October 8, 2017
We are blessed in the state of Michigan to be surrounded by some very fertile land. There are a variety of crops that are grown, and the state is a leader, if not near the top in many of those crops. One of those crops that you can find in abundance in Northern Michigan are grapes.
I recall one of my first visits to a winery on the Old Mission Peninsula. For our honeymoon, Tina and I decided that we would travel around Northern Michigan. From Mackinac Island to Petoskey and Boyne City, to Traverse City and then down the Lake Michigan Shoreline. While in Traverse City, we traveled up the Old Mission Peninsula and discovered Chateau Grand Traverse. The peninsulas leading from Traverse City provide the perfect climate for vineyards. We took the tour and tasted some great wines, at least in my opinion.
Tending to grapes and the vineyard is a lot of hard work that requires skill and determination. The beauty of a vineyard is incredible as the vines are pruned and sculpted so that the owners get the most out of the grapes they are growing.
The image of the vineyard appears many times throughout our bible stories, from the Old Testament to the New Testament. The people of Israel were familiar with vineyards and they knew what it entailed to care for and harvest. Jesus uses vineyards in his parables to relate to the kingdom of God. As tenants care for the vineyard, how do we care for the creation that has been gifted to us?
If you have been anywhere near the news this past week, we know that we could be doing much better.
Once again we have been confronted with the evil that exists in our world today. Another sign that the kingdom of God has not come into full fruition yet. While we are living in the kingdom of God, which has been gifted to us through creation, it has not fully arrived. We will not experience this until we learn to fully love one another.
The terrorist act of mass shootings by individuals are not a sign of the kingdom to come. It points to the brokenness of our world and the fact that we would rather point fingers at each other as to why events like this happen then to sit down and discuss how we can work together for the common good. Until the kingdom of God fully comes to us, evil will still exist. Unfortunately, we have come to a point that we wonder when the next horrendous act will happen, not if. In the meantime, how can we do our best to be the face of God in the presence of this evil?
How can we be present with one another? How can we provide help for those that need it? How can we be a voice for proper reform and laws to protect one another and our loved ones? I think that we can all agree that acts like the one in Las Vegas this past week must stop. We must do a better job in providing mental health care for those that need it. Evil will still present its ugly head, but it will be a start.
We must look beyond ourselves and our own personal agenda. When we fail to do that, we reject the humanity of others. When we reject others, it can be seen as a rejection of the God that created it all. As we reject God through our words and actions, the kingdom of God just gets farther away.
Until we learn to care for and accept those that are mentally sick, we put a wedge between ourselves and God. Until we can turn repent of our own tendency towards violence, we will continue to keep ourselves at a distance from the kingdom of God. We still have a lot of work to do in learning how to live with one another in peace and because of this, I am sure that God continues to weep.
God weeps for us, just as God weeps for those servants that were killed by the evil tenants in Jesus’ parable. At this point, Jesus is still pointing to the authority that has been given to him by God. An authority that cannot be taken away, no matter what the political and religious leaders do to him.
We must look at Jesus’ parable allegorically. The vineyard is Israel and the tenants are the religious leaders whom Jesus is speaking. The early prophets could be seen as the first servants that are killed by the evil tenants. The land owner is God, and it is God that sends God’s son to be with the people of Israel. In this realization, Jesus is foretelling the death that is going to come upon him by the leaders in the temple.
They are rejecting Jesus who has come to them in the temple. By doing so, they have rejected the God that has created humanity as we know it. The chief priests and the Pharisees are well aware that this parable that Jesus shares is about them and they would like to quickly quiet him. They can’t though, because of fear for those that are following Jesus. They failed to see what the crowd could see.
The vineyard imagery can also be seen in Isaiah and the Psalm where the vineyard is created and cultivated until it is misused. In the matter of self-interest, the owner thought he had to protect it, instead of sharing of its bounty. In this rejection of others, the vineyard is destroyed.
Because of this story, the chief priests and Pharisees could expect wrath to fall upon them in Jesus’ parable. Yet, this is where we encounter the grace of God in the midst of evil.
Jesus does not proclaim judgement upon the evil tenants. He does not give up on them. A popular story line we follow today is one of vengeance. We are waiting for Jesus to say that the evil tenants got what was coming to them and were destroyed. Yet, this is the farthest things from Jesus’ story line.
The landowner could have easily sent an army in to disperse of the evil tenants after the first two groups of servants he sent were beat and killed. However, he sends his son. By now, this story line should be sounding familiar. Jesus is the son that comes into the vineyard to fulfill the promise that was made to the Israelite’s. Jesus is more than a prophet. He is the messiah that was promised a long time ago.
In this parable, Jesus shares the vulnerability of the landowner. A vulnerability that opens up to the hope and promise that is found in Jesus Christ. A vulnerability that allows all of humanity to see the righteousness in Jesus and be open to the grace that is abundant for all people.
Because of this promise being fulfilled, there is no proclamation of judgement upon the evil tenants. The hope that comes in Jesus’ parable is that the evil tenants will realize their own humanity and empathy that they might feel shame in the presence of vulnerability.
God allows a vulnerability to shine through that forgives those that seek repentance. It is God’s desire to fill creation with love. This love comes to the Israelites through Jesus. A love that is willing to go to the cross on their behalf.
While it may be hard to come by, that story of love can be found today. We are not a heartless people, despite the around the clock news coverage that seems to espouse the evil occurring in the world. The good things do outnumber the evil. They just do not get the high ratings in media channels like the evil does.
There is a popular Fred Rogers quote that goes around every time we witness some horrific act in our country. He is quoted as saying, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
He was a minister and had pretty good theology. We witness Christ in the midst of the evil. Christ is present to hold peoples hands and to present love through others. You may have seen on the news the story of the father and son that used their bodies to shield the young girls in front of them from the gun fire in Las Vegas. The father gave up his life to protect people he did not even know and his son was shot in the arm. This is a visible sign of Christ at work in our lives and working through humanity.
The grace of God comes to us in mysterious ways. The grace of God knows no boundaries and can even turn those that envelop evil towards a love that forgives through Jesus Christ. While this may be hard for us to understand in our time and place, the kingdom of God will eventually be revealed to all.
Let us pray. . . . Forgiving and gracious God, may you continue to walk with us in the brokenness of this world. May your church on earth be a beacon of light for those that seek hope. May we strive everyday to walk with our sisters and brothers in our differences and rejoice in the promise of your kingdom to come. Amen.