In the audio podcast of this service, the Scripture reading begins at 19:30 and the Sermon begins at 22:12.
Scripture: Matthew 21:33-46
Sermon: Profits or Prophets?
Why does God no longer favor the Jews, but now favors the Gentiles? asked a Jewish man in Matthew’s house church in Jerusalem. It was some 30 years after Jesus, and his movement had spread throughout Jerusalem, Samaria on to the uttermost parts of the Gentile world. Matthew stroked his beard replying, Ah yes, do you remember that parable that I wrote down for you where Jesus talked about a landowner leasing his vineyard to tenants? At harvest time the owner sent one servant after another to gather the profit, but each was killed. Until he sent his son who was also killed. Yes. Do you remember what we said Jesus meant? Yes. The vineyard is God’s kingdom, and the servants gathering the master’s profits were the prophets. Nice word choice there! Yes, and the son was Jesus. Correct! And why did they kill the son? Because of profits.
—in the parable their hope was the owner would die so that by law they’d inherit the vineyard; in real life Jesus upset the system that the religious leaders controlled, so, in a sense, he effected their bottom line. Yes, we Jews sought our profits not God’s prophets.
In the 21st century western world on Worldwide Communion Sunday, it would seem that God’s kingdom is passing America by, as it did the Jews. Notice the growth of Christianity by continent per year according to www.adherents.com In 1908 70% of Christianity was in the western world; today 70% is outside the West. In the kingdom is God replacing America with 3rd World Christians? Are we too wrapped up in profits?
So today’s question is: will America listen to our profits or the prophets?
What might God mean to call America to listen to the prophets? Biblical prophets are more forthtellers than foretellers. That is, God used the prophets to call Israel back to the created intent of shalom and justice for all. Our common misunderstanding of the Hebrew prophets, if we get beyond the idea that they were crystal ball readers rather than preachers, is that they spoke only critical, cutting, condemnatory words. Like the guy carrying a cross and yelling Repent! in Times Square. While they spoke sharp words, their purpose was to prune God’s vineyard for greater fruit. God was using them to lop off things like me-spending for we-spending so that Israel would shine shalom’s light.
And God still sends prophets; i.e., people who speak God’s wise word. I think of America’s profits in this current financial meltdown. Each candidate and party is blaming somebody: Wall Street execs and their golden parachutes, banks who let home owners get in over their heads, the President, the Congress. In short, everybody but me. But honestly? I believe God is saying we’re all to blame: you, me, and them. Because you and I, on average, have overextended our credit to live on 103% of our income. And so as our whole country tries to get something for nothing, God’s prophets are asking us:
Are you going to live by short-term profits to build your own kingdom or by my prophets in saving and sharing with others to build Christ’s kingdom?
In short, as the richest people in the world, is our money invested in God’s harvest? In we-spending like hospitals, churches, the poor, that reaps a harvest in God’s kingdom?
My prayer is that America won’t be replaced by 3rd world countries because we choose profits over prophets. But that in this crisis we will let God right our financial priorities so that the harvest of peace, justice and salvation might increase here and abroad. As you pray this week about this crisis, ask God where you can trim to save and share.
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