Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 25, 2007: Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin The Rev. Patrick P. Augustine, Rector


Luke 20:9-19
He began to tell the people this parable: ‘A man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants, and went to another country for a long time. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants in order that they might give him his share of the produce of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Next he sent another slave; that one also they beat and insulted and sent away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third; this one also they wounded and threw out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.” But when the tenants saw him, they discussed it among themselves and said, “This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance may be ours.” So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.’ When they heard this, they said, ‘Heaven forbid!’ But he looked at them and said, ‘What then does this text mean:
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone”?
Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’ When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.

The Glory of the Cross

They called Him “Teacher,” (John3:2). He was infinitely more than that. He was the Master teacher! His own opponents reported, “No one ever spoke the way this man does” (John 7:46). This morning we shall learn through the parable our Lord taught in the gospel of Luke. This is the last parable in Luke’s gospel and perhaps the last that Jesus ever told.
Here is the story line of the autobiography of God portrayed with vivid and unmistakable clarity. Israel was the vineyard of the Lord. The prophets had come to claim the Lord’s ownership and the fruit of righteousness in the lives of the nation and individuals. We know what happened to them. And the leaders of Israel were now the vine growers of the parable. Jesus’ parable was a frightening introduction to them-selves, if they could have heard and understood.
In this parable the tenants violated the known law to respect and welcome back the owners of the vineyard. Jesus is warning that in few days the leaders of Israel are going to reject him. Their action will lead them to crucify him on the Cross. This morning I want us to focus our attention on the Cross of Jesus.
I want to clarify an important point here. Many of us in the United States have grown under the preaching of “fire and brimstone” school of theology. This kind of theology teaches that Christ was made a sacrifice to appease an angry God, or that the Cross was a legal transaction in which a innocent victim was made to pay the penalty for the crimes of others, a propitiation of a stern God. These notions came into Christian theology by way of the legalistic minds of the medieval churchmen; they are not biblical Christianity[1]
In our growing up we were familiar with the language of “propitiation” in relation to the death of Christ. “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins.” To “propitiate” somebody means to appease or pacify his anger. Does God then get angry? If so, can offerings or rituals assuage his anger? Does God accepts bribes? It is understandable that the primitive animist (spirit world) considered it essential to placate the wrath of gods, spirits of ancestors, but this is not what happened on the Cross on the Calvary. The Rev. John Stott in his book The Cross of Christ says, “In order to develop true biblical doctrine of propitiation, it will be necessary to distinguish it from pagan ideas in a three crucial points”:
First, the reason why propitiation is necessary is that sin arouses the wrath of God. This does not mean (as animists fear) that he likely to loose his temper at the most trivial provocation or for no apparent reason at all. Jesus did not portray a picture of God who is irascible, malicious, spiteful or vindictive. God’s anger is poles apart from ours. What provokes our anger (injured vanity) never provokes His; what provokes His anger (evil) seldom provokes ours.
Secondly, who make the propitiation? In a pagan context is always human beings who seek to avert the divine anger either by the meticulous performance of rituals, or by the recitation of magic formula, or by offering of sacrifices (vegetable, animal or even human). The Gospel is very clear that there is no possibility of persuading, cajoling or bribing God to forgive us, for we deserve nothing at his hand but judgment. No, the initiative is taken by God himself in his sheer mercy and grace.
It cannot be emphasized too strongly that God’s love is the source of the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. “It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a propitiation for our sins 1 John 4:10).
Thirdly, What was the propitiatory sacrifice? It was neither an animal, nor a vegetable, nor a mineral. It was not a thing, at all, but a person. And the person God offered was not somebody else, whether a human person or an angel or even his Son considered as somebody distinct from or external to himself. As Karl Barth wrote repeatedly, “it was the Son God, i.e. God himself, who took our place on Golgotha and thereby freed us from the divine anger and judgment. On the Cross only God, our Lord and Creator, took our place on Good Friday. Thus God took his own loving initiative to appease his own righteous anger by bearing it his own self in his own Son when he took our place and died for us.[2]
This was no easy reality for the early disciples of Jesus to accept. Cross was a sign of contempt where criminals faced the most horrible death. One wonders why early church adopted Cross as their primary symbol and focus in its message as St. Paul to the church in Corinth says, “that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures.” In a way Christianity got off to a very unpromising start with its emphasis upon the Cross.
“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1.Cor. 1:23-25).
We realize that at start of this new and tiny sect there was devastating criticism leveled at it. But in spite of the fierce opposition which came through satire, contempt, abuse and scornâ€"and eventually physical persecution â€" the Church grew. It grew from the Cross. Cross remains the heart of the Christian faith. When I have traveled to Sudan to visit and worship with the Christian community there, I have encountered the faith of brothers and sisters who carry their Cross daily and follow Jesus Christ. On one trip, I wrote in my journal, “The living faith of this persecuted church has grown from the Cross of Christ. The cross has become their proud symbol of the strength to live and die for Jesus Christ. The followers of Jesus in this land of oppression have adopted the Cross to symbolize the only life they want to live. In the sign of the Cross they conquer the forces of darkness, oppression, hatred and evil. To them, the cross represents their daily struggle, the pain of betrayal, suffering, affliction and the triumphant faith to follow Christ.”
Our Lenten journey is finally moving us closer to the events of Holy Week. This week Jesus will be entering into Jerusalem cleansing the Temple, eating the Last Supper with his disciples and on Good Friday carrying the heavy burden of the wooden cross walking on the road known as Via Delarosa. Let us focus our thoughts in the coming week on the Cross of Jesus from Gethsemane and Gabbatha and Golgotha.
In the United States we may notice that churches here often focus on the triumph of resurrection and Cross is often left in the shadow. We have plenty of churches that dress up Christianity with health, wealth and prosperity theology. There is little mention of the Crucified Christ. Those who market him today with the bait of prosperity and success have severed their roots in the crucified Christ. His way was different. “If anyone would come after me let him deny himself and take up his Cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Christian message without the Cross of Christ is anemic message. The Anglican scholar, Bishop Stephen Neill while meditating on the Cross said, “in the Christian theology of history, the death of Christ is the central point of history; here all the roads of the past converge; hence all the roads of the future diverge.” On the hill of Calvary the Roman soldier while gazing at the cross of Jesus came to faith with these words’ “Truly this man was the Son of God.” We too come to the foot of the cross and fall down in utter gratitude and humility:

When I survey the wondrous Cross

On which the Prince of Glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss

And pour contempt on all my pride.”

Sources used:

George Carey; The Gate of Glory

Llyod John Ogilvie: Autobiography of God

John R.W. Stott: The Cross of Christ and Samuel M. Zwemer: The Glory of the Cross

[1] William Neil, Apostle Extraordinary, pp.89-90

[2] John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ, InterVarsity Preess, 1986, Pp.173-175

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