Picture is of the 17 pastors who gathered to place Pr. Wilken into office at Trinity Lutheran Church in Millstadt, Illinois.
[Isaiah 5:1-7 / Philippians 3:4-14 / Matthew 21:33-46]
"This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance." Jesus foretells his own death in these words.
The tenants wanted the vineyard, but not a relationship with the Owner, who sought only the fruits of the vineyard and was happy to have them live there on his land and enjoy its goodness and thank him by the portion they rendered him. They did not want any reminder that it wasn't all theirs. And so all those who came to their lives reminding them that their lives were not their own, were unwelcome and silenced.
The final reminder that their lives were not their own was a Son. Unlike all the others sent to them, this one was the very child of the Owner. But his fate is the same as the others. Tossed out of the vineyard, killed, because he reminded them by his very person that their lives were not their own.
By doing so they thought they made their lives their own. "We will get his inheritance." In God's irony, their words were true.
For it was by the killing of the Son that an inheritance was obtained for them - and for all - that was greater than anything they could have dreamed as they desperately clung to their little patch of life. The death of the Son was the gift of life from God. Isaiah pointed the way.
The First Reading spoke of the protection of the vineyard being removed. This foretells more than Israel's destruction. It foreshadowed the protection of the Father's hand being removed from the Son. As the vineyard was made a waste and overgrown with briers and thorns, so the Son was made a waste, counted as human garbage, and crowned with thorns. As the vineyard was bereft of rain, left thirsty and dry, so the Son hanging on the cross cried out "I thirst." As God looked to his vineyard for justice and saw bloodshed, so in the Son he looked at bloodshed and saw justice. As God looked to his vineyard for righteousness, but heard a cry; so he heard the cry of the Son "It is finished!" and behold a righteousness that will stand firm for all people and for all time.
The death that the Son dies is not any other death than ours. The death of the heir is offered us as our very death to the old way of living that says: "It's my life; I can do with it what I want." The death of the Son is offered us as our way out of that dead-end road.
Even more, His death opens up the way for mere tenants to become sons themselves, heirs not of a piece of real-estate, but of the Father's love, beloved children who are given the gift of eternal life. Bringing us into the love and communion of the Triune God: this is what the death of the Son accomplishes and offers and bestows.
So for any to welcome that gift of Jesus' death means death to the lie that our lives are our own. It means owning up to the fact that we too are implicated in His death. It means facing squarely the reality that His death is exactly what we deserve for our own attempts to call the shots and be in control. His death given to us as ours is the gift of Baptism calling us to die in ourselves to every last impulse to treat our lives as our own. His death given us as ours in Baptism frees us to be heirs of the Father with Him. He died to make us joint-heirs, his brothers and sisters, children with him of one heavenly Father.
Any who refuse such a gift - that is, any who would rather be renegade tenants in a vineyard where they live for a short time the illusion that they are in control, having driven away or killed every reminder that this is all a lie - are those who in the end receive the horrifying judgment: "He will put those wretches to a miserable end."
Jesus is a stone of stumbling. His presence in our lives either crushes to the death the old lie about our lives as our own so that we die with Him and then are into new life where we live as beloved children and heirs, or we have to throw Jesus and His Word out to silence their reminders of the deepest truth about ourselves, a truth that we do not want to know.
When Paul said that he counted everything else but Jesus as rubbish, he was stating a very profound truth: to have Jesus but nothing else that we dare to call our own before God is to have everything; to have everything that we call our own but not Jesus is to have nothing at all.
Rather than cling to the remains of a ruined vineyard, Jesus is given us in His death and resurrection that clinging to Him and to Him alone we may stand before the Father with Him as children and heirs - not by our doing, but by His gift. His death our life. His life our salvation.
And today He gives you another gift: a new pastor – an associate to your beloved Pr. Kumm. This gift God gives solely for the purpose that His Gospel might continue to sound among you. He’s here to remind you that the vineyard isn’t yours, but the Lord’s – that your lives belong to the Crucified and Risen one. He’s here to remind you that having everything without having Jesus is only to have so much rubbish. Here’s put here to serve up to you the life that is in Christ – to keep you as a parish and individual members of it Christ centered and cross focused as he never tires of saying. So enough of him, and back to what he’s here for.
As often as the Feast is spread here at this altar, the gift of Christ's body and blood - that which was once tossed out by humanity as worthless rubbish - is offered you by the living Savior as the only real life in the whole world. By this body and blood your God gives you an inheritance far greater than any earthly vineyard, than any earthly thing! Here he offers and seals to you the gift of Life itself. For this is the blood that the Father saw spilled, and beheld justice! Here the cry that God looked for and beheld, righteousness! Here you are made the heirs of eternal life. Here you taste the unspeakable goodness of your God. Amen.