07 April 2019

The Lord's Redemption of His Vineyard

Those who first heard the Parables of Jesus knew and understood that the Vineyard signified the people of God, His Holy Church.  The children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were the Vineyard of the Lord of Hosts, planted in the good Land He had promised and given.  And you also have been planted in His Vineyard — you are a member of His Church — by your Baptism into Christ.

Accordingly, the Lord your God does look for produce from your life and labors in this world.  He looks to find in you the fruits of faith and love, which are the good works He has prepared for you to do within your calling to the glory of His Holy Name and for the benefit of your neighbors.

And yet, how little and how few are the fruits that you bear and bring forth in your life on earth.  Even at your best, you do no more than your duty.  And with St. Paul you must confess that all of your works and efforts of self-righteousness are rubbish and refuse, fit only for the manure pile.

Now, the care and cultivation of the Lord’s Vineyard, His Church on earth, has been entrusted to the stewardship of His called and ordained ministers.  By the preaching and teaching of His Word and the faithful administration of His Holy Sacraments, they are to nurture the Vineyard of the Lord of Hosts, to guard and keep it in His Name, and thereby to bring forth fruits which praise and glorify Him.  They are accountable to the Lord for their faithfulness and failures in this calling.

But as for you, the faithfulness and failures of the Lord’s ministers do not exonerate or excuse you for your own failures, for your lack of fruits, your lack of faith and love within your own callings and stations in life, which the Lord requires and expects from you as part of His Vineyard.

Not only that, but you also have been entrusted with a portion of the Lord’s Vineyard, which you are to care for and cultivate in accordance with His Word.  Whether that portion be small or great, you are responsible and held accountable for your stewardship of that portion of the Vineyard.

You are to care for your neighbor, and to serve your neighbor, in whatever place and position the Lord has stationed you on earth.  If you are a husband and father, you are to care for your wife and children.  If you are a wife and mother, you are to care for your husband and family.  As a child, you are to honor your father and mother, and you are to love and help your brothers and sisters.

Wherever you live in this world, you are to look to your neighbors and be attentive to their needs.  Whatever your job may be, you are to serve your employer and your employees, your clients and your customers.  As a citizen, you have responsibilities to your country and your community.

In each and all of these different stations in life, you have been entrusted with a portion of the Lord’s Vineyard.  And you are accountable to Him for the way you carry out that stewardship.

It is not only a matter of money, although the way you manage and use money certainly is one part of your stewardship.  Nor is it only a matter of what you give and do for the Church, although you do have responsibilities within your congregation, and you are to support the Ministry of the Word of God.  Beyond those basic aspects of your Christian stewardship, you are to use whatever talents and resources the Lord has placed into your hands to glorify His Name and to serve your neighbor.  Whatever you possess in this world, whatever the Lord has provided, it is not only for the purpose of preserving your own body and life, but for the benefit of those He has placed alongside of you.

Now, as you have heard, the scribes and the chief priests recognized that Jesus spoke this Parable against them, against their sins and failings, against their unfaithfulness.  But in response, sadly, they did not repent.  Instead, they sought to kill the One who exposed their sins.  What about you?

Do you recognize yourself in this Parable?  And will you repent of your own sins and failings?

St. Luke did not record this Gospel in order that you should sit in judgment of the scribes and chief priests of Jesus’ day, but in order that you should recognize your own sins and so repent of them; that you should flee to Christ Jesus in faith for the forgiveness of your sins and newness of life.

The fact is that you have not brought forth the good fruits that you should from the portion of the Vineyard entrusted to your care and keeping.  You fail to bear such fruits because you do not tend to your callings and stations in life with the Word of the Lord.  You are lax.  You are irresponsible.  You are chiefly concerned for yourself and for your own ambitions, rather than for your neighbor and his needs.  Even your closest neighbors in this life too often receive your attention only if and when there is something in it for you, something at stake, or something to be gained.

And as for those whom the Lord sends to you in His Name and stead — to speak His Word of the Law and the Gospel to you, to call you to repentance and faith, and by His Word to cultivate good fruits in your life and in your portion of the Vineyard — you do not heed or honor them as the servants of the Lord, but in many and various ways (sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious) you reject them and their preaching, and you send them away empty-handed.

You falsely suppose that your body and life are your own to do with as you like; that your job and your income are your own; that your talents and opportunities are all your own, and that you can therefore do whatever you want with them.  You do not recognize or acknowledge that everything you are and all that you have belongs to the Lord your God.  It is all a sacred trust, a stewardship of His property.  Whatever He puts in your hands, it is not for your own selfish gain at the expense of others; it is for the glory of God and for the benefit of others.  You have whatever you have in this body and life for the sake of loving and serving your neighbors in the Name of the Lord.

But instead, because you imagine that what you have in your hands is your own, you seek to hold on to it and to possess it for yourself.  All of your temptations and sins ultimately derive from this covetous idolatry, whereby you worship yourself and refuse to fear, love, and trust in the Lord.

Consequently, it is as though your every sin of thought, word, and deed is a big stone that you pick up and heft in your hand and hurl at the beloved Son of God.

