God's vineyard.

Isaiah 55:6-9
Psalm 145:2-18
Philippians 1:20-27
Matthew 20:1-16

The Cup of Blessing
Which We Bless

Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

In the Vineyard, one meets with God.

In His first miracle, the Lord Jesus turns water into wine, gracing the gate of new life, which is marriage. And in His final miracle, He turns wine into His Blood, unlocking the gate to eternal life. Elsewhere, when His Disciples press Him to be admitted into the inner circle, into the essence of Who He is and What He is that they may have a part in it, He asks, "Can you drink from the cup from which I drink?" On another day, we are given to know that God is the Vineyard, in the sense of its vines, and that we are the branches (Jn 15:5). And then elsewhere we learn that the fruit of these branches mark us as belonging either to God or to a different lord: "Are grapes gathered from thorns? (Mt 7:16)," Jesus asks pointedly?

The Vineyard. It is a place of divine mystery, of life's essence, even where God's Blood soaks into the earth.

There was a King Who sent His Son, the Heir, to the Vineyard, Whom the tenants murdered. There was a Father Who sent two sons to labor in the Vineyard because their faithfulness was in doubt. Laborers were hired to work in a Vineyard — some hired in the morning, some in the afternoon. Throughout the Gospels, we hear the Lord Jesus sounding these tones. And this morning we encounter the bumptious laborers, reminding us that the Son and Heir stands in the Vineyard even now only to encounter His selfish and quarrelsome hirelings. Do we not see John and James seeking a private word with Him: might they sit one on His right hand and the other on his left? Peter finds opportunity to be alone with the Lord: "I've given up everything for this ministry! What will I have coming in return?!" If the Disciples resemble competing children, the morning workers in the Parable of the Vineyard Laborers resemble nothing so much as sons complaining about the unfairness of their lot. And in this vein, the parable this morning is a kind of retelling of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. "Why did he get more than I did?" In all of these parables, the owner or father or king could very well evict his rebellious tenants or disinherit his sons, but the opposite happens: He is patient and compassionate, even charitable.

Consider this Figure's burden: He is God and Father of all! And if raising a large family, giving each child loving, individual attention is a challenge, consider God's lot. As soon as He blesses one child, all of the others are apt to feel slighted. And we recall that the other Disciples were perturbed when they learned of John and James' attempt to secure individual favor. And the Prodigal Son's older brother? He confronts his father with outrage.

I knew a woman who lost her faith over this question. She was rankled whenever she saw someone receiving particular blessing. "Some God!" she would say. "And why was blessing withheld from everyone else?!" God might have replied, "Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?" Or to borrow the Apostle Paul's words, "For he says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion'" (Rom 9:15). But, alas, does not one commonly find that all the world's ills are laid at Father God's doorstep?

We do have not time to ask this great question this morning. but it is enough to say for now that most of the world's ills have to do with a collapse of our love, not God's. Whether it be hunger, homelessness, and most disease, our failure to love each other and provide decent care for one other is the root cause. And natural disasters? Decent and adequate construction, sensible laws, and good public policy would cover most of this waterfront. The catastrophes of war, genocide, and holocaust cause many to cry to Heaven, "How could you permit this to happen?!" But they forget that, along with eternal life, God's primary gift to us is our sovereign power of freedom. If the horrors of the twentieth century have taught us anything, it is that God will not "take over" human history and send an occupying army to impose martial law. A man once said to me, "Oh, no. He will just make everyone good!" But that would leave us as being little more than puppets or robots. And our peerless Creator did not create a puppet show.

I do not say that He does not help us; He does. But not in this overpowering, wholesale control of our lives and human history. He is more gentle than that, but not subtle ... if we will but pay attention to His Presence in our lives and to the promptings of our guardian angels.

