What is Your Cornerstone?

October 4, 2020

Matthew 21:33-46

What texts to be given as we return to worship in the sanctuary for the first time since March. The last time that we were gathered in this Sanctuary, we were in the middle of Lent and since then we have said goodbye to winter, spring, and now summer. For me, these seasons have blended together as it has been a very odd time, with the end still not in sight.

The one thing that I could count on with the changing of the seasons, was the return of the yardwork that needed to be accomplished around the parsonage. I would love to say that I am one with the earth when it comes to enjoying this type of work, however, I would have to repent of my lie. My in-laws live in a condo association and all their yardwork is completed by a hired company. Now, this is my type of yardwork. Simply put, I do not have the patience and would rather be working on other tasks. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll do the work, because it needs to be done, but it is not something I roll out of bed thinking about in the morning with joy. Gardening is a similar story. Give me a tomato plant in a pot, and that is more my speed.

We have two lessons today that speak of vineyards that require attention. First, in the text from Isaiah, we hear of a farmer that plants a field hoping to produce a bounty of grapes. Yet, his efforts have little to show for when the grapes turn out to be wild. This is a metaphor for the people of Israel as God had already sent several people to set them straight and they still yielded wild grapes. God continued to stand by the people, loving them and speaking through many prophets so that God’s Word would be heard.

Again, in our gospel lesson, Jesus shares another parable, also having to do with a vineyard. This is the second of three parables that Jesus uses to address the question of, “Whose authority is he doing these things?” The Chief Priests and elders are threatened by Jesus healing those that are sick and preaching a gospel of love and inclusion. This is an upsetting parable, resulting in the Son being killed.

This is a story of selfishness and greed. When the tenants think that they can do better on their own they block the landowner out and either kickout or kill anyone that is associated with the landowner.

Does the story of the son sound familiar to you? Jesus is making his way to the cross and knows that he too will suffer and die a death in the most unimaginable way. Yet, it is in his death and ultimately in his resurrection that we begin our own story. They think that they know better and that all the fruit they are producing is theirs to keep.

Ultimately, what both stories are attempting to address is a refusal to embrace accountability and an arrogant disregard for divine authority. The Israelites and the temple authorities have each turned away from God and placed something else as their cornerstone. They regard their own selfish ambitions as more important. This is sin. Sin is not simply an action, but also an attitude of selfishness that rises above everything else. We fail to learn from these stories of our ancestors and have fallen to the same sins ourselves. At times, the fruit that we produce can be wild grapes and at other times an abundant harvest. Fortunately, for us, the grace of God is also abundant with patience.

Thus, Jesus is the starting point. Jesus is the starting point where we tend the vineyard and learn how to produce good fruit. We are each gifted with our own unique talents and gifts to produce those fruits. They are not our fruits. They are God’s fruits to be given back and shared. It is when we begin to allow the selfishness to overtake us that bad fruits start creeping in.

While I do not look forward to the yardwork that must be done, I have learned to appreciate the patience that is required to maintain it. The patience that is shown by the grace of God as God keeps sending prophets and ultimately the Son to reveal to us what the Reign of God will look like. It is a promise revealed to us in the love poured out on a cross.

It is in God’s promise that the story continues. God builds up what is torn down. In doing so, Jesus becomes the cornerstone of our foundation. As Christians, it is in Jesus we begin, and what all creation is built upon. Fortunately, God has much more patience than I do when it comes to tending the vineyard.

As we examine our own lives and the life of our community, what have we placed as the cornerstone? Have we let our personal motives interject in the way of Christ, or have we started with Jesus and let his good news be our cornerstone? A good news that we are called to share to produce the fruits of the kingdom.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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