13 March 2016

By His Anguish in the Vineyard

So, what portion of His Vineyard has the Lord entrusted to your care and keeping?  How would He have you tend it?  And what are the fruits that He would gather and receive from your hand?

Give attention to those duties of your calling, in thanksgiving to the Lord your God for all His grace and loving kindness.  And do not reject or wound His servants, whom He sends to you in His long-suffering patience in order to care for you with His Word and to bring forth the fruits of faith and love in you by His preaching of repentance and forgiveness.

And do not despise or destroy the beloved Son, though He comes to you in frailty and weakness by the way and means of His Cross and Passion.  Rather, count all your pride and prizes, all the world and everything in it, as nothing but refuse, that you should know and love Christ Jesus and the power of His Resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering.  Die to yourself and to your sins, in order to be conformed to His death and to attain to the resurrection of the dead in Him.

Be aware that nothing on earth is what it seems to your sinful eyes, heart, and mind.  For you are prone to call good evil, and to call evil good.  Thus do the deep waters drown you, and the desert destroys you with its heat.  And yet, this perishing world appears prosperous and promising to you, while the Cross seems only painful and impoverished, impotent and useless to your goals.

So it is that, in your selfish desperation to gain the world and avoid the Cross, you lay the Cross of your sin and death upon the Lord Jesus Christ.

But what do you suppose that you will achieve and accomplish by that strategy?  And what will the results actually be?

I tell you the truth, that when this Stone you have rejected falls on you, it will crush you into dust and scatter you to the four winds.  One way or the other, you will perish to yourself and to all your lofty aspirations.  For if you exalt yourself, you will be humbled by the Lord.

But now, then, do not stumble, and do not fall, but be broken by the Cross, crucified, dead, and buried to yourself, in order to be raised up from the dead with Christ, the beloved Son.  For when you are humbled in repentance, you are exalted by God to life in Him.

You see, again, that nothing is the way that it appears to be.

The Vineyard is not really yours, nor any portion of it.  Your place in life and all that you possess are a stewardship, a sacred trust of Another’s property.  Yet, the Owner of the Vineyard, the Lord your God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth, desires to give you all good things.

He is not driven by selfishness and greed, as you are, but solely by His own divine and holy Love.  Even in seeking fruits from you, He does not take, but He gives it to you all by grace.

The beloved Son has come, therefore, not to rob you or destroy you, but to hand Himself over to death, in order to redeem both the Vineyard and you, to give life to you and all His creatures.

Your strategy to grab and take and keep for yourself is disastrous.  It will not work but leads to your destruction.  But what you perceive to be a threat, is really a promise and a gift of God.

It is true that the Cross crushes and kills you.  But bear in mind that it has also crushed Christ into the dust of the earth; not because He was overcome and defeated, but because He gave Himself freely in love, in fulfillment of His Father’s good and gracious will for the salvation of the world.

Therefore, the soil, the dirt, and the whole Vineyard is cleansed and healed and renewed by His Blood.  That is what His Atonement is and does.  The Life of God is in His Blood, which He pours out for the life of the world.

So also is He risen from the dead, and all of Creation is made brand new in His Resurrection.  The Vineyard is fruitful with this crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.  His Body is the Firstfruits of a great harvest, which God brings forth to the glory of His Name and for the benefit of the nations.

His rejection by men is God’s laying of the Cornerstone, upon which He establishes the Temple of His Body, the beautiful walls of His true Jerusalem, and the Paradise of His Promised Land.  This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous indeed, as the eyes of faith perceive in the preaching of the Gospel of Christ.  For the Redemption of His Cross, the Righteousness of His Resurrection, and the reconciliation of God and man in His Body, constitute the sure foundation of His Church and the vitality of His Vineyard, wherein you live and thrive by faith in His forgiveness of sins.

This work of the beloved Son, crucified and risen from the dead, is the Way that God the Lord has made for you through the deep waters and the raging flood.  His Body is the fountain and source of the life-giving Water that He provides for you in the desert.  His Word is your Highway, and the Holy Spirit whom God the Father pours out generously upon you through Jesus Christ your Savior is the River of Life that sustains you through the wilderness all the way into Canaan.

Which is why everything else that you have ever prized or valued, good, bad, or otherwise — all your treasures, best efforts, righteous deeds, crafty plans, and whatever else you have lived for — is all gladly given up and let go for the sake of Christ Jesus.

But what does that mean for you?  Not a big garage sale.  Not that you must liquidate your stuff and live in deliberate poverty.  But that you do have a brand new heart and mind, a new attitude and spirit, and a new way of tending and caring for the Vineyard.

Whatever you have, whatever stewardship you are given, use it in love for your neighbor.  And in all that you do, offer up the fruits of praise, the sacrifice of thanksgiving to your God and Father in heaven.  Live and rejoice before Him in Christ, come hell or high water against you.  Persist in prayer, and bear the Cross in patience and peace, by the grace and power of His Holy Spirit.

Beloved of God, lay hold of Christ Jesus by faith in His Gospel, in His means of grace, that is, His Word and Sacraments, no matter what that may cost or require of you.  For He alone is your life and salvation.  Suffer and die with Him, for His Name’s sake, that you may rise and live with Him.

That is to live as your Baptism indicates.  It is to bear the fruits of Christ and His Cross, even as you partake of His Body and Blood, the Fruits of His Cross and Passion in the Holy Communion.

Press on toward the goal, which is life in Christ.  Not by your own righteousness and efforts, far less by your sins, but by His grace alone, through faith in His free and full forgiveness of your sins.

How shall you pursue that goal?  How do you press forward, onward, and upward?  By hearing and heeding the Word of the Gospel, by repenting of your sins and receiving the Sacrament in faith, and by relying on your Lord, who draws near to serve you and help you through His servants.  As He has lived for you, even unto death, and as He ever lives to intercede for you before the throne of God in His Resurrection and Ascension, so does He live in you by His Word and Holy Spirit.

Lay hold of Him here, therefore, as He lays hold of you in love, in mercy and compassion.

You are not cast away from His presence as you deserve, nor are you scattered like the dust.  For you are chosen by God in Christ Jesus, and you are called from death to life everlasting in Him.  Here are the Streams in the desert, which flow for you in peace.  And here are the Fruits of the true Vine, given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Here at His Altar is the Chief Cornerstone upon which the Lord your God has built His Church, so that you may live.  Taste and see the way things truly are; that Christ is good, and He is yours.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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