“Yeah, Right!” Oct. 8, 2023 “Yeah, Right!”

“Yeah, Right!” Oct. 8, 2023 “Yeah, Right!”

Posted by on Oct 9, 2023 in Sermon archives

“Yeah, Right!”

Exodus 20:1-20/ Psalm 19

Philippians  3:4-14

Matthew 21:33-46

With your permission I’d like to start out with something more on the light side even though it seemingly has nothing to do with our scripture passages today. Besides, all this talk about clubbing and killing just to gain ownership of a vineyard is a bit dark. So here goes: An MIT linguistics professor was lecturing his class the other day. “In English,” he said, “A double negative forms a positive. However, in some languages, such as Russian, a double negative remains a negative. But there isn’t a single language, not one, in which a double positive can express a negative.”
But then a voice from the back of the room said, “Yeah, right.” yeah right; and it seems that with the wrong attitude, two positives can make a negative after all. Who would have guessed it.

You know, the parables of Jesus are somewhat remarkable if you stop and think about them. These stories or allegories had one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to enlighten us that we might become the people of God’s Kingdom. They can be challenging, they can be frustrating, but best of all, they can be a lot of fun. Most parables basically tell some sort of hypothetical story where the characters in the story represent real people in real time. A lot of the time, there might be a whole lot of head scratching before we can finally put it all together. Others are simpler, especially when Jesus actually explains them to us.

The parable of the absentee landlord, or the Greedy Farmers, is one of those easy ones: at least it appears that way at first. And so that we don’t get off on the wrong foot here, I’ll offer up an explanation from my good friend whom I have never met: Delmer Chilton, who writes: “In Jesus’ allegory of the vineyard the owner is God and the tenants are the Chief Priests, and scribes and Pharisees – the religious leaders of Israel – the people who are supposed to be caring for the vineyard. The first people the owner sent are the Hebrew prophets – most of whom were ignored at best and were harassed and chased out of town at worst.  The second people the owner sent represent John the Baptist and his disciples.  You remember that John the Baptist was arrested and then beheaded by King Herod.  And when the owner sent the son, that is an obvious reference to Christ, the beloved son. The allegory ends with Jesus turning to the scribes and Pharisees and asking them – “So, what will the owner do?”  The answer is simple, “Take the vineyard away from people who aren’t taking care of it and give it to someone else.”

This is not a reference to God rejecting the Jews and giving the kingdom to the gentile Christians – far from it.  Everyone involved in this story is Jewish. It is rather a warning to them, and to us, that those who are responsible for God’s vineyard are expected to bear good fruit – to grow fine grapes – grapes of community and justice and righteousness.”

In other words, according to Mr. Chilton, Jesus was not talking to the scribes and the Pharisees about who’s in and who’s out

he wasn’t teaching them the magic password to salvation, nor was he telling them that just because they were Jewish they we’re guaranteed a place in God’s Kingdom. It seems to me that he was trying to teach them that God’s Kingdom is here and it’s now so we’re best to make it count here and now. We are never going to find favor in the eyes of God by bashing each other on the head trying to be first in line. I really like the Kingdom/vineyard analogy. It exists by the grace of God. We didn’t build it, we didn’t plant it, yet there it is. Our only duty, our responsibility is to tend to it, to nurture it, and work that it may produce good fruits.

One of the things I particularly like about this time of year is to drive past the vineyards in our area and look to see the vines heavy with fruit: big clusters of red or purple or yellow glistening in the sun; I don’t know, it just gives me a good feeling. Or, if I might borrow the words that Jesus quoted to the Pharisees: “how remarkable! What an amazing thing the Lord has done”

Our Psalm selection for today is the 19th Psalm: one of my all-time favorites. I find it especially relevant for today and for our theme of nurturing and caring for the Kingdom of God. I say that because over the years the global church has managed to produce a goodly share of sour grapes along the way. These sour grapes may have been touched, perhaps, by God’s forgiving grace and by the unconditional love of Christ. But somewhere along the way, they have lost heart. They might find themselves hearing  the words of David from   19th Psalm;  words such as:

‘The law of the Lord is perfect,  refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.”

They might  hear these beautiful words of hope and promise and joy, but there response ends up sounding something like, “yeah right.” The mere mention of laws or precepts triggers a response of anxiety, of confusion, and even of abuse. God’s Kingdom here on earth, this vineyard He has asked us to tend and nurture and love; this vineyard has not always produced good fruit, innocent women were burned as witches and bloody battles we’re fought over the proper way to baptize are but two exanples.

but thanks be to God that we who make up the body of Christ are not discouraged by all this  . By our witness, by our prayers, and by our presence, we continue to be Christ in this world, and for that we are blessed.

You know, I find it a bit ironic that this particular passage should fall on the Sunday that we have chosen to do the business of the church. Not only that, but besides business, we will also be casting our ideas and our visions of how we might grow in God’s Kingdom. That being said, I would remind you of the abundance of good fruit we have produced already: from our continual support of the camp and retreat ministries to the generous gifts from our women’s group to local education, we are producing good fruit. We supply housing for a family who have made a home here, not to mention our long-standing relationship with Alcoholics Anonymous and the Wildflower Preschool. We can be proud of our portion in the long history of this church community. And again, I would quote, “how remarkable! What an amazing thing the Lord has done’”

There is, however, a portion of the 19th Psalm that those who prefer to scoff would have some  trouble with.

It falls at the very end of this   piece and I know of more then a few pastors who begin each and every sermon with these words:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, oh Lord my rock and my Redeemer.”

‘The words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart;’ that covers pretty much everything, don’t you think? I mean, if we as a church body continue to speak and to think and to feel to the best of our ability the enormous love that has been laid before us in the presence of Jesus Christ, why there’s no telling what sort of fruits we might produce.

And so, I would ask you all to give some thought to this church-this vineyard- that we have been charged to care for. It belongs to God but that is all the more reason that we treasure it, that we hold it as precious.

The last few years have been rough. Speaking for myself, I’d really like to try a do over. But when faith prevails, things happen- wonderful things. The Kingdom of God is not some futuristic 4th dimensional land of milk and honey. No, the Kingdom of God is right here and right now and we are fortunate enough to be the caretakers of this Kingdom. So let me close with yet another excerpt from the 19th Psalm and as we pray upon and plan for the coming year, let’s put an end once and for all to the notion that two positives can make a negative. In fact, King David gives us far more than two when he writes:

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,  making wise the simple.8 The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.

10 They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.

14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Amen & shalom






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