Sunday, October 5th, 2014 – Sermon on Isaiah 5:1-7 and Matthew 21:33-46

Isaiah 5:1-7
1 Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. 3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? 5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. 7 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!

Matthew 21:33-46
33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? 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. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

As a way of introducing the sermon, I want to share with you one of my favorite songs by the band The Civil Wars. The song is called “Same old, Same Old.”

I want to leave you, I want to lose us.

I want to give up. But I won’t.

 

I want to miss this. I want a heartache.

I want to run away. But I won’t.

 

Do I love you? Oh, I do.

And I’m going to until I’m gone.

But if you think that I can stay

In this same old, same old

Well, I don’t. I don’t.

 

I’m going to break things. I’m going to cross the line.

Make you wake up, cause you won’t.

 

I’m going to name names, I’m going to call us out.

I’m going to say it. If you won’t.

 

Do I love you? Oh, I do.

And I’m going to until I’m gone.

But if you think that I can stay

In this same old, same old

Well, I don’t.

I don’t wanna fight.

But I’ll fight with you

If I have to. If I have to.

Do I love you? Oh I do

And I’m going to until I’m gone.

But if you think that I can stay in this same old, same old

Well, I don’t. I don’t.

This is a love song, isn’t it? There is no doubt in my mind that the people in the song love each other. But what I love about this song and this band is how honest they are about relationships and how hard love can be. It almost hurts to listen to, because I suspect many of us can relate to it. But in a strange way, it also heals, because it speaks the truth about the way loving relationships can be.

Well, I offer this love song because we heard another love song in our scripture texts today. In Isaiah, a love-song is sung. Isaiah sings a song of love about a vineyard owner and his vineyard. God is the vineyard owner; God’s people the vineyard. It is a song of poetic imagery for the intimate relationship between God and God’s people. Listen to the care that God gives to God’s vineyard, God’s own people: Isaiah verse 2 reads “He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines (the best for God’s beloved!); he built a watchtower in the midst of it (to protect it from danger!), and hewed out a wine vat in it (a place for this vineyard to live out it’s purpose!).” The vineyard, God’s beloved people, is given God’s very best care in order to be a fruitful vineyard. But then things go painfully wry. God expected the vineyard to yield grapes, but instead it gave wild, rotten grapes. God’s gives God’s very best efforts to God’s people in hopes for the best possible future. And yet…what God hoped would happen with this vineyard didn’t. And God even says, “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done it?” You could imagine God singing, “Do I love you? Of course I do. But if you think that I can stay in this same old, same old, I can’t. Something has to change.” When you have given everything you have to the care and survival of the relationship, but it just isn’t working. Why the wild grapes?

But what I want to emphasize is that this is a love-song about the difficulty of the relationship between God and God’s people. Sometimes, I am afraid that most of us believe in two God’s. The god of anger, God the father, who needs to be appeased and the god of Jesus, the god of love, who loves us without condition, forgiving our every sin. Part of this comes from misconceptions about the Old Testament and the New Testament. Many of us think that the Old Testament is about the violent God and so we should just read the New Testament, where we hear about Jesus. In fact, a couple of years ago I taught a Bible study at an assisted living center. We were talking about a difficult and violent text in the Old Testament, and a resident said, “Well, that is the Old Testament God. We now have the New Testament God in Jesus.”

No. They are the same God. Are there violent texts in the Old Testament, yes. But the same is true for the New Testament. We’ve simply focused our attention on the violence of Old Testament and we’ve ignored these texts about love-songs between God and God’s people. Songs about a God who is so in love with God’s people like a vineyard owner and his vineyard.

