Tag Archives: Matthew 21


The similarities in our Isaiah and Matthew scriptures are undeniable, and yet these have striking differences. These scriptures use the agricultural imagery of a beautiful vineyard provided by a landowner who carefully prepared the ground, cultivated the soil, and planted the best grape seed. This landowner also anticipated a long-term, relational venture with the security of a fence and watchtower and the fore-thought of a wine press.

Isaiah describes a less than desired bounty for despite all the efforts only the sour, wild grapes grew. These were good for nothing, literally nothing; not for eating, not for pressing into grape juice, and not for further fermenting into wine.

In Isaiah, the landowner is God, the vineyard is the entire creation, and the planted seeds is all humans.

The intended bounty from us (summarizing the prophets with Micah 6:8) was justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God. Thus, the intended harvest was justice and grace, compassion and mercy, and love and service. Unfortunately, the harvested bounty was sin (or self-centeredness), injustice, and violence whether individual, communal, or systematic.

God was (and is) disgusted with the state of the vineyard. Thus, God intends to destroy the whole in anger, but does not. God, in accordance with the Scriptures, is steadfast love, slow to anger, and always ready to turn from punishment. Thus, Jesus is teaching in the temple centuries afterwards.

But, I want to pause a moment for the context of this text in our worship differs from in the Gospel.

We have been engaging Jesus’ parables that utilize the image of a field/vineyard.

The Parable of the (Day) Laborers:
Jesus was speaking to the disciples prior to their journey to Jerusalem. The essential lesson is that it does not matter when an individual begins to labor for the Kingdom of God to Come. Similarly, it does not matter who a person is for we all deserve a just daily wage to ensure our basic need is met.

Jesus arrives in Jerusalem to begin the Passover. Christians recognize this arrival as ‘Palm Sunday’. Jesus arrives at the temple and ‘cleanses’ it by over-turning tables and chasing the corrupt money-changers and merchants from it.

Jesus begins to teach in the temple to those who are gathered, specifically the Pharisees, Scribes, and additional religious elite.

The Parable of the Two Sons:
A landowner requests that his sons go work in the field/vineyard. One son refused, but then does go. The other son commits, but then does not go. The essential lesson is that the ‘work’ in the field/vineyard is justice, compassion and mercy, love and service for all people whether the individual self-identifies as Christian, religious, or otherwise. Thus, it doesn’t matter how “messed up” we are, but rather about a pure heart.

These Pharisees, Scribes, and religious elite have not yet realized that Jesus is criticizing them.

So, Jesus shares another parable.

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants/Landowner’s Son:
It was common practice in the Ancient Near East (ANE) for tenants to provide the landowner a portion of their harvest as rent. Since the quality of the harvest is not noted, it indicates no importance in the parable.

Similar to Isaiah, the landowner is God and the vineyard is the entire creation. However, instead of the humans being the grown grapes, we are the tenants.

The parable is about the tenants and their stewardship, their responsibilities, and their conduct. We, humans, have been given such stewardship of creation, its resources, and all within it. We, humans, have been given such stewardship of our energy, time, talents, and other resources.

But, how are we stewarding?
Are we willing to share?
Are we willing to pay our rent?

The ‘Wicked Tenants’ desired to hoard, not share, the land and the harvested bounty.

Slaves were sent to collect the agreed upon portion but were captured, beaten, and a few murdered.

The landowner chose to send his son, the heir, to collect the agreed upon portion expecting a different result, but the son was also captured, beaten, and murdered.

Jesus asked the religious elite about the appropriate response of the landowner. These religious elite responded culturally correct that the landowner shall come, get rid of the wicked tenants, and replace these with good tenants who will care for the vineyard and freely offer their agreed upon portion.

Jesus informs the religious elite, again, that the “sinners” will enter the Kingdom of God ahead of them. It is in this ‘light-bulb’ moment that the religious elite realize they are the son that commits to work in the field but does not and the wicked tenant who mismanages the entire creation.

Again, these religious elite are displeased with Jesus, who continues to teach while turning the parable upside-down. Jesus reminds the religious elite that Scriptures foretell of the elite rejecting the cornerstone, which Christians consider to be Jesus the Christ.

We are the ‘Wicked Tenants’.

We have destroyed those children working for and towards the Kingdom of God to Come.

We will (and have) killed the divine Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

Jesus had previously questioned the religious elite regarding the authority of John the Baptist, which they did not answer for fear of the crowd who beloved him and regarded him as a prophet. These religious elite are similarly silenced for fear of the crowd who beloved Jesus and regarded him as a prophet, the Messiah, and/or the divine Son of God.

