Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tell Me a Story: Year A, Ordinary 27

This Week's Lectionary Texts:
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 or Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 19 or Psalm 80:7-15
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

This Week's Reflection:
The Lectionary texts this week read like a story from Exodus to Matthew. There are gaps in the story and problems with the plot in places, but if we look at the pages just right, we can see how the story of God's relationship with God's people is very clear.

In Exodus 20, we have the life changing moment of Moses presenting the 10 commandments - laws given to the people to help them, to make life easier, a little clearer, ground rules to follow in this new life outside of Egypt. The people responded to this gift by asking that God never speak to them again.

The story moves forward and God is witnessing the results of the people's selfish behavior. In a song, the writer of Isaiah 5 laments the fact that even though the vineyard has been planted and cared for with love and understanding, it has not produced as it should have. The owner decides to give up, let it go, allow it to wither away.

Both of the Psalms join in the story by presenting the character of the people. Psalm 19 reminding us to follow the laws of God and Psalm 80 crying out to God to restore the vineyard, to give us another chance, to allow us to grow once again.

Philippians' part of the story is to point us toward the character of Jesus. With Paul reminding us that without Christ, we are nothing. In fact, it is stressed through Paul's boastful language that even at our very best on our own we can't begin to live up to our best in Christ Jesus. This is the second chance of all second chances. If we want to be the productive vineyard that God desires of us, then we have to allow Jesus to help us.

Then, we have Matthew's part of the story with a story in a story. Here we have another parable of Jesus that leaves us asking lots of questions. As we come to the end of this week's story, the lectionary brings us back around to the Isaiah text as Jesus tells of a vineyard owner who cared for and planted those grapes and waited to see what wonderful things would occur. There is a twist this time, though. All good stories have them. It is a nasty and scary twist. In the climax of this week's story, the vineyard isn't simply left to wither away, but those who have been given the opportunity to tend the vineyard are murderers and thieves. They even go so far as to kill the owner's beloved son. (Remind you of anyone?) And, Jesus leaves the chief priests and elders to whom he was speaking with the question of what they think that owner will do. Repay them, of course. Kill them, get rid of them for good, and find someone who will do what they should have been doing in the first place. (These elders are none too happy when they realize that they have been made the bad guy in the story.)

It is a story with lots twists and turns. It also has characters that we don't like and morals that make us squirm. Are we to believe that God will allow us to wither away? Worse yet, are we to believe that God will punish us if we do not tend the vineyard like God wants? Remember how the story began? God gave us these commandments as a gift to help us in this life. They are not rules made to give God a reason to get angry with us, but they are safety nets for us to use so that our lives are the very best they can be. Instead, we ask God to stop speaking to us. So, God finds other ways to provide those gifts to us, stories of vineyards, Paul's dramatic turn-around, and Jesus, God incarnate, providing grace upon grace upon grace.

A fellow pastor in the Lutheran Church, Delmer Chilton, puts it this way:
God showers God’s people with grace. The people prosper. The people forget God. The people become “wild.” God becomes angry and regrets making or saving or favoring the people. God allows the people to suffer. The people cry out for forgiveness. God hears, God forgives, God heals and restores. And so it goes: over and over and over again.

That is the story this week. It is the story of God's relationship with God's people. It is a story that is often filled with pain. And, it is a story that ends with healing and restoration.

This Week's Artwork:
(in order of appearance in reflection)