You Are Gifted
Rev. Kurt Lantz Lent 5 C Luke 20:9-20
April 03, 2022 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear tenants gifted with a vineyard,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When someone tells you that you are gifted student, or a gifted artist, or a gifted musician, you naturally blush and are not quite sure what to say. It is a little embarrassing because we take it to mean that there is something quite praiseworthy about ourselves. We connect our identity to something which was rightly called a gift, something that we have been given from someone else. The praise is not rightly offered to us, but to the one who gifted us with such abilities, talents, or skills.
If we are gifted, these things really are not anything that arises out of ourselves. Someone else produced them and gave them to us to use and develop and from which to receive pleasure. That really is the right way to look at it, but it doesn’t come easily to us. We are gifted by God and the praise belongs rightly to Him and not to ourselves.
In fact, we ought not get too attached to these gifts, lest they be taken back, or even given to another instead. If we attach our identity to them, when we no longer have them we feel as if we have been attacked, defrauded, robbed. Think of losing the ability to play the piano, or losing the gift of excellence in sport. When other people are gifted with these things in greater measure, does it make you feel inferior and challenge your identity; or are you able to praise God who gives so abundantly and widely and not to you only?
Perhaps you think all of this is rather shallow, like losing the gift of wealth and then acting like you cannot go on and survive like most people who never were gifted to the same extent as you. But would we also say that it would be rather shallow if you lost the gift of a spouse and acted like you couldn’t go on? Or what about the gift of a child? No, we protest. These things are much more a part of ourselves. To have them taken away naturally brings grief and sorrow, even anger and rage. It is not fair that these things be taken away.
Yet the key to overcoming such grief is the acceptance that even wife and children are gifts to us, blessings bestowed upon us by a loving and gracious God. We mourn their loss because they have been such a great gift. To overcome grief we must see them as just that, gifts that a loving and gracious God allowed us to have for time. They were never ours to keep. In fact they are better off being His.
When we look at these sorts of examples, we can at least understand the thinking of the tenants of the vineyard in the parable told by Jesus. We know that the vineyard never belonged to them, but could they see it that way? They worked the ground. They sweat and bled and worked from sun up to sun down. They sacrificed time from family and leisure in order to have the best harvest possible.
Where was the landowner during all of this? Was he not so very far away that he had little to no idea of the extent of their work? Did he ever show up to lend a hand, to fetch some water, to hold the ladder? Why should he get any part of the produce? Isn’t it an insult that he sends some slave to the gate to collect?
Why then should we give any of the fruit of our labour to a God who has left the ability to play the piano or to compete in sports or to make some money entirely in our hands? Why should He receive any of the credit for how we have managed our family or raised our children? Where was He when we were sweating and bleeding with sleepless nights and lack of leisure?
And what about the fact that most of us receive little to no recognition because the “gifts” we’ve been given don’t stand out like those of others. We don’t get first place. We are somewhere down past the mark of the awards. We can’t produce enough to be listed among the honourees. Why should we sacrifice what little pride we have in our good efforts in order to give recognition to Him? Send a slave to my door to collect on that, will you? I’ll shut the door in his face. The next one who comes will get a good slap to go with it.
And how does the Great Giver respond to such ungrateful attitudes that we find entirely justifiable? It’s easy to jump to the end of the parable and see the horror of His final act. “He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others” (Luke 20:16). Surely not! They need that land. They worked hard for their produce. They won’t survive if He kicks them out. They will be entirely ruined. What does the Tenant’s Act have to say about this?
We jump to the end and see the landowner’s actions as too harsh. It may be entirely within the bounds of the law, but can we not appeal to some goodwill to triumph over justice? Can we not expect the wealthy landowner to forfeit a little for the sake of those who would be entirely destroyed? We wouldn’t want to end up like that. We wouldn’t want to entirely lose our livelihood, to lose everything just because we could not stand to give up what we considered to be our very own.
But what we long for in the end, is precisely what has been happening all along. The landowner has repeatedly appealed and forgiven and shown grace and offered another chance and another and another. As the tenants have responded to the landowner’s slaves with increasing hostility and depravity, he has appealed with all the more dignity and grace. He has done all that can be done. He has done more than anyone else would do. He has done the unthinkable and sent His own beloved son into the hands of jealous, maniacal, sinful men.
This is what we appeal for our God to do for us when finally the judgment comes down. Could He not show any grace? Can He not give us a chance? My dear gifted friends, that is precisely what He has been doing, what He is doing, what He has done to the uttermost. He has sent to us the messengers of the prophets and apostles again and again and again. They have come right to our door imploring us to give glory to God with the fruits of repentance for our sinful pride, and the fruit of faith in His great love to forgive and show all the more mercy and grace, multiplying our talents when we freely attribute all glory to His name, and increasing our faith in His goodness as He apportions His gifts when and where He pleases.
Over and over again they have come to our gate with reminders that all good gifts come from the Father above and we can depend upon Him for a life of blessing under His providence. They come to us again and again proclaiming that there is forgiveness and mercy for sinners like us.
But we don’t want to hear of it. We don’t accept the message that all we have is a gift from God. We want to have the credit. We want to be the source. We want to trust in our own ability and action and determination, rather than depend upon His gracious giving. We want to be the landowner. We want to be God. So away with Him and His messengers. The prophets were exiled and killed. The apostles were beaten and martyred. Pastors are slandered and starved.
And what has the Great Giver done in response to this? He has sent His beloved Son. Because we have been unwilling to acknowledge His gifts, He gave more. Because we have protested His management of all that He has gifted to us, He gave more. Because we have not been able to give up the gifts that He has taken back into His own care, He gave us His own Son.
We can slam the door in His face when He comes to claim the produce of what He has gifted to us. It would be akin to killing that beloved Son of His. He was slandered, slapped, beaten, and crucified by sinful men like us. He died on a cross outside the gates of Jerusalem in order to redeem such heinous sinners.
While He stands at the door and knocks, let us open to Him and welcome the One sent to seek the fruits of our repentance. Let us humbly acknowledge our sinful pride and look to the grace of the Great Giver who does not even restrain from giving up His Son for sinners.
To welcome the Son and the grace that He brings, does not result in loss. For all the gifts of the Father are present in the gift of His Son. With Him there is eternal inheritance as fellow heirs. Every blessed gift that we have been granted for a time in this life is promised in Christ Jesus for eternal life. The Great Giver never fully takes away the gifts He gives to His children. He manages them for us. He stores them up in heaven for us, that we might never lose them. For all things are ours in Christ Jesus, His Son.
But there is a day when the knocking on the gate will cease. There is a day when the messengers sent from God will no longer come. There is a day of judgment when the grace will end and all that will be left is the hard, cold, justice of the law; the day when the wicked tenants will be destroyed, and the vineyard of paradise given to those who produced the fruits of repentance and faith in the Giver who has given even His beloved Son.
Let that day not find us brooding and resentful against our gracious God, but humble with a heart full of thanksgiving for all that He has permitted us to have for a time, and all that He has given us for eternity in Jesus.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.