October 4, 2020 “A Love Song for His Vineyard”

“A Love Song for His Vineyard”

Philippians 3:4b-14

Matthew 21:33-46

Isaiah 5:1-7  Common English Bible (CEB)

Song of the vineyard

5 Let me sing for my loved one, a love song for his vineyard.
My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.
2 He dug it, cleared away its stones, planted it with excellent vines, built a tower inside it,
and dug out a wine vat in it.
He expected it to grow good grapes – but it grew rotten grapes.
3 So now, you who live in Jerusalem, you people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard:
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I haven’t done for it?
When I expected it to grow good grapes, why did it grow rotten grapes?
5 Now let me tell you what I’m doing to my vineyard.
I’m removing its hedge, so it will be destroyed.
I’m breaking down its walls, so it will be trampled.
I’ll turn it into a ruin; it won’t be pruned or hoed, and thorns and thistles will grow up.
I will command the clouds not to rain on it.
7 The vineyard of the Lord of heavenly forces is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah are the plantings in which God delighted.
God expected justice, but there was bloodshed;
righteousness, but there was a cry of distress!

–           –           –           –           –           –           –           –           –           –           –           –           –           –

For those of you who were with us last week, you’ll remember how the chief priests and elders of Jerusalem tried their level best to put Jesus on the spot by asking, “By whose authority do you do these things?” It was a trick question, but Jesus dodged that bullet by asking them a trick question of his own.

This was followed by the Parable of the Two Sons. The priests and elders knew that the parable was directed toward them but couldn’t raise too much of a fuss because the crowds, after all, had gathered to listen to this Nazarene – not them. It was awkward; it was tense. I imagine, to save face, they were about to say a few priestly words or make some priestly proclamations and then make their escape. But Jesus wasn’t about to let them off the hook just yet. Instead, he called out to them saying, (vs. 33) Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, and then proceeded to tell the story we know as the Parable of the Tenants – The Wicked Tenants.

Now, the reason that I read the text from Isaiah 5 at the beginning of this message is because the parable that Jesus told the authorities of the temple was a direct reference to this writing of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus knew this scripture, the priests knew it, and most of all, Jesus knew that they knew it. They say that people by nature only care about an issue if it hits them where they live. It’s safe to say that on that day in the temple, Jesus was hitting them where they lived.

So, is this just a “gotcha” moment here? Is that all we can take away from the Parable of the Wicked Tenants? Of course not; but you knew that already. So what does it all mean? What’s it about? Some Christians read this as a story that can be interpreted to reveal some kind of hidden meaning – that the tenants are the Jews but they didn’t produce for the landowner and killed his servants (the prophets) over and over again, and then they even killed his son (Jesus.) So God took the vineyard away from them and gave it to us, the Christians. That’s the simple explanation and one that has fanned the flames of hatred for the Jewish people for many years. It’s also the reason why this parable has never been one of my favorites. I say that because if I accept this simple explanation, I’m going to have to accept the fact that, truth be told, we haven’t done much better. Once again, Isaiah 5:7:

  1. The vineyard of the Lord of heavenly forces is the house of Israel,
    and the people of Judah are the plantings in which God
    delighted.

        God expected justice, but there was bloodshed;
righteousness, but there was a cry of distress!

So no, this is not a “gotcha” moment. It is, instead, Jesus doing what he always does – inviting us into the Kingdom of God. Delmer Chilton had a few things to say about that & I’d like to share them with you. He writes, “The Vineyard the LORD, our Beloved, has given us is not the Promised Land but the Church of Christ.  And by that I don’t mean [our buildings], nor do I mean the Constitution and By-laws that make us an organization. Those things aren’t the vineyard; they are watchtowers and hedgerows – there to protect the vineyard.  No, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Word and Sacraments, the promise of forgiveness and healing, the washing away of our sins, the dying and rising with Christ, the transforming food for our journey – these are the vineyards, these are what we are called to take care of so that they may yield good fruit for our LORD.”

He then goes on the say, “Sometimes I think that rather than be about the business of tending to the vineyard, we modern Christians are more likely to be like the tenants in our Gospel lesson.  Instead of being grateful to God and responding to God’s grace with a generous spirit – we find ourselves trying to keep everything for ourselves, afraid that we won’t have enough – whatever enough is.”

You know, I worry for the church in our world today. The loss of the use of our buildings has caused some of us to scatter, some to hunker down, and most all of us to feel what can best be described as a sense of grief. Perhaps the best thing we can take from this parable today is that God never intended for us to own this vineyard. Let’s face it, owning something as magnificent as the Kingdom of heaven is beyond us anyways. But we are charged to tend to it; to keep it alive; to keep it viable. I can’t help but be hopeful that this time of disruption might lead us to that place – that place where we realize all over again that the reason we are here is the love of God shown to us is the death of Jesus Christ shown to us on the cross. Make no mistake, we are drawn to a love like that. It is a love too great to hate. It is a mercy so strong that instead of punishing us for our rebellion and ingratitude, he showed us a way to live by giving up everything and being willing to die. “My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.” Let us rejoice, let us take comfort that we are the people who tend to that vineyard, making sure that every person in the world feels the love of God in their life.

Amen & Shalom


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