Thus, the religious elite stood there convicted while considering how to get rid of this Jesus.

We know the events of Holy Week. Jesus is arrested, beaten, crucified, murdered, and buried.

We also know that it concludes with Jesus defeating death itself with his resurrection.

Through this lens, the Parable of the Wicked Tenants/Landowner’s Son has another perspective. In addition to a parable teaching, it is a foretelling of the next several days.

I once read: Jesus was not crucified for being a nice guy.

The truth is Jesus was crucified for standing against those misusing positions of power and authority.

The truth is Jesus was crucified for criticizing the religious elite aligned with those not doing God’s Will.

The truth is Jesus was crucified for standing against the sour, wild grapes of sin, injustice, and violence.

The truth is Jesus was crucified for standing with the oppressed, under-privileged, and vulnerable.

The Gospel does not always sound like “good news”, but:

  • Jesus, rooted in these truths, sought to warn and inform all people;
  • God is steadfast love, slow to anger, and always eager to turn from punishment; and
  • The vineyard has not yet been destroyed (and it will not be).

God sent Jesus, the divine Son, into the world for the sake of the vineyard and its people. Thus, Jesus continues to warn and inform all people holding a mirror before our eyes, in order to evaluate our own work in the field/vineyard, the grapes we are producing, and how we are stewarding the creation, humanity, and all the gifts God has given us.

May we produce the grapes of justice and grace, compassion and mercy, and love and service.

May we be the children working in the world
to bring forth God’s Kingdom to Come.

May we be the good tenants, the good stewards,
of all that God has rented to us.

The Scriptures were Isaiah 5: 1-7 and Matthew 21: 33-46.
Originally preached on 4 Oct. 2020 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, Indiana).

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Posted by on October 7, 2020 in Uncategorized


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Sinners & Hypocrites

Our scriptures are profound. These might be as sweet as honey for some, but bitter to another.

Ezekiel highlights that we are responsible for our own thoughts, words, and deeds, as well as the consequences of such. Thus, we are responsible for our sin; how we respond to the perceived sin of another; and how we allow sin (our own, those of another, or our human systems) to influence our thoughts, words, and deeds.

Although it seems bitter, God reminds Ezekiel and the people of a truth as old as the fall of humanity. God does not desire death. God is concerned about all life for all life matters, all life is beloved, and all life is sacred. Unfortunately, we are (or should be) aware that this truth is not always embodied in our thoughts, words, deeds, and human systems. As the protest sign of a young, beautiful, black girl read:

We say Black Lives Matter.
We never said ONLY Black Lives Matter.
We know All Lives Matter,
but we need your help because Black Lives are in danger.

Or as a beautiful clergy woman and classmate of mine wrote:

Black Lives Matter, and Blue Lives Matter, too.
Dehumanizing some Lives will leave All Lives Black and Blue.
Some roses are red, and violets come in shades of blue,
but I know that God loves me because God loves you, too.

But, the Apostle Paul takes our call to action another step while writing to a community divided by difference resulting in tension and conflict. Paul wrote to be united in diversity. This is a high calling that we have far too often failed to answer.

In the history of the United States, we lift up an ideal of unity among diversity within a large melting pot that (1) has not embraced the difference of persons, particularly our indigenous, brown, and black siblings, and (2) demands these persons assimilate, at times by force, to white, European norms.

Unfortunately, the church universal, denominations, congregations, and cultural Christianity has demonstrated these same demands.

Paul wrote that we are not to love the other as equal to ourselves…
but as greater than ourselves.

This love would not permit forced assimilation or dehumanization.

Lets look at the gospel.

Jesus was teaching in the temple and the religious elite questioned his authority because of his association with sinners.

Be like Jesus, spend enough time with sinners that it ruins your reputation.

Jesus criticizes them for questioning the authority of John for he was a ‘righteous’ man, considered a prophet by the people, and who offered repentance in baptism to the sinners.

These baptisms remind us all that ‘Every saint has a past. Every Sinner has a future’.

But, for the religious elite it was a lose-lose.

Christians are often defined as such by their belief in Jesus as the Messiah alone. Thus, Christians can profess the faith without a change in their lives. This is a defining aspect of Christianity that separates us from other faith traditions.

Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other faith traditions also require a change in life and adopting faith practices that interweave and root your entire being within the teachings, the philosophy of the tradition. It is quite beautiful.

