Sermon Matthew 21:33-46 October 5, 2014 “The In Crowd”
Throughout the year, we have been exploring the gospel of Matthew. Matthew often used Christ’s words to address his audiences – the Jews of the day. At times, we’ve heard very strong words of condemnation and criticism in Matthew, those words often directed at the religious elite – primarily the scribes and the Pharisees. Occasionally, such as now, Matthew’s use of Christ’s words was a strong indictment of the behavior and attitudes of the temple chief priests, the so-called “in crowd”. These were the ones who exhibited highly and overly righteous attitudes whose purpose was directed more toward prestige and status than it was intended to exhibit an attitude of integrity and faith; more show than for substance.
Matthew has an agenda, as do most writers. His is intended to use Christ’s words to convict, conflict, and ultimately, and hopefully, transform the people God had called to be “a light to the nations.” He tells the stories of history but he puts them into a context that is very much contemporary to his day and to the circumstances in which he finds himself. Now remember! Matthew wrote his gospel some 40 years after Christ died and was resurrected. Speaking, so to speak, after the fact, he wants his listeners to understand what they had rejected so he borrows Christ’s parable of the wicked tenants.
Each of the characters in the parable represents something or someone else. The symbolism isn’t lost on Matthew’s listeners. They get it and when they get it, they get angry. The landowner, of course, is God. The slaves are the prophets of old who bore God’s message to the nation of Israel. The tenants are the Pharisees and chief priests of Matthew’s day. Guess who comes out looking bad in this tale?
A number of years ago, a friend gave me a gift. Rummaging in her purse, she pulled out a piece of concrete and handed it to me. I was a bit confused and said so. She said, “I thought you might like to have a piece of the Berlin Wall.” In 1989, that wall had finally come down as freed East Berliners claimed their independence. With sledgehammers and raw will power they pulled the hated wall to the ground. The piece of concrete I held in my hand was small in size, rough and misshapen on one side, but very smooth on the other side. On the smooth side there were the remnants of some painted images in dull blues and reds.
So, as I held this little piece of history, I was struck by the pain, terror, hope and joy it represented. I didn’t have the whole wall in front of me, but I could see the wall and more importantly, I could feel what the wall meant before it had been broken into pieces, some as small as the one I held in my hand. Because, in my hand, I held 25 years of repression, hatred and evil; the wall had divided a country, a people, and the world. I imagined, as I gazed down on my tiny piece of stone, that mixed with the paint were the drops of blood shed by a people straining to be free. This piece of stone symbolized all the worst humanity had to offer and yet broken, it symbolized all the best in us too and the last word had proved to be stronger than the first.
Christ is the last word. Matthew uses Old Testament language when he puts the words “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” on the lips of Christ. Christ describes himself as that cornerstone, perhaps rejected by the builders but by the Lord’s hand, by God’s determination, this very stone will be the first stone in the foundation of a new faith. In so doing, Christ is described as the one who will and does triumph over evil, over sin and, ultimately, over death.
And so the cornerstone has been laid and today, we sit in this sanctuary worshiping together knowing full well that around the world millions of Christians join us in our worship. With those millions of Christians, we take in the Bread of Life, the Bread of Hope and Freedom and together consume the food that transforms us from broken to whole. Together, with millions of Christians throughout the world, we lift the cup and offer to God the best we have and yes, the worst of what we are, trusting that God can and will take all that we offer and make from it something new, something worthy of God’s reign.
But, as in any human story, there are tragedies. The one we are also aware of today, as we observe World Communion Sunday, is the story of those who cannot worship freely in their countries; stories of those who are persecuted and put to death for their faith. They, too, are with us today.
As we share Communion together today, let our prayer connect us with all the prayers that will be spoken by all the people who will gather together for the sole purpose of worshiping a common Lord. Let our prayers rest on the lives of the many who must speak theirs silently and in fear. Worldwide Communion Day reminds us that Christ is the cornerstone upon which God has laid the great foundation of faith. May God take our brokenness, as God took the broken pieces of a wall in Germany, as God took the broken body of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and transform us into a people, who in God’s sight are redeemed, whole and are forgiven. Then with Christ, for both those who have the freedom to do so and for those who do not, let us together breathe our thanks and speak our joy with the words, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes.” Amen.