Tag: Sermons

Sermon: What Does the Lord Require of You?

I’m preaching this sermon tomorrow based on Micah 6:1-8. In light of current events, and the divisions within our culture, God’s people need to hear again the call to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. I hope your Sunday is glorious!

What Does The Lord Require of You?
Micah 6:1-8 NRSV

1 Hear what the Lord says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
2 Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the Lord has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel.

3 “O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
5 O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”

6 “With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Called To Testify

We lived in Stone Mountain, Georgia when I was subpoenaed to testify in a murder trial. I did not know the defendant, but I knew his parents. They were calling every witness they could to try to prevent their son, who had killed his wife, from being sent to prison. I was called to testify that I would be available to counsel and guide the young man should the judge sentence him to probation. It seemed like a long shot to me, and in the end it was. The judge sentenced the husband to life in prison. His family wept, while on the other side of the courtroom, the slain woman’s family celebrated.

What we encounter today in this passage from Micah 6, is no less dramatic than my courtroom experience years ago.

In verses 1-2, the prophet Micah says to God’s people —

1 Hear what the Lord says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
2 Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the Lord has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel.

So, God calls on the mountains, hills, and foundations of the earth to be witnesses to the great case against Israel. (And, probably Israel here means both Israel and Judah because the prophet Micah preached about the judgment on both kingdoms.)

In verse 3 God asks rhetorically —

“O my people, what have I done to you?  In what have I wearied you? Answer me!

Then, in verses 3-5, God recalls three major events in the life of His people when God saved them from certain disaster and destruction. The first was when God used Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to lead Israel from bondage in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. The second was when Balak, king of Moab, tried to hire Balaam, a prophet who listened to God, to curse Israel as they made their way to the Promised Land.

And, the third event was when Joshua led the nation of Israel from Shittim, crossing the Jordan, and finally stopping in Gilgal in the Land of Promise.

While we might lump all those stories together as part of the Exodus/Promised Land narrative, God breaks down the narrative into its component parts to remind Israel that every step along the way God had intervened and saved them.

But now it’s Israel’s turn to testify. And in verses 6-7, Israel asks indignantly —

6 “With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

Micah is probably representing what he has heard from his countrymen a hundred times over. They don’t get why God has an issue with them. And, of course, they jump right to how they do worship, because they think they’ve been doing worship quite well, thank you!

So, they begin reasonably — “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

These are, of course, the standard and typical offerings presented to God. Yearling calves, offered on the altar.

But then, they get snarky —  “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?” they ask sarcastically.

Rams and oil are offered to God in Temple worship, but not by the thousands and ten thousands. No, these are people who are put out that God dares to question how they do worship, because, of course, they’ve been doing worship at the Temple since Solomon was king — over 200 years at this point.

But then, they go too far. “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

While the firstborn was dedicated to God, the firstborn (or any child or person) was expressly forbidden to be used as a sacrifice. Other nations around them offered child-sacrifices, often to Moloch, but Israel was prohibited from doing so. Some scholars think this sentence indicates they might have (and we know they did at one time), but others think this is the ultimate outrageous rebuttal to God’s criticism of them.

But now it’s Micah’s turn. In verse 8, Micah stops speaking the very words of God, and rather plainly observes —

8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

In other words, “You know what to do, and it has little to do with what happens inside the Temple and everything to do with how you live your lives.” My paraphrase.

So, let’s look at what God requires, then and now.

First, there are three verbs in the second part of verse 8: Do, love, and walk. All action verbs. All with objects or modifiers. All indicating real life actions, not ritual affectations.

So, let’s break them down.

Do Justice

I’m not using my favorite translation, the New International Version, because I think the NIV misses the translation here. In the NIV the text reads “live justly.” But, Micah says God requires that we “do justice.”

Of course, theologians have often been accused of “straining at gnats and swallowing camels” (I think Jesus said something like that), but here I believe the distinction is critical to understanding what God is saying.

