5 October, 2015
The Rejected Stone
This week’s Gospel reading picks up immediately after the story from last week. If you were not here – last week on In Jerusalem with Jesus we heard about the man who came to town riding on the back of a donkey, who was mocked by the ministers and adored by the people. He was given the royal welcome into the City of David. We watched as this back water hillbilly preacher came into the temple and released all the animals, turned over the tables and just made a general mess of things. He riled up the crowds, sent waves of anxiety through the elite, and even caused the roman governor to pay attention. Jesus said that God’s house is a house of prayer for all people and not a currency exchange where people are charged ridiculous rates to pay their bills.
We watched as a vibrant and food producing fig tree was cursed and rotted from the inside out. We listened as the leaders challenged Jesus’ authority only to become the objects of the lessons. We sat transfixed as Jesus told the story of two sons. About how one refused to work in his dad’s vineyard and yet eventually found joy in the job; and the other, the yes man, said he would but was distracted by other things. We learned that there is work to do and we are invited into the Reign of God – into the vineyard. And when we show up there is great joy in our labors.
And the elite rumbled that is makes no sense at all.
Join us this week as we Join Jesus in Jerusalem. Lets hear about how he continues the conversation.
Still shaking his head as the leaders pretend to hear, he beings telling them the story of a vineyard owners who leased his land to people who would by by returning to him a portion of the produce. This a common thing to do in those days. Those who could afford property often lived elsewhere and hired tenants to farm the land and till the soil – in return the tenants would be able to live of the profits of the land after they gave to the landlord his rent.
“Well,” Jesus said, “The time came for rent to be paid so the owner sent his servants to collect for him. But when they told the tenants it was time to pay up they were beaten, killed, and stoned. As you can guess, when the landlord heard about this he sent more prophets….i mean servants to collect and the tenants did the same thing. Distraught, the owner was at his wits end. Finally he decided to send his son to collect the rent. When the tenants saw that the son was sent, they conspired to kill him because according to the law, if there were no descendants, when pops died the land was theirs. So the killed the lad.
“Now, what do you suppose the owed would do with these tenants?”
Sensing a trick question, but not sure how to answer they thought and finally responded – with puffed out pride. “He will kills the miserable jerks and then give the land to people who will pay.”
Looking at them seeing they don’t get it…yet again he goes on, “Haven’t you read or even prayed the psalm that says, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; This is the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing!’
“Listen to me, the Reign of God is going to be taken away from you because you continue to reject it. It has been put in front of you and you beat it up, you kill it, you stone it. You keep throwing out the stones. The Reign of God is going to be taken away from you and given to those who know how to produce good fruits. Go ahead and keep throwing the stones out because when they land on you you will be crushed. Something new and beautiful is happening.”
Well, as you can guess this displeased the elite and so they – not getting the clue – wanted to arrest him though as of yet, the knew not how.
The parable we heard today is commonly called the parable of the wicked tenants. If you look in your Bibles that is probably what is called in the heading above this lesson. While that title is certainly appropriate, it has been read very often as a parable to be used against the Jewish people – it has been used as justification for centuries of anti-semitic actions. What has been missed is that it is an indictment against the powers that be; a rejection of a status quo that is complicit in denying that accessibility of the Reign of God. This parable is in truth a parable that speaks to a new beginning that Jesus is ushering in and that is unable to be seen by the people in power. This is why for today, I would like to reframe this from the parable of the wicked tenants into the parable of the cast out stone.
By reframing the story in this view we are able to see what it is Jesus is talking about, and move the main actors of the story from the wicked tenants to the true main character, God. So often, we get lost in the minutiae of parables we miss the over all story. We get so focused on who this is to be or who that is to be; what was meant by this or that that we miss seeing that the meat of the parables is what God is doing.
And holding on to things is what this parable is about. The tenants wanted to hold on to the property they were in charge of. And in the reality of the time, this could possibly be justified. When Rome took over the Levant they brought with them their economic system and the result of those economic systems ensured that those with money and power continued to benefit, even if it meant wiping out the middle class land owners. They would go in and buy land and less than market rate and truly put the previous farmers into debts, and even slavery. They would have to farm the land that was theirs as slaves and not owners and not be able to survive without benevolence of the new owners. So when one would be freed from their debt, knowing only how to farm they became essentially share croppers, so when these tenants saw a way to get their land back, they took the opportunity. They had lived lives of being rejected and they were sick of it. They wanted to hang on to what they had with their last ounce of strength.
The same thing was going on with the temple leaders of the time. When Rome came in they set up governors and installed leaders – who came from the the people, but who were also beholden to Rome. Their job was to keep the residents relatively at peace. As long as they did that they would enjoy a certain amount of autonomy. But when the radical rabbi from Galilee started making waves around the rest of the country, they knew they had to do something to maintain their power and privilege. They, just were unsure what to do, but if they did nothing their power would be gone They would be just as rejected as the rest of the population. They were hanging on with their last ounce of strength.
