Amazing in Our Eyes: The Rev. Canon Leonard L. Hamlin, Sr.
Will you pray with me. Almighty God, it is once again you have given us this wonderful opportunity to come together. And now we say thank you for your presence with us. Thank you for your love towards us. And we ask that once again you might cover us, you might hold us, you would unite us, but most of all, fill us, for the places you are preparing to send us. This we ask in your wonderful Name. Amen. You may be seated.
It is a joy once again to gather on this beautiful, brisk fall Sunday morning. And I find myself that I am never, and I never cease to be amazed, fascinated, and awed by the gatherings that come together for a moment like this, this moment we know as worship. Let me point out that I recognize that within this moment, a moment similar to this, that there are numerous motivations that have drawn and continue to draw gatherings, both here in this great place as well as places around the world.
As I prepared all week long, I had an idea of where I was going only to reach the end of the week and have to start all over again, even as that would play itself out and trying to be here this morning. I had an idea when I left the house, which direction I wanted to go, only to have to be detoured by the road closures of the Army Ten Miler. But isn’t that how life really is? We plan our direction. We set our path only to have to deal with changes. It would be so much easier if we had advance notice, so much easier if we knew the twist and the turns, the ups and the downs. But here we are in life once again in a moment like this, wrestling that the changes in the courses that we have to follow often appear out of nowhere.
If you were listening to the reading of the Gospel, or reading along as it was read, what we see is that a crowd had gathered primarily motivated by their desire to understand more about this man named Jesus. To understand more about the message he continued to share throughout his movements, and in all of the many meetings he had in one location to another. This 21st chapter of Matthew recounts and begins with Jesus entering triumphantly into Jerusalem. But if we rush too quickly with the purpose of engaging this chapter, and in particular this text, we are quick to shape the context of this text by listening to the shouts of the multitude. By listening to the shouting of the praises and the crying “Hosanna!” If we’re not careful and move too quickly, we miss the very clear and deliberate tension that is revealed by Matthew very early on. Matthew shares with us that while somewhere the answers within the crowd are being lifted, there was a major question that was moving throughout the city. A major question that was moving throughout the crowd. A major question that truth is, may even be here this morning. Matthew put it this way, “When he (being Jesus) entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil asking, ‘Who is this?’”
It is the question that filled all of what we’re reading this morning. It is the question that was the background of this particular text. It is the question that turned the city upside down. It is the question that brought many out of their homes. It is the question that made many disrupt their regular routines. It is the question that altered lives and transformed thinking. It is the question we wrestle with in a moment like this. As we look out on the world that we are living in and around us, that many of us have come wanting to know better, “Who is this?” Who is this man named Jesus? Jesus enters into a city that has crowds standing on different sides. He enters into a city that has people being able to position themselves with perhaps those who they are comfortable with, those who they don’t know, the strangers, the friends, the associates. We are seeing when we look at this, a crowd that sees the world from different perspectives and individuals who are attempting to respond to the complexities of the culture and the world that they are living in. Truth is I could probably pick up this crowd and put them in that crowd. To be able to realize that we all see from different perspectives. We all are wrestling with the culture in the world that we are living in. We are all wrestling with the chaos and the community that we are finding ourselves in, not just locally but around the world.
When we look at Matthew’s gospel, Jesus enters into the city. Jesus turns over tables. He declares, “My house shall be called a house of prayer. He was challenged by the religious leaders. He cursed the fig tree, had his authority questioned and then shares the Parable of the Two Sons. But it doesn’t just stop there. This is where we step into the reading of the gospel this morning when we hear then Jesus does what Jesus usually did. He told another parable, The Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Matthew records it as Jesus saying, “Hear another parable. Hear another story. Hear, I’m gonna tell you another story”. One right after the other. Time and time again, Jesus shared a parable. I can only imagine the responses of some saying to themselves, “Jesus, not another story”. I can imagine who are listening to him, looking at him and saying, “Here he goes again, wouldn’t he just answer? Wouldn’t he just tell us? Would he just stop telling all of these stories and get to the point?”
