Monday, October 2, 2017

We Have The Answers

Yesterday in church, we heard Jesus tell the parable of the two sons, one told his father "no" but went to work anyway and one who told his father "yes" but failed to go. Jesus asked his hearers, "Which one of the two did the will of his father?" And the crowd quickly identified the first son. Our preacher, Warren Swenson, reminded us that the real answer is more complicated than that, but he also pointed out that the crowd didn't really have a choice. At least on the surface, the answer was obvious. This Sunday, Jesus tells a similar parable with a similar result.

In Matthew 21:33-46, Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard. A landowner built a vineyard, invested in its infrastructure, leased it out to tenants, and went away to a distant country. When it was harvest time, he sent his slaves to go and collect his share of the produce, but the tenants beat the slaves, even killing one. So the landowner sent another delegation of slaves, whom the tenants treated in like manner. Finally, the landowner sent his son, the heir, whom the tenants also killed, convincing themselves foolishly that by doing so they could keep the vineyard for themselves. Jesus asks his hearers, "When the owner comes, what will he do?" And they all know the answer. Jesus puts it on their lips. He doesn't need to say a word because they already know how the story ends: "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."

There's more to it than that, of course. Hopefully, by the time we get to Sunday, I'll be ready to dive with the congregation into the nuances of the story, but, at first glance, the point seems to be that the hearers already know the answer to the question. They know that the wicked tenants will get their due. They know that even foolish landowners who send their own son to confront wicked tenants don't put up with that sort of disobedience forever. The story can only have one ending. Even Jesus' opponents--even those who question his authority--know what the outcome will be.

This morning, the first thing I awoke to was the news that a man had opened fire on a crowd of people at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip, killing at least fifty. That number--fifty--is the tipping point at which this mass shooting becomes the most deadly in modern history as it surpasses the forty-nine who were killed at the Pulse night club in Orlando two summers ago. Fifty. Two scores and ten. Take a minute and think about fifty people. Can you name fifty close friends? It's the number of people on a small flight from a rural airport to the big hub. It's two overcrowded elementary school classrooms worth of students. It's the number of people who worship at our early service on a full Sunday. Fifty people. Fifty men and women. Fifty human lives. Fifty family members. Fifty life stories. Fifty dreams. They are all gone. And the number is expected to rise.

We are in the middle of a horrific parable. First, a school shooting. Then, a terrorist attack at a business. Then, a slaying in a church. Then, a mass murder at a night club. Finally, a slaughter at a concert. You can fill in the gaps with dozens more mass shootings. The story is the same. It is repeated over and over. And what is our response? Political gridlock. Unfunded mental health care. No gun reform. Partisan bickering. Maybe, if we do nothing, peace will just find us. Maybe, if we give everyone a gun, no one will be willing to open fire. Maybe, if we use labels like "religious fanatic" or "mental illness" or "lone wolf" or "radicalized racist," we can pretend that these sorts of things don't happen close to us, that good, God-fearing people like us can insulate ourselves from such violence. What happens next? What will the outcome be? How will this end? We know the answer.

There is evil in this world, and that evil is at work in the hearts and minds and actions of all people. Every one of us is a part of a human system that isn't the way it was created to be. Sin affects all of us. We can't fix it on our own. Ultimately, our only hope lies in God, who is the one who can take all of our struggle, all of our failure, all of our pain, all of our darkness and finally make us and all of creation the way it was created to be. That's the story of Jesus. That's the story that gives us hope. But we cannot sit idle until that day comes. We cannot pretend that the coming of God's kingdom has nothing to do with us. We cannot refuse to take action, refuse to act, refuse to bear fruit and think that there will not be a price to pay.

What will happen when the owner of the vineyard comes? He will destroy those wicked tenants and lease the vineyard out to someone else. We are the tenants We are responsible for keeping it and tending it and helping it bear fruit. The owner is here. He has come to us. Now is the time for us to bear fruit for God's sake. We cannot keep silent and hope that we can get away with it any longer. We must end access to assault-style firearms and ammunition by ordinary citizens. We must drastically increase our funding for mental health care. We must demand that our representatives and senators and president do whatever it takes to end this violence. Ultimately, evil can only be overthrown by God, but, when God comes, will he find that we have borne fruit for the peaceable kingdom or for the violence that stands in opposition to it?

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