Jesus asks the religious elite, who does God’s will on this earth?

Is it the one who claims, or commits to do it, but does not?

This is the “Christian” who does not seek justice, act with compassion and mercy, or love and serve all persons but especially the vulnerable “other”.

Is it the one who does not claim, or commit, to do it but does?

These are perhaps Christians, non-Christians, and otherwise, who does seek justice, act with compassion and mercy, and love and serve all people but especially the vulnerable “other”.

It is the one living into and living out said Christian vocation whether identifying as “Christian” or not.

We often hear the criticism that Christians are hypocrites. It is fair.

Unfortunately, I have witnessed “Christians” who sort and separate the teachings of Christ from their personal, professional, family, and political lives.

Unfortunately, I have witnessed “Christians” who consider themselves righteous for not partaking in “sinful” behavior such as playing cards, dancing, smoking, drinking, cussing and tattoos; and yet, they stand in sinful judgment of those who do.

Unfortunately, I have witnessed “Christians” blame our troubled world on the Godless and Unchurched while sitting comfortably in their privilege ignoring the vulnerable “other”.

I recall a conversation with a friend who knows me well. He made a comment about how ‘good’ I was.

Now, for many “Christians” I might be a rebel.

I love card games and dancing.
I enjoy a good cigar and adult beverage from time to time.
I cuss like a sailor (ask my mom and sister).

I have ink.

I will be changing the language slightly, but I replied “I am messed up”.

He said “Oh, you are messed up, but you have a pure heart”.

Although I fail, I strive to live into and love out my Christian vocation to:
seek justice for all persons, but especially those in the most need;
act with compassion and mercy, even in the face of disagreements; and
love and serve all persons whether I will benefit or not.

So, in the words of Miranda Lambert,
I think Jesus could ‘understand a heart like mine’.

Scriptures were Ezekiel 18: 1-4, 25-32 and Matthew 21: 23-32.

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Posted by on September 28, 2020 in Sermons


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Holy Tuesday: Authority Questioned

23When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. (Matthew 21: 23-27)

After Jesus ‘cleansed’ the temple, it was able to once again be the house of God, a house of prayer. Therefore Jesus, who was the presence of God in flesh and blood, was teaching and healing all who gathered despite the dismay and increasing contempt of the religious elite.

The chief priests and elders were not simply the religious elite, but also the religious authority. Thus, they choose to confront Jesus about his authority to teach and heal. However, their inquiry was founded upon neither the desire for deeper understanding nor innocent curiosity, but rather it was built upon the dangerous cornerstone of jealousy and fear. Read the rest of this entry »


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A Different Holy Week

Lent is coming to an end as we enter into Holy Week.
Reflecting on this Lenten season, I must echo two sentiments from Facebook.

  1. I had not planned to give this much up for Lent; and
  2. This is the most Lenty Lent I have ever Lented.

These are honest, authentic statements and honest authenticity is why I love Lent.

This experience of social distancing, isolating, and quarantining during Lent is leading to a Holy Week and Easter that is unprecedented within our time and place, BUT perhaps biblical and authentic.

On Palm Sunday, I often invite us into the experience of Holy Week through the scriptures of both Palm Sunday and the Passion, which ignores Jesus’ final week. Thus, I invite us to experience the fullness through services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and this year an Easter Vigil on Saturday evening. And yet, if we are honest, our lives remain oddly normal with the exception of those minutes or hours.

But, this year our lives and our world are not normal.

  • We are social distancing.
  • We are social isolating.
  • We find ourselves locked away within our homes, alone or with limited companionship.
  • We are uncertain about the next days, weeks, or perhaps months.
  • We are uncertain about employment, businesses, and the economy of our communities and beyond.
  • We are uncertain about medical supplies, food supply, and other essentials needed.

Yes. This year is not normal, but neither was the first Holy Week.

Jesus arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover Festival.
He was received as the main attraction for a welcoming parade with the shouts of ‘Hosanna’, but ‘Hosanna’ is literally ‘Save Us’. It was as much a lament and demand for revolution as it was a celebration.

And that was only the beginning…

After this welcome, Jesus goes to the temple and proceeds to cause quite the scene.
Jesus forces those conducting business in the temple out.
Jesus flips over tables and proclaims they have turned the temple into a den of robbers.

And I thought I had a temper.

