The holy gospel according to Matthew, the 21st chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
"Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press 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. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls." When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
The text for today's message is the second lesson (Philippians 3:4b-14). In it, Paul talks about some things that are very important to us in this world we live in.
He talks about four things that give us our identity: pedigree, prestige, power, and possessions.
We often use these as ways to define and identify ourselves. Think for a minute. What is the first thing you say when anybody asks you who you are?
You probably give your name and then maybe tell them what your job title is. I usually do that right away. People generally want to know that they are talking to a pastor. If I don't tell them until later in the conversation, they start reviewing everything they have said, just to make sure none of it was inappropriate.
I am also proud to say I am a Lutheran pastor. It has a certain amount of prestige. If I really want to impress people, I start talking about my education, and maybe mention that I studied both Greek and Hebrew in seminary. I don't necessarily mention I only learned enough to look words up in a dictionary, and that I use online Bibles to do the translations for me.
How do you tell people who you are? What are some of the things you share? Do you mention your family? Who your parents are? Do you talk about how long you have lived around here? All of that is your pedigree.
What titles do you use when you talk about yourself? Do you use your job title? If you are a student, do you say what grade you are in? What school you go to? Those titles convey authority and a certain degree of prestige.
Maybe you use the title Mother or Father or Grandparent. Do you tell people about your children and their accomplishments? That is prestige, too.
Power is another thing that gives us identity. We may not think we have much individual power in the usual understanding of the word, but one source of our power is our citizenship. Having a US passport certainly gives us power that many others don't have.
Our ELCA global mission unit sends young adults to Palestine every year. One of their main purposes is to accompany Palestinians back and forth across the border so that they can attend school, go to work, and obtain medical care. These young missionaries use the power of their US passports to gain access that isn't always granted to others.
Think about your possessions for a minute? What are your favorites? I am particularly fond of my electronic devices. At any given time I have an ipad in my bag and a cell phone in my pocket.
Maybe you have a nice car. Maybe you own some valuable collectibles. Maybe you have a favorite toy. Maybe you have jewelry or clothes that are the latest fashion. Maybe you just love your house. We all have possessions that are important to us.
In today's lesson St Paul starts by sharing his pedigree. He was a Hebrew, a descendant of the tribe of Benjamin, and kept the law as a devout Pharisee.
He certainly had an impressive resume, too. He was a student of the most famous rabbi. He was able to read and write in both Hebrew and Greek. If anyone could brag about what a good religious observant Jew he was, it was Paul. Being a Pharisee was very prestigious in the Jewish community.
Paul's titles and accomplishments gave him authority and power. He also often mentioned that he was a Roman citizen and used his citizenship to his advantage whenever he needed to.
What does Paul say about his pedigree, prestige, power, and possessions, though? He says he has lost all of them. But, he doesn't care. He says they were all rubbish! I don't think I could say that very easily if I lost everything. I would be very sad.
But Paul says all these are nothing compared to the value of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord! He proclaims that righteousness doesn't come from being a devout Pharisee and keeping God's laws religiously. It doesn't come from anything we have or anything we do. Righteousness comes only through faith in Christ.
This faith is God's gift to us. Nothing, not pedigree, not prestige, not power, not possessions can give us faith, make us righteous, or save us. Sometimes we would like to believe that they could.
Pedigree does not guarantee faith. Maybe your family have been Lutherans since the reformation. Maybe your parents taught you Bible stories. You can go to confirmation class and serve as an acolyte, but you must believe for yourself. As Billy Graham once said, God does not have grandchildren, God only has children.
Prestige is only useful in human circles. The creator of the universe doesn't care how many titles we have or how many initials I can put after my name. Prestige can't save anyone.
And what is human power compared to the power of Almighty God, the ruler of the world? We certainly have no power to make ourselves righteous or save ourselves. We don't even have the strength to believe in Jesus on our own. That ability is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Possessions are useful for this earthly life only. We all know that we can't take them with us. We can't use them to buy salvation.
Yet, we still base our identity on our pedigree and our prestige and our power and our possessions. It isn't that these are bad things. Like Paul, we can use them to further the reign of God. After all, these are good gifts that the Creator has given us.
We just need to remember the giver. We can use our gifts wisely and well for the benefit of the world that God so loves - and not for selfish gain. We can share our gifts of time and talents to further mission of this congregation.
We can give our money to help those who are suffering from hurricanes and earthquakes through Lutheran Disaster Response. We can give our money to help the ministry of Central Lutheran right here in our own neighborhood, and through our benevolence we help spread the gospel all over the world.
These are wonderful ways to share our gifts, but Paul reminds us that everything else we hold dear pales in comparison with the greatest gift - the gift of God's son, Jesus Christ - the One who suffered and died on the cross for our salvation, the One who rose from the dead so that we also might live.
So what do you say when anybody asks you who you are?
I am reminded of a song that I learned in Sunday School:
If anybody asks you who I am, who I am, who I am...
If anybody asks you who I am, tell them I'm a child of God.
If anybody asks you who you are, tell them you're a child of God.