There is a difference in “living justly” and being required to “do justice.” Here’s what I think the distinction is: “living justly” implies that while I go about my individual life, I’m to do things correctly. Now, that certainly is true, but “doing justice” shifts the emphasis from my individual everyday life to an intentional assignment to make sure justice gets done.

As in our day, life in Israel 700 or so years before Christ contained not only individual injustice, but systemic injustice. Their injustice was like ours — the powerful abused those least able to stand up for themselves.

In Chapter 3, Micah notes:

“Listen, you rulers of Jacob, you chiefs of the House of Israel! For you ought to know what is right, but you hate good and love evil. You have devoured My people’s flesh; you have flayed the skin off them, and the flesh off their bones.”

In 3:9, Micah continues:

“Hear this, you rulers of the House of Jacob, you chiefs of the House of Israel, who detest justice and make crooked all that is straight, who build Zion with crime, Jerusalem with iniquity! Her rulers judge for gifts, her priests give rulings for a fee, and her prophets divine for pay…”

The poor were exploited, those with cases to be heard had to bribe the judge to get a favorable ruling, and even in the Temple priests and prophets demanded more than their normal support to do their jobs.

Micah rails against this type of injustice which is built into the Temple, the courts, and society in general. Remember, the prophets generally brought three charges against God’s people regardless of when they prophesied: 1) they worshiped idols; 2) they worshiped insincerely; and, 3) they did not care for the poor, the widows, the orphans, and the stranger. Here Micah speaks of all three transgressions and failures.

To do justice means to ensure that everyone — rich, poor, powerful, or humble — has an equal place at God’s table. Old Testament law provided numerous ways for the poor to be fed, the widows to be cared for, the orphans to be nurtured, and the stranger to be welcomed. But, over and over, Israel’s spiritual and civic leaders bend the rules for their own benefit, while at the same time pretending to be righteous and upright. Jesus will condemn this same hypocrisy in the first century, 700 years later.

God’s requirement to “do justice” is not directed at our modern political parties, civic leaders, or social trendsetters. This is a requirement of God’s people. This is our duty, our job, our responsibility.

In LaGrange, Georgia last week, the chief of police, Louis Dekmar, apologized to the African American citizens of LaGrange on behalf of the city and the police department. He apologized that his department did nothing to protect a black teenager named Austin Callaway in 1940. Callaway had been charged with offending a white woman, and had been placed in the LaGrange city jail. That night, 6 white men with one gun, held the jailer at gunpoint, forcing him to open the jail and release Callaway to them. Later Callaway was found shot several times. He was transported to the hospital where he died of gunshot wounds. Chief Dekmar found there were no case notes, no investigation, and no one was ever arrested for the murder of Austin Callaway. That is an example of systemic injustice. But the courageous apology of a white police chief brought some justice to that community 77 years later.

But if we are not in positions of authority to see that justice is done in our social settings and systems, still we are required to be working to bring about changes in our society so that justice is done, and so that all share God’s blessings, all feed at God’s table, and so that all — not just some — flourish in God’s creation.

Of course, justice also means that good is valued and evil is judged. That’s a part of justice, too. That aspect of justice keeps our society ordered, and our social corrections proportional.

Justice then, is both systemic and personal.

Which brings us to the second requirement —

Love Kindness (Mercy)

No translation is perfect, and here the New Revised Standard Version lets me down. The Hebrew word translated “kindness” here is the word “hesed” which means “lovingkindness.” But, I guess it sounded awkward to say, “Love lovingkindness.” But lovingkindness also means mercy, so the good old King James Version gets it right when it translates this phrase to “Love mercy.”

And, loving mercy goes hand in hand with doing justice, obviously. If you just do justice — especially that which judges and sorts out good from evil — with no allowance for mercy, kindness, and forgiveness — then you have missed the example of God’s own lovingkindness and mercy.

That’s the point here — we do what God does. We “do justice,” but we “love mercy.” That sounds to me like mercy might be as important, if not more so, than doing justice. Justice always has to be tempered with mercy or we become a society with no heart, no compassion, no empathy.

