A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.
“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?
Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.”
The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”
The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
“The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
First let me say that the passage I just read from Luke is not in the Lectionary.
Obviously, nobody wants to preach on the little message that Jesus offered up, about being rewarded for living a good Christian life by being beaten with fewer blows.
So I’m going to say two things.
The first is, that was the world they lived in. Masters who did not love God had no incentive to NOT beat their servants, or slaves, or anybody else that was subject to their authority. So they understood.
But second, Jesus was NOT saying that would be our reward. What he WAS saying was, if that’s how we act when God gives us a little authority, that’s what we ought to expect, because it’s WRONG.
How do our rules, how do our words, how do our expressions and our attention and our lack of affection beat people down, when they need a hand up?
And when the master returns from a wedding banquet, as he did in the parable last week, will he find us helping people up- and help us more?
Or will he find us pushing people down, and leave us where we are?
Because, you see, we have been given much.
Isaiah described it in a parable: we are a vineyard that is well designed and equipped. We have a wall, we have a tower, we have a press, we have some very fine vines and some sturdy trellises.
To be quite literal:
We have the Good News of Jesus Christ.
We have the powerful message that God loves us, that Jesus died for us, that he rose from the dead, and that we are not alone to face the power of evil in this world.
We have the Bible, and we have the gift of prayer, and we have the testimony of the saints, we have the company of each other, and we have the Holy Spirit- which is Jesus in our hearts.
And we are responsible for doing something with all that-
Which means God wants us to somehow get those things into the lives of those who don’t have them, and are struggling without them.
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor,” Jesus told his disciples in the verses that came before this.
“God looks for justice and righteousness,” Isaiah wrote several centuries before that.
And nothing has changed as to what God wants.
So let’s look at verse 7 of Isaiah:
“The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.”
Justice, and righteousness.
Those are what God wants. I want to talk a little about the first, and a lot about the second.
I was reading a very nice little novel this week, titled “Britt-Marie Was Here,” and it’s set in a village named Borg, somewhere I Europe, a village that has suffered from economic collapse, a village forgotten by its larger neighbors, a village where everybody is struggling.
And there is a policeman named Sven. And one day, Sven broke a rule. A small rule, but a rule nonetheless. He broke the rule, so that he could be of help to someone who need a small favor.
The hero of the book, Britt-Marie, looked at Sven and said, “I thought you were a policeman.”
“I am,” he said.
To which Britt-Marie responded by saying, “I thought policemen were people who were concerned with laws and regulations.
Sven was silent for a moment, and then said, “I guess I am a policeman who is concerned about justice.”
Justice is not about enforcing the law- though sometimes that’s what is needed to bring about justice.
Thursday I took a hike in Glacier National Park, led by a marvelous park ranger named Monica. At the end of the hike, in a meadow at an elevation of about 6100 feet, Monica THOUGHT she saw someone walking off the trail, and trampling some wildflowers- and it was obvious that a lot of people had been doing that. So she said to the man, “I’m going to ask you- next time, don’t walk off the trail.”
As it turns out, he wasn’t- he was standing a drainage ditch that carried water off the trail. So Monica apologized.
Her apology was an act of justice- it evened the balance of their relationship. And her request, of all of us, that we stay on the trail, was an act of justice- a rule that we agreed to abide by, to keep the ecosystem healthy. But her request was tempered with mercy, and respect.
What justice is ABOUT is fixing the tire that’s flat, so all four can get back on the road.
What justice is ABOUT is stopping the bleeding, curing the disease, wiping away the tear, removing the harm, so we can get back to living.
We’ve been given much, and God wants to see justice. But the blood keeps on flowing.
Now the other thing that God wants is a thing called righteousness. It’s word we often use in the church, but hardly ever OUTSIDE of the church, so most of us don’t really know what it means.
But since Isaiah uses it, we need to know what HE meant when he used it, and it goes something like this: a person is righteous if you’re willing to walk beside him, or her.
A person is righteous if you’d trust him to be your partner in a project.
A Jewish bible scholar by the name of Art Katz put it like this: Righteousness in the OT is the fulfillment of the demands of a relationship, whether that relationship be with men or with God…Each of these relationships brings with it specific demands, the fulfillment of which constitutes righteousness…There is no norm of righteousness outside the relationship itself. When God or man fulfills the conditions imposed upon him by the relationship, he is, in OT terms, righteous.”
That’s what God wants- for us to live out faithfully and meaningfully all of our relationships. To take what we’ve been given, and make those things hum.
You see, Peter asked Jesus- “When you told us about being ready, when the master returns- who are you talking to? Us? Or everybody else?
And Jesus answered, “Yes.”
Yes, I’m talking to the church. And Yes, I’m talking to everybody else because I’m talking through YOU.”
So how do we stay ready?
How do we share what we’ve been given?
How do we convert those cries of distress into shouts of joy and songs of gladness?
I think we do it like this: (principle points borrowed from https://www.powerofpositivity.com/5-things-people-integrity-differently/ )
Do what you say you will do
Keep our promises, knowing God will keep God’s.
Stand up for what is right
Don’t assume you always KNOW what is right, and be willing to learn. But when you know- when someone is being pushed down, or shoved aside, or just plain not invited- speak up. Your voice is your best tool for justice.
Look in the mirror and commit to positive change
Part of a healthy level of self-evaluation is looking at whether or not we hold ourselves accountable to the same standards that we hold others to. We cannot be justified in pointing fingers at others when we haven’t cleaned up our own houses first.
Take ownership for solving problems, even when the fault lies elsewhere
Maybe it wasn’t your fault that someone left trash in the hallway, but people with integrity see that there is a problem and take ownership of it anyway. One thing I saw Monica doing was picking up various items of clothing that other people left beside the trail. She put them in her pack, and packed them out, 5 miles back.
Act sooner rather than later
Don’t wait to see if someone else will do the job. Do it now- and if you see someone else doing it, ask if they need help.
And always, always, walk humbly with God. Because we are not in charge- God is.
Can I hear an “Amen!” for that?
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.