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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Our Inheritance - 10/04/2020

“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner …” (Mt.21:33)

The Landowner in Jesus’ parable is God, of course. The word landowner falls on our ears differently than it would on the ears of its original 1st Century hearers.

Many of us now who hear this reference are landowners. Although not for everyone certainly, for many of us, owning a home or some property is normal – as accessible and expected as electricity and WiFi signal.

But perhaps these parables and other hymns and poems of the bible can help us remember something we so often act like we have forgotten – none of this really does belong to us in the end, does it? All is God’s from beginning to end.

We have other voices that attest to this truth about land ownership. I think of the poetry of Mary Oliver. If you are like me, you might hear your own inner voice remind you of who really reigns supreme over creation right here in our wild Lake Superior and endlessly forested backyards. We are very blessed in this part of the world to have this unique experience of co-habituating with so many examples of God’s great and diverse creation.

We are also blessed to live among some of the first people who served as stewards of this land. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to study Native American literature and theology. It has enriched and reformed my own beliefs of who really “owns” all of this beautiful land around us and beyond, and also the way live in this land as God’s stewards.

You can hear this in these the following two poems, I believe. They speak to creation being larger than the individual. They point to something much larger than that even, the Creator gently holding it all together. These are by Norman H. Russell. (Songs From This Earth On Turtle’s Back, Contemporary American Indian Poetry, 1983, Greenfield Review Press, 216, 217)

The Message of the Rain 

when i was a child

i was a squirrel a bluejay a fox

and spoke with them in their tongues

climbed their trees dug their dens

and knew the taste

of every grass and stone

the meaning of the sun

the message of the night

 

now i am old and past

both work and battle

and know no shame

to go alone into the forest

to speak again to squirrel fox and bird

to taste the world 

to find the meaning of the wind

the message of the rain.


Appearance

as the tree does not end

at the tip of its root or branch 

as the bird does not end

with its feathers or flight

as the earth does not end

with its tallest mountain

 

so also i do not end

with my arm my foot my skin

but continue reaching outward

into all of space and all of time 

with my voice and my thoughts

for my soul is the universe 

 

though you see the bird here

he is also there

the bird the tree and you and i 

are only here because your eye

and your mind has put us here

we are as wind that may not be held.

These are beautiful images of us interconnected and divinely commissioned tenants in God’s vast and beautiful vineyard. Like many of our scriptures, poetry, and the sacred wild spaces all around us, these poems can help us stay clear-headed about who the “Landowner” truly is.

In our parable today, Jesus brings this explanation of God before us as a human landowner. In the culture of those first hearers of this parable, this vineyard landowner/tenant scenario would have had a lot of traction.

This arrangement between landowners and tenants was very common in the 1st Century. “Rent” was a share of harvest. I’m not sure how much of the harvest these landowners expected. Maybe it varied. But I doubt it was the 10 percent first fruits God asks of us in our offerings. Perhaps it was even the opposite some human landowners and only 10 percent was left for the tenants to lives on.

The first hearers of this parable would have been intimately aware of tenants who failed to meet the contractual expectations that came with living on and tending the land. Usually, they were speedily evicted and replaced with new tenants. In some cases, if the tenants did not want to leave – maybe it was just a bad harvest year, or they got sick were not strong enough to do their usual work, or maybe they just disagreed with the landowner in the matter – in those cases, it was not uncommon to be escorted off the property by people hired to do so, with violence, if necessary.

It was system ripe for abuse, and a system from which those who supplied most of the blood, sweat and tears could not escape or live without.

So imagine you come from that kind of an experience or culture of landowner-tenant relations and you hear Jesus speak of this Landowner who is patient with the tenants. They are in charge of stewarding this vineyard, which represents Jerusalem in the parable, and also every place where the People of God grow. This patient Landowner sends servants to gather the harvest from the land. The servants represent the prophets like Isaiah and John the Baptist. But the tenants seized them, beat them and killed them.

The Landowner tried again. Same result.

So the Landowner came up with a better idea. He would send his son, who obviously represents Jesus, the Messiah, in the parable. And we know what happens next. The son, who should have been received as the landowner himself, is taken outside the walls of the vineyard, and killed.

Just before the Pharisees and Sadducees and religious leaders realize they are the tenants in the parable, Jesus asked, “What will the landowner do to those tenants?” Before they can stop it from coming out of their mouths, they convict and pass judgment on their own leadership:  “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.” (Mt. 21:41)

And so what does the Landowner of Jesus’ parable do with these violent, murderous, thieving tenants who say something as transparent and sinful and short-sighted as “Hey! This is the Landowner’s Heir! Come on! Let’s kill him and get his inheritance?” (Mt. 21:38, para)

Well, this Landowner is God, remember … The very same God who sent God’s one and only the Son among the poor and powerless of this world. God blessed that son and sent him into the vineyard to reap a bountiful harvest in the vast and diverse fields of God’s creation.

But the tenants didn’t want to give up the fruits – they were greedy for all the land, all the harvest. All of it. And so, despite the life-giving ways the Son opened the scriptures and brought God so close to the people, despite the healings, despite the hope that took root where-ever the Landowner’s Son stepped, when-ever he spoke, who-ever he met, despite it being wrong and inhumane and against God’s law, the tenants took the Son, the Heir, outside the walls of the city and killed him.

And where the human landowner’s story and the story of his son, his heir may have ended there, the story of the Landowner and Son of Jesus’ parable … does not! Because three days after being lynched on a cross and laid in a borrowed tomb, the Son rose from the dead and it was done. The Kingdom of God entered in and the power of death and sin fell, stone on stone, broken to pieces and crushed.

That is the soil we are planted in, People of God. This is the vineyard in which we are growing so fiercely and courageously today.

And here’s a true irony of the Landowner and Son of Jesus’ parable, here’s the wildly unexpected consequence of it all, the undeserved and unimaginable redemption we all need to rely on at some point in our lives …

We – and even the violent, murderous, thieving tenants – have already and forevermore received the inheritance of the Heir! The Son! So, bear good fruit, friends!

Amen! And thanks be to God!

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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