Sermon – September 29, 2002 – Go Out Into the Vineyard

September 29, 2002

Pentecost 19

Go Out into the Vineyard

Matthew 21:23-32

When I lived in Texas, one the things I most appreciated was the
opportunity to put in a fall garden. . . . the chance to plant something in
September with the expectation that it will actually produce something.
I did that the first year I was there. I dug for hours in a small
patch of sunlight in the yard, into unexpectedly hard ground full of roots
and old bulbs and sea shells. I thought I was a rototiller, but
discovered I was just a man with a shovel. It was hard work and my back was
sore and my legs were sore and I had blisters all over my hands. But
I dug up that little patch of dirt and I planted a couple of rows of
cucumbers and some tomatoes. And two weeks later, the cucumbers
flowered. Ann and I didn’t have a chance to put in a spring garden because
of the way our lives were at the time, but we have been given another
chance. This was our own little vineyard. This was our unexpected
garden.

As I remembered that gardnen, it brought to mind the words of our
lesson this morning about the vineyard.

I find myself in a bit of a struggle to decide under which category I
fell. But it was quickly clear to me that in my life, I am both sons.
And I think that is probably the case for all of us. There are times
when we are eager to respond to directive to go out into the vineyards
of our families, our church, our community. . . . and times when we are
so full or so confident of our own agendas and means that we respond, “I
will not.”

Jesus, it seems in this parable, speaks to both of the children in us.
Clearly in this case, the former son who finally did go to work is the
one who did the will of his father, the one who finally responded to
the call after the initial hesitation. But in our lives it’s not that
simple. In our lives, we vacillate between defiance and good intentions,
between willingness and resistance, between depending upon our own
authority and recognizing the legitimate authority of others.

But what about the third category? Something’s missing. What about the
one who said yes and did the work? Who among us has been called into
the vineyard of their families, or friends, or the church or the
kingdom and always said yes and always kept their promises. Maybe
Jesus’ point was not for the editorial brevity that the parables depend upon for
their effectiveness, but rather for the unlikelihood, the impossibility
that in all times and in all places we are able to yes and to do as we
are commanded. Had that distinction been available, we would have a
whole different understanding of the coming of our Lord. If we always
said yes and always kept our promises, maybe we wouldn’t need him.

St. Paul spoke of the things that he would do, but could not. Martin
Luther taught us that our good intentions are not enough to finally
respond to the authority of God, to call of the Christ to go into the
vineyard. It has been the character of humanity to fail to follow that
command, but it has also always been the character of God to give us
another shot. If we were people who always said yes and always kept our
promises, we wouldn’t need Christ, but that’s not the kind of people that we
are .. . but through Christ we have another shot.

The parables of Jesus peel back the facade and reveal the authenticity,
the insincerity within us and it is often painful, but the fact that we
come up short in the face of that revelation serves not to humiliate us
as much as it does to educate and enlighten us. We cannot be those who
say yes and always keep our promises. We should not be the one who
says yes and fails to show up for work. But we are given the opportunity
to be the first child. By the grace of God, we can turn, we can
eventually go into the vineyard. We can repent.

What is available to us when when we are finally unmasked is that even
though we refuse or are unable to respond to that call, is repentance
which enables us to do the will of the Father. It gives us power to
change, power to do, confidence that when we do, we will be met by the
grace of God.

If we haven’t done it, we can start. If we have failed, we can try
again. We can do that. We can follow our Lord into the vineyard. But
let us not be like the 2nd son. Maybe he didn’t feel he could do the
work. Maybe he didn’t recognize the vineyard, or worst of all, maybe he
thought it didn’t matter. There can be no less satisfying existence than
to believe it doesn’t matter whether you go to work in the vineyard, or
whether you don’t. The part of us that represents the second son takes
grace lightly. It sings Jesus Loves Me and the doesn’t do anything
about our own lives.

When we get to that point we are too full, too full of our own selves,
our own agendas. Too full, stopped up to hear the call. Too
distracted.

Our reading in Philippians is one of the most beautiful parts of the
Bible, in my mind. It is an ancient hymn that Christian people sung in
the first century. It sings of Christ’s utter humanity, and gives us
the understanding that even Christ did not allow himself to be so full,
but emptied himself and as a consequence was glorified. Though he was
of God, he didn’t exploit it, but emptied himself to labor in the
vineyard. We who are called to labor in the vineyard must empty ourselves
sometimes before we are able to respond.

I like to think that part of repentance, part of turning and changing
and examining ourselves, striving to hear the call and venture into the
vineyard . . . is recognizing what fruit there is in the vineyard.
Part of repentance is clarifying and enlightening. To go out into the
vineyard is to go to work, to reap the fruit, to gather the harvest, to
sustain another generation, to sustain a friendship, to sustain a
marriage, to sustain a family, to sustain a church, to sustain a community.
God calls us into the vineyards not as a test just so we know who is in
charge, God calls us into the vineyard to do fruitful labor. This is
an invitation to walk into abundance of his grace, to do fruitful labor.
. . . to change the world, to change our relationships, to change how
we treat one another, in Christ’s name. To reap things that will
sustain, nourish and uphold one another. Our humanity, our self-interest,
our fullness with other things obscures the gift of that command.!

The opportunity for our repentance, the sacrifice of Christ, that our
repentance may be met and valid creates not just a return to the status
quo, but an opportunity to move into productive and creative living,
into abundance. The labor we are called to do in our families, in
marriages, in our church, in our communities is often truly that, hard work.
But it is a garden in which we labor because God as created it and
declared it good and invites us to be a part of it. It is our unexpected
garden

Amen

Copyright (c) 2002 by Pastor Robert J. Rasmus