Dr. Richard Hayes of Duke University writes of mercy — “Mercy precedes everything: that, and only that, is why the announcement of the kingdom of heaven is good news.” — (The Moral Vision of the New Testament, pg. 103.)

The story is told of two ancient rabbis who were walking together one day. One bemoaned the fact that they no longer had the Temple in which to worship God. “But,” the other reassured his colleague, “we still have hesed.” His point was, that even if there was no Temple in which to worship, they could still perform acts of mercy and lovingkindness.

Do justice. Love mercy. Do we love mercy, or do we extend mercy as a last, begrudging resort, just because sometimes we have to?

Walk Humbly with Your God

Then Micah adds the final requirement — to walk humbly with your God. “Walk” of course is an analogy for the way in which we live our lives. We speak of people who are hypocritical because they “talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk.”

The idea of walking with God has its origins in the Garden of Eden where God walked with Adam and Eve each evening. Our walk with God is not only our conduct before him, but our fellowship with Him.

There are, I suppose, any number of ways we could walk with God. Certainly we could walk regularly with God. Adam and Eve did so until they sinned, and then they hid from God.

We could walk gratefully with God. Scripture in both Old and New Testaments is filled with exhortations to give thanks, and prayers and songs that give voice to thankfulness.

We could also walk confidently with God. John writes in 1 John 1:5-6 — “This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.” So our walk with God gives us confidence in our relationship to God.

But while we might walk regularly, or gratefully, or confidently, Micah reminds us that what is required of us is that we walk humbly with our God.

According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, the virtue of humility may be defined as: “A quality by which a person considering his own defects has a lowly opinion of himself and willingly submits himself to God and to others for God’s sake.” St. Bernard defines it: “A virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases himself.” These definitions coincide with that given by St. Thomas: “The virtue of humility”, he says, “Consists in keeping oneself within one’s own bounds, not reaching out to things above one, but submitting to one’s superior”   — (Devine, A. (1910). Humility. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved January 28, 2017 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07543b.htm)

And there it is: humility is knowing our limitations, especially in light of God’s limitless love, grace, and mercy.

To walk humbly with God is to fellowship with God knowing that our relationship is not between peers, but of Creator to created, and of Redeemer to redeemed.

Walking humbly with God also reminds us that God has acted justly and shown mercy on our behalf.

One ancient rabbi said that Micah had taken the 613 laws of Moses and reduced them to their essence when he observed —

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God?

When you watch the news this week, ask yourself, “Are we as a nation doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God?” And if the answer is “no” or even “maybe not” then we must remind ourselves that God has shown us what is good. And that good means that we must do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. That is what the Lord requires of us.

Taking the Light Down from the Mountain

Last Sunday I preached on the Transfiguration of Jesus. But the lectionary reading this year couples the story of the mountaintop Transfiguration of Jesus with the healing of a young boy down in the valley. The common interpretive wisdom on this passage (Luke 9:28-42) is that you have to leave the spiritual high of the mountain to go down to the valley where the real work of ministry is done. But, I think these two stories say something different. Could it be that the Light of Transfiguration on the mountaintop changes everything in the valley, too? Here’s the podcast. Let me know what you think.

Podcast: Trusting God and Giving All

Jan Luyken's The Widow's Mite, wikimedia commons.
Jan Luyken’s The Widow’s Mite, wikimedia commons.

Last Sunday, November 8, 2015, I preached from Mark 12:38-44 about the widow who gave everything she had. Here’s the audio of that message titled, Trusting God and Giving All.

Podcast: Where God’s Name Is

250px-Tissot_Solomon_Dedicates_the_Temple_at_Jerusalem

I preached this sermon on Solomon’s dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem last Sunday, August 23, 2015. The biblical text is 1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, and 42-43, the Year B lectionary reading for that Sunday. The point of the sermon is that 5 important things happen where God’s name is found.

