18th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 22) LSB #’s 689, 691, 644
Text – Matthew 21:43
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you & given to a people producing its fruits.
BRINGING THE FRUIT OF HIS STEADFAST LOVE
Servants of God, set apart & made holy in Christ Jesus: Grace to you & peace from God our Father & the Lord Jesus Christ. Please pray with me.
Heavenly Father, bless us today with the presence of Your Holy Spirit. Prepare us to hear & take to heart Your Holy Word. Redeem us from our sinful fruit & produce the good fruits You desire to harvest in our lives. Strengthen our faith in Christ, so that we may let go of our earthly pride which labels others as our enemies. Control us by the love of Christ, displayed for us in the shedding of His precious blood, so that we might forget what lies behind & strain forward toward the goal of being worthy of the upward call of God. Through Jesus Christ, the true vine. Amen.
Wild grapes … wild grapes are spoken of in the OT reading for today [Isaiah 5:1-7]. They are not spoken of kindly. They are the undesired, unexpected fruit of the LORD’s vineyard, which is His people.
Have you ever had the chance to drink homemade wine? There is a pastor who, while serving as a vicar, had an experience in wine tasting he will not soon forget. One of his congregation members dabbled in the art of enology, otherwise called wine making.
This member had several homemade bottles on hand of a few different varieties. On one visit to the member’s home, the vicar was sent home with two bottles of wine. One of them was made from grapevines the man had purchased & planted & cultivated in his garden. However, one of the bottles he marked as being “wild.”
He told the vicar that he found some grapevines growing wild along the fences of his property & decided he’d try making wine with them. He had quite a few bottles of the “wild” wine, & the vicar was more than happy to take a bottle off of his hands to sample something that promised to be a unique experience. Well, unique it was. The “tame” variety was tasty enough. Not the best wine the vicar had ever tasted, but enjoyable. The “wild” wine, however, was a different story. The vicar was not easily put off or offended by most wines. That being said, this was made from “wild” grapes & he was not prepared for it. The wine was bitter. It was sour.
It was … well, you know how sometimes people describe certain foods as having an “earthy” quality or flavor? Usually they mean it in a good way. This had a “dirty” quality to it, in the worst possible sense. And none of this should reflect poorly on the winemaking skills of the congregation member. The vicar had the “tame” wine to compare it to.
They were night-and-day different. There was not one redeeming quality of the “wild” wine. What is the point of this story? Simply put, wild grapes are offensive. They are utterly sickening, disgusting & undrinkable. They have no redeeming quality.
When you’re the winemaker expecting something special, something enjoyable; when you’ve worked hard preparing the soil, pruning & harvesting; when you’ve pressed & filtered & prepared your wine for fermentation; when you have waited long weeks or months for your creation to come into its own, to have it turn out a complete & utter waste – a waste of time, a waste of effort – that is an embarrassment & an offense!
Wild grapes don’t make for a proud winemaker, & those who partake of them aren’t too happy either. But we’re not talking about wine here, folks. We are not talking about actual wild grapes. We’re talking about God’s people – God’s people & the fruit produced in our lives.
In the Isaiah passage, wild grapes are held up by the prophet in his parable to represent the bad fruits produced by God’s people; fruits of injustice & of bloodshed. The prophet cries out against their evil ways. The people of God had abandoned His ways & as a result they had proclaimed war on God & on His righteousness. They had made themselves enemies of God.
Similarly, in the Gospel reading we heard Jesus rebuking the religious leaders of God’s people. They were set in place by Yahweh to tend the vineyard of His people. They were to cultivate & grow their faith, protecting them from the attacks of the devil & the tempting, sinful draw of the fallen world.
They were to help produce the fruit God desired to see & then present Him with the bounty. However, in their sin, the religious authorities pitted themselves & God’s people against God & His ways. They’d become drunk on the desire to be honored – drunk with the power God had placed into their hands for the good of the people.
They craved the comfort the world offered over the righteousness of God. They allied themselves with the ways of the devil & the world, seeing God & His ways – His very Salvation – as their enemy. The same sinful pride is described in the Epistle lesson as Paul explains all the reasons he has for boasting in the flesh.
Paul was a Jewish man trained as a Pharisee under Gamaliel, the most notable rabbi of his day. Paul had every reason to boast in that earthly pedigree. We see early on, before his conversion, as Paul took great offense at any who believed in Jesus or followed His teaching.
The way of Christ threatened the pride of Saul; it threatened the pride of the Pharisees & the scribes & the chief priests. It threatened the pride of the Jews, & Samaritans, & Gentiles alike. It threatened everyone from kings & governors to tax collectors & beggars. And why was that? Because Christ’s way – God’s way – is no respecter of persons.
God gives authority & influence not so people will be honored, but that people would use the authority & influence to honor & glorify Him. God gives knowledge & wisdom not for people to be big-headed but to reveal Himself as the giver of all that is good & true. God gives His Law & Gospel not to puff up His people, but to reveal our need for salvation & to reveal Jesus as our means of Salvation. All of these gifts from God are given to us for His glory & honor. Which brings us back to this time & moment in our world. In our culture, issues of prejudice & injustice based on skin color & ethnic origin are in the spotlight once again. These deeply personal issues have caused people to take a stand & choose sides.
People have made enemies of one-time friends, & allied themselves with others they once considered enemies. It is easy to look around & see examples of self-professed followers of Christ doing very un-Christ-like things, & this is true of Christians on all sides of these issues.
