08 October 2017

The Vineyard of the Lord of Hosts

The Vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the Church of God, the Kingdom of God on earth.  It is the whole congregation and communion of His people, who are called to be His own, to be holy and perfect like Himself.  He has planted them and provided for them to be a priestly people, offering sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise to the glory of His Name, and serving one another in love.

The wall that He has built around the Vineyard is the Word of His Law, which is the revelation of His good and acceptable will.  Its boundaries and parameters are defined by faith and love.

And the wine press that He dug in the midst of His Vineyard is the holy priesthood, by which He proclaimed and promised the coming of the Christ and administered the means of grace, the sacrifices offered according to His Word, the forgiveness of sins through the shedding of blood.

The tower He established is the Office of the Prophets and Apostles, who preach repentance and forgiveness in the Name of Christ Jesus, the promised Seed of the Woman, the Son of Mary.

Collectively, these three — the wall, the wine press, and the tower — are the Church and Ministry of that same Lord Jesus Christ, from within which the vinegrowers are entrusted with the care of His Vineyard.  That is a sacred stewardship, and so it is required of the stewards that they be found faithful.  They are held accountable to God for the work that He has given them to do.

The vinegrowers include the scribes and the pharisees, entrusted with the teaching of God’s Word; the chief priests and elders, who oversee the administration of the priesthood, the sacrifices, and the Temple; and the Apostles and Prophets, by whom God establishes and builds His Church.

As God cares for His creation and guards and protects His Church through the ministry of the holy angels, so does He call and send these men to serve and care for His Vineyard.  They are men under authority, and they are given authority for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of the forgiveness of sins, by which the Vineyard lives and thrives in His grace, mercy, and peace.

And by His grace, you also are a vine within His Vineyard.  And you are called to bear the fruits of faith and love to the glory of His Name, as you are cultivated and cared for by the Ministry of His Word, by the Law and the Gospel, by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

At the same time, you also are entrusted with a portion of the Vineyard, be it big or small.  And there within your portion, in your own place, you are to cultivate and care for it according to His Word, in order to bring forth the fruits of the Lord, the produce of His Vineyard in due season.

That, too, is a sacred responsibility, a sacred trust or stewardship.  And so it is required, also of you, that you be found faithful within your own proper office and station in life, even unto death.

Bear in mind, therefore, that this Parable was not only spoken against the chief priests and elders of the people, against the scribes and pharisees in Jesus’ day.  It is also put to you as a question and a challenge concerning your faithfulness and fruitfulness within the Vineyard of the Lord.

Have you cared for the portion of His Vineyard that He has entrusted to your stewardship?  Have you regarded it as a sacred trust from God?  Your family.  Your job.  Your studies.  Your place in the community.  Your responsibility to those whom God has placed beside you in the world — Have you cultivated those portions of the Vineyard to the glory of God, in faith before Him and in love for your neighbors, according to the Word of the Lord, doing all that He has commanded?

Or have you rather gone about your work, and gone about your days, seeking and striving for your own glory and benefit in selfishness and self-idolatry?  Have you sought to grow fruits, not for the glory of the Lord your God, but for your own pleasure, for your own satisfaction?

As you are not only given authority and responsibility to do what God has called you to do, but have also been placed under authority, have you received the servants of God and submitted to them in His Name, in the humility of repentance and faith?  Are you willing to be instructed and corrected?  Do you repent of your sins, confess them, and seek the Absolution of the Gospel?

Or do you go your own way?  Do you turn a deaf ear, a cold shoulder, and a hard heart toward the Ministry of the Word of God in favor of your own self-righteousness, relying not on the Gospel, not on the grace of God in Christ, not on the preaching of His Word, but on your own powers and abilities, your own cleverness and ingenuity, your own savvy and hard work?

That may seem commendable to the world.  But when you despise and reject the preaching of Christ, when you neglect and abstain from His means of grace, from the Ministry of His Gospel, then you throw the Son of God out of your place in the world and put Him to death to yourself.

So, too, when you exercise your stewardship of God’s gifts and go about your place in life, not according to His Word in faith and love, but to make a name and a fortune for yourself, to satisfy yourself, to serve your own lusts and desires, to feed your own hunger and passions, you despise the Lord your God, the Owner of the Vineyard, and you assert yourself against His beloved Son.

These two paths, they run together, that is to say, the neglect of the Ministry of the Word of God and the living of life for yourself instead of for His glory and your neighbor’s benefit.  They run together, and they will run you to a wretched end.

Make no mistake about it: The Lord will have His Vineyard cared for and cultivated.  And He will bring forth the fruits thereof to the glory of His holy Name.  So just as surely as the unfruitful vines will be removed from the Vineyard, so will the faithless vinegrowers be removed and replaced.

If you do not care for the portion of the Vineyard that God has entrusted to your care, He will take care of it, because it is His own, but you will be removed from that stewardship.

Repent, therefore, and turn away from all unfaithfulness in your thinking, in your words, and in your actions.  Hear and heed the Word of Christ, and live according to His Word.

