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Free Sample for October 5, 2014
By David Howell

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 Preaching Matthew 21:33-46

 

Texts like this one have been grossly misused in pulpits, because this parable can easily lend itself to the kind of sermon that encourages anti-Semitism. Whoever takes on the task of proclaiming this parable must be aware of how easily a sermon can misrepresent the gospel.
At the same time, we do have to take seriously that Matthew’s message to his first century Jewish audience is that God is doing something new in Jesus Christ. The leaders of Israel rejected the Messiah. God will respond to this rejection by taking the kingdom of God and “giving it to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”
It is tempting to identify with the people who produce the fruits of the kingdom and point our finger at the Pharisees who sought to trap Jesus. After all, we are the Church. We are the ones who believe in Jesus. We come to church most Sundays. We attend Bible studies. We give financial support to our congregation. Although all this may be true where you serve, one way to challenge congregations is to explore what the text can mean to those who should believe but often do not. Rather than focusing too much on what God had in mind for the Pharisees, consider how the Church rejects Jesus.
Since the Pharisees said “no” to God, the preacher may want to consider the ways in which God’s persistent “yes” is met by our repetitive no.” God continually comes to us, and we willfully, sometimes violently, send God away. Jesus comes as the Lord claiming authority over us, but we would rather live by our own rules. Can you think of examples of this tendency that will speak to your congregational and community context?
There is also an element of entitlement in this parable. The Pharisees were indignant at the thought that they might not be as good as they thought they were (v. 45). Entitlement runs rampant in our culture. We who are citizens of the “home of the free and the land of the brave” may unknowingly live as though we are entitled to a certain status in God’s eyes. The United States is the world’s greatest superpower. Our money is stamped with the words “In God we Trust.”  But are we producing the fruits of the kingdom?  Have we become too comfortable to realize our need for repentance and humility?
Entitlement is an issue in some of our congregations. We have at times acted as though the church of Jesus Christ is something we own and possess for ourselves. Like the tenants who leased the land, we have often been so busy with “our” programs that we forget that the landowner is going to hold us accountable for what we have done with borrowed land. Rather than serving as stewards of God’s mission and vision in the world, we have sometimes acted as though the Church is our private club.
As with so many of Jesus’ parables, we also hear a word of grace in this text. After Jesus describes the violent way the tenant farmers treated the servants and finally the landowner’s own son, he asks them how the landowner will treat the tenant farmers. Thoroughly entrenched in the world’s ideology of violence and retribution, the Pharisees say that the landowner will bring “those wretches to a wretched end.” Jesus knows this is not quite the whole story. “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.”
In other words, God is not going to give up. No matter what violent acts are perpetuated against Jesus, the Father will see that the rejected stone becomes the cornerstone. The kingdom is not ours. The kingdom belongs to God. We who aspire to live in the kingdom must enter on God’s terms and not our own. This is good news worth sharing.

Prince Raney Rivers
United Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church
Winston Salem, NC

 

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See Tom Steagald's Preaching Journal! Tom is the Pastor at Lafayette Street United Methodist Church in Shelby, NC, and adjunct professor at Hood Theological Seminary (AME, Zion) in Salisbury, NC. Tom has just published Shadows, Darkness and Dawn: A Lenten Journey with Jesus (Upper Room). Previous titles include Praying for Dear Life and Every Disciple's Journey, both from NavPress. He is a frequent contributor to Feasting on the Word, The Abingdon Preaching Annual, and other preaching resources. Tom's journal will detail each week's work to "discover" the sermon to be preached at Lafayette Street. Follow FestHomiletics on Twitter 

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