< back to Sermon archive

Sermon for 8 October 2017

FIRST READING Isaiah 5:1-7

1Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2He 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; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. 3And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? 5And 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. 6I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. 7For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!


PSALM Psalm 80:7-18

7Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. 8You have brought a vine out of Egypt; you cast out the nations and planted it. 9You prepared the ground for it; it took root and filled the land. 10The mountains were covered by its shadow and the towering cedar trees by its boughs. 11You stretched out its tendrils to the sea and its branches to the river. 12Why have you broken down its wall, so that all who pass by pluck off its grapes? 13The wild boar of the forest has ravaged it, and the beasts of the field have grazed upon it. 14Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven; behold and tend this vine; preserve what your right hand has planted. 15They burn it with fire like rubbish; at the rebuke of your countenance let them perish. 16Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, the son of man you have made so strong for yourself. 17And so will we never turn away from you; give us life, that we may call upon your Name. 18Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.


SECOND READING Philippians 3:4b-14

4bIf anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — 10that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.


GOSPEL Matthew 21:33-46

33{Jesus said to the chief priests and the Pharisees,} “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” 42Jesus 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 marvelous in our eyes’? 43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” 45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.




As you’ve come to understand, I like watching fix-r-up shows. It doesn’t matter if it’s houses or cars, I enjoy watching qualified folks start with something in need of transformation and then going through the process of assessment and repair, they finally seeing the fruit of their labor. However, after watching several of these shows, I’ve learned that things don’t always go as planned. Such was the case with a property flip show I was watching several months ago.
On this particular episode, the potential buyer was only allowed to see the outside of the house. That was the condition of the sale. The buyer carefully walked around the outside of the house inspecting the property, evaluating the neighborhood and peeked in the only window that wasn’t fully covered up. After some discussion with the viewing audience, the buyer determined that he could get a nice prophet if he was willing to put in the needed work. Then, after a small amount of negotiation, the house was his.
Once he received the key to the house, he unlocked the door. Excitedly the new owner went in to assess the property. To his surprise everything looked like he had anticipated. Then the work began. He made plans, went and got all the necessary materials, negotiated with some subcontractors and then he began work. We went from room to room remodeling; he removed all the floor coverings, proceeded to the kitchen next, then the bathrooms and finally he ended up in the laundry room. Things were going well until he opened up the wall where the clothes washer would go. What he found came as a shock. Over many years the water lines and drain line had leaked and had rotted the wall. This forced him to remove the subfloor. The problem became worse.
Over time, the floor had been severely damaged and badly repaired and as it turns out the entire understructure of the house was compromised. In the end, the house’s structure wasn’t salvageable. The only option was to tear the house down and start over. From the outside, everything looked good. It wasn’t until the inside revealed itself that the new owner found out he had been deceived. This TV show reminded me of our Old Testament reading for today.
One of the interesting things about living in North Carolina is that you can go to any number of vineyards, and get a tour. I’ve also had the opportunity to visit vineyards in Germany and in New York and no matter where I’ve toured, one thing remains the same. I’m always amazed, at the amount of care and effort that goes into establishing and maintain a vineyard. A few years ago, Terry and I visited the Hinnant vineyard near Selma, and it was there that I learned just how much care is used in selecting a new vine from several starts. Once selected, this new vine is then carefully transplanted, making sure the soil conditions are perfect, and how over the next few years the vine is trained and pruned, to enable it to produce high quality grapes. It takes many, many hours of hard labor by hand, to get a vine from a cutting, to a fully producing vine. From this experience I can appreciate why Asaph, the author of our Psalm this morning, and the prophet Isaiah used the metaphor of a vine and vineyard, to describe the relationship between God and the children of Israel.
In our first reading for this morning, we find a poem set within a harvest celebration. The prophet Isaiah is beginning his prophetic vocation and interestingly, he embarks on his ministry journey in a bit of a confrontational manner. First, he draws his audience in with the words of the Psalm. He paints God’s relationship with Israel in agricultural terms, as the vine, that God has carefully selected and planted. Isaiah sings a song of his friend, the God of Israel’s history, and the “hillside” of Mount Zion. His Friend has demonstrated a great deal of concern in the transplanting, care, cultivation and protection of the vines and has great expectations of reaping choice fruit from this vineyard. Isaiah paints a verbal picture of how God, with the love and concern of a parent, has carefully brought the people out of bondage in Egypt, and transplanted them in the Promised Land.
God has watched over them and cared for them, expecting them to bear the choice fruits of His labor. Yet at the harvest, the vineyard Owner has been deceived. What God finds is sour grapes, fruit unfit for harvest or consumption. Isaiah is using the imagery of the Psalm, in an attempt to get the people’s attention. His goal is to highlight their idolatry and growing unjust practices toward God, and each other.
Because of God’s blessings and protection, they have become prosperous and arrogant. Instead of dealing fairly with others, false weights were being used. Instead of caring for the widow, the orphan and the needy, a command given centuries ago through Moses, (Lev. 19:9-10) they gleaned their fields leaving little, for the poor and hungry. Instead of ensuring justice for others, bloodshed was the result.
Because of their failure to honor God and follow His commandments, the prophet announces to Jerusalem and the leaders of the nation, that God’s patience has worn thin. The actions of the people angered God, and now He is withdrawing His protection. The walls that God erected to protect the people are being removed; the vineyard will be given over to briers, wild animals, drought and destruction. They were guilty of allowing the image of themselves to grow larger than a vineyard, and the image of the Owner had become irrelevant. The children of Israel had become idolaters, proud and conceited.
