Monday, October 3, 2011

The Marvelous Rock in the Vineyard

 + 16th Sunday after Pentecost – October 2, 2011 +

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

            “Hear another parable,” Jesus says.  Here we go again…another Sunday, another parable, another vineyard. This time the wicked, murderous tenants. Next week the parable of the wedding feast. That’s no coincidence. The vineyard and the marriage feast go together. God loves a party and wants nothing more than to share his bounty, goodness and joy with all. O give thanks to the Lord for he is good and his steadfast love endures forever.  As Good Friday approaches, God’s outrageous grace continues to be poured out like rich wine from the mouth of his outrageously gracious Son.  Meanwhile, as the Pharisees’ plot to arrest and kill Jesus thickens, Jesus tells a parable.
            Vineyard planted. Hedge put around it. Wine press dug. Even a tower to keep the bad guys out. So far so good.  Then the owner makes his first mistake.  He lends it out to tenants.  If He had just kept the vineyard for himself all the joy of the harvest, the grapes and wine, profit would be his.
            Then the owner messes up again.  He goes off to another country.  Takes a holiday.  What a dumbie.  While the boss is away, the workers will play. Everyone knows, “if you want things done right you’ve got to do it yourself.” Better keep an eye on those tenants’s work, they might take advantage of you.
            And that’s just what they do. This landowner must be a few bottles short of a full cellar. He expects the tenants to do the work, gather the grapes, and join him in the generous harvest.
No way! The tenants reply. No sharing, no joy in the harvest. “Why should we? Less for us. The Landowner’s off on a holiday; he’s not here; what’s he gonna do to stop us?” So the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.
            Still the landowner doesn’t get it. He sends his servants again. More than the first. And the tenants do the same thing all over again. The outrageous wickedness of the tenants is surpassed only by the outrageous optimism of the owner. 

            Then comes the biggest blunder of all. Finally, he sends them his Son. “They will respect my Son.” No they won’t. Not these tenants. This is their big moment. The landowner is away. And with the Son out of the picture the vineyard, the land and the inheritance are theirs for the taking. So they do the unthinkable. They take his Son and throw him out of the vineyard and kill him.
            But the tenants forgot something amidst all their scheming. Listen as Jesus carefully sets the spring and pulls the pin.  “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? And the trap is set.

            What will he do? “He will put those wretches to a wretched death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him fruit in due season.” Commit the crime, do the time. You get what you deserve. Those wretched, damnable tenants all deserve to die. Pay back. Isn’t that how we’d answer Jesus’ question?
            Or try it another way, “As you believe so you have” (Luther).  If you treat God as one who’s only trying to get things out of you, who’s stingy and deprives you of what you think is rightfully yours, who takes what is his, demands his rights and pays back evil for evil, then that is the God you have.
The Pharisees’ answer reveals their unbelief. In speaking judgment on the tenants they spoke judgment on themselves. They expected Jesus to act as they would. Selfishly. Tit for tat. Quid pro quo. As you believe so you have.

            That’s the fatal warning in this week’s parable. Reject the mercy of God and lose it all. Aim for the landowner’s Son and you get the vineyard thrown in, aim only for the vineyard and you get neither (paraphrasing Lewis’ quote: aim for heaven and you get earth thrown in, aim only for earth and you get neither).
            Jesus sugar coats nothing: “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” The kingdom of God will be taken away from you - you religious do-gooders, you commandment keepers, you moralists and legalists, you who bargain and transact with God. And it will be given to a people who will produce its fruits - to tax collectors, losers, people who are burned out on religion, those who can’t seem to keep their lives in order, to those who have nothing to say to God but “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

            The good news for wretched tenants is found in the same Rock they kicked out of His own vineyard. “Have you never read in the Scriptures: The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes?”

            What’s so marvelous about rejection? Where’s the joy and celebration in that? The vineyard, the wine, the festival – it all seems so far away from Good Friday. But there it is, don’t you see it? Here’s the great twist, the blessed irony: “Let’s kill the son,” they said, “and the vineyard will be ours.” Those wicked tenants were right after all! What they meant for evil; God used for good.  O, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.
            If you want something done right…do it yourself. And that’s exactly what Jesus does – Good Friday for you. The Son killed and his inheritance is ours.  Forgiveness, life, salvation, an eternal inheritance, all for you, from the Father in the death of His beloved Son. His rejection for your reconciliation, his forsakenness for your acceptance before the Father. It’s true what Isaiah prophesied about Israel: the hedge removed. The walls crumble. The vineyard devoured. Trampled. Briers and Thorns. Sour grapes. Death and Destruction.
            But then Jesus comes along and speaks as if Isaiah’s words are his Words. Jesus comes along and takes the punishment of Israel’s sins, of the Pharisees sins, yours and mine – he takes it all on himself as he is thrown outside the vineyard walls of Jerusalem, beaten, and killed. Buried beneath stone. His clothing removed. The earth crumbled. The Son is devoured in death and destruction for his vineyard. Briers, thorns, sour grapes and all. The precious Vine withers and dies to give life to dead branches. O, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.

            The Lord has done all of this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. Simply marvelous! This is what he wants more than anything: to give you his vineyard, fruit, and wine, the joyous harvest, his bountiful goodness and steadfast love.
            Jesus lives, dies and lives again the words of Psalm 118. A psalm of thanksgiving for triumph over the enemy. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His steadfast love endures forever.” Indeed, in Christ his love endures all. It’s the “hosanna” psalm. “Hosanna; Lord save us. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Words shouted as Jesus, earlier in this chapter of Matthew, rode into Jerusalem atop a donkey.
            “Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord.” Words sung as Jesus comes riding atop the altar and into your mouth in bread and wine. What a feast! What a joy! As you believe, so you have.              
            You see; the vineyard and the marriage feast go together.
            Whether it’s the wedding feast at Cana or the Upper Room, when Jesus talks about wine, he points us to his joyous kingdom of heaven. “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” Jesus’ blood poured out in death for your death. His life for your life. That’s the incredibility of Jesus’ love Jesus for us. What we had coming to us for our sins He took in our place.
            Jesus’ death is the ultimate horror of all history – but it’s your greatest joy. If you can face that, there’s nothing you cannot face. Whatever pain you know, Jesus has born for you. Whatever suffering you face, Jesus has endured for you. Whatever temptation you are assaulted with, Jesus has withstood. There’s no misery that goes deeper than the cross. The Crucified One is there and deeper down still. For you. Everything that would destroy us, Jesus has already faced. For you. And it wasn’t even able to destroy him nor will it destroy you who are His.
            Let me sing a love song for my vineyard. What more is there to do for my vineyard that I have not done? Nothing. All is done. It is finished.
            Go in peace, your sins are forgiven. Satan’s accusations are empty and the chalice is full to the brim. God has put us in his vineyard. And we know what a vineyard is for. Come and eat at his table and drink with him in his kingdom. That’s right, even Jesus is not one to drink alone. Jesus still loves eating and drinking with sinners. Wine of the vineyard for the blood of Jesus’ death for our sins. Wine of the vineyard in the marriage feast of the Lamb in his kingdom which has no end. As you believe so you have.
            O, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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