Matthew 21: 33-46 I don’t know how to read such a rending text on the heels of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma & Maria, and the violence in both Rohingya and Las Vegas. Its hard for me to read about the brutal killing of the messengers and the son of the landowner. And, the response by the crowd that the result of such violence will be a “brutal” death.
I keep thinking things like “those who live by the sword, die by the sword” contemplating climate change and how violent human beings are.
And then I look at where God is. Jesus names the need to be fruitful and abundant. Growth is definitely the opposite of death. God is able to build something out of a stone that we thought was unworthy. There’s something there that is sermon-y.
Funny how much power there is in what we reject. Those things we want no part of, if we don’t admit to them, they still have power over us. So much so, that we have an entire term to discuss this phenomenon “denial.”
Denial of the reality of violence or climate change, makes it so we cannot address and deal with these problems, so they are far more likely to crush.
Perhaps, this is why Jesus says that the stone that is rejected will crush those who do the rejecting. Jesus is powerful if you accept him, but he is also powerful if you deny him. Look what was wrought by his death on the cross as both a traitor and a blasphemer.
It reminds me of a story I heard in Israel, which was the way Jesus’ tomb was discovered was because one of the Emperors (I don’t remember who) put up a sign essentially stating that this was not the place Jesus was buried, and then was resurrected. Ironic that this is now how we know the spot where Jesus was placed.
Isaiah 5: 1-7
When I read verse 7 “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” it calls to mind not only God’s expectations for us, but also our own expectation and what we hope for. We do not want bloodshed to be our fruit, we want justice to be. How often do we really work on justice though? I tend to hear a lot more conversations about fairness or equity, than I hear about justice. When there is great gnashing of teeth in Isaiah, and the vineyard is going to be abandoned to itself, I feel the helplessness of that. I feel the reality that we need God, because we can only approximate justice.
Probably the closest to enacting God’s justice, is when we do human grace.
Exodus 20: 1-4, 7-9, 12-20
God speaks, and it is hard to listen. What is written down sounds like rules, rules, rules, and what we hear is the thunder of God’s voice and we are afraid.
But the voice begins, by speaking at the God who saves us, bringing God’s people out of Egypt and slavery. Moses says God tests us, so we will obey God. The demands for us to consider others and God before ourselves is some of the hardest work that we, as human beings, are called to do.
This leaves me wondering: What is so terrifying about the voice of love?
Psalm 80: 7-15
This Psalmist considers how we are product of replanting. After being ripped from the ground by Isaiah and the greed to keep the harvest for themselves, that all hope is not lost.
The struggle here, as they say, is real. The protective wall has been lost, and the vine (people) have been replanted, and yet the prayer is one of hope for fruitfulness.
This final passage, definitely feels too deep and like too much for me. If I am going to preach on this one, it would probably be the only one. To be honest, I don’t feel that I have the emotional energy to dig deep enough for this reading this week.
This strong reminder that especially when we lose all things, we have Christ. A powerful reminder that goes beyond “thoughts and prayers” Paul writes about how material goods can get in our way, because we can lose our perspective. We can worry more about our things, than people.
Lord what a word to be heard in light of the world events today.
How can we make our priorities be to lie ahead, to focus on Christ and how to be God’s Church and kingdom at such a time as this, instead of getting bogged down. A worthy challenge that I will have to further wrestle with?
How are you right now? Are you feeling yourself to be in a ravaged vineyard? What are your emotions as you write towards Sunday? Where is God’s voice?
P.S. I looked for a picture of a messy vineyard for this post, and didn’t seem to find any that fit. Isn’t that funny that we always depict them as perfect?
Katy Stenta is a solo pastor at a tiny church that is bigger on the inside in Albany, NY for over six years. When she is not dreaming up projects and ideas, some of which creep into the church, she plays with her three boys-boys or goes and visits her husband at the library, while he works, to read.
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