Then, the lame and the blind enter into the temple where Jesus heals them.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday Jesus is teaching in the temple to the dismay and increasing contempt of the religious authorities, who question Jesus’ authority to teach. This intensifies the desire of the religious elite to end Jesus’ public ministry and the revolution it is inciting, but due to his popularity it would require his death.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday Jesus is also intensifying his teaching of the disciples.

Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, anoints Jesus with costly perfume to the dismay of Judas, who decides to betray Christ.

Thursday begins the great Three Days.

Jesus demonstrates humble service to one another through the unpleasant task of foot washing, despite knowledge that an intimate friend as conspired to betray him into the hands of those who will put him to death by the brutal means of crucifixion. And yet, Jesus remains the teacher not in word alone but also in deed.

Then, Jesus gives a so-called ‘new’ commandment to love one another, not as we love ourselves because that has a loophole for we do not always love ourselves, but rather as HE, unconditional love incarnated into human flesh and blood, first loved his most beloved, intimate disciples.

Then, speaking of flesh and blood, Jesus institutes Holy Communion, by which the common elements of bread and wine become his body and blood in an everlasting covenant that is a force of grace nourishing, energizing, and encouraging us to lovingly serve the world at all times, in all places.

That night, Jesus is betrayed by Judas, abandoned by all, and denied by Peter.

Friday, Jesus is convicted. Jesus is beaten until near death.
Jesus is hung upon a cross: condemned, mocked, and crucified.
Jesus died. Jesus is laid in a tomb.

Saturday, the disciples are small in number.
The disciples are hidden in a small, dark room fearful and uncertain about the future.
Their desires, hopes, and dreams of salvation, of being saved, all those sweet ‘Hosannas’ were laid in a tomb with Jesus, their beloved friend, Rabbi, and hoped Messiah.

Perhaps, the differences of this Holy Week…

  • our intimate families,
  • our isolating rooms and homes,
  • our fears and uncertainties…

may be the most honest and authentic Holy Week, similar to early Christianity, within our lifetime.

May we embrace the opportunity in mind, body, and soul
to more deeply experience Holy Week,
connecting with the disciples and
with Christ during his final days before crucifixion and death.

Scriptures were Matthew 21: 1-11; Matthew 26:14 – 27:66.
Pre-Recorded (4-3-2020) for digital use (4-5-2020) by Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN)
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Posted by on April 5, 2020 in Sermons


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Priests, Tax Collectors, & Prostitutes Walk into a Bar…


The chief priests, the tax collectors, and the prostitutes all walk into a bar.

It sounds like the start to a bad joke, right? We’ll get back to that.

This text today reminded me about a continuing education event I went to in Minnesota shortly after starting here at Gloria Dei. The theme was “Religious But Not Spiritual”, as a play on the often uttered, especially here in the Pacific Northwest, “Spiritual But Not Religious. We had three main speakers:

  • A sociologist of Religion who studies the social trends of churches, such as their attendance, their giving, and their culture as every church has its own culture.
  • A systematic theologian who sits with, studies, and ponders the organized and structured beliefs/teachings of a tradition, such as Lutheranism.
  • Nadia Bolz-Weber, a popular ELCA pastor whose gained fame for NOT fitting the typical mold expected of a Lutheran pastor. She is the founder of the House For All Saints and Sinners in Denver Colorado.

I appreciate Nadia Bolz-Weber’s honesty, particularly her emphasis that the goal of the church is (or should be) authenticity.

Our text reminded me of this event because one workshop tried to blend these different perspectives to answer a question that all Mainline Christian denominations are asking:

  • Where are the twenty and thirty year olds?
  • Where are the young families?

Sounds familiar, right? Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on October 2, 2017 in Sermons


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Dark Room or Tomb?

YouTube Video

Sunday was Palm Sunday and we celebrated it as both Palm and Passion Sunday, embracing the whole of Holy Week primarily focusing on Maundy Thursday [and] Good Friday.

We begun the service with Christ entering triumphantly into the holy city and making preparations for Passover, which Passover this year begins today for our Jewish brothers and sisters.

We begun with our service with that, but we quickly moved to Maundy Thursday with Holy Communion and then moved into Good Friday: the betrayal of Judas, the arrest of Christ, the denial of Peter, the passion/the punishment/the physical endurance of Christ prior to being crucified and then Christ crucified. We ended the service with Christ’s body laying in the dark tomb.

How do you preach such a range of emotions? I primarily let the scriptural readings, the covering of our symbols, the bringing forth of the items from the crucifixion do most of the ‘proclaiming of the Word’.

But, Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on April 25, 2017 in Sermon Summaries


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