Sermon 28 Feb 2016: “Landlords and Tenants”

Text: Mark 12:1-12

One of my professors at seminary was fond of talking about the importance of preaching, and the purpose for it.  “Preaching is about giving people Jesus,” he would say, “and no other reason. People come each week to hear the gospel.  They come because they need Jesus and come for Jesus.  Your job is to give them Jesus.”

Well, if that’s the case, then I’m not too sure this is the text we want to hear this morning.  Jesus tells a parable about some tenants whose actions go well beyond simply being ungrateful.  Killing servants and killing the landlord’s son thinking that somehow then the landlord will pass everything on to them as inheritance?  It’s more than ungrateful: it’s irrational.  The parable ends with this message: the tenants will be dealt with; they’ll get their due.  I don’t hear a lot of gospel or Jesus, do you?

But we’re Christ’s disciples, not chief priests and elders and scribes.  So Jesus isn’t talking about us, right?  Maybe the parable this morning is a warning to all those ungrateful souls, the unchurched: you owe God.  God is certainly gracious and merciful, but to a point. If you can’t accept that, then you’ll be dealt with; you’ll get your due.

But I’m not sure that message is any different than previous one; in fact, it sounds exactly the same.  And I don’t think that’s the Jesus people will come rushing through the doors this morning or on any Sunday morning to receive.  I don’t think that’s the Jesus people need.

My dad was a pretty generous man, and when things were going good on the farm he would loan money out to others who needed some help from time to time.  “Pay me back when you can,” was my dad’s motto, and usually, everyone that dad loaned money out to paid him back in full. Yet there was this one guy, always asking my dad for money, always paying a little, but then asking for more.  This went on for a while apparently, because when my dad died, we found a ledger that had this guy’s name on it and over the course of 8 years, this guy racked up a total of over $70,000 in debt to my dad. sOf course, this upset my sisters and I.  And we did everything we could to try to collect.  We called his relatives, friends, and former neighbors.  We called his former wives and girlfriends.  We took legal action and sent it through the courts and a collection agency.  But to this day we haven’t seen a single cent of that money, and over time we resigned ourselves – although bitterly – to the fact this guy would never pay back the debt.

I have this unescapable feeling this parable is about us this morning: we act like landlords.  We invest and give away much and expect something in return.  And when we come collecting, our sense of ownership and entitlement leave us feeling cheated and wronged and those ungrateful people who “owe us” – they’ll be dealt with; they’ll get their due. Here’s the thing though: there are things in this life that were never ours in the first place.   If we understand this parable correctly, we’re the tenants.  We are not in control, and our sense of entitlement and ownership of things like our lives, the church, and ministry gets in the way of seeing that these things are a gift that’s meant to be given away.

I want to take a moment to talk about the church and ministry.  Think about how we talk about these things: “This is MY church.”  “This is OUR ministry.”  “Come to OUR worship service and come to an event put on by US” – this or that group. Whether intentional or subconsciously, we talk about the church and ministry as if it’s ours: we’re the landlords.  Not only do we talk about it that way, we sometimes act out.  We get irrationally bitter and defensive and suspicious when we’re told that the church is something to be shared, and that we don’t own it; we perhaps feel the same when we hear we’re not entitled to the fruits of  doing ministry.

The truth is, THE Landlord has invested much in the church and its ministry, and continues to bless it by sending it just what it needs to carry that out.

And God invests and gives to the church, not so that people might be attracted to it through events and programs, and activities, but rather so that it might go out and engage a world full of people who are suffering, ignored, excluded, and crushed by it.

If the church is truly a community following Christ, then the church is the community that exists for no other reason than to give itself completely away for the sake of others.  

So what does this look like?  Two years ago, THIS church, combined with another church across the way, took a bunch of water and ice, filled coolers, and went downtown on a hot summer day to give away free water to thirsty shoppers.  Water was handed out at no cost, with no expectation of getting anything in return.  For those of you who participated, do you remember how it felt to give that water away?  Do you remember how people reacted to you when you handed them water?  And for those who heard about it, do you remember your reaction?

Do you recall what it felt like to give something completely away with no expectation of anything in return?  Do you remember what it was like to truly be Christian community, to be the church in that moment?

Moments like these….they are happening now and can happen again in THIS church.  But it means giving up our sense of entitlement and ownership; it means to stop being landlords of the church and ministry.  We are tenants…..tenants who in faith give up and give away for the sake of others, just as God has given up and given away God’s only Son for us.  Amen.

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