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“You Are the New Tenants of God’s Vineyard!”

I want to start with something funny that I found on an internet site: A mother called her son on Sunday morning to make sure he got out of bed and was ready for church. “I’m not going,” he replied. “Yes, you are going, so get out of that bed!” his mother demanded. “Give me ONE good reason why I should go,” said her son. “I’ll give you THREE good reasons: One, I’m your mother, and I say you’re going. Two, you’re 40 years old, so you’re old enough to know better, and three, you’re the Pastor, so you need to be there.”

I am so grateful to all of you every Sunday morning as you make Sunday morning bright in the sanctuary. I know it is not easy to wake up early and come to church every Sunday morning, especially after the pandemic. Because we learned a convenient way to have remote Sunday services, like our online Zoom home service, we would stay at home or get excused for some reason. However, we should renew and remold our faith day by day. If you stay at home, you should think to yourself, “Have I lost my faith through the pandemic?” Here is a good reason you should come to church: you are a new tenant of God’s vineyard whom God chose.

Today’s scripture is another parable story Jesus told us. You may understand this story is about the chief Priests and the Pharisees because verse 45 says, “When the chief Priests and the Pharisees heard his parable, they realized that he was speaking about them.” However, that’s not all. This story is designed to teach us about God and ourselves as well. In today’s scripture, we learn of a landowner who has planted a vineyard, leased it to tenants, and went to another country. This landowner is likely God. As you assume, God is the ultimate landowner, and we are merely his tenants. That’s why we, as Christians, understand ourselves to be stewards of God’s creation rather than owners.

In Jesus’ time, when it was in the 1st century, biblical scholars say that it would typically be five years before the landowner would expect to receive his first payment. So, let us imagine for a moment that you are one of those tenants. The landowner made an excellent vineyard, and everything is perfectly ready to work there; vineyard is planted, a nice fence has been constructed around it, there’s a wine press service at in it, and a watchtower has been built. Then he leased it to YOU and went to another country. Then you worked hard in the vineyard for the last five years, and finally, it has produced much fruit. Now, after five years without any word from the landowner, some servants of his suddenly appear to collect the landowner’s produce. You might have begun to think and to hope that these servants would never appear, that the landowner might forget all about this vineyard and that you would get to keep it all for yourself. After all, it’s been five years. The landowner may take all of your efforts.

As you know, I have been here for four years, and it is now the beginning of the fifth year. I have a garden and enjoy gardening at the parsonage. I learn new skills and wisdom every year on how to garden effectively. The first year, when I said, “I’d like to have a garden at the Parsonage,” Russ Hammer (Grantsburg Committee member) cultivated the Parsonage garden for me, making it ready for gardening. I started planting a few veggies in it. But, as they grew, many wild animals enjoyed them before I got to harvest them. In the second year, I made a fence around my garden, but some anonymous animals still came into it, and my veggies disappeared unexpectedly. So, I got information from our parishioners on protecting my garden, such as spraying around the fence, putting the poisons out, getting a better fence, and having enough veggies to share with the animals. Then, this year, I got a better fence, two spots for gardens; one for me with a nice fence, the other for animals without a fence; spraying at the proper time matters. Now, I have more produce and am a good gardener. Some of my colleagues told me ‘you have a green thumb,” and asked me for some advice on gardening. They may not understand how hard I work for my garden. I love my garden. I will do it better next year. But, if my bishop asks me to move, I have to leave my garden. It will be so sad, but it is my bow to the bishop. If I reject the bishop’s order, what will happen to me? I know the parsonage and garden do not belong to me. They are not mine, but I can care for them as long as I am here.

Going back to the scripture, the tenant shouldn’t think the vineyard is theirs. Isn’t that always a danger for stewards when they last saw the owner long ago? Isn’t it dangerous for us to keep all the church ministry and faith journey without seeing God visibly? Do you know what happened next in the parable story? The tenants of the vineyard killed the servants who came for the produce. The landowner patiently sent the other servants to forgive their previous behavior. The tenants treated them the same way. Then, the landowner sent his own son, hoping that the tenants would finally get the point, which was that he always remembered the vineyard. The fruits are very important to the landowner.  So much so that he will send his son to collect them. He sends his son with the hope that the tenants will respect him.

Yes, his son is Jesus Christ, and many servants are likely prophets and ministers. The tenants killed his son with a desire to inherit the vineyard as the chief Priest and Pharisees killed Jesus Christ. However, they couldn’t inherit the vineyard. Verses 40 and 41 say: “Now when the landowner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They told him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” They may think that the landowner never came back and they would get the vineyard by themselves.

It is teaching us that the chief Priest and Pharisees are like the original tenants of the vineyard. It was obvious. They knew it was about them (v. 45). Jesus teaches us that we are new tenants of the vineyard, the stewards of God for all creations and for God’s vineyard. We have been entrusted with this world, with all that we have, and are now called to care for it well and give our creator the fruits of our harvest. This parable also warns us not to take any of this for granted. Our world, life, family, possession, and salvation are all God’s grace, all a gift from God. We, too, can sometimes be tempted to think that we can keep the fruits of God’s vineyard for ourselves. We work hard, making our living and providing for ourselves and our family, and it’s easy to forget that everything we have is not ours but the Lord’s. As God chose you as his new tenant, he may choose another one if you forget that He owns the vineyard. Don’t forget God may come some day and ask us to show our produce before God. Be faithful tenants of God’s vineyard and look forward to His promised return. Thanks be to God. Amen!