The New Living Dead

night40dvdb

First it was vampires, now zombies. Our appetite for the bizarre and scary seems to know no end. Of course film-wise, it all started in 1968 when George Romero directed the cult classic, Night of the Living Dead. Even the Library of Congress has recognized that film as a giant in its genre, and selected it for the National Film Registry.

However the Apostle Paul may have been the first to write seriously about the living dead. In Colossians 3:1-11, Paul reminds the Colossian Christians that they not only “have been raised with Christ” but they have also died to their previous way of life. In other words, first century Christians were the new living dead–alive to Christ, but dead to the world out of which they had been saved.

Paul lists specific behaviors to which the Colossians should have been dead: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed. If those aren’t enough, he adds more like anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language. When we look at that list, our spiritual pride tells us we are not as bad as the Colossians. But before we get too self-righteous, we need to realize that Paul was simply reminding the Colossian Christians that before they came to Christ they acted like everybody else in their society. In Roman culture, sexual mores were lax by Christian standards, and society prized the strong, the rich, and the powerful. The Colossian Christians weren’t worse than we are, like us they had just been doing what everyone else was doing.

For Christians then and now, to be dead to our old life means to stop living like the culture around us lives. To be alive in Christ means to live as Christ enables, with new values, new ethics, and new behaviors.  In this new society driven by the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount, there are no ethnic, political, or social divisions — “no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in all.”

Christians are the new living dead in the 21st century. It doesn’t take long to realize that our Western culture glorifies casual sex, worships at the cult of personality, and values material possessions as trophies of success. As the new living dead, Christians should be like dead people to the culture in which we find ourselves. We might be immersed in it, but we should not be enmeshed in a culture that is at odds with the Kingdom of God.

However, just because Christians are dead to culture doesn’t mean we are not a pervasive presence. Our living essence is salt and light, preserving and illuminating the world that God created and is redeeming.

The next time you watch a zombie flick, just remember: there are some experiences more amazing than horror film accounts of the dead who come back to life. The real living dead are followers of Jesus Christ who have been raised with Christ, but who are dead as mackerels to the culture around them.  Pretty incredible stuff when you think about it.

Podcast: Life in the Spirit

Trinity Sunday offers an opportunity to examine Paul’s idea of life in the Spirit. According to Romans 8:12-17, living in the Spirit means that we don’t live by the “flesh” — which is a word Paul uses to identify that which is dying and passing away, that lifestyle to which we were slaves prior to coming to Christ.

Life in the Spirit means we are God’s children, and as God’s children we form habits as we are led by the Spirit of God. Those habits will bring us into conflict with the world that lives by the “flesh” and we will suffer as Christ suffered because we are living by the Spirit. But, Paul reminds us that if we suffer with Christ, we will also be glorified with Christ, too. Here’s the link to Life in the Spirit. 

Sermon: Finding Your Place in the Kingdom

Stories are powerful vehicles for shaping a community.  But when his nation’s story becomes misinterpreted in the first century, Jesus retells it by placing himself at the center of that story.  

Finding Your Place In The Kingdom

Matthew 21:33-46

33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.” – Matthew 21:33-46 NIV’84

Right Story, Wrong Interpretation

The parable that Jesus taught in the passage we just read seems very obvious to us.  Here is how we interpret the story:

The landowner of the story is God, the God of Israel. The vineyard that has been planted and nurtured by the landowner is the nation of Israel.  The tenants are the rulers of Israel both in the past and in Jesus’ day.  These rulers include the religious leaders of the day.  The servants the vineyard owner sends to collect the harvest are the prophets whom the evil tenants kill.  The son of the landowner is obviously Jesus, whom they also seize and kill.  In other words, this story is rebuke of the rulers of the nation, both political and religious, who have betrayed their calling to be the people of God, who have failed to produce the fruit of the kingdom of God, and who will lose their place which will be given to others.