At our Suicide Awareness Event on Wednesday, the question was asked whether those who suicide go to heaven or hell. Corinne Chilstrom, our speaker whose son suicided 30 years ago, said, “Do we believe in a loving God. Or do we believing in an angry God. A god who loves and who cares for those who are sick and hurting and in pain? Or do we believe in a God who punishes people for the things that they do?” We’ve been taught for so long this image of God as an angry God up in the sky. But we see in Isaiah, it is a God in love with God’s people. It is about love, and love can be hard. And sometimes when you are in love with someone you have to say hard things to them and maybe even you get angry. But anger can be a sign of love and care, right? If you didn’t care about them, you wouldn’t be angry. Because you wouldn’t care. But our God is in love with God’s people and therefore is hurt and pained and angry when God’s people do things that prevent life from flourishing. When we produce wild grapes.

And so I want us to take that God that is in love with us into the parable from Matthew. Because we run the risk of seeing another angry God who is ready to punish and to kill and destroy. But let’s take a look again. Jesus, who is in the temple and speaking to the religious authorities – the temple priests and spiritual big-wigs, says, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower.” Sound familiar? Jesus is retelling the love-song from Isaiah! About a God showing care to God’s vineyard. Only Jesus shifts the story just a bit. In this parable, God has entrusted the vineyard (the people of God) to renters. We learn God is a trusting God. We learn that God is a god who invites others to care for God’s people. But then, the problem in this story isn’t that the vineyard produces sour and rotten grapes – no this vineyard is quite fruitful. The problem is that those renters won’t pay their rent – which is a portion of the crop. They hold the vineyard hostage and won’t share the fruits of the vineyard with the landowner.

So the vineyard owner sends servants to go and collect. And the renters kill them. So, the vineyard owner sends more. And the renters kill them. Then the vineyard owner sends his son, saying, ‘Well, certainly they will respect my son!’ And what do they do? They kill the son, thinking that that way they really will inherit the vineyard and it will become theirs!

Now, Jesus is telling this parable to the temple priests. And so Jesus ask them to finish the story. He asks them, “Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” To which the chief priests and Pharisees said, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

The Pharisees and chief priests say those words. Not Jesus. And suddenly, we see that even the chief priests and Pharisees have been taught to believe in a hateful and vengeful god. A god that will destroy.

Now this is clearly an allusion to the story of Jesus, right. God, the vineyard owner, sends the servants (who are the prophets of old) and then he sends his son and the people kill him. Notice the vineyard owners doesn’t send his son to die, but sends the son to set the vineyard, the people of God, free. But the renters kill him instead. And the Pharisees and chief priests think that God then will come and destroy them. But is that what happens in the Jesus story? Does God come and destroy the Pharisees and chief priests after Jesus is killed? No. God sends God’s son, Jesus, to reveal God’s infinite and gracious love for the whole world. And then when they put Jesus to death, God raises him from the dead, and sends Jesus back to us once again with the message of God’s desperate and crazy love. [1] A love that will not stay dead. Why doesn’t God come and destroy the chief priests and the Pharisees? Because the truth is that they are part of the vineyard too. They are part of God’s people. So, in Jesus’ parable, not only are the Pharisees and chief priests the renters entrusted with caring for the vineyard and who fail but they are part of the vineyard too. The vineyard that God loves so much. The vineyard that God writes love-songs about.

Maybe the same is true for us. Maybe you and I are both the vineyard and the vineyard renters. You are the vineyard because you are God’s people. God cares about you and you belong to God. You will never belong to anyone else. Which means you can never not be connected to God. And it means that you produce fruits that God desires to have out in the world. You have gifts that bring a sweetness to this world that God wants to be out there. But we are also the tenants, the renters. We have been entrusted with caring for God’s vineyard. God’s people. And there will be times when we will not do a very good job of that. But to trust and to know that God will continue to send prophets into our life to get us back on track. And that God would entrust the vineyard once again to more people just goes to show how gracious and how loving this God really is.

You are the vineyard. You are God’s people. You are the one God writes love songs about. And you are the tenants of the vineyard. The ones who have been entrusted with the care of God’s people. May those two promises be planted and take root in your life, so as to comfort us and transform our lives. Amen.

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2014/09/pentecost-17a-crazy-love/

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