And in an economic time when it seems that the rich get richer and poor get poorer. When it is a daily struggle to decide whether to eat or pay the water bill; when the system is gamed in such a way that when one is receiving help from the government, if they try to do the right thing and get a job they will loose all benefits, never mind that the job doesn’t pay a wage that will pay rent. We are in an economic time when the middle class slipping away and the demographics around us are shifting in a way that causes confusion and unbalance.
We watch helplessly as our neighborhoods become war zones and our schools places of social work rather than havens of education. We stand at the sidelines sickened as the specter of war again raises its ugly head.
At work, at school, at church we feel our grips of power slipping as the people in power steal from us the bit of dignity we have. We watch as loved one are taken from us, either because they have no papers, or because they are trapped in a prison pipeline that punishes even after the time is served – unable to get work or imprisoned by immoral parole procedures. We begin to hold on with all of our strength to what we can.
There is comfort in that. There is security in holding on. We turn inward and do not see the envoys being sent to us. We miss seeing the needs around out and have forgotten to tend the vineyard. It has begun to return to dust. We don’t see the brokenness our our midst because of our own brokenness. We don’t see the faith community as servants coming to share the wealth; we don’t see the elders and new ones in our midst as promises of light and life; we miss seeing the Son, some to give something new. We don’t see the Son coming to give us our inheritance, instead we stand demanding it. And throw out the stone. Through our rejection we are holding on to everything the best we can.
But what happens when we loosen our grip. When we, instead of being the ones to cast the stones out – instead of trying to be the ones in control, relinquish the control. What happens when we give ourselves over to the one who takes the rejected and turns them into the cornerstone? What happens when we shift our point of view and name our pain. Name our hurt. Name our brokenness. Name our complacency in the face of the hurt arounds. When we hold up a mirror and see our own rejection in the rejection we have caused others? What happens?
What happens when we confess that we have rejected those who don’t conform to a self-constructed norm that we build up to keep ourselves safe. That we erect to keep our power and privilege? When we name the walls we have build to keep people out, when we revisit rules we have instituted that maintain an order we need to keep power. An order we don’t think needs to be disturbed because it was worked in the past.
What happens when we confess that we are afraid to let go and embrace the fact that something new is happening, that the world is rapidly changing, that fear and distrust have replace the love that is command of us? What happens when we confess that we have been clinging to teaching that has turned inward and leaves no room for ambiguity and fresh breath?
What happens when we begin to see that all of this happens because we are afraid of our own rejection? Because at onetime or another we have all been rejected.
We have been the cast aside stone. We have been told we don’t belong and we don’t want to experience that feeling again.
You have been rejected because we are in a same sex relationship that there is no place for us in this community. You have been rejected because we believe that science is a valid expression of God’s creative activity in the world and that evolution actually makes sense. You have been rejected because you are African-American – especially because you are an young Black male and you have been told that your life doesn’t matter because you are automatically considered a criminal beyond saving.
You have been rejected because you are too old or too immobile to be considered an active and vital member of society. You are too frail to be a worthy part of community. You have been told you are too young or too new to the faith to have anything to offer.
We have been sold a bill of goods that being cycles of greed and fear that don’t allow us to see that there is something happening here. We try to hold on. But when we open ourselves up and confess our brokenness and our dejectedness, something happens.
God takes that rejection and brokenness and fits it into the puzzle. God takes that rejected stone and makes it the cornerstone of some then new and more grand that what was there. God takes that rejected stone and uses it to build a new and vital and vibrant community.God takes that rejection and takes the dust and broken pieces and forms a community of life. God takes that new thing and breaths into it the breath of life. God takes that brokenness and rejection and transforms it into something stronger that the pain form which it was hewn.
God creates something bolder than any doctrine of exclusion; than any dogma of domination. God creates a community. God takes that rejected stone and creates a community that are the new tenants of the vineyard. That are a body that give thanks and sees where God is in their midst. That gives of their time and talent and treasure to further the new thing God is doing. God builds something new that can not be torn down.
We the rejected ones are open to God’s transforming power God will make something new. Rebuild and Restore. God will not the rejected go to waste, instead God uses our brokenness as the very cornerstone. God gives the solid foundation because God was rejected. God knows what it is like to be rejected. God knows the brokenness that causes us to hold on with all the strength we have. God was cast aside. God was thrown on the scrap heap of the hill that ended on a cross. But God took that rejection and turned int into a shout in a cemetery. A shout that echoes through new thing God has created. A shout of life that echoes though the halls of this place. A shout that says, rejected stone. You are mine and the rejection that you feel is over. You are now the new cornerstone in this new creation.
So friends, we have nothing to fear. We are given life. We are given the chance to be the cornerstone of God’s new creation. Let us give God our thanks. Let us give God our praise. Let us rejoice as those who have been born anew.
Thanks be to God!