Third Sunday in Lent
February 28, 2016
First Christian Church
Ever since I was little, I’ve had an interest in politics, especially during presidential years. I can remember as a seven year old, sitting in my second grade class and having a mock election. It was 1976, so the kids were asked to vote between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. I remember Ford won in our class, he wasn’t so lucky in the real general election.
So, I was looking forward to this coming election. Emphasis on the word, was. I wish the election were as fun as it was 40 years ago, but this election is not turning out to be fun at all.
While I like to follow politics, I don’t like to talk about it at church. I do that for a number of reasons. The first is that Jesus is Lord. Our love for Christ must come before being a Democrat or a Republican. I also believe that because we believe God’s table is for everyone, I believe we must be welcoming to all regardless of party affiliation.
But I think I have to say something about this election, especially since the Minnesota caucus is two days away. I’m not here to tell you who to vote for or even what my own party affilation is (though if you look at my Facebook feed, you would know).
I have to say something about one particular person, Donald Trump. As everyone knows he is running for President. When he started his campaign back in the summer of 2015, most everyone thought his campaign was a joke. Now in March, on the verge of becoming the presumptive Republican nominee, we are no longer laughing.
It’s been hard to figure out why Mr. Trump seems to be doing so well. It’s certainly not because of his policies, which are paper thin. What has been particularly head-scratching is that he has said things that would have sunk the campaigns of other people. What is troubling is his character. He has made fun Senator John McCain’s imprisionment. He made fun of two persons with disabilities. He has made sexist comments about a woman journalist. He has called Mexicans rapists. He has said that he wants to ban Muslims, including Muslims who are Americans, from entering the company. He wants to deport all 12 million illegal immigrants in America. None of this is something he said when the mikes were on but he didn’t know it, or off the record. No, he has said all of this live, in front of people and news cameras. I haven’t even talked about the fact that white nationalist groups are campaigning for him, including recording robocalls that have been heard in Minnesota. As Max Lucado, a well-known evangelical pastor said this week, Trump lacks decency and that matters in the White House and in life in general.
David Brooks, the conservative columnist notes that the rise of Trump is because of the rise of anti-politics, a sense that the other side is not just wrong, but evil. The other side is not acknowledged. Political writer Eliot Cohen says that a major reason for Trump is moral rot. For him, it’s one thing to be a jerk in private, but in public there is supposed to be a certain way to act, with respect. He notes that President Franklin Roosevelt named a finished large dam after the person he beat in the 1932 general election Republican President Herbert Hoover. Considering how much Trump loves to put his name everywhere, I’m pretty sure he would not do the same thing.
So what does this have to do with today’s text? Jesus tells a story of a man who plants a vineyards and then rents it out to tenants. He goes away for a while. After a while, it’s time to collect the rent, so he sends one of his servants. The tenants decide at this point that they don’t want to pay rent and beat him up. The landlord sends another servant and he is beaten up. He sends a third and that one was killed. This goes on for a while- the landlord sends a servant to collect the rent and the tenants either injure the servant or outright kill him.
Finally, the owner decides to send his only son. His son was the sole heir to this land. This point was not lost on the tenants. As they see the son coming from a distance, they see this as a chance to get the land. In that day, if an owner has no heirs, the land can go to the tenants. The tenants had wanted the land all to themselves and this was their chance.
When the landowner’s son arrives, the seize him, kill him and in a sign of ultimate disrespect, they throw his body outside of the vineyard.
The landlord hears of this and is enranged. Jesus says that the next thing that happens is that the owner will send people to come and punish the tenants and when I say punish, I mean kill. Judgement came to the tenants.
The problem with tenants is there sense of not thinking of others. As I said, Trump is a sign of a culture go awry. We are a society where we view those who are different with fear and contempt. Where liberals and conservatives were able to compromise, they now look at each other with hatred and think life would be better without the other.
The workers thought that because they worked on the land, they had a right to the land an the owner had no right. They were willing to do whatever it takes to prove that point, even if it meant killing the landlords son.
This parable was meant as a warning to the religious leaders of Jesus time. They were the type of people that took pride in their following of the law, not caring much for how other were or were not able to follow along. Jesus, predicting his death, knew that these leaders would reject him and would seek his death. This parable itself is a take on a older text from Isaiah 5 called the Song of the Vineyard where the writer likens Israel to a vineyard that grows rotten grapes. The gardener was so upset he decided to let the garden grow wild, to be left to its own devices. The vineyeard was Israel and it wasn’t following the ways of God so God was ready to give them up to face the consequences of their actions, which happened in due time.
We live in a time where civility is nearly gone. We seek to be with like-minded people and not encounter anyone who has a different view. Our college kids want safe spaces where they don’t have to hear different opinions.
We shouldn’t be surprised that someone like Trump has appeared; we have prepared the ground for his seeds to germinate and grow.
This is the time for the church to be counted. We need to be a witness for character, because that matters- in our church and in our world. We should expect our leaders to be people of care for others. For the most part, most of our recent Presidents: Ford, Carter, Regan, the elder Bush, Clinton, the younger Bush and Obama have all governed with decency and honor. You might have disagreed with their policies, but they were people who worked with a respect for the office and for the people they were sent to govern. As followers of Jesus, we should speak out when there are people who seek to lead from a position of hatred, meaness and selfishness. None of these are godly virtues; they are the characteristics of the tenants, people who thought only of themsleves, only in having more and saw others as being in the way of what they want.
As we walk through our Lenten series Purple Reign, we are reminded that the king that we serve, Jesus Christ, was one that treated others with respect, especially those that are forgotten. He crossed political and social boundaries to share his message. He gave up his life to save the lives of others. These are the values, the aspects of character that we should be looking for in leaders.
The parable ends with the tenants facing judgement. This is not something we should look forward with glee. The God we serve is one that shows love even to those who don’t deserve it. But flagrant violations of virtues cannot go unchallenged. The tenants came to a point where they had to face the consequences.
This Tuesday, I will go to my caucus. And I will vote against Trump. If he becomes the Republican nominee, I will not support him. I can’t tell you how you should vote. I won’t tell you how to vote. But as you go to your caucus, be mindful that we are called to care for others. I pray that you will not act like the tenants.
Dear church, it is time to be a witness for Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.