The crowd is there in the midst of the chaos, in the midst of the confusion with their questions and Jesus tells another story. Here this crowd has gathered only to hear another sermon. Here this crowd has gathered only to hear another selection. Here, this crowd has gathered one more time to hear it over and over and over again. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day used parables, so that there was no surprise that Jesus used them. But the parables Jesus told, and we continue to share, were masterpieces of allegory in which every detail had meaning. Time and time again, Jesus would share truth through the use of parable, only to have so many gather in his presence and then walk away without getting the message. Again, he would tell a parable and again they would walk away. Again, he would tell a parable and again they’d walk away. Again, he’d tell a different parable and again, they’d walk away. They would walk away without getting the message. I want to suggest that that challenge is still present today. Again, we gather, but the challenge is, will we walk away without getting the message? Again, we have heard the reading of the gospel, but maybe again we’ll walk away and not live the gospel. Again. we’ll listen to all that takes place here, but maybe again, we will fall short. The challenge for us on this day is that we are not found just walking away. Perhaps those who have joined us online, guilty of logging off, or arriving at the conclusion, without wrestling with this message found in the text.
The parable pictures a vineyard, the owner of the vineyard and the tenants who were leased the land and charged with the responsibility of looking after it. In Jesus’ time, there were many estates in Galilee and in all the regions around which were owned by foreign landlords. Perhaps those who were listening to him tell this parable were able to relate to it because as they lived, they lived in the tension of being those who worked the land, but were disgruntled by their status. When harvest time came and the owner sent those to gather up the harvest, the tenants beat and killed the servants whom the owner sent to them. They did this not just once, but time and time again. Ultimately, the tenants would even reject the owner’s son. Jesus shed further light on his message to those who were listening by quoting the words of the psalmist and asking, “Have you never read the scriptures? The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing and it’s amazing in our eyes”. It was in the reading of this passage that once again I had to ask myself, and I invite you to join me in asking yourselves, what piece of Jesus’ message are we missing this morning? What piece of his message are we rejecting this morning? What piece of his message are we not valuing this morning? What piece are we not seeing? And when we look at Jesus, are we not seeing the amazing thing that God has done? Through the life of Jesus, God has done something amazing.
Are we on this day chasing and allowing ourselves to be shaped by Jesus? Or are we only using Jesus as a mean to a misguided end? The tenants working the field, were not interested in their relationship with the owner. They were only interested in the materials that could be derived from the owner’s field. They were not interested in having a relationship with the owner. They only wanted what they could get from the owner’s field. And isn’t that our challenge today, that we hear many who are only following Jesus so that they might be blessed by Jesus. They might have material goods from Jesus. They might find here security in the culture that we live by following Jesus. But not a relationship with the owner of the field.
The tenants who are working this field were only interested in the materials. And many of those in the crowd were in the presence of Jesus, but they were ultimately found walking away, missing the message. And today will we be found in his presence but only guilty of walking away? As followers of Jesus Christ, we make great claims of building the Beloved Community. But the hope for us is that we are building on the right cornerstone. Is our relationship with the owner more important than using the owner, just to satisfy our personal desires and wants?
Something is terribly wrong. Something is wrong in the scriptures. Something is wrong when we look out in the world. With wars happening in Israel, wars happening overseas. Here, when we look around and recognize the divisions, the separations, the communities that are there, something is wrong. Something is wrong with the culture when we read the text and something is wrong with our culture, when we look at it today. Dr. Martin Luther King in his preaching and in his sermon years ago, he put it this way, “Each of us lives in two realms. The within and the without. The within of our lives somehow found in the realms of ends, the without in the realms of means. The within of our lives, the bottom, the realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion for which at best we live. The without of our lives is that realm of instrumentalities, techniques, mechanisms by which we live.” “Now the great temptation of life”, he said, “and the great tragedy of life is that so often we allow the without of our lives to absorb the within of our lives. The great tragedy of life is that too often we allow the means by which we live, to outdistance the ends for which we live.”
