“Property Owners” – Sermon by Rev. Brian Combs 8/20/14
Oak Ridge Tennessee was an overnight boom town, and people came from all over for the temporary work. With them, they brought hard hats, families and trailers. And Fred Craddock tells of serving his first church, a white frame building near by that had been in ministry for 112 years. The church had beautifully decorated chimneys, kerosene lamps all around the walls, and every pew was hewn, hand hewn, from a giant poplar tree.
After church one Sunday morning I asked the leaders to stay, saying, “Now we need to launch a calling campaign and an invitational campaign in all those trailer parks to invite those people to church.” “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think they’ll fit in here,” one of them said. “They’re just here temporarily, just construction people. They’ll be leaving pretty soon.” “Well, we ought to invite them, make them feel at home,” I said. They argued about it until time ran out, until a vote would be taken the next week. After service the next Sunday, one of them said, “I move that in order to be a member of this church, you must own property in this county.” Someone else said, “I second that.” It passed. I voted against it, but they reminded me that I was just a kid preacher and I didn’t have a vote.
When we moved back to these parts, I took my wife to see the little church, because I had told her that painful, painful story. There, back among the pines, was that building shinning white. It was different. The parking lot was full- motorcycles and trucks and cars packed in there. And out front a great big sign: Barbecue, all you can eat. It’s a restaurant, so we went inside. The pews are against a wall, the organ pushed over into the corner. I said to Nettie, “It’s a good thing this is not still a church, otherwise these people couldn’t be in here.”
The Parable of the Wicked Tenants- Matthew 21:33-43
“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress 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.
What’s God judging?
Wanting more than the original agreement
Forgetting that God has trusted us with God’s work
Refusing to be stewards of the land
With the wicked tenants, greed turns to violence, violence turns to larceny, and larceny turns to murder. All in the pursuit of ownership. My money, my salvation, my country, my church, my people, my property. To own something is to possess it solely for self-interest, to lord over it.
God is judging our attempts to be an emperor over an empire, to be a feudal ruler over a fiefdom, refusing to acknowledge that the acreage will never be for sale, that God can’t be foreclosed, that no amount of sweat equity will ever transfer the deed.
“The tenants killed the son too,” says Barbara Brown Taylor, “but he would not stay dead and to this day he is still haunting the vineyard, reminding us we are God’s guests… welcome so long as we remember whose it is…”
Hear the Good News, Jesus calls us to labor in fields we did not plow, to harvest fruit we did not plant, to jingle keys to a kingdom we do not own.
“We are God’s sharecroppers. We are God’s sharecroppers. We are God’s sharecroppers.” (Barbara Brown Taylor)