Summary: In the parable of the vineyard and the "rejected cornerstone of Christ", we see how an ever near and patient God reveals himself in Creation and redemption -- working through the Holy Spirit to keep us from rejecting him.
It would seem the vineyard image is appropriate for this time of year. I’ve read that the Napa Valley is expecting a great crush this year. In Amador County, here in California, there is weekend tasting and festivities in honor of the harvest vintage. Maybe some of our people are there right now, or wish they were.
Jesus frequently used agricultural motifs to make his point. This time in the story of the vineyard he prepares his disciples for the suffering and rejection ahead of him; just a week away. The leaders of Israel and the leaders of Judaism will reject him, just as they rejected the message of the prophets, represented by the slaves who came for the harvest in the story. So the theme today then is “Would You Also Reject Him?”
Let us probe for a moment why indeed we may reject him. We are told that a landowner, who represents God, planted a vineyard, rented it out to some tenants and went away on a journey. Isn’t this sometimes our problem with God and why we may reject him? He has seemingly gone away. The Psalmist refers to these moments in the Christian’s life when he says “Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” Leslie Brandt ponders these moments in a paraphrase of Psalm 69: “Oh God, don’t let me go down the drain. Respond, in your great love, to my unhappy plight. Raise me from the mire of despair, the darkness of depression. Deliver me from these human weaknesses that beset me and lead me into defeat.” At times, even good Christians sense God’s silence. He is the great Deus Obsconditus; Latin for the hidden God, who has gone away on a journey.
I don’t think God is hiding from us. But it would appear that way. Even on my good days, I find myself succumbing to a deep despair that our culture has rejected God – something I didn’t quite feel as much when I first began the ministry nearly 30 years ago. In this fleshly, silly, pagan, entertainment and pleasure oriented culture, that adults and young people and kids are all expected to mimic and enjoy, we find that like a suitor spurned, God has backed away. I have to check myself to see if I too have not casually waded into this culture, testing the waters a toe at a time, then up to my ankles, then my waist, and finally immersing myself in it, no different from anyone else – questioning the authority of Scripture, and thereby neglecting it, straying from the straight and narrow, going after pleasure and material blessings at the expense of spiritual ones -- Flicking off the Ten Commandments, and in the interest of tolerance, becoming a moral relativist. Have I joined the company of those whom St. Paul complained of who were only interested in the things of self rather than in the things of Christ. Will you share in a personal inventory then -- a true soul searching, if somehow we, who call ourselves Christian, have not also rejected Him, and at least as fellow travelers, joined the company of those religious leaders who rejected Jesus and even arranged for and participated in his death? The owner of the vineyard has left on a journey, but it would be well if when he returns, he finds us faithful and watching and working instead of pursuing selfish interests that leave us so unfulfilled.
But God has fulfilled us. He has filled our cup to overflowing, with goodness and mercy following us all the days of our life and the promise that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. We find fulfillment in reflecting on the goodness of our heavenly Father who as the maker and owner of earth has placed us in the vineyard of life with blessing upon blessing, so much so that we start refusing them, preferring instead to become serious, cynical and joyless, lest we discover ourselves having too much fun in the abundant life that Christ has promised us. After all we Lutherans are part of the serious minded church that author and humorist Garrison Keeler picks fun on as people who feel that the Bible forbids them from crossing the aisle while "passing the peace." Or who feel that applauding for their children’s choirs would make the kids too proud and conceited. Lutherans are those who feel guilty for not staying to clean up after their own wedding reception in the fellowship hall. And they may be those who usually follow the official liturgy and will feel it is their way of suffering for their sins.
So we must be careful that we don’t, like those in the parable of the vineyard reject him, forgetting these blessings -- failing to count them and consequently turn against God and his representatives – the Old Testament prophets, the apostolic writers of the New Testament, our pastors, teachers and Sunday school teachers, and our Christian parents and grandparents.