October 2, 2011
Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer, amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen, indeed, Alleluia!
Don’t worry, your pastor hasn’t completely lost it….by beginning her sermon with an Easter greeting in the middle of the Sundays following Pentecost. And most likely I won’t be wishing you all a Merry Christmas next week. I know it’s not Easter. But as we talked through this text at our clergy Bible study this week, one of my colleagues said, in essence, this is an Easter text.
It’s a challenging text for us to read and hear. I don’t know about you, but I love a happy ending. I like it when all the loose ends are tied up…in the movie world, the villain gets caught, the love interests are resolved and the goofy friend continues to make everyone laugh.
Yet in today’s parable, it seems to be anything but a happy ending. NT Wright says, “There is no happy ending to this story. It is pure tragedy.”
The parable begins with a situation that was business as usual in Roman-occupied Palestine. A landowner established a vineyard complete with a fence, a winepress, and even a watchtower.
He then became an absentee landowner, returning to his own country as often happened in the far-flung territories of the Roman Empire. Tenants were in charge of overseeing the productivity of the vineyard and paying their rent to the owner at harvest time, in the form of a share of the produce.
In this case, though, when the owner's slaves arrived to collect his share of the produce, the tenants attacked them, even beating one and killing another. The owner of the vineyard then simply sent another delegation of slaves to collect the rent.
Those slaves were treated even worse than the first. Surely by now the owner would send in troops or some form of armed enforcement of his rights!
I mean, think about it, you’re the landowner…you’ve sent some of your slaves to collect what is due and the tenants have beaten some and killed others…who would you send now? Certainly, not your son. After seeing how the others were treated and killed, would you be willing to send your son into that? No way!
But the tenant does, perhaps hoping and praying that the tenants will respect him. Which we know does not happen, they kill the son somehow thinking that they will get his inheritance.
In sharing this parable, Jesus seems to be addressing those who are tending to the vineyard, and people of Jesus time would have thought of Israel as the vineyard.
We are reminded of that connection in our reading from Isaiah this day. In Isaiah, however, it is Israel itself that is blamed for not producing fruit. Yet, as Jesus tells this parable it is not the vineyard that is the problem, but those who are tending it, those in charge.
So if we follow this parable to the end, we hear that those who are tending the vineyard, will kill the son of the heir. Jesus is telling the story of his own life….and death….he is predicting his own death: such an unhappy ending.
So where is the good news in this passage? Where is the promise of God’s love in our lives? Where is the good news of promise and hope? Where is the happy ending?
Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed, alleluia!
Why the Easter refrain? Because in this passage, as Jesus predicts his own death, God’s love is revealed to us. Through the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s love is revealed to us and to the whole world. That, my friends, is good news. Jesus knows what is going to happen and Jesus knows that his death and resurrection is part of that plan. Through his own death and resurrection, the world will be saved.
How heart wrenching to hear Jesus predict the saving event for all peoples.
Last month, my childhood friend, Liesl was diagnosed with IBC, Inflammatory Breast Cancer. The diagnosis was a complete surprise, but the love and support from friends and family was not. This weekend, the Lutherans for Liesl team will be walking to raise money for IBC research. They have already surpassed their goal of $20,000. As the testing and treatments continue, friends and family are holding Liesl, her husband and their two little girls in prayer.
We are praying and hoping for a happy ending.
But the reality is that we don’t know what the future will bring.
We don’t know how things will pan out and we’re not the only ones facing situations like this.
There are other families facing futures unknown because of cancer or other life threatening diseases. There are other families facing futures unknown because of financial problems. There are other families facing unknown futures because of wounded or broken relationships.
The reality is that we live in a world where things are not perfect and we, as humanity, cannot make things perfect.
Yet in the midst of an imperfect world, God sent Jesus to live with us, to teach us, and to die for us. Jesus rose from the dead to save us from all these imperfections, all these struggles and all the strife we face in this world.
God didn’t send Jesus into the world to take all of this away….but so that we may know God’s love and grace in our lives here and now.
We are invited into the kingdom here and now. We are saved and loved by God….and therefore we are a changed people.
Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
We are free to love and serve one another.
We are free to see outside of ourselves.
Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we know of God’s abundant love and grace in our lives….that changes us.
So as you go from this place, let that message of love and hope and good news change you.
May it be seen in your words, deeds and actions. May the freedom from sin and death show forth in all that you do and say.
You are loved.
You are saved.
Let that be seen in all that you do and say.
And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen.
PS. At the Crossfire (Trinity's Contemporary Worship Service) last night, I added in a different call and response: God is God, all the time. and All the time, God is God. You see, the one I orginally heard was God is Good, all the time and all the time God is Good. In light of today's gospel reading, God did not send Jesus into the world to make it all sunshine and roses...not to take away all the struggles and tribulations, but so that we may know God's presence with us amidst life as it happens. Because when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, how can you say, God is good? When your home is foreclosed upon and your family must relocate, how can you say, God is good? But in the midst of that...you can say, God is God. You can say God is in the midst of this and cannot be moved. You can be certain of God's love and grace in your life in the midst of the hardships, illness and distress....and that, my friends, is good news.