to know more. Is that you, now? Because the challenge then for you is are you going to follow him? Do you recognise your place as part of the kingdom, do you see that there is more to life than just being a tenant? There is a beautiful wonderful vineyard for you to tend to, to be part of and to reap the rewards…
Secondly, so you’re a tenant – how is that working out for you?
We’ve see how the vineyard is a picture of God’s kingdom. We are all citizens in this kingdom. Whether we recognise it or not. We inhabit the place God made for us. For humanity. We are living in his kingdom.
We might think we have some level of ownership but we really don’t. Call it what you like, chance, just life, coincidence, I choose to call it God’s grace. We are here by God’s grace alone.
We are stewards of God’s kingdom. The Physical and spiritual.
So how is that working out for us? For you? Do you think you are you a good steward of what God has given you? Do you?
What has he asked us to tend? It might be the people around you. It might be someone specific, perhaps God is asking you to reach out someone you know who is in need? What about those Syrian refugees, there are ways we can help them and reach out to them – offer a roof over their heads. What is God asking you to tend to ?
Syria focus here… (listen to the talk if you want to know more, I went off post and had a bit of a rant!)
Because here is the thing and we don’t often like to get into the difficult stuff, but do you know what we need to. We can’t have a nice tidy faith with everything sown up and all agreed neatly, that’s what he’s criticising the leaders for –everything agreed and written down and nothing changed. And that is religion, following rules. That is not what God wants!
So into the nitty gritty – what does Jesus say will happen to the tenants? What will the owner do?
‘He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others’. v.16
Wait so, we’ve learned this is a picture of God’s kingdom, right and we are tenants in it, so if we don’t act right, if we don’t do our role right, we are going to get thrown out, killed no less and others allowed in.
Wow, that’s pretty harsh isn’t it? But there’s the thing. Do we want to be like the Pharisees and priests, ruling over people, thinking we are in control, not listening to what God is saying? Because we can do that so easily. Go through life not listening to God, making up our own rules of life, living as we please. We can make a good case for ourselves, ‘well, I’ve been a good person, I’ve lived my life well, I don’t harm anyone, I look out for others’ I’m sure we have all said things like that before. But it’s no good.
When I was younger I had a couple of friends who were squatters, so they lived in houses that didn’t belong to them. Took over the house without the owners permission. And They made a very good case for why squatting in empty buildings should be allowed, citing the homeless, housing shortages and implying they were doing good, but at the end of the day they just wanted somewhere to stay for free.
Now I am not commenting on whether squatting is right or wrong.
But, when they were squatting they broke the law, and squatters often had to be removed by the police, who had to obtain a court order to do so.
Because actually they were in the wrong, no matter what they thought they were doing, no matter they thought they were dong something good, they did not own those houses or have the authority to be in them. and when they day came, it was no matter how good their argument was, they were wrong and they had to go.
So here’s the thing. One day that’s going to be us. We don’t like to talk about the heavy stuff, what happens when we die, do we all get to go to the nice fluffy heavenly cloud? But we should think about it! Because its going to happen to us all. Well not the fluffy cloud bit of course… but we will have to give an account of ourselves. All of us. Are we going to stand there and give a good account of why we have lived an ok life or are we going to say, I may have made mistakes, I may have done things wrong, but I lived for God. I listened to Him, I tried to be like him.
Will we be the ones allowed to look after the vineyard or the ones thrown out?
In the parable the owner sends servants doesn’t he? Servants or messengers to deliver his message, I’ve come for what is mine = here the harvest, or a picture of his people. That’s what God wants, above all, to just know us, and for us to know him, to be in relationship with us, that’s what its all about – knowing him! It so simple really. How hard is it?!
As I mentioned, since the fall our relationship with God is flawed. We can no longer be with him, talk with him as they did in the garden in the very beginning. So over the years God sent messengers – he sent Prophets, those who speak his word on behalf of him. They are people dedicated to him, who hear his voice and deliver his message to the people. We read about them a lot on the Old Testament, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and so on. These are the messengers depicted in the parable, those whom God has sent.
Now I believe God still sends prophets today but not in the same way, because we all have the opportunity to be in relationship with God – we just have to ask! But he does send people, sends messengers to us – to hear his word, to meet with him. I wonder, if you are a Christian, how many times did you meet with Christians or hear of God’s word before you made a commitment to follow Him? There’s a statistic that says something like people need to have 14 touch points – ie: to hear the gospel 14 times before they make a choice to commit! Perhaps you are actually one of those touch points to the people around you?
Some of you may have heard the story of Frank Jenner. Frank became a Christian in his 30s having heard open air preachers (messengers perhaps). He became an evangelist and would spend hours standing on the street giving out tracts – passages of the bible – and asking people ‘”If you died within 24 hours, where would you be in eternity? Heaven or hell? It is thought that hundreds of people came to know Jesus because of meeting Frank and considering his question.
I wonder if we can all answer that question with confidence today?
You have to know Jesus, recognize you are a tenant here, a tenant of God and you need to fulfill that role.
How are you tending his vineyard?
Tom Wright (theologian and writer) said that ‘there are no passengers in the kingdom’
We are all here because God wants us here and he has a purpose for all of us. And let me say that no one purpose is any bigger or better than any another, we are all in this together. Every one is vital and necessary. God has a purpose for us all.
As a church this is key to us. God has asked us to reach out to Mid Sussex hasn’t he, that’s our vision – to be a transforming presence in Mid Sussex. We want to reach outside of these walls, to tend to his creation, to his kingdom. I now I go on about mission, because that’s my passion but it doesn’t matter, it’s for all of us! It’s all part of tending to his vineyard, to his kingdom, to his people. Ask yourself what is your part in tending the kingdom?
And you have a chance to do that as in a few weeks time we are encouraging everyone to get involved in that with our Out There Sunday.
Ending: (again listen to hear more, I tend to just speak as God guides me when it comes to the ending!)
So where are you in Gods kingdom? A tenant, or perhaps just a squatter trying to make a good (but flawed) case for why you are here?
And what are you doing to tend the kingdom?