LENT 5, C – March 13, 2013

 SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 43:16-21; Phil. 3:8-14; Luke 20:9-20; Psalm 3

 

     “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.” Luke 20

 

What does God want from you? And, do not be surprised by or ignore the fact that He does have expectations of you. Christ’s parable makes this clear. You are God’s vineyard, carefully planted and tended that you might bear fruit. So, what is the fruit that He expects? What is God looking for from you?

 

Is it a righteous life? You know: not stealing, not defrauding, not slandering or speaking ill of or harming others in any way. Is it being concerned for others and helping those in need? Does God expect that you not set your focus upon things – possessions; money; cars; great vacations; the praise of others – but trust Him to provide what you need and then live for others, and not just for yourself? Does He expect you to be a loving father or mother who takes good care of your children; a loving and obedient and respectful son or daughter; an honest person; a good citizen; a trustworthy and helpful friend and neighbor? Yes, God expects all of these things, and more. But, you don’t have to be a Christian, or even be religious, to be a good person. Good morals and good conduct are not the sole possession of Christianity, nor are they God’s main focus and message. God is looking for something else, something more.

 

So was Lois. She truly had a good life, for her husband, Dave, was very good to her. He was a hard-working man whose job provided a good income so that they wanted for nothing. They had a nice home in a good neighborhood. They each had a good car that was kept in excellent condition, as Dave made sure that they were serviced regularly. He was an excellent cook who happily fixed dinner when he could, and they frequently enjoyed a meal at a fine restaurant. And, Lois had a gym membership and a personal trainer to help stay in shape and not gain any extra pounds from those fine meals! She was free to pursue the hobbies and interests she had, and paying for them was not only not a problem; she never had to explain and defend what she spent on them. Her husband trusted her completely. If she wanted to travel to see her parents, or visit an old friend, or just get away to enjoy another place, a better climate… well, she could do so, no questions asked. How Lois’s friends envied her. What a great life and marriage she had! And then, how shocked they were when she left Dave. You see, he never held her close, never kissed her, never told her of his love for her. And so, all of the other things he did became hollow and empty.

 

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” Jesus declares. He is the center, the key; everything depends upon Him. God the Father sent Him – His unique and beloved Son with whom, along with the Holy Spirit, He is one being, the one true God – to us in our flesh as the sign and guarantee of His love for us, a love that is extraordinary in its hope and sacrifice. In fact, God’s love for us is so great and so extraordinary that it might come across as foolish. Doesn’t the vineyard owner in Christ’s parable strike you as a fool? After several times sending servants to the tenants of his vineyard to collect payment from them, only to have them treated shamefully and beaten and sent back empty-handed, he comes up with this brilliant idea: “I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.” It’s no surprise that the tenants kill him. But, the most surprising thing with this story is that Jesus is talking about Himself. He knows that when He goes to Jerusalem He will not be accepted and loved and followed, as He should be. No, the leaders of the people will reject Him and offer Him up to a horrible death by crucifixion. He knows this, but He goes anyway. Love, and not foolish hopefulness, motivates Him, as it motivated His Father to send Him to us. You see, God knows what our sins do to us, how they corrupt us so that we love ourselves first and turn away from and against others. He knows what they will do to us after we die: they will condemn us to an eternity apart from Him and His love and in hell, where selfishness and hatred reign. God therefore sends His Son to take our sins and their eternal destruction upon Himself. Jesus willingly bears them and offers Himself up to be judged for them, that He might free us from them and renew us with His Father’s love.

“Yes, Father, yes, most willingly I’ll bear what You command Me.

My will conforms to Your decree, I’ll do what You have asked Me.”

O wondrous Love, what have you done!

The Father offers up His Son, desiring our salvation.

O Love, how strong you are to save!

You lay the One into the grave who built the earth’s foundation. (LW #438, vs. 3)

So we sang in our hymn. This is what Christianity is all about, for this is what Christ is all about. God’s love for us in Christ is to be the focus of our lives. It is to bring forth from us love for God through Christ.

 

“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” says the apostle Paul (Phil. 3). “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” He doesn’t say this, and live this, because he has to. He wants to. He loves the One who loved him first and gave His life for him.

 

Love for God; love for Jesus, His Son: this is the fruit that God is looking for and desires from you. Apart from such love anything else that you do, no matter how good and honorable and even sacrificial, is hollow and empty and will be rejected by God as worthless. If you find that such love is lacking in your heart; if you fear that your love for God is weak, and are distressed that too often you bottle it up and keep it inside because of fear of what others will think or how they will react; well, confess this to your God as sin, selfish and despicable and damnable sin. This is what it is! But then, look upon His sign of love for you and forgiveness of you: His Son, dying on the cross for you. “This is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” Holy Scripture says (1 John 4:10). Looking upon His sacrifice of love, believing that the very Son of God did this for you and by His death took away your sins, you not only have God’s forgiveness. His love is yours, a love that is eternal and unconquerable and powerful to fill you and renew you and bring forth love from you.

 

“Return to the Lord, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!” (Joel 2:13). He pours out His love upon you in Christ Jesus. Let us praise and glorify – and love – Him forever! Amen.