Now, to a certain extent the religious leaders understood exactly what Jesus was saying, they just didn’t agree with his interpretation.  Not only did they not agree with the way Jesus characterized them, they saw Jesus as the threat to the nation’s stability, way of life, and religious practice.

In this passage we have the age-old account of one story and two interpretations of it.  The Pharisees would have said that they were preserving the way of life, the worship of God, and obedience to the Law of God in the face of overwhelming assault from Rome, the culture of the first century, and pagan influence.  Jesus obviously did not see it that way.

One Story, Two Interpretations

Let me give you an illustration of how one story can have two interpretations.  When the Roman general Pompey conquered Palestine, overthrowing the Hasmonean dynasty in 63 BC, he immediately wanted to confront the Israel’s God.  After all, the great Pompey, under the protection of the Roman goddess Roma had just defeated the Jews, which indicated that the god of the Jews was not as strong as the gods of the Romans.  It was kind of an ancient world version of  “my daddy can beat up your daddy” argument.

Pompey enters Jerusalem, finds the Temple, and barges into the Holy of Holies to confront the God of the Jews.  But once inside the most sacred room of all Judaism, Pompey looks around and finds no image, no statue, no representation of the Jews’ God at all.

Of course, we understand the reason for there not being an image of God in the Holy of Holies.  The 10 Commandments expressly forbid the making of any kind of “graven” image to represent YHWH, Israel’s God.

Pompey, of course, doesn’t know this.  All Pompey knows is that Rome has an image for all of its gods.  Therefore, if no image of a god exists it must be because the people do not believe in any god, and are therefore atheists.

See how the same story can be understood in two different ways?  That is the point of this parable.  Jesus is telling the Pharisees, and by extension all of the rulers of the Judea, that they have misunderstood the story of God and Israel.  And because they have misinterpreted the story, they have done the opposite of what they should have done.

The Story From Isaiah 5:1-7

The most powerful stories are the stories that are woven into the culture of a nation, into its very social fabric.

We have stories like that here in America.  What would the American story be if we did not have the story of the Declaration of Independence being written and signed?  And of course we all know John Hancock, and his story, because of his signature written larger than others.

What would the American story be if we didn’t have the story of Abraham Lincoln, born in a log cabin, self-taught by the fire of his family’s hearth, and rising to become president of the United States?  That story is the story that above all others that convinced a young America that anyone could grow up to be president.

And what would America be like without the stories of defiance?  The best example is the rousing speech from Patrick Henry that concludes, “Give me liberty of give me death!”  Those seven words are burned in our nation’s psyche and because of the value they represent, we as a nation support the struggle of people everywhere for freedom.

But at times the story gets confused.  For instance, it is a well-known fact that the United States government supported Saddam Hussein when it served our purposes.  We don’t tell that story because it doesn’t fit with the bigger story we believe characterizes our country.

We also don’t tell the story of how the Declaration of Independence really applied only to white males.  Women and slaves did not count in this great experiment we called democracy.  Thankfully we have corrected, or at least have attempted to correct, those parts of our story that don’t fit the greater story we tell about our nation.

But you get the point I am trying to make.  In the face of concrete facts to the contrary, human beings can rationalize, ignore, or rearrange current stories to make them fit the story they believe they are living.

That’s exactly what happened within Judaism of the first century.  The story that Jesus was telling was actually taken from the scroll of Isaiah.  We know it as Isaiah 5:1-7.  And, when you read that passage of scripture, what Jesus was saying becomes even clearer.

Listen to these verses:

1 I will sing for the one I love

a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit.

3 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad?
5 Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.
6 I will make it a wasteland,
neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
not to rain on it.”

7 The vineyard of the LORD Almighty
is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
are the garden of his delight.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

Of course, Jesus wasn’t the only person who would have understood instantly that he was paraphrasing this story from Isaiah.  Isaiah writes this “song” and then explains what he means.  The Pharisees, who were renown for knowing and interpreting Scripture, would have known immediately that Jesus was taking an old story, and reinterpreting it to blame them for the troubles of the nation.