He went on to say that through our scientific genius we made of the world a neighborhood. I stand here just tagging to that, speaking to those who are around the world while speaking at the same time to those who are right in front of my face, but he put it this way, “But we failed through moral commitment to make this world a brotherhood and so we’ve ended up with guided missiles and misguided men. We’ve ended up instead of loving our neighbor only to love those who look like us, sound like us, talk like us, and maybe sometimes even live close to us.” “The great challenge is to move out,” he said, “of the mountain of practical materialism and move on to another and higher mountain, which recognizes somehow we must live by and toward the basic ends of life. We must move on to that mountain which says in substance, what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul”. Here we are this morning with a question of what we will receive and what we will reject. Here we are this morning wrestling with what we will hold onto and what we will let go of. Here we are this morning once again in a world that is filled with stories that are evolving every minute, every hour, every second, but yet making decisions in this place that can have far reaching effect around the world.
While I am always trying to keep something before me that I’m reading, in addition to my Bible, I am connected with a book club that consists of friends, specifically my fraternity brothers who I graduated college with, that we still meet in book club and read and over the years we’ve read many different titles and recently we decided to read James Baldwin: A Biography by David Leeming. There was a particular experience that led to a powerful statement, made at a key moment in Baldwin’s life that still haunts me when I think of its reading. He stated that, “finding the truth often involves confronting one’s own fears”. “Finally,” he said, “it has to do with the fact that what one can see or cannot see says something about you.”
What is it that we are not seeing? What is it that we do see? What is it that we are rejecting? What is it that we are accepting? What is it that will make us come together and to love each other as we love ourselves? What is it to see? What is it that we do see when we look at Jesus? What does it say about us in this generation? What is it when we look at Jesus that moves us to love God and love our neighbor? It is so hard to stand in this place and particularly in this pulpit and not be reminded of King’s words in so many different places, and even more with the freshly dedicated and installed ,of course, Now and Forever windows that we have placed here to not be stirred in my faith and reminded of our Christian call to commitment and justice to render to each other what God says we all deserve.
This sermon that I referenced, Dr. King preached that sermon almost 60 years ago on the west coast in Temple Israel and said with this faith, because he still had his faith, “With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation” and let me add with this faith, we can transform the discord and the jangling discords of this world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, with our faith, we will be able to speed up the day and the words of the prophet Isaiah that said, “every valley shall be exalted, every mountain and hill shall be made low. Every rough place will be made plain. Every crooked place will be aged straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
I don’t know about you, but when I look at the stone that some have rejected, when I look at the stone that we are using to build God’s kingdom, I see something amazing when I see Jesus. I don’t know what you see, but I see something amazing and I invite you to see and to know that when we look at Jesus, there is something amazing. I know I have company without many revealing it. I don’t know where I’d be in my life if it had not been for this faith. Many of you don’t know where you’d be if it had not been for your faith. I’m hopeful that you are able to say the same thing this morning. When I see Jesus, I do see my savior, my deliverer, the bread of life, wonderful counselor, mighty God, the everlasting Father, the prince of peace. When I see Jesus, I do see Lord of lords, king of kings, the alpha, the omega, the beginning and the end.
Y’all excuse me, I’m told if you preach long enough, it will get a hold of you. That’s when you look at Jesus, I see the good shepherd. I see the lamb of God. I see Mary’s baby. I see the Emmanuel. I see the way, the truth and the life. And if I borrow from my mother, I see bread when I’m hungry, water when I’m thirsty. I see a rock In a weary land, I see a bridge over troubled water. I see here peace in the midst of a midnight hour, I see calm in the midst of any storm. When I see Jesus, I see something amazing. Songwriter said, “Jesus is all the world to me. My life, my joy, my all. He is my strength from day to day and without him, I would fall. When I am sad, to him I go, no other one can cheer me. So when I am sad, he makes me glad he’s my friend”. Today don’t leave without accepting. Don’t be guilty of rejecting, but grab hold of the cornerstone and know he is our friend.