Matthew 21:33-46, Psalm 80: 7-15, Philippians 3:4-14 ELC/ October 4 2020
Press On—Do the Next Right Thing!
This parable is about God’s grace and gifts to us as the people of God in this world. He gives us all we need for daily life, including blessings and gifts that give us joy and pleasure. It is good to recognize and remember that God’s gifts and grace surpass the mundane needs of necessary things for life. God wants us to enjoy and celebrate His presence among us, and to celebrate life. It is good to be grateful!
In this vineyard parable, along with the portion of Psalm 80 we see how we have failed God. That is not breaking news—not a news flash. It is old news. We humans are predictable in our failure to see past ourselves. We are predictable in consuming what we think is ours. We forget we are stewards of God’s gifts, often slipping into the fallacy that God is our servant, doing our bidding, taking care of our every need. Almost like a “Santa Clause god” just waiting for us to make our list of demands and wishes.
This parable helps us see that God continues to care for us even when we rebel and resist His grace and Spirit’s pleading. He speaks to us through His prophets—the Bible. He sends His Son. We are the ones guilty of Jesus’ death on our behalf. When the tenants throw the Son out and kill Him, that is us! We dare not blame Pontus Pilate or the Roman government. We cannot put it off on the Jewish religious leadership. God’s plan all along was to send His Son into the world to save us from our sin, from ourselves, from our greed, hate, bitterness, brokenness—all the things that shatter and ruin the paradise God created for us.
Ours is a broken world. Sometimes we can ignore that, pretending that all is good. Today’s cultural chaos is like a reality check in that regard. To quote an old member from my past “this ain’t heaven yet.”
The psalmist’s cry is also our cry: “Restore us, O God of hosts; let Your face shine, that we may be saved…turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven and see; have regard for this vine…”
On first reading this parable in Matthew it is easy to miss the good news. It sounds like God is angry and disappointed with the whole lot of us, that He is ready to throw us out and give the kingdom to others more deserving. Sometimes the Word of God has to be like a hammer, breaking through our hardheaded, hard heartedness. Sometimes our denial and defensiveness needs to be confronted. Our protective shell must be shattered so we can be humble and teachable. God does give us Jesus—His Son—for the sake of the world, for the life, wellbeing and healing of the world. God gives us Jesus for the sake of saving us and restoring us to a living relationship with Him and with each other.
The Apostle Paul knew all about human righteousness and human efforts to fix our broken world and put everything back in order. He was on top of his game in being religious and spiritual. Yet, he compares all his goodness and righteousness to dung—literally to sewage waste. He’d rather have Jesus and Jesus’ righteousness. He goes on to say that is his goal and aim. That is what he strives for.
Listen again to what he says: “…that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith…I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own.”
All of us can look back and point to regrets and failures. Paul continues, “…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.”
Do not despair. Do not give up or give in. Do not lose hope. Don’t throw in the towel and say what’s the use! Keep keeping on. Stay focused. When the world goes crazy, center yourself on Jesus. Take one day at a time. When you blow it or get confused, do the next right thing. Keep trusting Jesus, following Jesus, loving all those in your life and in our world, without wanting to give in and become like the world in its hatred, anger and despair.
Press on. Do good. Love. Do random acts of kindness.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.