It is not a lost or hopeless cause.  It is not too late, not yet.  And it is not beyond your grasp.  For the Word of the Lord is near you, echoing even now in your ears, addressing itself to your heart, and calling you to repentance and to faith in His free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

It is not for you to replant the Vineyard or any portion of it.  It is not for you to lay the foundation of the Church or to build the Kingdom of God.  All of that is the Lord’s doing, and it is done.  It is from Him, and it is His good work, by His grace and mercy.  And it is marvelous in our eyes!

Thus are you called simply to live and to grow wherever the Lord has planted you; and to care for your neighbor, within your portion of the Lord’s Vineyard, with the means provided by the Lord.

For whatever task it is that He has given you to do, whatever He has called you to do, whatever stewardship He has entrusted to you, He has also provided the necessary means to carry it out.  So that you are able to be the husband and the father that God has called you to be.  You are able to be the wife and the mother that God has called you to be.  You are able to be the son or the daughter, the brother or sister, the friend, and the neighbor that God has called you to be.

In Christ Jesus, by grace through faith in Him, you are all that God has called you to be.

Indeed, the Lord provides for His entire Vineyard, so that it grows and thrives, it is fruitful and multiplies and fills the earth.  For the same Stone which the builders rejected — Jesus Christ, the Crucified — He has become the Chief Cornerstone on which the entire Church and the Kingdom of God are established, and upon which they rest and remain, safe and secure, now and forever.

He is likewise the sure foundation of your place within His Kingdom, and of your work and service in that place.  For He is the life and health, the vitality and vigor of His entire Vineyard.

His death on the Cross and the shedding of His blood have atoned for all the sins and failings of the Vineyard from the failure and fall of Adam & Eve in the Garden, even to the close of the age.

Whatever has been missing, whatever has been lacking, whatever has been wrong, His Blood has cleansed, and His death and Resurrection have set right.  Not only as payment for sin; not only as Atonement and Propitiation; but also, in offering Himself unto His God and Father in perfect faith and holy love, His own Body of flesh and blood has become the First Fruits of the Vineyard, which the Lord brings forth to the glory of His Name in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

Everything that Christ has done and accomplished by His Cross is made manifest, and brought to light, and proclaimed to the whole world in His Resurrection from the dead.

So it is that His Cross is now the Wine Press in the midst of the Vineyard, by which and from which He pours out His Blood for the forgiveness of sins, and for life and salvation in Him.

And that same Cross is also the very Tree of Life in the midst of a new and better Garden — the Vine of Life, if you prefer — from which He feeds the whole world with the Fruits of that true Vine, which are His holy Body given for you and His holy, precious Blood poured out for you.

You have been grafted, body and soul, into that true Vine; you are grafted into His side.  Taken as a wild vine, growing and producing nothing but wild, worthless grapes, you have been grafted into the true Vine, Jesus Christ, into His crucified and risen Body.  That is among the many good things that God has done for you in your Holy Baptism.  By water and His Word, He inserted you into the riven side of Christ — He planted you in Him — so that you now live and abide in Him.

Thus do you have life in Him, newness of life in Christ.  And He is fruitful in you.  He truly is.  It is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you, in your heart, mind, and body.  And He bears good fruits in you, after His own kind, that is to say, the fruits of His own Cross and Resurrection.

You are nourished and sustained, as a branch of this one true Vine, by the Word and Spirit of one and the same Lord Jesus Christ.  By the preaching of His Gospel for the forgiveness of all your sins.  By the Holy Communion of His Body and His Blood.

Apart from Him, you can do nothing.  But  you are not apart from Him!  For He has called you and gathered you to Himself.  He has united you to Himself, and He has bound Himself to you.  He cultivates and cares for you here within His Church, in order to preserve you, alive and well, within His Vineyard.  And He goes with you from here — with His Word in your ears, in your heart, and in your mouth, and with His Body and His Blood in your body, animating your flesh and blood.

As you go back to your job, as you go back home to your family, as you love and serve your wife, as you love and serve your husband, as you honor your father and mother, as you love and care for your children, and as you tend to the needs of your neighbors, Christ goes with you all the way.

This Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and of St. Mary, has accomplished and fulfilled everything that God intended for His Vineyard.  He has become the great and merciful High Priest of His priestly people.  He has rendered Himself as the Sacrifice of Atonement for all sins, and so also as the Sacrifice of Thanksgiving, as the Eucharist, for the communion of His Church with God.

Far from the wrecking of His plans and purposes, His Cross and Passion, His Crucifixion, and His death have been the full realization of His Glory and His Grace as the true God in the flesh.  For in this way He has saved the world and reconciled the world to His own God and Father in heaven.

In His fruitfulness of faith and love, by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead, not only are you fruitful within your own vocation, but you are actually among those good fruits that Christ Jesus bears and produces and offers to His Father.  He bears you to His God and Father, and you are received as a dearly beloved and well pleasing child of God in Him, unto the life everlasting.

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

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