It is your sins that have killed Him.  It is your transgressions that have wounded Him.  It is for your iniquities that He is put to death outside of His own Vineyard.  But do you not fear the Lord your God in all of this, considering that He suffers the condemnation that you deserve?

Do not deceive yourself into thinking that the Lord of the Vineyard is impotent, that He is unable to deal with you or His Vineyard.  Do not suppose that He is far away and not looking; that He is unaware of your wickedness; that He does not know the sinful intentions of your heart and mind; that He does not hear your sinful words of anger and hatred, your blasphemy and proud boasting; and that He does not observe your sinful actions.  He is aware and well able to act (and He does).

The Lord will not suffer His beloved Vineyard to be neglected and abused.  He will not leave it in the hands of those who would wring it dry for their own selfish benefit and profit.  He will destroy such tenant vine-growers, and He will entrust the stewardship of His Vineyard to others.

That is the clear judgment and terrifying work of His holy and righteous Law, which condemns you for your sins and does not leave you to your own devices but sentences you to death.

But precisely here emerges the great irony and paradox of the Christian faith and life, the Mystery of the Vineyard.  Here is the New Thing which God accomplishes, which He has had in mind from before the foundation of the world and now brings to fulfillment in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son.

The Lord never has been powerless to help and keep His Vineyard, to prosper and preserve it.  This story has never been outside of His control, for He remains the Author of all things.  His apparent naïveté and foolishness in sending the beloved Son to the Vineyard, to His death, is the way and means by which the Lord has redeemed and restored His recalcitrant Vineyard, yourself included.

It is by His innocent suffering and death, by His holy and precious Blood, that He has redeemed or bought back His own Vineyard for Himself.  Not in any selfishness or greed, but in divine Love.  He seeks to retain and cultivate His Vineyard, not because of any need or lack in Him, but for the sake of sinners such as you — for unproductive branches and unfaithful workers like yourself — in order to save you from your sin and death, to care for you and cultivate you in His grace, mercy, and peace, that you should live and grow and thrive in Him and bear abundant fruit in His Name.

So it is that, when the Lord Himself, the Son of God, is crucified, put to death, and buried, He is thereby planted in the ground as the true Vine.  And in His Resurrection from the dead He bursts forth from the earth, a vigorous, healthy, and productive Vine.  His own Body of flesh and blood is a living and life-giving Vine, firmly rooted and anchored in the living and life-giving Tree of His Cross, whereby He bears and brings forth all the fruits of faith and love that God requires, first of all for the benefit and healing of His Vineyard, and then also for the glory of His Vineyard.

It is the Lord Jesus Christ who does it all.  He is the One who cares for His Vineyard and causes it to be fruitful and productive.  For He is the Vine at the heart and center of the Vineyard, who sprouts and grows in the New Creation of His Resurrection.  So does He produce good fruits to the glory of His God and Father and for the benefit of you and all His neighbors.  And everything that He produces is credited to you, as your very own, and to His Church, to all those who believe and are baptized in His Name, all by His grace alone through the Word and work of His Gospel.

For that reason, though you are put to death for your sins, and you are crushed and destroyed by the Law of the Lord, you are not left to be scattered as dust and ashes to the four winds, but you are raised up from the dust of the ground, gathered together, and planted in Christ, grafted into the true Vine, so that you should thereby rise and emerge in and with Him unto the Life everlasting.

When you are crucified, put to death, and buried with Him by your Baptism into His death, and by daily contrition and repentance, that is where and how you are bound to Him and grafted into His crucified and risen Body.  Therefore, in the very midst of death, you find and receive your life in Him — and health and strength and every good — by faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.

It is likewise from His Cross, by and with the Fruits of His Cross, His Body given and His Blood poured out for you, that He feeds and nurtures you in the one true faith.  Not only does He thereby forgive you all your sins, but He also enlivens and sanctifies your body and soul, your heart, mind, and spirit, unto the righteousness of faith and the holiness of life and love in the presence of God.

The Lord does all of this in His love for you, because you are His very own, purchased and won by His Blood and baptized in His Name.  You belong to His Vineyard by His grace.  And because He is intent on caring for His Vineyard, so is He intent on caring for you.  And so He does.

As a worker in His Vineyard, you often fail and fall short, you sin every day and deserve nothing but punishment.  But as a branch of the true Vine, you are preserved in His safety and peace, and you are well supplied with grace and every blessing.  So it is that you are also a productive branch of that holy Vine, because He is faithful, and He is fruitful both for you and in you, and so also through you for others, for your family, for your neighbors, for your community and your church.

The very One whom you have wounded with your transgressions and cast out by your sins, He has made Atonement for you by His willing Sacrifice and the shedding of His Blood upon the Cross.  And by His Resurrection from the dead He now justifies you with His own righteousness through the Ministry of His Holy Gospel, whereby you also are raised up from death to Life in His Body.

Indeed, His crucified and risen Body has become the strong and solid Root, the steadfast Anchor, and the sturdy Vine from which the entire Vineyard lives and grows in holy faith and holy love.  Therefore, you also live and grow and thrive and flourish in Christ Jesus, in the Vineyard of the Lord of Hosts.  This is the Lord’s own doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes!

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

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