Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sermon: 5th Sunday in Lent

Last week, it was a parable of Grace, the Prodigal Son, with the loving, forgiving father. This week, it is a parable of judgment, set in a vineyard...

When I think of vineyards, I always think of Napa Valley (beautiful, good wine!) and back at the turn of the 20th Century it was a New thing! (wine not from France) and of course wine now is even made in CT, our communion wine is from Brookfield!

We heard in Isaiah: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

Look again at the Parable of the Vineyard from the Gospel
-what is that new thing?
-why did the chief priests/scribes get so angry?

Owner leases the vineyard to Tenants
-when the season came, he sent slaves to collect his share of the produce of the vineyard -the tenants refused to give it; beating some slaves, wounding them, thrown out…
-owner sends the son, surely they will respect him.
-they thrown him out & kill him
-what will the owner do? Thrown out those tenants, destroy them and give it to others.

Why did they go so angry? They understood what Jesus was getting at…the owner of the vineyard is God, the slaves were the prophets who were thrown out and not listened to, the son is Jesus, the one whom the chief priests, refuse to hear and plan to destroy… The stone the builders rejected…the cornerstone of our faith, is the son.

How does St. Paul talk about all this? Righteousness is not about following the law but faith in Christ. The cornerstone of our faith is Jesus, the stone some rejected…

Because of this rejection, the vineyard is given to others…The chief priests & elders understood the parable. They would be rejected as they reject Jesus. They are angry! They want to get him, but they do not lay hands on Jesus because they fear the people, those to whom the vineyard will be given…

This is a new thing!

God is always at work creating new things… For the people of Israel returning from their exile, God tells them through the prophet Isaiah, that the Lord is making things new…(do not remember the former things) It is a time of hope, a time of fortunes restored, a time of renewal.

How we will we re-act to such a parable? What newness is God springing forth about us today?
We can be like the scribes & chief priests, the wicked tenants in the parable, who use violence to get their way. To hold the status quo. To keep their interests and their power. Newness means change, and they refuse to allow it. And the judgment is against them. Or we can be the people who re-act by confessing with their hearts, taking in the message from God, from the prophets, from Jesus. Knowing God is constantly making new things, and hope to be in the midst of it. By accepting the Spirit of God who guides us in God’s ways, opening our hearts to the new things God does…

For it is about how we live, how we respond to the Gospel, how we perceive God doing new things in our world today and being a part of it.

There once was a devoted priest who wished to have a vision of both heaven and hell, and God gave way to his pleading. The priest found himself before a door which bore no name. He trembled as he saw that it opened into a large room where all was prepared for a feast. There was a table, and at its center, a great dish of steaming food was set. The smell and the aroma tantalized the appetite.

Diners sat around the table with great spoons in their hands, yet, to the priest's surprise, they were miserable— gaunt with hunger. They tried desperately to feed themselves, but gave up—cursing God—for the spoons that God had provided were so long that they could not reach their mouths. So these pitiable self-feeders starved while a feast lay before them. The priest had seen enough, so the door to this room closed before his eyes.

Next, the priest found himself standing before another door that appeared the same as the previous one. He began to despair, as the pain from viewing the first room was overwhelm­ing, and he did not want to see that scenario again. Again, the door opened, and it led to a room just like the first. Nothing had changed. There was a table at the center of the room covered with a cornucopia of steaming, delicious food.

Around it were the same people. But there were no cries of anguish, and no one appeared gaunt and starving, even though they, too, had the same elongated spoons. Nothing had changed, yet every­thing had changed. With the same long spoons these people reached to each other's mouths, and fed one another. And their joy was overflowing.

Are we ready for what God gives us today? Are we ready to be made new?

As the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Law in the 17th Century put it: "Religion is not ours till we live by it, till it is the Religion of our thoughts, words, and actions, till it goes with us into every place, sits uppermost on every occasion, and forms and governs our hopes and fears, our cares and pleasures."

Are we ready for the new things God will do today? Let me end with St. Paul’s words… Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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