Pastor Michael Frye:
Shortly after Judy and I were married, her parents built a home on some farm property that they owned in Rowan County.
It was an expansive property, and it had been a working farm with gardens and cattle, and there was a pretty substantial grapevine alongside the road leading into the home.
It produced Scuppernong grapes; they’re kind of big and have tough skins on them; but they are pretty tasty and make good wine, if you like the sweet variety.
For a while, they were able to keep it up, and they produced some good wine for home use; but they weren’t able to devote the kind of time to tending grape vines that were needed, so they stopped producing as much as before.
Vineyards play an important role in two of our lessons today.
In fact, Jesus borrowed the context of his parable in our Gospel today from Isaiah, chapter 5 – our first lesson for today.
Isaiah’s prophecy identifies the vineyard as God’s beloved Israel.
He tells how Yahweh had established his people Israel in a land of great promise; how God cleared all the obstacles out of their way and provided protection for them from their enemies; how God prepared a place for Israel to produce wonderful grapes of faithfulness and devotion; but all they produced were wild grapes… fruits of injustice, rebelliousness, and unrighteous behavior.
There was great disparity between what God expected from his people and what actually came to pass.
Although Jesus’ parable has much of the content that came from Isaiah, there is a distinctive difference in his approach.
In Isaiah, it is the wild grapes that cause the offense against God.
In Matthew, it is the tenants.
Isaiah talks about how Israel turned away from God’s righteousness.
Matthew emphasizes how the people of Israel rejected God’s prophets, verbally abused, and physically mistreated them.
Now, God sends his own Son, and Jesus predicts that they will reject him and even put him to death.
Because they rejected Jesus as the Messiah, God would offer his salvation to others who would produce the fruits of his kingdom.
Jesus makes it clear in this story that there will come a time of judgement against those who have rejected him, but there is much more to this story than that.
Those Jews and Gentiles who elected to believe in and follow Jesus became, themselves, a great vineyard called Christ’s Church.
Of course, you and I have become a part of this vineyard because of our own connection with Christ’s Church.
Therefore, we are called and expected to produce the good fruits of faith that God expects for his Kingdom.
Martin Luther wrote that God’s gift of freedom in Christ calls us to express our gratitude to God by joyfully responding to the needs of our neighbors without expecting anything in return.
As the new tenants of God’s vineyard (and the vineyard is this world in which we live), God expects us to cultivate it (get down in the dirt and deal with the problems and issues that threaten its existence), prune it (snip away at the refuse that threatens to stunt it’s growth and productiveness), and gather and share the good fruits of God’s kingdom with those who need it most.
Matthew also spoke of the stone that was rejected but now has become the cornerstone of our faith… a faith which is meant to restore hope and peace in the world, as well as a vision of justice and reconciliation.
Unfortunately, there are those Christians who seem to have lost their way in God’s vineyard and who espouse hatred toward others who are different from themselves or reject other Christians because they don’t believe exactly the same way that they believe.
All these tenants can produce are the grapes of wrath that God abhors and rejects, as Isaiah and Matthew have shown.
It is up to those who feel called to live in this world as the unified Body of Christ to remain fully accountable for what God expects from us in this world – not to reject or despise, not to seek to control or restrict, but to joyfully welcome our neighbors into God’s vineyard and provide opportunities for all to serve God in an atmosphere of love, respect, and compassion.
This is what our Lord gave his life for, and it is certainly the kind of world that God has intended from the beginning.
Jesus said: “I am the vine and you are the branches.”
If we are to remain faithful tenants of what God has given us, we must be willing to diligently work on God’s behalf, cultivate, and joyfully tend to every branch of the Vine which we cherish and serve – Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.