Sunday October 4, 2020 Pentecost 17

First Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7

1Let me sing for my beloved
  my love-song concerning his vineyard:
 My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.
2He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines;
 he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it;
 he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.

3And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah,
 judge between me and my vineyard.
4What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?
 When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

5And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard.
 I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured;
 I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
6I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed,
  and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
 I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

7For 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!

Psalm: Psalm 80:7-15

7Restore us, O God of hosts;
  let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.
8You have brought a vine out of Egypt;
  you cast out the nations and planted it.
9You cleared the ground for it;
  it took root and filled the land.
10The mountains were covered by its shadow
  and the towering cedar trees by its boughs. 
11You stretched out its tendrils to the sea
  and its branches to the river.
12Why have you broken down its wall,
  so that all who pass by pluck off its grapes?
13The wild boar of the forest has ravaged it,
  and the beasts of the field have grazed upon it.
14Turn now, O God of hosts,
  look down from heaven;
15behold and tend this vine;
  preserve what your right hand has planted.

Second Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14

 [Paul writes:] 4bIf anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
  7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
  12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, 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, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Gospel: Matthew 21:33-46

 [Jesus said to the people:] 33“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41They said to him, “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.”
  42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:
 ‘The stone that the builders rejected
  has become the cornerstone;
 this was the Lord’s doing,
  and it is amazing in our eyes’?
43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
  45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  Today I want to tell you the story behind a favorite hymn of mine, My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less.  Edward Mote, 1797-1874, the author, is one of the few hymn writers who was not a theologian, a pastor.  He was raised by parents running a pub in England and trained to be a cabinetmaker.  At age 15 he became a Christian but it was not until age 55 that he became a pastor, already having a successful career.  In his 21 year career as a pastor, he wrote 100 hymns but this was his most favorite.  He a dream driving this creation. 

         He shared,  “One morning it came into my mind as I went to labour, to write an hymn on the ‘Gracious Experience of a Christian.’ As he went up to work he figured out the chorus,
                  On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
                  All other ground is sinking sand.

“The next Sunday [Mote] visited the home of some fellow church members where the wife was very ill. The husband informed Mote that it was their custom on the Lord’s Day to sing a hymn, read the Bible, and pray together. Mote produced the new hymn from his pocket, and they sang together for the first time.”
         Pr. Mote had a story he wanted to tell inspired by the parable about the security of building a house on rock, as opposed to sand and that hymn, set to a simple foot-stomping tune, formed a hymn of faith that over the generations has proved useful and comforting to many in their daily spiritual journey.

SERMON

In today’s text Jesus uses a very common symbol for God’s people. We are God’s garden, his vineyard.  The Old Testament reading and the Psalm reinforce the parable and the truth that we are God’s design, God’s creation, God’s property.  God is the owner and we are expected to produce fruit.  There will be a day when rent is due, an accounting day, and the care-givers, presumably the priests and pastors will be called to account.  We can glean some basic truth from th image of the vineyard.

         Life is not random.  You notice God did not just buy some ole vineyard and decide to fix it up, renovate it.  God had a plan in mind. 

  • He put a fence of protection around the vineyard.  We would understand that to be the law.  The law is designed to protect us from murder, from slander, from disrespect and so much more.  But we perceive the law as something inhibiting us from doing our wants and fight with the law.
  • God put a winepress in his vineyard because his desire was that the vineyard flourish and produce grapes.  Death and destruction and illness are not part of his plan for our lives.  Suffering is not God’s plan for his people.
  • God also put a watchtower in his garden.  God did not leave the garden to grow according to its own ideas but the watchtower had people who guarded and warned the garden of danger.  

Our life has purpose, has protection, should be productive and has a warning system installed to tell us of danger.  The purpose of the vineyard is not its own pleasure.  Life is not meant to be lived randomly by the impulse of the moment.

         BUT…  But … something has gone wrong. Those taking care of the garden began to think the vineyard was theirs.  We begin to think our life is our own and we want to live it our way.  We do not want to answer to an owner who is distant and whom we cannot see.  The people in charge of the vineyard abuse servants, prophets, sent to warn of danger and even kill the son, a prediction of Christ’s death.  The religious system was not functioning as God had planned.  Life is corrupted by war, by poverty, by power systems…so many systemic problems that we are presently debating in our presidential debates.  Something is wrong and who can fix it best?  We know this conversation.  Our presidential debate focused on who can best fix the problems of America and give us the good life!

