Sermon Archives

Sunday, October 8, 2017
The 18th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22, Year A)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
The Cornerstone of God's Kingdom

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Who wouldn’t do what they did?  Removed by 2000 years and thousands of miles, we think we wouldn’t be like those tenant farmers.  But wait just a moment, consider it again.  You’ve worked day-in and day-out on the land, squeezing every ounce of produce possible from the dry and caked land.  You’ve worked yourself and your family to the bone and you’re only barely surviving yourself.  Tennant farming in ancient Israel wasn’t just “good old fashioned hard work,” it was brutally hard and it was miserably poor.  You didn’t get rich as a tenant farmer; you survived.  As so you might imagine the longing and desire for something more, for more stability a bit more comfort, a little more return for their labor . . .  and you might even imaging the anger that built up over the year, over the hours in the scorching heat and withering sun that unleashed itself when the son arrives. 

We can certainly imagine how the crowds around Jesus responded – many of them would have been tenant farmers themselves!  They may not have approved of the killing, but they probably appreciated the resistance, the very well may even have cheered what they saw as the righteous rebellion of the tenant farmers.

But they also knew the cost.  As soon as Jesus asks the question – “Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” – they know what will happen.  “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.” 

Some in the crowd – then and now – may have even applauded the idea which the crowds suggested – that the tenants be severely punished and new tenants found . . . for they not only swindled the landowner out of their agreed to contract, but now have beaten his slaves and servants, and killed his very son! 

On the surface of it, the entire story makes sense – the tenant farmers are enraged to the point of violent rebellion on account of their poverty and living conditions.  The landowner is enraged to the point of complete destruction on account of his great loss.  Who among us wouldn’t retaliate with anger and fury and destruction?  They deserved it, we would say!

In a world as rooted in “justice” as ours is today, the actions of both tenant farm and land owner morally just.  The righteous justice which the tenant farm wrought was little different than the justice of those faithful Americans who protested the Tea Act of 1773.  And the economic and legal justice sought by the landowner would be no different than our modern quest for the death penalty and financial reparations when contracts fail.

Depending on your experience, you may think either side is justified . . . or perhaps even both.

And yet, both the justice of the tenant farmer and that of the landowner lead to the same end – death and destruction for the other. 

As much as we may think, desire even, that justice be the foundation of society and God’s kingdom, it leads to nothing more than suffering.  As the old adage goes, “an ‘eye for an eye’ only leaves us blind;” it does nothing to bind us up or restore our broken relationship.

But notice what Jesus says.  He doesn’t immediately affirm the destructive retaliation proposed.  He does say, “Yes, you’ve got it!”  He doesn’t immediately affirm the quest for justice by either the poor laborer or the wealthy landowner.

Instead, he turns everyone’s attention to Psalm 118, which begins and ends with this remarkable proclamation “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; * / his mercy endures for ever.”  Over and over, throughout the psalm we hear not of God’s destructive power, but of his mercy and forgiveness.

‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?  And what is that stone?  None other than mercy.  Rejected by us, mercy, forgiveness by another name, has become the chief cornerstone of God’s kingdom.

This is, in fact, the same theme we have heard now for weeks from Jesus, that God plays by different rules from us.  When Jesus asks, “Have you not read the scriptures?,” he is chiding those around him for not seeing that God’s Kingdom is not about power and violence and revenge.  It is, rather, built on mercy; it is rooted in forgiveness, generosity, and sacrifice.

Similarly, Jesus is asking those who will listen if they have heard the message he has taught in the stories which precede this one.  We might ask ourselves the same -- have we heard the message of these past weeks?  There was that king, you remember, that king who forgave the great debt of his slave?  And then there was that land-owner who brought workers to his vineyard throughout the day, from the first hours of sun to its going down, he sought them – and at the end of the day, he paid them, not simply a fair wage for fair work, but qith generosity and gift he paid them all a full day’s wage! 

“Do you remember?” Jesus seems to say.  “This is God!  This is God’s kingdom!  This is the new cornerstone I’ve been proclaiming all along!”  Jesus reminds them (and us!)

Mercy – this is the new cornerstone.  Forgiveness, generosity, self-sacrifice, fullness of life, these are the new fruit.

Not violence, greed, destruction, and anger.  When was the last time a quest for justice lead to restored relationship with another?  No, where justice destroys, mercy restores.

The question for us today is not, “who are we?”  Are we tenant workers laboring hard in an unjust world or land-owners cheated out of our just earnings.  Rather we must ask a simple question:  on what stone will we build our lives?  Will we build with the old stones of justice which leads only to equality and subsistence at best, and death and destruction at worst?  Or will we build our lives and the world about us on the new stones of mercy, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice which lead to equity and fullness of life for all?

God’s kingdom is the latter.  Let us join him, for his mercy endures forever.