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Sunday, October 2, 2011

You're Gonna Get It

Today’s texts feature God as the vineyard-owner, frustrated because the vineyard and his tenants do not produce good fruit and do not return the produce back to God. We unfortunately find ourselves in place of the wicked tenants, but in Christ’s death and resurrection we are given Christ’s righteousness to share.

Vicar Erik Doughty, Ordinary Time, Sunday 27, year A; texts: Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-15, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46

You’re gonna get it!

Perhaps you’ve heard that phrase? It’s what many of us heard to let us know we were in trouble, and punishment was soon to come.

Well, in today’s readings we hear that there’s trouble. Isaiah speaks of a grieved and frustrated God, a vine-grower and winemaker who does lots of difficult work-- cultivating, removing stones, choosing just the right vines and planting them, building a watchtower to protect this special place; “hewing out a wine vat” for the fine wine that would surely result.

But inexplicably, the grapes that grow are wild; the fruit produced by these unruly vines is small, bitter. God was looking for mishpat (justice) but got mishpah (bloodshed); God wanted to hear of tzedekah (righteousness) but heard wailing, an outcry (tze’akah).

And Isaiah says, “You’re gonna get it!”

In our Gospel for today, the landowner plants a very similar vineyard to the one in Isaiah, but this time trusts his tenants to take care of it. But when harvest comes, the tenants keep beating, stoning, and killing the landowner’s slaves. Time after time, the landowner tries, and each time there’s murder and mayhem.

So finally this persistent landowner sends his son. He says, “They will respect him.” But again the landowner is mistaken, the tenants are even more greedy and violent, and the son is killed.

Jesus says to the people, “What do you think happens to the tenants?”

And the people say, “Ooo, they’re gonna get it!”

Jesus says,”Watch out for this cornerstone-- you might trip, or it might fall on you. And then you’re gonna get it!”

How fortunate for us that we avoid bloodshed, war, capital punishment. How fortunate for us that we have found peaceful solutions to gang violence.

How fortunate for us that we live in righteousness; that we pay workers enough to live; that we provide health care for all in our society; that we have eradicated hunger and homelessness.

How fortunate for us that we love one another without exception; that we do not covet control or power; that we live holy lives and never cuss when we’re cut off on the highway or hurt by one another.

And how fortunate for us that we give unhesitatingly of the landowner’s produce, eh?

OK, we’re not really all fortunate in all those ways, are we?

Unfortunately, we find ourselves pretty klutzy around that cornerstone. Unfortunately, we find that at least some of the time, we’re wild vines producing bitter grapes. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in the company of greedy tenants, of Pharisees and chief priests.

Jesus is preaching on the way to the cross, and in Holy Week-- though this is months from now-- we will unfortunately find our voice among the crowds, first shouting “Hosanna” . . . but then, with our finite and fickle nature, crying “Crucify him!”

You see, we’re gonna fall on that stone and break. We’re gonna get it.

We’re gonna be caught by that landowner. We’re gonna get it.

We’re expecting the worst. Because we’ve killed the Son, we’ve failed to bear fruit, we’ve not given back to the landowner.

And we know we’re gonna get it because we know how this works. If you anger or hurt someone with power over you, they come back and punish you. It’s human nature.

But it is not. God’s. nature.

God’s nature is to love, and so God tries over and over again to reach us with grace.

God’s nature is to be merciful, and so God works through every means available to bring mercy to our lives.

God’s nature is to give life, not death, and so God gives life to us and all living things in creation, through the Holy Spirit.

In fact, God’s interest in life is so intense, God overcomes death in the death and resurrection of his son Jesus Christ-- Jesus Christ, the firstfruits of them that sleep (1 Cor. 15:20).

In Christ’s death and resurrection it is Christ who chooses to be crushed FOR US; it is Christ who falls FOR US; It is Christ who takes our wild-vine, bitter-fruit rebelliousness and defensiveness. It is Christ who is raised FOR US; and when he is raised WE are given His righteousness. It is not us grabbing it, it is Christ offering it. Christ knows we are wild fruit; Christ is good fruit for us and for all.

What we know in Christ is that our sins are forgiven, for Jesus’ sake.

What we know in Christ is that our righteousness is not our own; it is a gift.

What we know in Christ is that our inheritance of faith and grace is not our own; it comes from God as gift.

What we know in Christ is that holiness and wholeness is beyond us and yet for us.

Now that we are in Christ, we are given good-grape-iness! Now that we are in Christ, we who knew ourselves as greedy tenants are given Christ’s goodness, graciousness, generosity and righteousness.

Well . . . so what? Now what?

This is where we have opportunity. The vineyard bears plentiful fruit; we can share with the landowner, with this Christian community at Mount Olive, with those in need in this neighborhood and around the world.

This is where we have opportunity. The world cries out in pain; we can be compassionate-- with a listening ear, a helping hand, even in crafting public policy.

This is where we have opportunity. The world is full of bloodshed and conflict; we can seek peace-- between nations; between family members; between Crips and Bloods and Latin Kings, Democrats and Republicans, and with each other in the sharing of the peace.

This is where we have opportunity. The world is thirsty for life; we can offer the cup of salvation. It is given for you: faith, forgiveness, blessing, and life.

See, you’re gonna get it.

You’ve already got it.

Now you -- and I -- get to give it -- grace, justice, and the love of Christ-- away. Amen.

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