A Message for World Communion Sunday — Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Matthew 21:33-46
Are you a rule-follower? That’s something I never put into that language until one educator described one of his kids as that. Around 1988 I spent my summer on a short-term mission trip in the Philippines. Manila was my home-base. It was culture shock to the max. I was a country girl in the city, besides all the other differences that the culture offered. Another difference that I noted and put into words was, rules were made to be broken. That probably didn’t describe all the people, but, for instance, I would observe someone smoking right in front of a “No Smoking” sign. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t that US citizens were better “rule followers,” but that I was a rule follower, and my circle of friends were rule followers—and in my narrow community, I saw the US as rule followers. I am older and wiser now. If anything should open our eyes to how much we are NOT rule followers it is the dissonance in our nation that the pandemic has caused. Some say we have at least two pandemics: that of COVID-19 and that of racism. COVID-19, we are in disagreement whether to mask or not mask; we fight over what authority the state governor has; and there are those who even disagree that there is a pandemic. Then, racism. Shall we defund police? Who is held responsible for these deaths of black men and women? And we search deeper asking what injustice and inequality is harbored in our own souls.
In our passage today we have tenants of a vineyard who do not want to follow the rules. They do not want to give the owner of the land his due—they want to keep it all for themselves. Even when the vineyard owner sends his own son, thinking they will respect him, they kill him—killing the one who, after the death of the vineyard owner, will inherit the vineyard. Killing the owner’s son, they plot saying, “This is the heir; let’s take his inheritance for our own.” In reality, no court would award the property, the vineyard, to those who have murdered.
Our Old Testament reading gives a list of rules. This passage is commonly known as the 10 Commandments. This is the Law of our God, given to the people of God. How are you at rule-keeping when it comes to these commands of God? No raising of hands. But you may search your soul as I read down through these once again. And as I do, if you have sinned in the past and you have asked for God’s forgiveness, know that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8.1). I read these for our present-day reflection, for we are all God’s good creation, in the process of being honed more and more into his likeness.
The 10 Commandments (NIV):
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
This Law is given to keep and to protect. The Law is given to bring peace to our souls and in our relationships—our relationship with God and our relationship with one another. The Law is given that we might enjoy life to the fullest. The Law is given because God knows what is best for us; because God knows us better than we know ourselves.
I have looked at these passages through the eyes of the people, the vineyard tenants, the people of God. We don’t want to see ourselves as the vineyard tenants, but this is the parallel as the lectionary has paired these readings.
Now let us look at God—the giver of the Ten Commandments, but more specifically in our parable today as the vineyard owner.
As the vineyard owner, probably at the first hearing of this parable, we would cry out, why did the vineyard owner send his own son! Did he not learn by now, how wicked these tenants are? Did he not see how they have no respect for life? And they have shown no respect for the vineyard owner, so why would they respect his own son?
Many of us would look at this vineyard owner as foolish. Foolish to have sent his son. Foolish to have given the tenants chance after chance to come clean and do what is required—to give a share of the crop, as this land does not belong to them.
Let me share another Scripture about foolishness from 1 Corinthians 1 …
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God … 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles … 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
The foolishness of the cross.
Is this vineyard story a story of God, Jesus, and humankind? Humanity rejected the word of the prophets. Humanity rejected Jesus Christ, and cried out for his crucifixion. And he was/he is crucified. But that is not the end of the story, he does not remain dead, buried in a grave, but is raised again to life that we might have life. Paul says this is foolishness.
How can life come through death?
Those who look for an eloquent speech, an eloquent word … it is not found in the preaching of the cross.
And today, are we found foolish or faithful?
Do we foolishly follow the 10 Commandments?
Do we foolishly follow the summation, the fulfillment of the commands as Jesus instructs, “Love God”; “Love Others.”
Are you foolish when you keep on loving someone, and they keep on disappointing you?
Are you foolish when you keep praying to God, for that unsaved loved one?
Are you foolish when you put God first? (Giving the first of your week, the first of your day, the first of your earnings?)
Are you foolish when …
Do we foolishly come to this Communion Table, believing that it is through the crucifixion of Jesus, it is through the body and blood of Christ, we are saved?
Are you foolish or faithful today?
It depends on who you ask. It depends on who is judge. In the eyes of the world, you may be found foolish. In the eyes of God, you are faithful. Sometimes even in the eyes of those who claim to be faithful, you may be declared foolish. But in your heart, you know when you are being faithful. For you have sought God’s will and obeyed.
Today, God calls us to a faithfulness that some will not understand. Do you have the courage to walk this way? Is your heart open to hear God’s heart?
Call me foolish, if you want. I choose to follow the commands of God and the teachings and example incarnated in Jesus Christ.
Hymn The Old Rugged Cross
“To the faithful God proves himself faithful” (Ps 18:25)
Go forth, walking in faithfulness,
and may you experience the faithfulness of God.