Paul in our Philippians readings cautioned against this kind of arrogant attitude when he said “if anyone has reason to be confident in the flesh I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews, as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ (Phil. 3:4b-7.) God, as the Owner of the vineyard, did everything and more that could be expected to bless and protect the Hebrew people and He expected then to live fruitful lives and practice just actions toward Himself and others. But this wasn’t what He found. It was harvest time for Israel and Judah and what should have been a joyous occasion was about to turn into misery. God, through His prophets, had repeatedly called for the people to turn from their evil ways and return to obedience, justice and the true worship of their Creator. Yet what God reaped from His efforts were sour grapes; the cries from bloodshed, injustice and what Paul refers to in Galatians as works of the flesh.
Paul, in Galatians chapter 5, tells us plainly the difference between actions that constitute sour grapes, or the works of the flesh, and the good fruits, or the fruit of the spirit. In verses 16-21 we read; “Live by the Spirit I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires, is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, a lack of moral restraint, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, and jealousy. Outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Paul next, contrasts these works of the flesh with the fruits of the Spirit, the good fruit that God is expecting from His people. Starting in verse 22 Paul tells us; “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.”
It was because of Israel and Judah’s sins, that God allowed other nations to come in, tear down the protecting walls, plunder the land, carry off the inhabitants to foreign countries, and allow the land to be stripped and laid to waste. Where carefully cultivated fields and fortified cities once stood, now only the wild animals roam. The birds and wild animals would be the only ones eating from the fruits of the land. Being conquered and carried off into exile was a hard lesson, and now in our New Testament reading it seems that the religious leaders, despite being under the control of Rome, have failed to heed these lessons of the past. How does that saying go? The only thing we learn from history is that we never learn from history?
The Scribes and Pharisees have once again grown arrogant; practicing injustice, and manipulating the law for their own self interests. Because of the worthless fruit being produced by the Jewish leadership, Jesus in an attempt to warn them of what was to occur, again picks up on this familiar vineyard imagery that the people and leaders understand.
In our Matthew reading for today, we hear the second of the three parables that Jesus tells the crowd. This parable, like the one before it, is an allegory in which every element of the story is easily accounted for; Jesus has left no dangling threads for ambiguous interpretations. Now while it’s easy to see what Jesus is telling His listeners, imagine how revolutionary this image is. The people of Israel knew well that the image of the vineyard pointed to them. They knew the stories of the prophets. Now Jesus stands in their midst and adds a new twist to this imagery.
Instead of the illustration speaking simply of the vineyard owner and the vines, Jesus adds three new elements; the servants, the tenants and the landowner’s son. By adding these new elements into the story, Jesus traps the religious leaders into convicting themselves by asking them, what will the Owner do? He is announcing, that the Owner has tried repeatedly through the prophets, to warn the tenants, that is the leaders of Israel, to yield good fruit, to fulfill the expectations of the covenant, or their actions would lead to punishment. Now the Vineyard Owner has sent His Son, and the tenants were going to kill the Son, thinking that they would have full control of the vineyard. To this announcement His hearers, answer prophetically, that the vineyard will be handed over to others, who will bring forth good fruit, in the proper time.
Jesus is reminding them of their history; that God had sent the prophets to warn them, yet some were mistreated, others beaten or stoned and a few of them killed. The Owner has now sent His Son, hoping for the best, but they would take Him outside the vineyard, outside the city of Jerusalem and kill Him. By their own admission, the tenants deserved to be put to death for what they will do to the Son. But thanks be to God His plan isn’t our plan, taking the lives of those responsible for killing the Son wasn’t God’s intension. God was about to institute a dramatic change.
Jesus was sent to save the lost; to bridge the gap sin created. The Owner wasn’t giving up on the vineyard, rather He was rebuilding it. The stone the builders had rejected would now become the cornerstone of the church. Interestingly, the Greek word used here for this rejected stone is sometimes translated as keystone. In the Greco-Roman world, the keystone was the most important stone in a Roman arch and is another image the listeners of the day would have been very familiar with, and of course it’s a wonderful picture of Christ as head of the church.
The Romans built a great number of arches and the one stone that keeps the arch from collapsing is the keystone. What’s even more interesting in this analogy, is that many of the arch bridges built with a keystone are still standing today as strong as the day they were constructed. God’s love in Christ is the keystone of the church. It’s a love that brings about the fruits of the Spirit, the good fruit that God expects to find in His people. But a quick word of caution here, we need to be careful how we interpret this parable.
In this parable we may be tempted to misconstrue this passage and think that Christianity has replaced Judaism. Jesus Himself told the Canaanite woman that He was sent to the people of Israel. He was sent to call the Jews back to their original experience of God’s saving love and formation of them as God’s chosen people. This parable is not, about getting rid of the old vines, it’s about renewing the vineyard. It’s about expanding the vineyard to include the gentiles, the marginalized of society, those of us that are outside the Jewish community. God has not rejected His people; rather He has expanded His vineyard, opening up His protecting wall to include you and me. In this parable we are all reminded of who we are in God’s eyes, and how we’re to respond. But this parable is also a warning for us to learn from the past.
Israel’s past is a lesson for us to always recognize what God has done and is doing in our lives. His laws and statutes aren’t there to inhibit us, but to help us and protect us from the effects of sin and satan. But don’t be deceived by our modern, sophisticated way of thinking, the devil is indeed alive and well and as the apostle Peter puts it, “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Pet. 5:8.)
God, on the other hand has, with the care of a loving parent, planted, nurtured and protected us so that we too can bear good fruit, enabling others to see Christ in and through us. We are the branches in God’s vineyard that He has carefully and lovingly grafted us in, and because of the love He has shown to us in Christ, we are able to bear the fruits of justice like, harmony and a right relationship with others. It’s because of God’s limitless love, that we’re also able to produce the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. So, let’s heed the warnings of the prophets of old and be obedient to God and bear fruit worth of repentance (Matt. 3:8.)

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.

< back to Sermon archive