5th Sunday in Lent
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and His only Son Jesus Christ, Amen.
As a young man or woman, it seems the trips and falls in life are easy to brush off. This can be physical stumbles and tumbles or figurative slips and accidents. Yet as one gets older, these scrapes and scuffles are harder from which to recover and take more time from which to heal.
As adults, we have grown in height and therefore have much farther to fall, thus increasing damage to our bodies. Also, an adult our ability to pick ourselves up from emotional and spiritual falls becomes more difficult. We soon begin to fear failure in even the simplest tasks. We do not wish to fall or stumble, yet we know it will happen again and we begin to wonder if we will be able to recover from the next big fall.
Some of us may have faced a major life decision in our business or workplace or maybe with relationships with family or friends. It is like the man who works for twenty years in a field only to find himself unemployed, looking for a new job. Or like a woman who finds herself in a broken relationship and must form new family and friends. How does one let go of the familiar, and maybe comfortable way of life for a new and different direction?
Our Old Testament reading and our Gospel reading for this Sunday have a common thread; a Lord over all things. Both Scripture readings deal with master of the land. In Isaiah, it is God speaking as creator and owner while we are merely caretakers.
God created the cosmos, our world and everything in it, including us. Like the master of the vineyard, he prepared everything so as to produce good fruit. Sin entered into this creation through the work of our adversary, Satan.
So now, instead of justice, we produce bloodshed. And instead of righteousness, we produce grief. It is God’s right as master of the vineyard to cast us away to be trampled under the hooves of animals and to be burned in the fiery furnace.
What are we to do? We cannot change what we are. We cannot turn the bitter to the sweet. By our own works, we cannot be justified and righteous in the presence of our creator. God knows this, and as creator of all, he has the power to re-create.
He did this by sending His One and Only Son into the vineyard, surely we would listen to him. Instead, in our sin-filled bitterness, we sought to take the blessings of the Lord of hosts from His Son for ourselves and for our personal glorification. Instead of believing in Jesus Christ and believing in the one who sent him, our Father in heaven, we foolishly think that we can gain our inheritance by rejecting our only true salvation.
Yes, when we reject Christ, we reject God and put ourselves over Him. Every day we sin and every day we kill the son of our Master. Every day we continue to produce stinking, rotting fruit, the fruit of our avarice and lust, the fruit of covetousness and hate. In our killing, we are being killed all the day long.
God knows this. We kill with every sin and we die with every sin, but that is not the end of us. God does not want us to be cast away from his presence. God wants us to bear good fruit, the fruit of His spirit. God loves his creation. He loves us so much that he gave His Son to be killed on the cross; a cross, hewn and lifted up by our sin. Jesus Christ, the only innocent, died for all of our sins.
From Christ’s resurrection from the grave, we too were lifted up; not on the cross of our sins but in the love and mercy of His sacrifice. We now walk in the newness of life. We now bear the fruit of the Spirit because we are in the vine that is Christ Jesus.
We became his through our baptism. We are now inheritors of his kingdom. We have been re-created through the death and resurrection of Christ and our labors now produce good fruit. We are saved. But this is not the end for us. While we live on this earth, in His creation, we are to tend to the harvest.
We are to baptize all nations in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are to spread the Word, the Gospel of our Lord. We are to respect the property of the master of the vineyard, to care and nurture his creation.
This does not solely pertain to the earth and its resources. Yes, it is true that to be good stewards of his gifts and blessings is righteous in his sight, but our fellow human beings are also our responsibility. We are charged with the care of our brothers and sisters. We are tenant farmers.
How do we tend to his vineyard? We cultivate the land with the Word. Through reading, discernment and the teaching of the Scriptures, we enrich the soil for the hearing of Christ’s redemption. The Holy Spirit waters this soil through baptism. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, is the light of the world who gives us the means to grow in him.
So what does this have to do with falling down, as I spoke at the beginning of this homily?
We all struggle in our faith from time to time. We learn of God’s grace and mercy when we are children. With God-fearing parents, we follow His word from baptism. Yet when we get older, we sometimes forget about our faith. Where we fall down in our service to our neighbor is when we shut our hearts and minds out of our own fear.
It is true that we are not perfect. It is true that this world has many temptations and many obstacles over which to stumble. The world is changing in significant ways, such as remarkable access to the world and worldviews via technology, alienation from various institutions, and skepticism toward external sources of authority, including Christianity and the Bible.
Like the stone of which Jesus spoke, we stumble through the world being battered about by its promises and vices. Our world has become a dangerous place. When we start moving faster and faster, we crash against our faith with the entire weight of our body, mind and soul. It hurts when we come face to face with the truth of the Lord of all creation. For some, they are broken to pieces.
But those who know God, those who know who is the rightful owner of their minds, bodies and souls have the power of Christ through his body and blood at the table of the Lord. Their baptism gives them the faith of Christ; and the body and blood in, with and under the bread and wine gives them forgiveness.
This forgiveness picks up the sinner who has fallen and sets them on their feet; once again to follow the path of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. We will fall again, maybe soon, maybe later, maybe often, because falling is inevitable.
Even with Jesus standing by to pick us up, we still fear. Living in this fear is terrible, but with the promise of Our Lord’s saving grace, we can overcome the fear and live in peace and hope. Yet for those who have not heard the Gospel, it is not the fall against the stone of truth that kills, but the crushing weight of the truth falling on them. Such people reject this cornerstone of truth and build their lives in a crooked and unstable house of lies.
It is our responsibility to take this message to all people. As messengers of God’s Word and by His command, we have been sent into the world to proclaim the salvation of His Only Son, Jesus Christ.
As the messengers in the parable of the vineyard, we may not be received with welcome arms. In fact, we may be ridiculed and beaten, as St. Paul tells us:
…[we] will suffer loss of all things in order that [we] gain Christ and be found in him. Not having a righteousness of [our] own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that [we] may know him and the power of his resurrection. [Philippians 8b-10a]
Through this faith, we gain everything. Through this faith, we give the love given to us in Christ.
When we give the love of Christ to all we meet, we produce the good fruit of Christ’s salvation. We become the messenger and the farmer. And through it all, the Holy Spirit builds up the Church that is Christ Jesus.
We have comfort in that our righteousness comes from faith in Christ, that we may know him and the power of his resurrection. Equipped with this faith, we can be sure to serve our Master in His vineyard, so that through the Holy Spirit, his harvest may be full.