I had the joy to be with the good people of First Lutheran Church in Blair, Nebraska this weekend. I was invited by pastors Scott Frederickson and Pam Ciulla, to preach in their worship services on stewardship, and based my message on the appointed gospel text from the revised common lectionary, Matthew 21:33-46. The majority of the manuscript that I preached from is what follows. It was extra fun to be there this weekend, as they had a blessing of the pets in worship too.
Grace and peace from God in Christ- who loves you, calls you, and is with you. Amen.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, it’s great to be with you. Thank you for the invitation Pastors Scott and Pam, and to all of you for the warm welcome. It’s a joy to be here, and to not be far from home in Fontanelle, where my wife Allison is a pastor. I’m Deacon Timothy Siburg, Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod, and I bring greetings from your 100,000 sisters and brothers who with you are the Nebraska Synod, as well as from Bishop Brian Maas, and your assistant to the bishop Pastor Juliet Hampton. I’m excited to be with you to ponder about today’s story and Jesus’ words for us today, to think about stewardship, and wonder a bit about what God might be up to and how we are part of God’s work together.
Today’s Story- “The Parable of the Wicked Tenants”
Today’s story from Jesus is not a happy one. I think that might be an understatement. Jesus earlier in this chapter entered Jerusalem, and we now find ourselves moving along Matthew’s depiction of the events of Holy Week. As Jesus has entered the city, he is in the midst of telling stories; and engaged in conversations with disciples, followers, passersby; and particularly like last week we heard, and this week too, engaged in questions of authority from those threatened by him, especially the chief Priests and Pharisees, whom today’s parable was directed towards.
Today’s story doesn’t mince words. A land owner, or if you prefer to imagine, a farmer who has a vast amount of land, has planted everything and set it to grow. It has come time to harvest, and so the owner or farmer, sends some people out to gather the seeds that were sown. Except, the harvest is not gathered. Those who have been sent out, are abused, rejected, and killed. The owner finally decides to send his son, thinking they would respect him. It’s not hard for us to understand this as a story about God and Jesus. God in Christ, who became human, for us. God, the land owner, Jesus, God’s son. The tenants whom God entrusted to care for the land, the vineyard, turned their backs on the owner who showed trust and faith in them. “When the tenants saw the son (of the land owner), they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’”
It’s not too much of a leap from here to the cross, and the shouts of “Crucify Him, Crucify Him,” is it? But the story’s meaning at this point wasn’t yet entirely clear. Jesus asks those listening, “Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They respond, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” That would certainly be the human response, wouldn’t it.
But what if, this is about God? I shudder at the thought. What God could do in response to the death of God’s own son… Of course, Jesus clears up any uncertainty or question about the meaning of his story. Jesus asks, ““Have you never read in the scriptures, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?”
I imagine it’s clear whom Jesus is talking about now. He’s talking about the chief priests and Pharisees. Perhaps he’s talking about us too? But to drive the point home, he offers one of the most frightening verses, in all of the gospels,
“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruit of the kingdom.”
This is convicting, isn’t it? Like I said, it’s not a happy story. But, perhaps fitting given that I’m here to talk about stewardship, it might just be a message about our stewardship.
Stewardship in light of this
Imagine with me for a minute, that the landowner is God. Imagine that the land, or the vineyard, is creation. Psalm 24 declares that, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it…”
If God is the landowner in today’s story, then God has entrusted all that God has created and all that is, all of us, all that we are, and all that we have, to us. In that sense, we are stewards, and perhaps even tenants of that which is God’s?
There’s a level of complexity here, and I should probably step back and tell you, stewardship is a big thing. It’s part of what it means to be a disciple. And, despite the way the church has talked about it for decades, it is way more than just about money. So, those of you who have crossed your arms, and think I am here to talk about money, yeah, I see you… I am not, because stewardship is much bigger than this.
All that we have and all that we are, has been entrusted to us to care for by God. We’re to use, manage, and steward all of this. And how we do this, is really our response to the good news, gifts, promises, and love of God.
Some of the things that we have been entrusted with to care for, include: our lives, health, bodies, souls, minds, hearts, and stories; our time, questions, dreams, and ideas; our talents, gifts, strengths, passions, vocations, and relationships; our treasures, possessions, money, finances, and assets; and even creation and all that it consists of from the flowing waters of the Missouri, the vineyards in today’s story, the corn and soybean fields that cover Washington county, and even all the pets and animals that will be blessed in worship. Quite frankly, we’re responsible to care for all of this. It’s part of our stewardship, and part of our identity as a Child of God who has been called, created, and is loved by God.
We do this because God calls us to do so. We do this because we are grateful and thankful for all that God has done, promises to do, and continues to do, for us. Our stewardship, really is our joyful response to all that God has done and does for us.
Stewardship as a part of discipleship- telling our stories of faith
Stewardship is part of what it means to live a life of faith as a disciple. We grow in our faith, by telling stories of faith and sharing all that God has done. Seeing and sensing what God has done, and is up to in the world, moves us. We can’t help but be so overjoyed that we want to be a part of this good work and share in it.
