God’s Vineyard (based on Matthew 21:33-46)

Recently a dear member of this congregation asked me if I had read the book, “The Shack,” I quickly replied “No, I haven’t.” She asked me if I would read it, so I told her I would. I must admit I loved the book! // However after reading the book, I couldn’t help but wonder why William Young chose to write this book. // Was he writing about his own encounter with deity? //Had he had his own experiences of seeing but not believing? // Or was he helping us to see that like Mackenzie, the main character in the book, we all sometimes have doubts regarding our faith. //

In today’s gospel text found in the book of Matthew, we hear another story about seeing but not believing. // The religious leaders hear the parable and know the parable, yet they don’t believe Jesus.// In fact, they are upset with Jesus which makes Jesus almost irritate.// It seems to me that these religious leaders are a lot like each one of us.// I’m sure in our own lives we often see but don’t believe just like the religious leaders don’t believe Jesus.// And at the end of the gospel reading, these religious leaders want to kill Jesus but they fear what may happen to them.// Don’t we too often fear what might happen to us especially in regards to our faith lives?//

In the book “The Shack”—(I’ll try not to give away too much)—,” we have this main character, Mack, who is having a hard time understanding why God would take his daughter from him.// Mack has many individuals in his life including his own wife who truly believe in God but Mack still can’t seem to grasp God.// Throughout the book, Mack finds himself encountering God yet he still doesn’t seem to believe…that is until God helps him see what he can’t see and believe! // Has there been a time in your own life when you have had a really hard time believing in something or someone? //

During an election year, it seems to me that we often feel this way. //We watch these overpowering in-your-face political ads coming across our screens almost instantly. These ads have each candidate accusing the other candidate of this and that. // I don’t know about you but I honestly get sick of seeing those ads. // The reality is that for many of us it is extremely difficult to know who to believe in. // We constantly are asking ourselves the question, “Who should we believe in?”// But what I’ve come to realize is the only One we can truly believe in is the One who sent his Son to die for each one of us. // This One is the One who truly helps us to see what we cannot see and believe in. // And this One is the One who truly seeks to open our eyes to a new and different way of seeing!

Throughout the book, Mack is encountering deity which opens him to a new way of seeing.// One of my favorite scenes in the book comes towards the conclusion of the book and is a wonderful example of seeing something in a new light.// Mack is having a conversation with God about his daughter. Mack begins to shed tears and gets frustrated with himself because he, like most men I know, hates having others see him cry.// In the book, God responds by saying these words, “Oh, child,” spoke Papa tenderly. “Don’t ever discount the wonder of your tears. They can be healing waters and a stream of joy. Sometimes they are the best words the heart can speak.”// This conversation continues with Mack and Papa as Papa shows Mack the power of seeing in a new light. //At the end of the conversation, Papa hands a canteen to Mack and comments about Mack not turning into a prune.// At that moment, Mack can’t help but laugh which seems so out of place to him. However Mack realizes that it is perfect…a laugh of hope and restored joy….in the process of closure regarding his daughter’s death. // This interaction is an excellent example of how God can open our eyes to a new and different way of seeing and believing especially when we are blinded to what is right in front of us.// God truly is the One who cares for Mack and each of us just like God cares for the vineyard!

Now as you reflect on your own life, think of the times when you have seen something but have had a hard time believing! // How have those moments helped to strengthen your faith? // Or have they caused you to question your faith even more?

Several months ago, Christian music artist Stephen Curtis Chapman lost his five year old adopted daughter Maria when his son accidentally ran over her with his car. The son did not see Maria running to greet him.// I have a feeling Stephen and the rest of his family especially the son who ran over Maria had a hard time believing, yet they still somehow found a way to continue on with their daily lives.// In fact, a dear friend of mine saw Stephen at his very first concert following his daughter’s death.// My friend talked about how it was a powerfully profound moment especially when Stephen sang his song, “Blessed Be Your Name.”// Stephen sang the song and when he got to the line “sometimes he gives and sometimes he takes away,” he paused and talked about how we have to sing this part with faith!// Stephen and his family, as well as you and I, just like the religious leaders in today’s gospel text still sometimes have a hard time believing in what is right in front of us.// These religious leaders see Jesus yet even though he is directly in front of them, staring right at them, these leaders do not believe him! // However since these leaders don’t believe Jesus, it seems that these religious leaders are a great example of how we need to learn to trust what is right in front of us. // We need to realize that it is not OUR vineyard but God’s vineyard and God is the One who will take care of us particularly when we cannot see what is right in front of us.//

When I worked at Bible camp, we always spent a good majority of our staff training time learning to work together. //Every year that I worked at camp, we found ourselves doing “trust falls.”// Now some of you may wonder what a “trust fall” is, a “trust fall” is when one person stands with their back to a group of individuals and is supposed to blindly fall into the arms of those individuals, trusting that they will catch you. //And if you are brave enough, you fall from a higher place like a picnic table. // It obviously is a huge exercise in trusting in what is right in front of you but for me, it also defines what it means to trust in and believe in what is right in front of me.// I think, the religious leaders in today’s texts need to “trust fall” fully and whole-heartedly into this Jesus who is standing right in front of them!//

When we fully and whole-heartedly “trust fall” into Jesus ourselves, we come to terms with the fact that it is God’s vineyard in today’s parable and not OUR vineyard.// God is the One who will keep us safe.// God is the One who will forgive us when we sin.// God is the One who protects us and keeps us safe from harm.// God is the One who continually cares for our every needs even though we often act like it is our vineyard and not God’s vineyard!// And so when we come to the table to take part in God’s Holy Supper, we are again reminded that God is the One who calls, claims, and cares for each of us as God’s beloved children just like God calls, claims and cares for his vineyard!// So as you take part in God’s holy meal today, remember that you are a part of God’s vineyard that produces plentiful grapes that God has hand-picked and hand-cared for.