Christians are identifying enemies of their cause &, as they do, they keep finding themselves on the wrong side of the battle line. They stand up for & rally behind injustice on one side of lawlessness or another, prejudice on one side or violence & destruction on the other. All the while Satan is laughing & mocking us as the world falls apart – as we help to tear it apart.
Yes, we have an enemy in this world, but as we rally behind the causes of the world, we end up mistaking our real enemy. And where does this misidentification come from? It comes from our own desire for glory & honor. It has its root in our own sinful inability to see people the way God sees them. It grows out of our sinful rebellion against the will of God.
In session 2 of the Bible study titled One Nation Under God: Healing Racial Divides in America, Rev. Haney not only identifies Satan as our true enemy when dealing with issues of prejudice, injustice & earthly divisions, he also helps us to see how God has equipped His people through the Word & Spirit to address these issues in Christ-like, godly ways.
Like Isaiah’s wild grapes, or Christ’s vineyard tenants, God’s people today are under real threat of finding ourselves opposing God, regardless of what earthly stance we may take on the issues of our day. Yet, God’s desire for us (His NT vineyard) is still the same as it was for His OT people. God chose us to reveal His will & salvation to a world in need. The heavenly Father wants us to live according to His will & ways, trusting in Him. He wants us to live in just ways. He wants to see us use whatever power or influence we have to help bring about justice & peace in the world. He does not desire to see us standing by, allowing innocent blood to be shed. He does not want us to be the reason for people to cry out.
He wants us to promote what is right & to do what is right in our lives, no matter what position or influence we may be jeopardizing, or what power we may lack. He surely does not want us to be the ones inflicting violence, insult & injury onto others. He does not want us to promote such behavior in others or to justify others for doing so.
No. Regarding hatred, God calls on His people to stand in the gap, bringing the fruit of His steadfast love. Regarding injustice, God calls on us to stand in the gap, bringing His faithfulness to bear. This is the good fruit He desires to see in the vineyard of His people, but it will make us a target for Satan. It will make us hated by those set on division & destruction.
By remaining in the Word of Christ (connected to the true vine) God will clothe & equip us with His spiritual armor to withstand all that comes against us. Yes, through us God will be glorified even in these contentious times. You see, God works in our world, not through magic, but through means like people, to communicate His steadfast love & faithfulness.
In His grace & mercy, He chose to use the people of Israel, & when those grapes went wild He continued with His faithful plan to reveal Himself to the world & redeem all who would put their trust in Him through Christ. After all, this was His plan all along: to reveal Himself & produce His salvation through the life, death & resurrection of Jesus Christ – God in the flesh.
Yes, God works through means. He worked salvation for us in the flesh & blood of Christ. He uses the Word & Sacraments to produce & strengthen our faith in Him. And just as He formed & raised up the people of Israel to reveal Himself to the nations, He has cut off the fruitless branches of Israel & grafted into the ancient vine of Christ a new people, the Church. We are the branches whose purpose it is to produce the good fruits that our Vinedresser desires to see in our world. Does He need us to reveal & accomplish His will? No! But He chooses to use us for this good & gracious purpose.
During the opening devotion of a confirmation retreat, a pastor gave an interesting object lesson. He invited three youth to each enjoy a brownie. After tasting it they were asked to describe how it tasted, to describe the experience of eating that piece of chocolaty goodness. They each described it differently, but all of them agreed it was delicious.
Try as they might, however, nothing they could say would make anyone else in the group experience the sheer joy that was going on in their mouths. The point is this: God’s people are called to be doers of the Word, not just faithful hearers of it. Not just speakers of it, but doers of it.
Like those children eating the brownies, the fruit of God is not meant to be only looked at or described. It is meant to be experienced. The blessings of God are meant to be enjoyed by those who receive them. They are meant to nurture & strengthen the ones who receive them.
The most impactful & meaningful way for Christians to heal the sinful divides in our society is through faithful, fruitful living. This is faith that others can taste. It is not tasted by explaining the grace of God to others, but by letting people experience the goodness of God through us.
It is not tasted through our warring against those we disagree with, but by being loving, just, humble, & forgiving; through this kind of faithful living by God’s people, the world will be able to “taste and see that the LORD is good.” (Psalm 34:8) Standing up for what is right is important, but it is meaningless without right living. We are the branches of Jesus, the true Vine. God has created & cultivated the Church of Christ so that we might produce the good fruit of His will. He planted & cultivated you so that you might bear the fruit of His grace, mercy & forgiveness; applying it in the lives of those around you.
In a few minutes we will be invited to receive God’s grace & mercy applied to each of us in the bread & wine given as Christ’s very Body & Blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Even those who come up simply to receive a blessing are being given the sure Word of God; the promise & assurance that through Christ you are forgiven.
In Him, you have the sure promise of redemption from death here on earth & eternal life in the world to come. This Gospel of peace applied to us in this service is for sharing with all people, every day, in your lives. It is to be shared in word & in deed. It is to be applied to those who call you friend & to those who see you as their enemy.
May God prune each of us that you & I would produce His good fruit more abundantly in our lives. Through each of us, may people taste & see that the LORD is Good. In the name of Jesus Christ, the true vine. Amen.
Fruitful trees, the Spirit’s sowing, may we ripen & increase, fruit to life eternal growing, rich in love & joy & peace. Laden branches freely bearing gifts the Giver loves to bless; here is fruit that grows by sharing, patience, kindness, gentleness. Rooted deep in Christ our Master, Christ our pattern & our goal, teach us, as the years fly faster, goodness, faith & self-control. Fruitful trees, the Spirit’s tending, may we grow till harvests cease; till we taste, in life unending, heaven’s love & joy & peace. Amen. LSB 691.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet