“Jesus looked at them and said, “What then does this text mean:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’?
Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.”
We are getting close to ending the season we call Lent. Next Sunday holy week starts, so naturally we will begin to turn our eyes and our focus towards the cross.
If I asked you, what was Jesus’ primary mission on earth, what would you say? You might say it was to love others. You might say it was to preach forgiveness and love. You might say it was to show what the law of Moses was really about. You might say it was to show the face of God to the world. These would all in part be true. However, Jesus’ primary purpose was redeem the world. And redemption would only come through death. He lived to die, rejected and alone. He set his heart towards Jerusalem, not to be enthroned, but to be killed.
From a political standpoint, the parable that Jesus told in our gospel lesson was insane. Jesus uses the language of Isaiah and other Old Testament texts which described the vineyard as God’s promise, his covenant with his people, or sometimes God’s people themselves. In Jesus’ parable, the tenants are the scribes and Pharisees, the stewards of the vineyard, the guardians of true religion and the power base of the people. The owner of the vineyard is God and obviously, the owner’s son represents Jesus.
Here is a parable that ends badly. The owner sends servants to settle accounts and collect the harvest from the tenants of the vineyard. The tenants beat the servants and when the owner sends his son, the tenants kill him, thinking they can become heirs of the property.
Jesus told this parable with the scribes and Pharisees in mind. In Jesus’ view, the scribes and Pharisees were unfaithful in tending God’s covenant and in shepherding God’s people. So much so that they would kill even God’s son rather than forfeit the vineyard and their own power base.
Naturally, as the Scripture says, they were furious and began to look for ways to arrest Jesus. This was the beginning of the end. You can see Jesus’ campaign advisers saying, “why wasn’t Jesus afraid of offending the Scribes and Pharisees? Why couldn’t he see the result of his choice?”
The reason? He was focused completely on his mission. The cross was his mission. Death was his primary purpose. And he knew that much of what he said and did was for that end, and would lead him there.
If we are to emulate Jesus we have some difficult work ahead of us.
The difficulty in proclamation of the gospel is that our message assumes that all are sinners and that the tenants of the vineyard are all of us. Isn’t it the most convenient thing in the world to blame everything in the gospels on the self-righteous Pharisees? Isn’t it so much easier to see the speck in someone else’s eye than to see the log that is in our own?
So many tiptoe around the scandal of the cross and the offensiveness of the gospel. As Will Willomon has said, “Unable to preach Christ and him crucified, we preach humanity and it improved.” Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann has said, “By the time most of us finish qualifying the scandal of Christian speech, very little can be said by the preacher that can’t be heard elsewhere.”
When you think about it, isn’t it a virtually impossible task to convince ourselves and others that we are all sinners? Sure our message is one of forgiveness and reconciliation, but there has to be sin for there to be forgiveness and there has to be alienation from God in order for us to reconciled.
However, we bring the message of redemption not because we want to be right and have everyone else be wrong, but because we want to have the same heart that Jesus has.
As Rick Warren says, “If you want to be like Jesus, you must have a heart for the whole world.”
The preaching of the cross, or being a ‘cross cultural people’ as my buddy Robert would say is difficult. But it is our mission. The light shining in the darkness is not only the star of Bethlehem, it is the glistening and bloody cross of Calvary.
We can all only imagine what things would look like if we as Christians fulfilled our mission. We celebrated St. Patrick’s Day last week, but we never get to the true St. Patrick. He was an evangelist who had a heart for the lost. When St. Patrick evangelized the Irish, secular leaders were glad that drunkenness and violence went down. If we as Christians really fulfilled our mission, we would not only have full churches, we would have transformed neighborhoods.
What is more sobering, though, is what things look like when we do not fulfill our mission. Notice what the owner of the vineyard did when the tenants killed his son. The owner gave the vineyard to someone else. In the US there are churches that are fulfilling the Great Commission. I believe we can be a church like that. But for every one church that is started, two close their doors.
God is going to use whoever is faithful in fulfilling the mission of the gospel. God does not need us to fulfill his mission in the world. He is doing just fine thank you. If one parish or denomination drops the ball, he’ll use another. Of course, as the Scriptures point out, we are co-laborers of Christ. We must fulfill our mission. But if we do not, God will give the vineyard to someone else. All the warnings from the scripture readings this Lent point in that direction.
God does not need us to fulfill his mission in the world. He will work because of us and he will work in spite of us. This is why we need so much to pray for the lost of this world and to pray for our mission here at Epiphany. We need to have God sized goals because the mission of the church is that big.