But they still didn’t get it all.  Isaiah was writing these lines just years before the Temple, the first Temple built by Solomon, would be destroyed and the nation taken into exile during the Babylonian captivity.

Jesus was not only signifying that the nation and its leaders were to blame for their current state, but he was also extending the story and including himself in it.

And Jesus includes himself as the son of the vineyard owner, or the Son of God.

If that isn’t enough, to further make sure they get his point, that he is the Messiah, and that he, Jesus, has come to set things right, he also quotes from Psalm 118.  The psalm is one that was sung in procession going to the Temple.  It begins this way:

1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

2 Let Israel say:
“His love endures forever.”
3 Let the house of Aaron say:
“His love endures forever.”
4 Let those who fear the LORD say:
“His love endures forever.”

On the way to the Temple, the worshippers are praising God.  But then the song turns to prayers for deliverance, and draws to a conclusion with the admission of the singers:

19 Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD
through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.

22 The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;
23 the LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Of course, the Pharisees would also have understood that reference, but Jesus carries it one step further.  He brings in a passage from the book of Daniel, an apocalyptic vision from Daniel that shows the Messiah bringing judgment on all the kingdoms that oppose the work of God.  In Jesus’ day this would include the rulers of the nation.

Jesus talks about the stone the builders rejected becoming the cornerstone, or in some translations the capstone. The idea is the same in either reference.  The cornerstone was that from which all the other dimensions of the building were built.  If the cornerstone was not carefully hewn, if its dimensions were off, then the entire building would be built wrong.  That’s why a faulty stone was rejected.

But Jesus is not a faulty stone, he’s the true cornerstone.  But he is also the stone referred to in Daniel’s vision — the stone that shatters the kingdoms that oppose the kingdom of God.

Listen to Daniel 2:

31 “You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance.32 The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. 34 While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.

36 “This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king.

44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.

“The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy.”

In one parable Jesus has identified himself with the God of Israel.  He has identified himself as God’s Son.  He has gone on to say that not only is he God’s Son, sent by God to the nation of Israel, but that he is the stone of judgment that will crush all those who oppose the kingdom of God.  He is the Messiah of God, whose kingdom will never end or fail.  Matthew says that the Pharisees recognized that Jesus was talking about them, but they were afraid to do anything to Jesus because they feared the crowds that followed him.

Ultimately, they will turn the crowd against Jesus, and they will kill the son of the vineyard owner, just as Jesus prophesied.

How Do We Find Our Place in The Kingdom of God?

What’s the point of all of this, and of this parable specifically?  Just this – if you misinterpret the story of God, changing it to fit your own preference, changing it for your own benefit, you lose your place in the Kingdom.

God’s work will go on.  God’s purposes will be accomplished.  God has a plan, God is weaving a story.  God’s people are part of that story, but they are not really God’s people if they don’t understand and cooperate with God in the fulfillment of that story.

The first century Jews made the same mistakes we still make today.  They compromised the word of God, making deals with the Roman empire for their own benefit and survival.  I am sure they justified it in the process by saying, “Be a realist, this is the best we can do right now.  We’ve cut the best deal we can get, under the circumstances.”

But God isn’t about accommodating his Kingdom to the standards of the world system that is opposed to God’s making all things right.  God’s Kingdom is coming, has been inaugurated, and God invites his children, his creation, into the joy of that Kingdom.

The fruit of the Kingdom that Jesus came looking for is found in trusting him as God’s Son, believing that in his death on the cross he defeated sin, death, and the grave.  And, in living the crucified life of obedience to Christ as a demonstration of the Kingdom of God now.

So we gather here today at this Table, a memorial to keep us from forgetting that this bread is not only bread that nourishes us in this world, but it is the Bread of Life that feeds our souls.  That this cup is not only the product of the crushing of grapes, but is the symbolic product of the shed blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

To find our place in the Kingdom we must not only know the story of God and what God is doing, we must interpret it correctly, make it our own story, and live our lives in light of its truth and power.