I’ve seen this response uniquely borne out in different places across this synod. For example, here among you at First, I have seen how you created a wood-shop here as part of the church facility, to provide space to make furniture and prayer boxes for those in need in the local community.
I have also seen others in another congregation down in Ashland, who changed their congregation’s basement into a fantastic care closet of sorts, which has organized clothes, shoes, accessories, some kinds of food, and other resources by type and size so that anyone in the community in need can come and shop, just like they would at a department store. These are just two responses to God’s love, examples of the countless many that exist uniquely for each and every person.
Ultimately, we give and live because of all that God has done, continues to do, and promises to do for us- not the least of which reason is because we believe that God in Christ has freed us from sin and death, so that we can love and serve our neighbors.
Being Joyful may not be so easy- but we are invited to this work together
Being a steward, is living the life of a disciple and following Jesus. It involves a life of great meaning and purpose, but is also one of challenge. And sometimes, it may not always be easy to see the joy. Take today’s story for example, it’s certainly not a happy one. Or, take the news from early this week out of Las Vegas. The horror, senselessness, violence, death, murder, evil…
In the face of this, it would be easy to understand why we might want to throw our hands up in the air and say, “enough.” “There’s nothing I can do…” But to do so, would be to reject our very identity as Children of God. It would be turn our backs on all that God has promised. God created all of us. God has entrusted all that we have, and all that we are, to us so that we might love God, love and serve our neighbor, and live an abundant life.
We have all that we need to be God’s hands and feet in the world. God is with us. God uses us. Each and everyone. As the song goes, “All God’s creatures got a place in the choir,” that means you, and me. When we help a neighbor in need, it’s God working through us. When we offer a hug, or a shoulder to cry on, God’s kingdom breaks into this world just a little bit. When we give space for someone to share a hard truth, pain, or an awkward question, we do so, out of neighborly love and compassion, the same which God shows to us.
None of this is for salvation. God has already done that, to and through the cross for us. That’s the good news. Despite our sometimes human desire for an angry and vengeful God who smites those who do wrong, our God is a God of love.
Our God is a God of forgiveness, hope, and reconciliation. It’s good news that God doesn’t act like a human landowner who might “put those wretches to a miserable death,” as we heard in today’s story. Instead, God offers love, compassion, forgiveness, relationship, and community. God gives these gifts and God’s gifts of life that we know through the water and the word, through the bread and the wine, for all the people of God. What we get to do, is live in light of that and in response to it.
When we don’t, do this, however, I fear is when Jesus says, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” When God entrusts us with all that we have, we have responsibility. What we do (and don’t do) matters, for the sake of our neighbor. If we don’t do God’s work, God will use another. But God really wants to be in relationship with us, God’s loved children, and gives us all we need, inviting us in our various vocations to do God’s work of building up the kingdom.
Hope in the midst
As we grieve, as we mourn, as we wonder and try to make sense of the world, our hope is found in the one who gave himself for us. Our hope is found in God the landowner, who instead of taking us to task for letting God down, sent God’s son, and continues to be with us through the Holy Spirit because of God’s unconditional love and grace.
There is undoubtedly work to be done as stewards. It’s meaningful work. It’s hard work. But it’s important work, which we do because God calls us to it, and equips and empowers us each to be a part of God’s work in the world.
One other way that each of you, and this whole congregation is a part of this work is through supporting the ministry of the larger church through undesignated offering called mission share. Participating in this helps congregations do ministry that spans the globe by giving to the synod and larger ELCA.
Mission share allows you, and all of the 245 congregations of this synod to: support missionaries; provide for new and renewing ministries; support the training, education, and development of new leaders, pastors, and deacons in our church; and even to support the many serving arms of the church like Lutheran Family Services, Mosaic, Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry including Camp Carol Joy Holling, Lutheran World Relief, and Lutheran Disaster Response, which will be with the people of Puerto Rico, Texas, and Florida affected by hurricanes for years to come. Obviously, there’s lots more than this that you are a part of. Thank you for promising to be a part of it, and to serve and be stewards in this way.
Thank You- part of life as a steward
As stewards, we give thanks and praise to God for all that God has done for us. Likewise, I give thanks for each and everyone of you.
Thank you for being the beautiful children of God that you are, both as stewards and disciples. Thank you to the many of you I have heard about who sent hand-written cards to colleagues in the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod after Hurricane Harvey, they were grateful for the love. Thank you for stewarding all that you have and all that you are to love and serve God and your neighbor. Thank you for faithfully living and serving in your various vocations. Thank you for being a part of this church, and for all of the ministries that you are a part of. And thanks be to God, for all of you, brought together as God’s people as the congregation of First Lutheran Church here in Blair. Amen.
Citations and References:
 Matthew 21:37.
 Matthew 21:38, NRSV.
 Matthew 21:40, NRSV.
 Matthew 21:41, NRSV.
 Matthew 21:42, NRSV.
 Matthew 21:43, NRSV.
 Psalm 24:1, NRSV.
 Matthew 21:41, NRSV.
 Matthew 21:43, NRSV.