Luke 20:9-19 “The Cornestone”
In the living room of the parsonage hangs a picture that my mother painted of the family when I was a boy working in the family’s vineyard. That is right, growing up we shared a two and a half acre vineyard with our neighbors the Franklins. (The neighbor’s last name was Franklins; that is to say, they were not franklin birds like we see here on the island. They were real people.)
I recall as a boy spending so much time working in that vineyard. I and the rest of the family would plant vines, water them, trim them, graft them, fertilize, hang bird scares, spray for insects, finally pick the ripe grapes, box them to carry them back to the press, crush them, put the juice into barrels, later decant the barrels into bottles, then carefully turn the bottles from top to bottom for years thereafter. I mention all of this because making wine is incredibly labor intensive. It is not like growing wheat or potatoes. With wheat, one merely drills the seed and then runs the combine over it when it is ready.
Having a vineyard means being there. I have heard a lot of vintners in their time say the old adage, “You don’t own a vineyard; the vineyard owns you.” I think of the line that Jesus says in Matthew 26:26 “This is my blood which is spilled out for you.” I think many vintners can relate to that. They will recall the bleeding scratches from trimming the vines, the sweat from the heat of the harvest, the ant bites from carrying the harvest to the crush. Anyone who has grown their own wine would probably say: “this is my blood.”
A lot of us would look at our own lives, the work that we have accomplished, the families we have borne, the times of triumph that come from our persistence. In all of that, we tend to be like the tenants in the parable that Jesus told. We do not want to be reminded that all that we have done actually belongs to someone else. We tend to forget that without God, there would not be a vineyard, or our very lives, in the first place!
Let us not forget that we are all just tenants of God’s creation. WE should go back and read Genesis 2, “. . . .when no plant in the field had yet sprung up—and there was no one to till the ground. . . .then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground. . . .and the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man.” The reality of this is that we are all still dependent on just six inches of topsoil. All nine billion of us would starve to death but for half a foot of good earth, water, and sunlight. We are more of the earth still today then we might realize.
To be sure, the tenants can do all the work they want on the vineyard, but without the six inches of topsoil, there will be no wine. And, the dirt belongs to somebody else. They have to acknowledge that. So it is in our lives, we must recognize the blessings that come from God! We cannot make it on our own without these blessings from heaven.
So, to be able to till the ground is a blessing. It may be our blood, sweat and tears, but it is also most certainly our greatest blessing. Are you not also missing the joy of getting up in the morning to do something that would produce something wonderful for God’s creation? Are we not most godly when we are creating? Was not Adam in the Garden of Eden created in God’s image in order to till the soil and be fruitful?
Last week my wife and I went out to see the play “Siddartha” that was at the Convention Center in Lihue–featuring our own Lee Miller as the “unwise man.” In the play, the young man Siddartha leaves an arranged marriage to go out to seek the meaning of life. He tries different religions and modes of living but in the end is finally convinced that happiness and meaning in this life comes from tending one own’s garden. Yes, it is the same idea as from Voltaire’s “Candide.”
Indeed, work is a blessing. I want us all to say right now: “I am not stressed by work; I am blessed by work!” I thank God that I am able to be creative just as God is. When I am working, then I am looking most like the God in whose image I was created.
When I was growing up, we had a saying in our house that we liked to live by: “Arbeit macht das Leben Suess.” “Work makes life sweet.” You see, I told you all the hard things about growing up and working in the family vineyard. I forgot to mention to you how wonderful it was when the harvest was done. Both families would gather together and celebrate. The finest bottle of the best reserve would be brought out and a toast would be made to the new harvest. Everyone would taste the wine with such pride and thankfulness. It was the most blessed celebration. We felt the pride of the job completed.
On a personal note, those times in my life when I have felt the most stress have been when I have not had my work to do. I remember when Helen and I came out of seminary and we were waiting to be sent overseas as missionaries. There was a six-month gap as the United Church Board for Ministries did the paperwork and had meetings. To this day, I question what that board and those people thought we were supposed to do for work while they figured things out on their end for half of a year.
When we came back as missionaries, it was the same story again. What were we supposed to do for work as churches pondered my ministerial profile? I could mow lawns and Helen could do some sewing. Right? That is what I am saying, work is a true blessing! No matter how stressed you are in your job, it is less stress than not having that job for sure!
I find it fascinating in the parable that Jesus tells about the tenants in the vineyard that these tenants are not willing to share the fruit of the vine with the owner. Really, come the harvest festival, would you not want to share wine with all? They should have welcomed the master’s servants with wine and celebration. Instead we see hate and greed.
The metaphor of the parable is that the servants are of course sent by God. Many people will say that these servants are Abraham, Noah, and Moses, thus representing the three previous people who held covenants between humanity and God in heaven. Others might say that these three are prophets such as Daniel, Elijah, and Isaiah.
I was saying that we could recontextualize these three really to be any three people who speak for God. So, these three could be any three of us who remind the rest of the world that everything we have is from God. So, I would be proud to be one of the servants who stand up for what is right, and I am willing to be thrown out on my ear for doing so if that is what God expects from me.
Luke is the last of the great Gospel writers chronologically. The people who listened first to Luke’s words were already in the grip of Christian persecutions by Rome. Even just having this text with them could get them killed. When we read over and over again in this text how the servants of God are literally “thrown” out, we should imagine how the early Christians were being thrown to the lions. I think the language Luke uses reflects the times when he was writing.
In our text for this morning, we see how even the Son of the Master, who was supposed to have been respected was instead “thrown” out and killed. The Son of the Master would of course have to be none other than Jesus himself. Here Jesus is foreshadowing his own death. He is telling those around him that he knows what is in their hearts. He knows that between respecting God and the greed that is in their lives, they have chosen greed.
In 1 John 2:15-17 we can read these now famous words: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.”
Jesus continues to tell those gathered around him about a “cornerstone” that will fall on them. The first story we had was about the vineyard which portrays the first time that Jesus comes to us. The second story is about when Jesus comes to judge the world. If you chose the world over Jesus, then the cornerstone that holds up the world will fall on you and crush you into powder.
You see, in those days the cornerstone was not some small stone. It was a full corner of a house. All the other rocks were leaned up against it. The roofing poles were fastened to it. If that one stone were moved, then the entire structure would have to fall and most likely take out all who were in that house.
The priests respond “Heaven Forbid” as it says in the pew bibles. Other bibles will translate this differently: “Let that not even in the slightest way happen” or some such understanding. The answer to their immediate fears is simply, do not kill the Son. Respect God who has given you everything, every blessing of this life. Respect God’s Son.
Here we are all now in that vineyard that God has lent to us to till and make fruitful. WE are all the tenants. WE acknowledge back to God these blessings. God has given us all. And, God has sent his Son to us to bring us back into covenant once more with the Father.
It is time to get to work—to be fruitful, to create a harvest for God. It is time to celebrate the coming of the Son.