         Leadership will be held accountable.  Jesus tells this parable to say that caretakers will be held accountable.  The owner will not be defeated.  As unjust as life seems, there will be justice someday.  The priests and scribes realized Jesus was talking about them.  They do not repent and seek forgiveness but seek to find ways to arrest and eliminate Jesus.  It is true for us too.  Our choice is to repent under God, not depose him.  God has a plan, something is wrong, and there will be an accounting.  So how do we find hope?  Where is the hope in this parable? 

         Jesus continues with a second image of a “cornerstone. “ Jesus switches from the image of a vineyard to the image of a building.  Now if you are around my husband very long you will hear him share about Teddy Roosevelt laying the cornerstone of RVA, Rift  Valley Academy, his boarding school he attended through high school in Kenya. In 1909 Teddy Roosevelt, former president of the United States, went on a hunting safari in Kenya and while there laid a cornerstone on the main building being erected for missionary children to get an education.  That cornerstone is still there today.  Why is that cornerstone, or any cornerstone, important?  Webster’s dictionary gave me some clues.

A cornerstone is a stone uniting two masonry walls at an intersection.

Intersection.  RVA is where two worlds meet.  Children raised in Africa are socialized at RVA and hopefully prepared to go to college in the United States, or their home country. The cornerstone is an intersection, a place where two worlds smeet.  The church stands at the intersection of the holy and the secular.  God specifically meets us here and the church is where we train our children and new people in spiritual matters.  God’s vineyard is designed to be an intersection between the world and God.  When we live life by our own ideas and do not acknowledge God, we are building a house with one wall, no corners.  We are building on sand.  We refuse our purpose and we stand in rebellion to the vineyard owner, God.

A cornerstone is a stone representing the nominal starting place in the construction of a monumental building, usually carved with the date and laid with appropriate ceremonies.

RVA is connected to a known historical event and important person, President Theodore Roosevlet and 1909, ie RVA was “seen” and dated in history.  We memorialize the day when we come into relationship with God.  It’s a special day when we become “seen.”  One of our sacred ceremonies is baptism.  We believe God sends the Holy Spirit and public testimony is made of a relationship and a plan for the future.

         Remember the movie a couple years back, Avatar, where the alien people met the other with the greeting of pointing at the person and saying, “I see you,” in the same way we say “hello.”  But the meaning was different.  It carried more the sense of being known to the core of your being. The connection with the famous president gives the sense that this school of now 500 students from all over Africa is not just any ole school but is a school “seen”, visible, important.  God lays his cornerstone on the garden of our lives of our church, of our families and we are not just another group but God sees us to our very core.

         The cornerstone marks the start of a building, of a project.  God puts his cornerstone on our lives because there is a plan and a purpose.  Baptism or perhaps conversion is not the end product but the beginning of a life long project.  We are not living randomly, tossed and turned by the fortunes of life.  It may feel that way during times of struggle and suffering but we must never forget we are seen, not by Teddy Roosevelt who is long dead, but by the God of the universe who cares about what happens to us.  He is working in our lives.

A cornerstone is something that is essential, indispensable, or basic.

I have heard the explanation that the cornerstone is that stone in the middle of an arch that holds the two sides in proper tension so the arch does not collapse. It’s what keeps the whole system in balance.  When our lives are out of balance, it is often because we have lost focus in our faith.  We have forgotten our cornerstone that keeps us balanced in all situations. 

         Jesus talks about how we stumble on the cornerstone.  We struggle with God’s ownership and claims of Christ on our lives.  As I have said many times, it is not easy to forgive, to share, to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile.  It is not easy to repent, to admit our need for God.  Faith is not like Coca Cola, “Try it, you’ll like it.”  Faith is hard work but so is marriage and so are jobs.  Putting Jesus in the center of our lives, is a call to turn from self centered wants to God centered ways.  It fights against our human self centeredness and breaks us.  We call it repentance.  We fall on our knees seeking forgiveness.  As God’s vineyard, we will be broken even as the sod is broken up in Spring, rocks will be removed, fertilizer will be added.  That can only happen well if Christ is our cornerstone, essential and indispensable, basic to our lives

Lastly, a cornerstone is the chief foundation on which something is constructed or developed.

Do you remember singing the song, ”They Will Know We are Christians by Our Love” ?  When we call ourselves Christians we are declaring some basic truths upon which our lives are built, that are key, the cornerstone, of our decision making process.  We want to live like Christ and not like Caesar.  We want the kingdom of heaven to intersect with this world and change it to God’s values.  We want growth into a people that glorifies God.  Christ is essential, not a Sunday habit, but an element in our life that permeates our reality.

         I close today by bowing my head and sharing the words of: “On Christ the solid rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand.”

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness

I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name

On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils his lovely face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, his covenant, his blood
Supports me in the ‘whelming flood
When all around my soul gives way
He then is all my hope and stay

On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand

All other ground is sinking sand .

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