This sermon was preached on Oct. 4, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.
The texts were:
Matthew 21: 33-46
I have had the experience a few times in my life of hitting rock bottom. Now, realize that is perhaps not as dramatic as it sounds. That term has some strong connotations in our culture, mostly associated with the disease of addiction, but Fr. Richard Rohr notes that as a culture as whole, we are a very addictive people and discusses the 12 Steps from AA and spirituality. We’re all addicted to something, whether it’s work, diet coke, food, tv, social media, exercise, shopping, doomscrolling, there is something that each of us does that keeps us from perhaps healthier pursuits. For many, it’s mostly an eccentricity and doesn’t interfere with daily life, but every now and again, we all reach a point with a situation that causes us to realize that we aren’t managing very well. That’s hitting rock bottom. It’s being crushed and broken open to see something truthfully and to acknowledge that something has to change. One time, for me, it was the recognition that I needed to lose the weight I had gained from having three children, to be healthier. Our youngest was medically fragile and after his first surgery at seven months old, I hit rock bottom in realizing that he would need care his whole life and I needed to be around as long as possible. I hit rock bottom and knew I had to change. So I began to eat differently, exercising differently and got healthier, to take care of Ben. I saw my life differently than I did to before, and changes were needed. After admitting this was true, I was broken open to do and live in a new way. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was living out the first principle in AA’s 12 step program: to admit that we are powerless [over alcohol] and our lives have become unmanageable. We can’t simply go the way we are and be healthy.
In our reading this week, Jesus continues his occupation of the Temple and confrontation with the chief priests and elders. He tells them another parable, offers a scripture from Psalm 118 and has stinging words for these supposed leaders. Jesus is laying down some harsh truths. In the parable, the tenets were supposed to care for the land, collaborate with the landowner, give the servants of the landowner the fruits of the land and their labor, for the landowners use. But the tenets became unmanageable, they forgot that none of the land, the produce was theirs. It all belonged to the landowner. They harmed and killed the servants of the landowner, addicted to their own power and authority. The landowner then sent his own son thinking that might manage the situation, but they threw him out and killed him too. They only cared about their own wealth, status, wants and future. They didn’t even realize that they were unhealthy and unmanageable. They thought they had it all under control, they didn’t realize that they were really hitting rock bottom.
Jesus knew that the chief priest, the elders and the pharisees would simply keep operating the way they always had, rejecting anyone who challenged their power and authority, getting rid of them, debasing or discrediting them. They were addicted to their own power and authority like the tenets. They didn’t even know how unmanageable and unhealthy they were, not only for themselves, but for everyone else too. Lie the tenets as well, they forgot that their work was not for them but for God and God’s people. Jesus knew that they would have to be broken by the reality of God’s kingdom, hit rock bottom, in trying to manage it all themselves as if it was their kingdom.
We’re not different than those chief priests, elders and pharisees, here in 2020. We think that we can manage it all, the way we always have, we just need to keep complete control, try harder, grab on to whatever we can, discard anyone and anything that challenges us. But we can’t manage it all and we are hitting rock bottom. We are being crushed by the truth and reality that we aren’t in control, that nothing is really ours, and we have to work together and with God for anything of value and worth to be produced. We can’t continue to abuse God’s creation, the earth, and use up all of her resources. We can’t continue to dump millions of tons of plastic into our oceans, we can’t continue to ignore climate change that brings the most active Atlantic hurricane season ever, weeks to months of no rain in other places, wildfires that destroy ecosystems, livelihoods, and lives. We can’t continue to not deal directly with COVID19, to make compassionate decisions for others. We can’t continue to sit in our white privilege while our siblings of color are harmed and killed by oppressive and unjust systems. We can’t continue to think that we are managing all of this, because we’re not.
But we aren’t supposed to manage everything. Jesus knows that we will hit rock bottom and be crushed, we will realize that we are powerless, and our lives are unmanageable the way they are. But in being broken we can be transformed. Our broken pieces can be rebuilt on the Holy One who is the foundation and owner of the heavens and the earth and all that is in it. When we hit rock bottom, when we admit that we are broken and powerless, God is there. God sent Jesus to be the foundation, the cornerstone that transforms, rebuilds and renews us in love. This is when we produce fruits of the kingdom, when we are broken open and can admit that it’s not about us, but it’s about what God needs from us for the flourishing of all creation and humanity. Jesus, the cornerstone, the first fruits of God’s reality of eternal life, comes to us over and over with this invitation from our brokenness to produce fruits of the kingdom: care, love, forgiveness, mercy and hope. We hit rock bottom, and in our breaking find that we fall into God’s wholeness.
You are loved. You are beloved. Go and be love. Amen.