Are We Listening to the Owner of the Vineyard?
Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on October 5, 2014, the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost. The text is Matthew 21:43, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Would you agree with me that last Sunday’s Celebration of Resurrection’s 25th Anniversary was a wonderful occasion? We enjoyed seeing lots of old time friends return to help us celebrate and remember. It was great having Pastor Jeff Ruby preach. And he gave us a gift in something that he encouraged in his sermon. He said that now we need to turn our eyes to the future and see what God has in store for us. This congregation, all the building stones (last week’s metaphor), we need to do everything possible to be a part of God’s intended mission for this world, now and in the future.
Today our scripture lessons are marvelous for reminding us that we are here for a reason. This is God’s world, and the metaphor today is the vineyard. In the Old Testament, the prophets often referred to Israel as God’s vineyard. You heard the first lesson from Isaiah. Isaiah creatively delivers a sad and forlorn love song. This is a love song from God concerning his first love, the people of Israel, the people of the vineyard, who cheated on Him. In the love song we hear that the lover did everything for his beloved. He provided the land, he cleared away the stones, he planted choice vines, he built a watchtower, and he built a vat to contain the good wine. And what happened? The beloved didn’t take care of it, and so wild grapes grew instead of the intended choice grapes. This anguished lover feels betrayed and looks for another one to love and be a true partner. And here is what Isaiah says after this love song: For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!
Isn’t it amazing that almost 800 years after the prophet Isaiah delivered those words, Jesus presents a parable with the same theme and declares who it is that God has selected to be his new love? This time in the story there is not just neglect, there are intentional destructive and evil deeds. The tenants won’t give the landowner his due, they beat his slaves, and then they kill the final messenger, his son. Yes, we believe that Jesus was speaking of himself and his first audience were religious leaders there in Jerusalem. Jesus was foretelling what was going to take place. And Jesus says to them directly, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” So we won’t miss it, Matthew records this in today’s 45th verse: When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.
I’ve given this sermon a title today. Here it is: Are We Listening to the Owner of the Vineyard?
We believe that Jesus came to announce that God has chosen a new lover, a new people. We believe that there is a new covenant, made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Here’s the question that now is presented to us in our day: Would God ever think that we don’t care, that we are indifferent to his commitment to love us, and that we do acts of evil and do not produce fruits of the kingdom?
There is a fable about the Angel Gabriel who has just come from surveying the earth and its inhabitants when he reports to God. “Lord, it’s my duty to inform you that you’re the possessor of a choice piece of real estate known as the planet earth. But the tenants you’ve leased it out to are destroying it. In another few years, it won’t be fit to live in. They’ve polluted your rivers. The air is fouled with the stench of their over consumerism. They frequently kill one another, and all the prophets you’ve sent to them calling for an accounting have met with violence. By any rule of sound judgment, Lord, you’ve got but one option.” Then raising his trumpet to his lips, Gabriel asked, “Shall I sound the eviction now, sir?”
God said, “No Gabriel. Not just yet. I know you are right, but I keep thinking if I just give them a little more time they’ll quit acting like they own the place!” And so our lesson for today: this indeed is God’s world and we need to do everything we can to take care of it and honor the covenant that God has made with us.
The banner over the altar really stands out in many of the photographs that Grace Sheel took last week at our Celebration. Have you studied the symbols and words on that banner? It’s all about the new covenant relationship. “For the Forgiveness of Sins” are the words. And we see a chalice of wine, the choice grapes and the grains of wheat, the body and blood of Jesus. It’s the grapes and chalice today that we want to focus on. They remind us that we are in the God’s vineyard and the wine is a very good sign of our close relationship with the Almighty.
This day, are we listening to the owner of the vineyard?