17th Sunday after Pentecost—Year A—Oct 5, 2014
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
Was it just me or did the trees start to change colors almost overnight this week? It felt as if on Monday we were still at the tail end of summer, but come Friday, it was “in your face” Fall! This is not a complaint. I love this time of year. It is the season of pumpkin flavored everything, mums, apples, and…apparently also according to our texts…VINEYARDS.
But the texts treatment of vineyards do not mesh all that well with the sweater clad wine tasting and apple picking Fall experience you might expect or even be having this season.
Isaiah starts off nice enough, writing a love song to a vineyard. But quickly we discover that in fact the vineyard, although expertly cared for and cultivated, it is not producing properly—instead of good grapes, sour wild ones are growing. So the vigneron (a person who cultivates a vineyard) has decided to tear down the hedge, stop all work, and let the whole place go wild for a while. The mis-producing vineyard is a metaphor for the misbehaving Israelites, and the reset button pushed on the vineyard is apparently going to be pushed on the people as well, and we know historically that that in fact did happen.
But that is just one of the vineyard stories we read the morning.
The parable Jesus tells is also about a vineyard, but instead of the vineyard being the wicked one, the tenant vignerons are the wicked ones in Jesus’ story. You heard the story—the owner sends servants to collect the owners share of the produce as payment for use of the land and the tenants kill them, and the second group, and even the Son of the owner. The tenants think that if the owner doesn’t have any other sons, and never returns himself to the country before his death, that they themselves will inherit the vineyard. This was in fact how the law worked in the day, but it still seems unlikely to me that all this killing will work out in the end in their favor.
So we have yet another story with a less than cheerful ending. Vineyards are looking like such a good option this Fall. Lots of change and death and despair
But let us take a second look at these stories and see if we can’t squeeze some good news out of them. Since we are talking about vineyards, let’s first think about grape vines.
Some of you might know that there is a grape arbor in the backyard of the parsonage that I inherited care of when I moved over two years ago. I moved in the middle of summer, so it was already growing strong and just let it be. I think I tasted a grape or two off of it, but mostly the birds and other animals enjoyed the grapes that year. That Fall I started doing some research about how best to care for grape vines. Most of the places I read talked about doing hard pruning on them every year after the main trunk is a couple of years old. I wasn’t totally sure how long the grape vine had been there, so I let it be (just to be sure) for one more season. Another summer passed with lots of leaves growing (almost taking over) and some grape production (but markedly less than last year). But then last Fall, I watched Youtube videos and read gardening books until I felt somewhat confident that I knew what I was doing, and then I went to work. I pruned off most of the vines, leaving only the main stalk and a few strong shoots, which I trained and tied along the arbor. And wouldn’t you know the grape vines grew like gangbusters this year (more than any other year that I had seen before). Now I have to admit, I did not get any grapes, but you other gardeners know that it was a weird season—I didn’t get any blueberries or raspberries either—I don’t who we should blame it on: the bees, the weather, or something else, but it is what it is.
Out of the hard pruning, the cutting, the change…the death (if you will)…came abundant new life! It is same when farmers let fields lie fallow for a season or two. The death of some things like kitchen scraps and yard waster, once composted bring abundant new life to gardens. The decision to end an addiction, to give up a habit that is life taking, is the first step to new abundant life. It is the same with raising children: at some point you have to let them go, separate themselves from their parents, move out, make mistakes, figure out who they are on their own. Out of this change, what can feel like a death, comes great new life!
So where is this new life in this morning’s texts? It is there, we just need to dig through some of the death first to see it.
Did you happen to notice in Jesus’ parable, that it is not him who pronounces the punishment of death for the wicked tenants?
It is in fact the Pharisees, the people who Jesus is unspoken-ly comparing to the wicked tenants, who say that the outcome for them should be death. But Jesus’ response is a subtle reminder that God’s ways are not our ways. If we believe that the owner is a metaphor for God, we see that clearly in the story. What owner in their right mind would send two sets of slaves to collect payment and when that doesn’t work send their precious son? I would expect the owner to get the police involved after the first group is killed, or at least the second. But no such thing happens. There are no bounty hunters even that get pulled into the story. That is what I would do as an owner if punishments or at least some shakedowns were required.
But that is not what God does when the tenants of God’s creation mess up!
God’s ways are not our ways.
Where we only see change or death or destruction, God sees the beginnings for new life.
Where we are scared and cautious, God gets excited about new potentials.
This is why a love song can be about destruction. Because just as God sent God’s only Son, Jesus, into the world to bring about new life, God sees that same illogical potential all around.
Changes, endings, and differences are not in and of themselves bad. They are scary for sure, but when God is at work, you know that they will not be the end of the story.
Life comes from death.
Happiness rises out of sadness.
Strength springs forth from weakness.
Good grapes, the fruit of the kingdom, can spring forth from the last place you would expect.