This is the first in a series of four sermons based on the Mission Statement of Carlton Hills Evangelical Lutheran Church, Santee, California.
Strengthen Faith in Christ
Enlarge our Hearts
Energize for Mission
Stretch our Minds
“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “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.” Jesus said to them, “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’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet. (NRSV)
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-8, 12-17
1 Then God spoke all these words: 2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;
3 you shall have no other gods before me.
4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.
12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 You shall not murder.
14 You shall not commit adultery.
15 You shall not steal.
16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (NRSV)
Grace to you and peace from God our creator, from Jesus Christ, our redeemer and friend and from the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and guide.
Do you remember the kid’s song “Head, shoulders, knees and toes”? You touch each part as you say its name. The second part goes “eyes and ears and mouth and nose, head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.” It covers the whole body, from top to bottom. I use it with kids to remind them that God made them and God loves their whole body. (I’m thinking I should use it with adults too. Many adults need reminding that their bodies are good, as a part of creation that God has called “good” from the beginning, but that is for another sermon.)
God loves you. God loves every part of you. But we are more than just our bodies. Imagine you are represented by a circle drawn on a page. Each person has four basic aspects that I put at the compass points: Body, Mind, Spirit and Relationships. We ALL have ALL four aspects. We look different, but we all have bodies that work more or less the same. Some have parts that don’t work as efficiently as some, but the body is still the container for who we are. Similarly, everyone has a mind. Some are a little smarter, some a little more creative in solving problems, some quicker to think out of the box, but all of us have all those capacities. Same when we consider our relationships. Now, some people think our relationships are outside of us and not really part of who we are. And yes, an “other” is necessary to be in relationship WITH, but how we FUNCTION in relationships is purely our part. Some people are introverts, some extroverts, some are a little freer with their emotions than others. All of us are in relationship ALL THE TIME, and not just with people, but with animals and objects and places and even events. If you don’t think so, just think about your high school graduation. Regardless of whether it is in the past or the future or it never happened, chances are it will bring up an emotion of some kind… You have a relationship with that event.
And that brings us to the spiritual aspect. Everyone, even people who aren’t religious, have a spiritual aspect. It has to do with our values, morals, priorities, standards and beliefs. Everyone has those, even if they aren’t very well defined or thought through.
As Christians, our values, morals, priorities, standards and beliefs are shaped by the teachings and life of Jesus. As we strengthen our faith in Christ, our values, morals, priorities, standards and beliefs become more clear to us and to others. It becomes obvious what we stand for as we endeavor to live a life resembling Jesus’s, loving our neighbor, feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, working for justice and peace, however that might look in each of our lives.
As we strengthen our faith in Christ, Christ becomes the defining factor of who we are ever more completely.
It means we believe that love is more powerful than death and certainly more powerful that hate.
It means we believe that forgiveness is stronger than vengeance or violence.
It means we believe that the most important thing to do is to honor and worship God.
It means we believe that living by the Ten Commandments puts us in harmony with God and with our neighbors, and that honors God. To put God first. That no other thing would be more important than God. To be reverent about God and God’s name. To honor the authorities put over us, especially those who have sacrificed for us. To remember that other’s lives, bodies, reputations, and possessions are sacred and not to be mistreated is the recipe for how we keep the balance in society.
It means we believe that being a blessing to others is more important than doctrine. Neither one will save us. Salvation is a given with Christ’s death and resurrection, but orthopraxy—right practice—is more valuable than orthodoxy—right doctrine—in living out our calling as the body of Christ.
Our faith in Christ is squarely in the spiritual aspect of who we are. It is the foundation of all we do… because you see,
what happens in the spiritual aspect doesn’t stay in the spiritual aspect!
What happens in the spiritual aspect shapes our thoughts (in the mind) and actions (done with our bodies) and how we function in relationships. It does for everyone…
But it loops back too, because what we do and what we talk about and who we hand out with and what we learn and how we spend our time… it all shapes what we believe. You see, if we spend time with people that draw us away from God, our faith will be weakened, but when we spend time with people that reinforce our faith, it will be strengthened. When we set our mind on Godly things, our faith is fuller, but when we think about things that get in the way of our relationship with God and draw us away from God, well, that will make us weaker in faith. When we act with compassion and generosity and graciousness in the name of Christ, our faith will be strengthened.
And that matters. Because being faithful is what Jesus’ parable in today’s gospel is all about. Jesus is being critical of the chief priests and Pharisees. They are the tenants of the vineyard and the vineyard is the people of God. The tenants did not keep their priorities in order and that was the problem. This is a critique of faithless leaders. It is a critique of leaders who lost their focus on God and could not lead the people in deeper faith. This parable is a warning to people like me, but also to people like you. If you have ever been on the church council or been the chairman of a committee or been a leader of a group… this parable is a warning about keeping the faith, keeping our priorities in order, paying attention to what is right and good and true and necessary; what is godly. But not only that, if you have ever taught children, or been part of a family, this warning is for you. Keep the faith by living it every day.
(For more about this parable, check out my blog entry from Oct 5 https://pastorkarlablog.wordpress.com/2017/10/05/the-naive-landowner/. )
Our goal of being a church that strengthens faith in Christ is not just for our own benefit. That is just the first step. It is so we can share that faith with others. It is so we can be a force for good in our families, in our neighborhood, in the city of Santee and beyond. When we become so strong in our faith that it defines who we are at work and at play and at home, it will change our lives for the good, and that will change others lives. And people will be able to see it in you and will want to know. “How do you do it?” they will ask. And you will know what to say! You will be able to tell them about this Jesus that lives in you that has filled you with love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, humility, patience and self-control. You will be able to share this blessing of faith. Once you share it, it spreads like wildfire. That is why we want to be a church that strengthens faith in Christ. When we do, the world will be a better place because of Christ in us.
Please join me in prayer.
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
blessings to you,
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.