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What Must God Think?

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid. Posted in Sermons

Pentecost 18 A    Matthew 21:33-46

What must God think of such a world as this one in which we find ourselves living today? That’s what I found myself asking when I awoke (as you surely did) to the horrible news out of Las Vegas last Monday.

What must God think of a world in which a man, privileged and prosperous in most of the ways we measure such things, decides that he should amass a huge arsenal of weapons and then perch himself above a large crowd just so that he can kill and injure as many people as possible before taking his own life? What must God think of a culture in which those 59 deaths are barely two-thirds of the number of people killed by guns each and every day?

What must God think of a world in which millions are driven from their homes and homelands: some by hunger and poverty but far more by bigotry, warfare and violence, only to find the rest of the world fearful of them and reluctant to welcome them. What must God think when Yaziti people are slaughtered in Iraq just because they’re Christians in a Muslim country, and Rohinga people are purged from Myanmar just because they’re Muslim people in a Bhuddist country, and when people march in our supposedly Christian country chanting “Jews will not replace us?” What must God think of such a world as this one in which we find ourselves living?

Today, we are blessed to have Bible readings that tell us what God thinks of such a world.  Hear the prophet Isaiah, who tells us that this world is God’s vineyard, created and cultivated in love and care: dug and cleared of stones, planted with choice vines, protected by a watchtower, the product of a loving and expectant God looking for it to produce the finest grapes that would become the finest wine that brings fullness and joy to life. Hear the prophet Isaiah tell us what God thinks of such a world as this one in which we find ourselves living.

“What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not already done in it? And yet, when I expect it to yield grapes, why does it yield wild grapes?” God, Isaiah says, expected justice, but sees the bloodshed we see; righteousness, but hears the same cries we hear.

Today, we also hear Jesus, who also speaks of this messed up world as God’s vineyard, only in his parable, it’s not the grapes that are the problem, but the tenants, who would rather keep the grapes for themselves instead of offering them back to their rightful owner.
And in a not very thinly-veiled allegory about the fate of God’s prophets, Jesus speaks of servants sent to collect the produce who are beaten and killed. And then speaking of himself, Jesus speaks of the owner sending his son, who they conspire to kill in order to claim the vineyard as their own inheritance.

God, Jesus also says, expects justice, but sees bloodshed, righteousness, but hears a cry.

So then the next question: What must God want to do to such a world as this? What must all the violence and crying give God every good reason to do in response? Hear again the prophet Isaiah. “Now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge. I will break down its wall. I will make it a waste.”  “I expect justice. I expect righteousness. Bloodshed and crying just won’t do. I will take away my protection, abandon my vineyard and leave it vulnerable to being trampled, devoured and overgrown with weeds.” Hear again Jesus as he asks the same question and leaves it to the Chief Priests and Pharisees to provide the obvious answer. “Now,” Jesus said, “when the owner of the vineyard comes, after the tenants have beaten his servants and killed his son, what will he do?”

And even as they begin to figure out that Jesus is in fact talking about THEM, the Chief Tenants and Pharisees know what such a vineyard owner would WANT to do. “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

So what must God want to do to such a world as this one in which we live? What must all the violence and crying give God every good reason to do in response? Abandon us to our own devices. Let us suffer the consequences of our own glorification of violence. Take away the watchtower. Let the vineyard be ravaged. Throw out the lousy tenants. And after we’re gone, maybe start over with new ones.

It’s not like God hasn’t done that before, you know. Isaiah’s warning is in the Bible because after he spoke it, the Babylonians came into God’s unprotected vineyard and reduced Jerusalem and its glorious temple to rubble. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out what God must want to do with a world such as the one in which we are living.

But Jesus’ parable is in our Bible and Matthew’s gospel is in our Bible, and we are here in this room today, not because of what God THINKS of this world or what God WANTS to do with our world, but only because of what God DID DO. When God sent his son to the vineyard to collect the harvest, and the tenants seized him, threw him out of the vineyard and killed him …….though these readings tell us what God thinks and what God has every right to want to do, they DON’T tell us what God did do. That answer comes seven chapters later, three days after that son was killed, as the first day of the week was dawning, and Mary Magdalene and another Mary went to see Jesus tomb. Matthew tells us that there was a great earthquake as an angel descended from heaven, rolled back the stone to the tomb and sat on it and said, “Jesus is not here, for he has been raised.”

What God did was raise Jesus. What God did was turn death into life. What God did was not only give those tenants another chance but a whole new life: ….Jesus’ resurrection life …in them, and a new mission to proclaim and live that life and bear the fruits of justice and righteousness for the sake of the world.

That is what God did. That is what God still does in such a world as this. God meets death with resurrection. God defeats death with resurrection. God took the stone that the builders rejected and made it the cornerstone of our existence, the bedrock of our hope.
And that, my friends, is why we’re here today, the only reason that it makes any sense at all to be here.

Given the world that we live in, and given what God thinks about the things that go on in it, and given what God has every reason and right to do in response to it, what could possibly make more sense than to gather together to sing our praise and thanksgiving for what God did instead?  What could possibly be more important than to confess what poor tenants we’ve been ourselves of the portion of God’s vineyard that’s been given into our care and beg for God’s forgiveness? What could possibly be more urgent than to plead to God as our Psalm did for God to turn and look down from heaven; behold and tend God’s vine and preserve what God’s right hand has planted? What could be more beneficial than to come on our knees to receive in bread and wine the new resurrection life that is still God’s answer and the only answer to our world’s bloodshed and cries?

Given the world that we live in, and given what God thinks about the things that go on in it, and given what God has every reason and right to do in response to it, and given what God DID….. what else is there to do but praise and thank and confess and plead and hear and taste anew Jesus’ resurrection life?   AMEN