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"Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Praise"

Matthew 21:33-46

Rev. Alan Taylor

Pentecost 16, Proper 22, series A
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Oct 2, 2011 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

"Hear another parable.  There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country.  When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit."  This is the Gospel of the Lord.

A favorite television program of mine is NCIS.  It stands for Navel Criminal Investigation Service.  It's one of those programs where crimes are solved using forensic science.  Actor Mark Harmon is the main character in the show.  As the boss character in the program he has a list of rules that his agents are supposed to follow.  In the course of the program he may refer to the rule number and his agents are supposed to know what he's talking about.  One of his rules, number six I believe, is "never apologize because it's a sign of weakness." 

It's interesting the things that we think demonstrate weakness.  For instance, for some humility is a sign of weakness.  Others see weakness in the person who demonstrates a loving and a compassion heart.  A preacher offers a contemporary twist on one of beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount…"Blessed are the strong, who can hold their own."  The world favors conspicuous and so-called heroic virtues.  Those who are strongly—almost fiercely—competitive, aggressive and assertive are the ones who receive recognition, admiration and reward.  After-all do they not seem to have the admiration of the masses, possessing the most and best, despite other obvious and perhaps even offensive flaws in their character?

There is a long list of virtuous qualities that our culture says demonstrate a sign of weakness.  As it turns out, the message of the Old Testament prophets, that God is gracious, merciful and patient, was also often taken as a sign of weakness to be exploited.  You know the history of the Israelites.  They periodically fell out of favor with God, mainly because they became complacent.  In other words, they took God's grace for granted, exploiting His goodness.  When they enjoyed times of peace and prosperity they tended to turn their backs on God.  Sometimes it happened with individuals, like Saul, or David, or Solomon.  Other times it was the whole nation that turned away from God.  Since God was repeatedly gracious to them in times past, they assumed that He be gracious to them yet again. 

Isaiah is one of the prophets who warned Israel that she would eventually be chastened for her complacency.  He preached his message of repentance about 750 B.C. and by 586 B.C. God did indeed chasten His people severely.  The Israelites were banished from their homeland and their temple was destroyed.  God used the Babylonians, that powerful nation to the north, to chasten Israel, to bring them to repentance once again.

The cycle of sin and grace continued throughout Israel's history.  In time their temple would be rebuilt.  God would send more prophets to proclaim His Word.  Finally He would send His own Son as the fulfillment of everything the temple and its sacrificial system was designed to represent. 

Still, His people continued to exploit His goodness.  The apostle John tells us that "Jesus came unto His own and His own received Him not."  Jesus was given as an atoning sacrifice to draw all men to God, to break down the dividing wall that sin creates between God and humanity.  Still, by the time St. Paul comes along and preaches the forgiveness of sins in Christ, the people continue to despise God's perceived weakness.  Could a message of God's grace and forgiveness really be preached without disastrous results?  Paul posed the question that was undoubtedly on the minds of many of his hearers.  "What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?"

When God is good to us the great temptation that confronts us is to become complacent and lethargic, even to take His grace and goodness for granted.  In the book of Acts there is a story about a young man in Troas who fell asleep while Paul was preaching.  He fell out of second story window to the ground.  Everyone thought he was dead, but, Paul revived him.  It's got to be a favorite story of those who sometimes fall asleep in church, or, of those who try with all their might not to.  I'm told that the Old Pilgrims in Massachusetts used to hire a deacon to keep the congregation awake during the pastor's sermon.  The deacon tickled the women under their chins with a feather.  The men were rapped on the side of the head with a long pole.  So much for equal rights!  Fortunately we no longer encourage three-hour sermons. They taxed not only the ability of the worshiper to stay awake but also the ability of the preacher to say something worth-while.

Without even using the feather or the long pole, the parable this morning, about the tenants who were cast out of the vineyard jars us out of our complacency and lethargy, if just for a time.  The master was good and gracious to the tenants who were to tend His vineyard.  "My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.

He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it."

The master gave everything that was needed for the vineyard to produce fruit.  Since he was far away, he even sent messengers to keep his tenants apprised of his good will and intent.  The tenants though beat His servants and cast them out of the vineyard.  The master's goodness was taken for granted.  In the end, the tenants had fallen to such a degree that they actually believed, in their own twisted way, that if they killed the son of the master, they could actually take by force what belonged rightfully to Him.

God has prepared our hearts to produce the fruit of faith.  "Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."  As God's holy priest, you are called to act on His behalf in the place where He has put you, with a compassionate heart and a giving spirit.  The Apostle Peter says, "be ready to give a defense of the hope that is in you."  Have you, have we become too complacent, have we taken God's grace for granted, such that we no longer heed those words of the Apostle? 

If it is so, confess it to God and He will forgive your sin and in that forgiveness He will prepare your heart to bring forth more fruit.  In the end, you see, God remains a giving God.  By His grace, He awakens us from our stupor.  He takes all of our feeble attempts to serve Him and He sanctifies them, which is to say, He makes them holy in His own sight.  The fruit of your life that God deems good is so because of the cross and the sacrifice of God's dear Son. 

Did you ever notice how mothers will store and treasure little odds and ends given to them by their children?  Particularly when the children are young, the refrigerator is often a collage of random pieces of art and good marks from school.  Everyone else would think those treasures of little value, perhaps even worthless. 

Well, our Lord Jesus has in His storehouse a cup of cold water, the widow's mite, and many other things that the world counts of no value, but that He recognizes as precious.  They are treasured as precious, not because they are of any intrinsic value or because they are offered by a person with pure motives or by a person who, of his own strength and might, endeavors to please Him, but because they are the fruits of faith.  The good tree, you see, brings forth good fruit, both made such by the goodness and grace of God in Christ. 

"Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;

Streams of mercy, never ceasing,

Call for songs of loudest praise.

While the hope of endless glory

Fills my heart with joy and love,

Teach me ever to adore Thee;

May I still Thy goodness prove."

In Jesus' name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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