Monday, October 3, 2011

The Lord's Vineyard

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 2nd 
Year of Our Lord 2011                                          
 Isaiah 5:1-7  Matthew 21:33-46

Did you notice the similarity between our Old Testament reading from Isaiah and our Gospel reading from Matthew?  Jesus today tells another parable, drawing on the song of Isaiah from our Old Testament reading.  Both speak of the LORD's Vineyard, of God's good intent, and mankind's wicked result.  In Isaiah's song, the focus is on the people, on the failure of the Israelites to produce the sweet fruit that the LORD intended.  The individual accountability of each person before the LORD is stressed. 

In the parable Jesus also tells about the failure of the Vineyard to render its crop unto God, but He focuses on the farmers, the tenants, on those appointed by the LORD to work the vineyard.  Jesus speaks this parable against the Pharisees and Chief Priests.  We continue, as last Sunday, in the middle of Matthew's account of Holy Week, listening to Jesus verbally assaulting the sin of the Jewish leaders, an assault that will lead to His crucifixion in a few short days. 

Jesus in this parable stresses the accountability of preachers to say what God has given them to say, to not change the message that God has given concerning the Way of Salvation, to not teach people they can and must work their way to heaven.  This is exactly the sin of the Pharisees, who were leading the Jews away from God.  Our temptation remains the same, the temptation to insist on our own righteousness, to insist that our works must count for something before the judgment seat of God.  So we too, need to hear this cautionary tale.

Isaiah preached to the congregation of Ancient Israel in song.  Jesus retells the story, focusing on the faithless preachers, using the form of a parable.  Today, as I preach to the New Israel, the Church of Christ, as I try to apply this Word to us, preacher and congregation, today, I will use neither song nor parable, but instead a poem.  And so, please listen: 

The LORD's Vineyard

The Pharisees were teachers, of God's most Holy Word,
They had a sacred calling, given to them by the LORD,
To tend to Yahweh's Vineyard, His people Israel,
To teach them of God's mercy, the Lord’s great deeds to tell.

The fruit of God's forgiveness, a grape so good and sweet,
Was what they were to grow there, and so their calling meet.
But the Pharisees refused, to tend God’s Vineyard with His grace,
God's gracious call they set aside, and put law in its place.

They were to preach the Law, God’s will forever true,
The wicked to restrain, and guide for the righteous too.
But when from sin the law had turned God’s people, that’s repentance,
God’s gracious gift of pardon was to be the next preached sentence.

Instead they preached a lie, they covered up God's love,
They said we must, and can, by works, earn our way to heav'n above.
But the way of works we cannot walk, for sin it lies within us,
The way of works makes bitter hearts, robbing  grapes of sweetness. 

The Pharisees betrayed their call, they stole from God His crop,
They sought to own God's vineyard, to grace they put a stop.
They spoke of works, despised God's Name,
His faithful prophets, they put to shame.

But the LORD would not abandon His Vineyard to these wolves,
God sent His Only Son, in our flesh He was clothed.
Jesus spoke the Truth in Love, that God's kingdom comes by Grace,
The Pharisees saw Him as a threat, to their lofty, stolen place.

With bitter hearts they sought to kill,
The One who would the Vineyard till,
With Grace, and Love that never ends,
And Forgiveness, which makes man God’s friend.  

The Pharisees' plan was finished, so they thought that Friday Good,
They could not imagine, that through His Cross of wood,
Jesus was reclaiming, the Vineyard grown by Grace,
From Calv’ry to the ends of earth, God's Love flows from that place.

So all those with a calling, to speak, in Church or home,
Must ever remain faithful, from the Message never roam.
Of Law and Gospel we must know, and for what each Word is given,
The Law must guide our life on earth, the Gospel brings us to heaven!
God's Law shows us how to live, on earth, throughout our life,
A mirror showing how we fail, revealing sin and strife.
But never within heaven will the Law win us a place,
The sinner’s Hope is Christ alone, the Father's Gift of Grace.

And so you are God's Vineyard, a holy, fruitful place,
Jesus' love has washed you, rebirth by blood-bought grace.
The Spirit has planted you in the Vine,
And the Father declares: “You are mine.”

Forgiven, restored, no more fear of Hell,
You're free in your callings, of God's love to tell.
Proclaiming Christ’s work, speaking words, doing deeds,
Safely in the Father’s hand, His  tool for planting seeds.

Grace, Love and Mercy, the Father has given,
Peace now, in Jesus, and His Spirit for living,
These ever are yours, Gifts from the LORD,
Revealed for Salvation, in God's Holy Word. 

So gathered here together, the Vineyard of the LORD,
We receive the precious fruit, the blood that Jesus poured,
Out upon the ground, forgiveness to attain,
Life from death for all who call, on the Savior's holy Name.

The greatest threat to Christians is the temptation to believe in our own works, to imagine that we can and are earning God's favor.  As your Pastor it is my highest responsibility to keep and proclaim the pure Gospel.  And you, as hearers, and teachers in your homes, and brothers and sisters in Christ, share the same responsibility within in the various callings that God has given you, the responsibility to listen to the Word, to know and confess the foundations of the faith, and to ask the tough questions when you hear works creeping into salvation. 

It's not easy.  We can't keep the Gospel pure on our own.  The sin that still clings to us means we like the Pharisees very much want to claim to be earning salvation, at least in part, by our works.  It is a daily struggle.  But God wills that we win this struggle, and so He does not leave our side.  He continues to present the truth to us, deflating  our foolish pride with His Law, so that He can again forgive us and restore us and feed us with the Gospel, the Good News that because of Jesus, God is pleased with you. 

Thanks be to God for Jesus, who has returned sweetness to His Vineyard, Amen.

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