Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon and Sweet Home, OR
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost + October 8, 2017
Text: Matthew 21:33-46
It’s the call to every generation to not make the Church our own possession.
You have certain privileges as a renter, and certain other privileges as a homeowner. A renter may have permission to paint the interior, but maybe with the condition that they paint it white when they leave. When it’s cold, a renter can put plastic on the windows, but can’t rip the windows out to replace them. Renters also have responsibilities to the owner—to maintain the property and not endanger it, to come up with rent money on time, to leave if asked.
We are renters of a sort of His Church and the things of God. Example of the Pharisees who had coopted the Holy Law and made themselves masters of it. The papacy claiming it had the authority to open and close heaven, and to free souls from a supposed purgatory. Lutherans thinking they have the only true understanding of God’s Word (let the reader understand putting Lutheran before Christian), or making the Lord’s Supper their private judgment of who is worthy.
Everything we have is on loan and we are but stewards.
What we’ve been given is not a castle, but a vineyard. It’s meant to produce fruit for the joy of salvation. We’re never to keep this inheritance to ourselves, but to share it with everyone the Lord would have—meaning, all people.
This is something Lutherans (including their pastors) today are especially guilt of. We become exclusive and isolationist. Let me just have my little corner of the Christian church and I’ll be comfortable. Let put all my ducks in a row, the doctrine, the liturgy, the music (I’m preaching to myself), and that’s what it means to be church. But this is not the fruits of the Lord’s vineyard any more than the Pharisees. The fruits of faith are in showing the world who our God and Savior is by word and example.
James says religion that is pure and undefiled is to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. It’s a faith that is lived out in mercy and compassion for our neighbors and still holds the pure Word of God.
For everyone who tries to make the Kingdom of God their own possession will find themselves not only empty handed, but cast into the outer darkness. We must repent of our wicked ways, and the Lord will forgive and restore because even though the people of His planting should become unfaithful, He remains faithful to His work: He forgives and renews the people who are called by His Name. He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and relents of disaster.
This is a challenge to us to work this part of the Lord’s vineyard so that it produces fruit in its season. If this is indeed a place where Jesus Christ and His Word are faithfully proclaimed, prove it by inviting your friends and neighbors. Don’t worry if they will think the liturgy or hymns are foreign. Let the Spirit work on them through the Word (after all, it’s laced through the whole service). You might be surprised!
It’s also a challenge for our community of faith to get outside of these four walls. Look in our community and listen for opportunities. How can we be of service to show God’s abundant, no-strings attached kind of love to our neighbors? Are there needs we can rise up to meet where we might have an opportunity to witness to a person who would never dream of entering a church.