How do we do this? One, we need to begin to think ‘eternally’ and not just of ourselves.
That question is for all of us, what are we allowing to stand in the way of our mission?
Brian McLaren, author of the book More Ready Than you Realize, offers some questions for reflection on whether or not we are people with a mission. Here are a few:
- Have you ever told God you are willing to go wherever he calls you?
- Do you believe that God loves all people, all nations, everyone in the world?
- Are you investing your time in God’s global and local missions?
- Do you see yourself as a consumer and the church as provider of religious goods and services–or do you see yourself as a partner in the church, which is a community engaged in God’s mission?
These are vital questions to ask ourselves, both individually and as a parish.
Nothing kept Jesus from fulfilling his mission. We started Lent with Jesus being offered the easy way out by the devil. Jesus didn’t take it. We see today Jesus taking on the political powers when he could have sought common ground. In the coming days we’ll again see Jesus’ emotional anguish and brutal physical suffering as he walks the way of his Passion.
Nothing kept Jesus from fulfilling his mission to redeem the world. Not pain, not ridicule, not politics, not even the powers of hell.
Why? Because he had a heart for the world. His heart broke to see what the power of human sin is capable of. So much so that he bore that sin on the cross. He fulfilled his mission because he had a heart for the world.
Tom Clegg in his book Lost in America recounts his time as a missionary in the village of Ka’arachi, which is on the Kenyan-Ethiopian frontier. Ethnic battles and famine in the surrounding areas produced thousands of refugees.
Tom pictured himself putting food in bowls and saying, ‘Here, because Jesus is alive, eat.’ But it didn’t work out that way. The camp only had the capacity to feed 20,000 a day. He says, “the math was painful. During peak times, each refugee would get a real meal only once every ten days.” He was forced to sit there and count to 20,000 every day and then push back the rest every night who were waiting and close a barbed wire gate on them.
The leader of the camp was a short, stout Anglican priest named Father Joey who was ‘five foot tall and five foot across’ as Tom describes him. Fr. Joey would grab Tom’s shoulder every morning and say, ‘God wants to talk to you boy,’ and call him to Morning Prayer. The only prayer Tom could muster was, “God, if you’re really there, get me out of here.”
One morning Fr. Joey grabbed Tom and said, “I have something for you to do, come with me.” Fr. Joey had a stole and a dog-eared Book of Common Prayer and they walked to the outside of the camp. Out on the camp’s edge was a huge trench, forty feet long, four feet wide and five feet deep. It was filled with the bodies of little ones. Tom realized they were there to do a funeral!
Tom was stricken with grief. He could hardly handle this scene and walked away with tremendous grief, questioning the goodness of God.
But day after day God was with him.
What Tom discovered, was that because of the simple, prayerful, loving obedience and faithfulness of Fr. Joey, the hungry were fed, the naked were clothed and the gospel was proclaimed. Some of those involved in the warring factions even became Christians and put down their weapons. All because of the faithfulness of a short, stout little Anglican priest.
Fr. Joey fulfilled his mission because he had a heart for God and for the world. He had a heart for the hungry and those held in spiritual bondage. Nothing, not suffering or grief or conflict could keep him from fulfilling his mission.
Do you have a heart for the world? For those who are hungry, for those in spiritual bondage, for those who don’t know the saving work of Jesus? If you do, you are being like your Lord. I mentioned last week that Moses was called to free those in bondage and a way to find our own calling is to see what moves our hearts–who we want to free from bondage.
I read an article recently about a young lady who was a self-professed atheist. Through a variety of means, she became a Christian. Christ himself drew her in. What is interesting about the article is the church that she chose to attend, and I presume was part of her coming to faith. It was St. Michael’s by the sea Episcopal Church in Carlsbad, California. I looked at their website expecting a hip and happenin’ parish that was very focused on evangelism. What I found was a parish focused on evangelism and discipleship, but also a church deeply committed to the liturgy and the Anglican Way. Their mission statement goes like this:
Our mission is to be a beacon of God’s truth and love through the richness of traditional Anglican worship, in the equipping of the saints to bear witness to Christ wherever they may be, and by sharing in Christ’s work of reconciliation and healing in the world.
Maybe we should do renew some of our language and build a statement around just those things: traditional Anglican worship, equipping and discipling, and bearing witness to Jesus and his reconciliation and healing.
Whatever the case, we are stewards of the gospel and its mission here at Epiphany. We are ‘cross cultural’ people!
Don’t let anything keep you from fulfilling your mission. Nothing kept Jesus from fulfilling his.
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth your hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.