|Christ the King, Year A||November 23, 2014||Christ the King, Year A||Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Psalm 95:1-7a, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25: 31-46|
|Pentecost 23, year A||November 16, 2014||Proper 28, Year A||Matthew 25:14-20|
|Pentecost 22, year A||November 9, 2014||Proper 27, Year A||Matthew 25:1-13|
|All Saints, 2014||November 2, 2014||All Saints’ Day, Year A||Psalm 34: 1-10,22, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12|
|Pentecost 20, year A||October 26, 2014||Proper 25, Year A||Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, Psalm 1, Matthew 22:34-36|
|Pentecost 19, year A||October 19, 2014||Proper 24, Year A||Isaiah 45:1-7, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22|
|➤Pentecost 17, year A||October 5, 2014||Proper 22, Year A||Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-14, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46|
|Pentecost 16, year A||September 28, 2014||Proper 21, Year A||Sermon, Proper 21, Year A Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32, Psalm 25: 1-8, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32|
|Pentecost 14, year A||September 14, 2014||Proper 19, Year A||Matthew 18:21-35|
|Pentecost 13, year A||September 7, 2014||Proper 18, Year A||Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20|
|Pentecost 11, year A||August 24, 2014||Proper 16, Year A||Matthew 16:13-20|
|Pentecost 10, year A||August 17, 2014||Proper 15, Year A||Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28|
|Pentecost 9, year A||August 10, 2014||Proper 14, Year A||Matthew 14:22-33|
|Pentecost 8, year A||August 3, 2014||Pentecost 8, year A||Matthew 14:13-21|
|Pentecost 6, year A||July 20, 2014||Proper 11, Year A||Romans 8:12-25|
Pentecost 17, year A
Sermon Date:October 5, 2014
Scripture: Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-14, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46
Liturgy Calendar: Proper 22, Year A
"Vineyards with view of Auvers" – Van Gogh (1890)
“Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
With these inspiring words, Paul tells the Philippians where his heart is—all he wants to know in this lifetime is Jesus—as Paul puts it, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.”
Paul wants to see God face to face. And Paul’s words thrill my heart, because this too, on my best days, is my deepest longing, to see God face to face, to know Jesus.
That’s why I love the second stanza of that beautiful hymn that we’ve just sung, “I want to walk as a child of the light.”
The stanza goes like this–“I want to see the brightness of God. I want to look at Jesus.”
And as Paul says, this deepest desire of the heart is a heavenly call, because we cannot see God directly, face to face, in this lifetime.
But we can catch glimpses, like the sparkling of light on the river on a sunny morning, like the glistening of the stars on the darkest night, like the light of love in someone’s eyes, in all of these things we can see glimpses of God and God’s glory.
And it’s in these moments of recognition that God’s glory is all around us, and that we can almost, just almost, see God in all God’s fullness.
And these tantalizing hints of God that we find along the way in our lives make us long to see God’s glory even more.
So what on earth does this desire to see God have to do with vineyards, and the rather depressing parable that we’ve just heard Jesus tell in today’s gospel?
In the parable, the landowner plants the vineyard, the tenants lease the vineyard, and the servants and the Son of the landowner come to collect the produce at harvest time and are then beaten, stoned and killed by the tenants, who then in return get their just reward.
The tenants have gotten caught up in the cares and occupations of their lives, so caught up that they are determined to keep all of the fruits of the harvest to themselves at any cost, including committing murder and mayhem against anyone who tries to collect what they legally owe to the landowner.
Now we all know what this is like—hopefully not the murder and the mayhem part, but the cares and occupations of this life. We all get caught up in the work God gives us to do, but, be warned, one of life’s greatest temptations is to make the cares and occupations of this life the be all and end all of our lives, our only reason for living, without any thought for God.
Paul brags to the Philippians that he is the most awesome person who ever lived! The most perfect Jew—“as to righteousness under the law, blameless!” In fact, Paul himself, while being blameless under the law, was at the same time persecuting the early church, as murderous in his intentions as those tenants in the parable who murdered the servants and the son of the vineyard landowner. He was full of hatred and murderous intentions toward those who had a different vision of God than he did. His focus was messed up.
