Column – A trustworthy church

Published 5:39 pm Friday, October 13, 2023

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This past Sunday, I began a Fall sermon series entitled “A Trustworthy Church.” What might make a church trustworthy? Ultimately Jesus, through his parable in Matthew 21: 33-46, seemed to be looking for faithfulness, obedience and production. 

Stay tuned toward the end of this column, because before we’re done I’ll propose some specific applications. I’ll get into some detail on what I think a trustworthy church might look like. Hint: a trustworthy church will look an awful lot like I’ll bet trustworthy individuals do in your own life. 

Dr. Matt Skinner, a New Testament scholar, says in his notes on this passage that any time he reads a parable, he likes to pay attention to what he calls “All the absurdities or the illogical moments.” There are a couple of obvious ones here. 

If you find yourself resistant to the notion of absurdities, illogical moments or exaggerations in Jesus’ parables, I would encourage you to catch up and join the party. 

These teaching parables are a lot easier to make meaning of when we understand that Jesus was in on the joke. He built in these exaggerations on purpose. They’re part of the lesson. 

So, let’s look at the ones in today’s parable. First, the vineyard owner sends his son. “I’m sure these are perfectly reasonable people, these tenants I lease to,” he must’ve thought. Yes, the same ones who had already roughed up the two loads of servants he sent before. 

You and I live in Franklin, Virginia We know the hazards that can befall a property when there is absentee ownership. It’s not always pretty. That’s the scenario we begin with here. 

Skinner says that the second absurdity was when the tenants who were leasing the land made the decision to kill the son. Their thinking had to be “Let’s kill him and then this will all be ours.” They assumed that no one would call them to account for their behavior.

You and I know better. Jesus’ listeners knew better as well. Eventually, they would be rounded up and punished for their crime which would benefit them nothing. Now, there are some people who live as though there will be no consequences to their actions. But that strikes me as absurd. 

This is all done to illustrate a teaching point that Jesus wanted to make. There is a theme that Jesus talked about a decent bit in the New Testament. That if you didn’t produce fruit, then the Kingdom could be taken away from you and given to someone who would. 

In God’s kingdom, illustrated here in Jesus’ parable, you and I are the tenants. Jesus is the Son, of course, who is the heir of all things in this parable. 

When you and I acknowledged Jesus as our Lord, when we asked Jesus to be our Savior, we pledged that we would follow him. That we would do his good work here on earth. If we don’t, we are squatters or freeloaders who simply take advantage of the goodwill of the landlord until one day it all runs out. 

This parable that Jesus spun for them and for us painted God as a master of the Vineyard. One who was going to be sure that business was taken care of. The harvest time was there, just as it is now. 

What might a trustworthy church look like, then? What might God be looking for in good tenants that God would let continue to work the vineyard?

First, a trustworthy church to do God’s work has people who are present. Did you know that these days, sadly, an active church member is defined as someone who is here about 1.5 times per month according to most experts. Does that sound very present to you? Would you find your banker, your lawyer, your doctor to be trustworthy if they only showed up about one quarter of the time? 

Related, good workers also have to be available. Coach Bill Belichick, he of the six Super Bowl championships, says that it doesn’t always matter how talented a player is if they’re always hurt or otherwise standing over on the sideline. To be a trustworthy church, we need folks who are plugged in and who love their church enough to be available. 

Finally, I think a trustworthy church is made up of people who believe in the larger, greater good. Consumers will be selfish and they always know what they want. What they think should happen. What kind of tenant are you? 

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.