Oct 08, 2017 | The Reverend Stephanie Shoemaker
God is Singing Us a Love Song
I am sorry I wasn’t here last Sunday for the appearance of Sarah Gibbs, but thanks to the wonders of our new website, I was able to see our benefactor and hear her start us off on our Journey to Generosity. This morning we continue the stewardship theme as our lessons ask us to consider our stewardship of the relationship that is at the heart of our faith: our faithfulness to God and one another through Jesus in a community of faith whose foundation is love and whose dynamic is love’s generosity. You will notice that as we approach the end of the Church year, there is an increasing emphasis on judgment, but it is the judgment of a loving God who calls us to account with a generous heart and a promise of forgiveness and reconciliation.
This morning, God is singing us a love song. Did you hear it? God is singing the blues….the I loved you…you done me wrong and left me…my heart is breaking…I will always love you…come back to me blues. Words we are more likely to hear from Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Billy Holliday and Loretta Lynn…at the Folk and Jazz Festivals… than in church. A lover’s words poignant with the deep hurt and the intense pain of rejection or indifference. Words of a loving parent suffering and longing for a beloved lost or wayward child. The disillusionment and disappointment of betrayal are heartbreakingly painful. He expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry.
When we come to realize how things really are and see that we have been deceived, or, even more distressing, have been deceiving ourselves- we know excruciating anguish. What will save us? What will offer us comfort for our pain and provide the security our souls seek that so often eludes us?
In his poetry, the prophet Isaiah tells us that God’s heart can be touched. The Almighty is a God of compassion who cares… who loves with a love that even our faithless, sinful behavior cannot remove. God has gathered a community out of love and made a covenant with it, a mutual commitment of faithfulness, provision and protection as in marriage; but this marriage is breaking down. One side of the partnership is moving away. It is a bitter situation…a cause for great sadness. Through the voice of the prophet, God is telling the people how his hopes for them have been dashed; how they are bringing judgment on themselves and still, there is hope in repentance. God is calling his people back into faithful relationship through the voice of the prophet, singing a song to his beloved.
In the last days of his ministry in Jerusalem,Jesus is confronted with the hostility of the Jewish establishment who feel their power threatened by his authority (exousia) and by the adulation of the crowds. Jesus then calls on the familiar metaphor of the vineyard and tells a parable that causes his challengers to condemn their own behavior. Like Isaiah before him, Jesus sets out a dramatic demonstration of the passion of God for his people. Even though they have been faithless, usurping the power for themselves that belongs to God, God will stop at nothing to win them back, even sending his own son, a sacrifice of himself, the ultimate gift of love. If that offering is rejected, then those who reject it will have made a choice not to be in relationship with God. However, God will not abandon the vineyard. It will be a place where the work of the son draws those who are willing to establish a right relationship with the owner through the son to produce the fruits of the Kingdom.
This was Good News for Matthew and his community at a time when there was conflict over who belonged in the vineyard of Israel and who did not. We hear the voice of the early church community in this parable, and we hear, centuries later, the voice of our loving God calling us to faithful life and work together with our God for the Kingdom.
We often speak of the context of our life and work as a vineyard. It used to be a more remote symbol, but today, it seems, vineyards are everywhere. Vineyards have sprung up all over the island, and now as we pass them, we can see close up the amazing amount of careful preparation and intensity of care they require year round to produce a good crop of grapes. The weather has to be right, a factor more or less out of the vintner’s control except for the selection of the location of the vineyard. The pruning, feeding the soil, watering, the nets and the many hands needed to pick the fruit at just the right time to make the best wine require careful attention. After all of the investment of time, labor and resources, a poor yield is more than disappointing. When expectations are dashed, there is pain.
Our world is God’s vineyard. This past week, God has witnessed bloodshed and heard loud cries, the yield of a society that is suffering in many quarters from hubris and faithlessness. The tepid public compassion for victims of natural disasters to which our carelessness and neglect of stewardship have contributed, the tears for victims of a maniacal crime, another in a long series of tragedies that could have been reduced by a concerted courageous public outcry against the easy availability of the deadly means used to express emotion, opinion and political stance by those who have stepped outside the bounds of respect of our civil contract into self-centered action. There are cries of violence in protest against those few who have usurped the resources and revenue of the vineyard, leaving the rest behind to fend for themselves with broken infrastructure and an inferior yield from their vines. The fruits of righteousness and faithfulness are present, but scattered, often difficult to discern. There is a climate of fear and hopelessness gaining traction all around us…and there are things of which our consciences are afraid…things “done and left undone” that lie hidden in the shadows of self-protective rationalization. In times like these, our hope is in listening for God’s love song…for the tune which captures our attention, the beat that engages our steps, and the lyric that focuses our hearts on the merciful God whose compassionate presence in Jesus dispels our fears and allows us to be honest, courageous and real in his loving presence so we may see the way forward in faithfulness and righteousness seeking and accepting God’s forgiveness and the rich bounty of life that results from generously tending the vines that connect us in Christ and produce fruit worthy of the Kingdom. Like the vintner Isaiah portrays and the vineyard Jesus describes, we rebuild the vineyard in which we live and work and have our being on the strength of the one who has shown us the power of love’s generosity to endure beyond injustice and betrayal, through pain and heartbreak to the bountiful yield of grace to be found with our Savior in his Kingdom.