The tenants in the parable put their focus only on what they could gain for themselves by tending the vineyard. It was all about them and their gain and glory to the extent that they too became full of murderous hatred. Their focus was also messed up.
Where is your focus in your life? Because here’s the thing—what we focus on is of the utmost importance in how we live our lives.
Are you caught up in what lies behind you? Are you resting on your laurels? Maybe you’re stuck in the quicksand of all the regrets that you have about all that has happened in your life. Maybe you’re caught up in that bumper sticker philosophy, “he who has the most toys when he dies wins.”
Or is your focus on God?
I’m not talking about that dreamy, mystical focus on God –that cliché that might pop into your mind of monks and nuns dressed in habits and sandals, deep in prayer, eyes lifted to heaven, hands reverently folded, so focused on God that they are disengaged with life. Actually, all the monks and nuns I know are deeply engaged in life.
I’m talking about people who are going about their daily lives, working hard at their occupations while at the same time being focused on God.
So how do we focus on God in our lives?
The beautiful image of the vineyard occurs in three of our four readings today. In each of the readings, the vineyard is planted by God, and it contains everything needed for God’s people to live and work in the vineyard and to have fruitful lives and to be productive.
And the fruit is essential to the lives of the people—those of us who did the feasting with Jesus program together know that people in the time of Jesus drank wine mixed with water at every meal. And not only was wine essential, but it brought joy to the people’s hearts. In the gospel according to John, the very first miracle Jesus does is to change water into wine at a wedding celebration in Cana.
The vineyard is also a protected space, because God ‘s vineyard has walls and a watchtower. When we are working in God’s vineyard and caring for it, God watches over us and protects us as we work.
A side comment here–part of being focused on God is being able to see around us the incredible beauty and perfection and richness of God’s creation, the way all of creation is intertwined for the benefit of the whole earth.
Part of being focused on God is to, in our thankfulness, manage God’s creation in ways that benefit not only us, but also creation itself. When we protect God’s creation and care for it as God would have us do, we are also protecting ourselves and those who will come after us.
God puts trust in us and gives us autonomy in how we want to tend our vineyards and work in them. In the parable, the landowner plants the vineyard and then goes off to another country. The landowner doesn’t micromanage the tenants. Instead, the landowner puts trust in them to work well and to produce an abundant harvest and to give the landowner what is owed to him.
And let’s not just gloss over the fact that all of these readings also contain warnings that remind us that God holds us accountable for how we care for and tend the vineyards we’ve been given.
And these warnings are dire. Isaiah and the psalmist tell us that when we blow it, God removes the protective walls, and because we haven’t cared for the vineyard, briers and thorns will come up, and the wild beasts will come in and eat the few grapes that have managed to grow.
And Jesus bluntly says in the gospel that “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”
So I’m challenging you to think about where your focus is, because where your heart is, there will your treasure be also, as Jesus says during the Sermon on the Mount.
Lilias Trotter was an artist and a missionary who lived at the beginning of the 20th century, and her words still carry a great deal of meaning for us in thinking about our focus on God. Trotter said that "Never has it been so easy to live in half a dozen harmless worlds at once — art, music, social science, games, motoring, the following of some profession, and so on. And between them we run the risk of drifting about, the good hiding the best. It is easy to find out whether our lives are focused, and if so, where the focus lies. Where do our thoughts settle when consciousness comes back in the morning? Where do they swing back when the pressure is off during the day? Dare to have it out with God, and ask Him to show you whether or not all is focused on Christ and His Glory. Turn your soul’s vision to Jesus, and look and look at Him…”
So yes, turn your soul’s vision to Jesus, but that’s not all.
Work hard in the vineyard God has given you, produce an abundant harvest, do it for God’s glory, and like Paul, in all that you do, “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”