Many will say that their prayers were never answered. May I join this support group? I share with you today a general fact of my own life: every major thing I ever prayed for did not come to pass, and every major thing that came to pass I did not pray for. It turns out that God's plans for me were far different than my plans for myself. He would not bless what He could not bless. Yet, patiently and steadfastly He led me when I was not always faithful to follow. Today, my prayer is that I not miss the many divine appointments that He has made for me!

Most of us believe that life's greatest unfairness is death. Even now I am praying with my dear FB Friend, Gloria, as her grandson suffers from brain cancer. It is heartbreaking. "O God," we might say in our tears, "how could You let this happen?!" Yet, in our deepest hearts we know that He sees death as the door that leads us to Him; even as we see it as being our greatest calamity.

The unfairness of life is, of course, a major theme in our Gospel lesson this morning. The morning laborers are fit to be tied when the afternoon workers receive the same pay. As the Vineyard in which they work is likened to the Kingdom of Heaven, let us then ask, "What sort of King is this, anyway?" Certainly, He is not a Tiberius-Nero-Caligula-Herod who luxuriates in pleasure and drinks to excess a wine that is barren. No, this King's hands are in the soil, and His heart is with us in the Vineyard. His stake in this ground is very deep, as deep as a Cross driven into the crossroads of human history at Calvary hill. He calls us to labor with Him and to love each other. Like the Prodigal Son or the morning laborers in today's parable, we will not always follow with our own hearts. Like the Disciples we will not always be at our best. Yet will He be patient and compassionate and understanding. We who are frustrated or unhappy or oppressed by the unfairness of the world may find that we are lost in a fog of misunderstanding. For three things are essential in order to understand our world and our life rightly. His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways.

First, we must see that we are in a Vineyard. Once I realized that the vineyards of California were planted by eighteenth-century Franciscan friars who brought grapes from Spain for the Holy Sacrifice, I began to see these fields aright: they were actually a vast circulatory system, stretching from San Diego through the San Joaquin Valley and Central Valley to Sonoma, — veins and arteries through which the Franciscan Padres had poured out their sacrifice like a libation and invited others to the Supper of the Lamb. This morning, you who have not visited California may not see vines from where you sit. But they are there, nonetheless, hidden, hidden within people who love and care and sacrifice, whose vines are rooted in their hearts and in each other's hearts. They too constitute a vast Vineyard. Truly, we have been in the Vineyard every day of our lives. Nor have we ever been out of it.

Second, we must see that we stand beside the patient and compassionate King. His hands are in the soil, and He calls us to labor with Him. He will not ask us to do anything that He has not done or will do. Be assured that you will never keep up with Him. The harvest, He says, is great (Mt 9:37), and He has given each of us gifts to complete our labors. To discover these gifts is exciting and energizing and will enable us to develop fully to be all that He made us to be. These gifts are called vocation. The storehouse of these marvelous gifts is our essence and true identity. Everything else we try to be pales in comparison and leaves us feeling confused, empty, discouraged, and unfulfilled. When we stand on the square of vocation, flowers come to bloom around us, for we stand on the sweet spot of our lives, the spot on earth where the force flows through us most freely and bountifully. Vocation is the gate that leads us into ... our own lives. From here alone are we able to accomplish many things, and finally come to know fulfillment and peace.

Third, the end of the day and the falling of darkness is not to be feared. It is the final and most important gate, and it will lead us to Him and to His splendid world of light and love, where there is no suffering, and where every heart is rooted in His. The laborers pay will not matter to us at this moment. We will realize that being in the Vineyard all those years and being with Him was payment enough. And, now, to be with Him forever and with those we love .... is a pearl far beyond price. And each of us will receive this same pearl, no pearl larger than another because each is an incommensurable — priceless.

These three we must know, or this world will never be intelligible to us. Otherwise, we walk through life as in a fog, understanding neither the world nor ourselves. But He does not call us to a fog. He calls us into the light, beside Him. He will bring us new life and then ... we will leave the Vineyard with Him at the falling of dark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.