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Trinity Vintners–Estab. Before All Worlds

October 2, 2017

The use of vineyard and grape vine metaphors in this week’s Scripture lessons brought back memories of a few idyllic days we spent being driven though the hills and vineyards of Tuscany in early May, listening to the beautiful music of the blind Italian tenor, Andrea Bocelli. During our drive through the countryside around San Gimigiano, we stopped at a local vineyard and met the owners. Their son, Corrado, served us a multi-course lunch paired with their wines and olive oils. The grapevines have been cultivated on their family’s estate for many years. Growing grapes for wine is as much a science these days as growing any other crop. Cultivating good grape vines and knowing when and how to harvest the grapes involves a combination of soil conditions, geography, climate, the type of vines chosen, and many other factors. As with anything worth doing, years of knowledge and experience go into making good wine.

The Old Testament Scripture text[1] from Isaiah is called “The Song of the Vineyard”: “I will sing for the one I Iove a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines . . . Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit . . . When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? . . “ (Isaiah 5:1-2, 4-5). Isaiah sang a song of promise—of a beautiful vineyard painstakingly cleared and planted with the best vines available. He engages his audience in the imagery, drawing them in and then taking them to the surprise ending of the bad grapes produced and condemnation of the vineyard workers. But who are they? Who are these workers who ruined the crop? They were his audience. They were the leaders of the nation Israel. They were given the best vines and conditions by the holy vintners, and they squandered it.

The psalmist plants the seed of hope for a new vineyard that God will plant. His pleas to God for the restoration of “The man at your right hand” (Psalm 80:17) can be understood in the context of the day to refer to Israel, whom God calls his “firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22), but also as a reference to the Messiah and a plea to revive us today: “Return to us, O God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine, the root of your right hand has planted, the son you have raised up for yourself . . . Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name” (Psalm 80: 14-15, 18). God has given us a second chance. His Son planted a new vineyard. God sent his Son to atone for our sins, and then his Spirit to remain with us.   He encourages us to work in his vineyard and to produce good fruit with the gifts he has given us.

Through his use of vineyard metaphors, God is communicating to us that he puts us in places where we can thrive, and gives us the tools we need. It may not be in Tuscany, but wherever you are, you have been put in that place for a reason. God has a plan for you, and will equip you with the best vines and tools available. The Holy Spirit opens doors, but you must walk through those doors. The Holy Spirit gives you gifts and tools, but you must pick up those tools and use them. You need to work the vineyard. You need to put in the sweat equity. You need to put your heart and soul into the work. If you do, you will bear the good fruit that God has in mind for you.

The gospel lesson continues the theme of God’s vineyard. Jesus, the vintner’s son, has arrived. An audience has gathered to listen to him.   He looks beyond them in the outskirts of Jerusalem and sees a vineyard on a hillside. The master storyteller tells a tale about a landowner who leased his vineyard to some farmers, with the understanding that he would harvest the fruit. The tenants killed the servants the landowner sent to harvest the fruit, so the landowner sent his son to take care of the matter. But the tenants killed the son as well.   In telling this story, Jesus was exposing the plot of the religious leaders who would kill him. God is the landowner, who leased his vineyard to the tenants—the Jewish religious leaders. The servants were the prophets and priests who remained faithful to God. God finally sent his only Son to us in love, but he too, was rejected. Jesus is imploring us to be faithful servants and to continue to produce good fruit. He asks us to return the good fruits of our labor to him.

Paul says that his goal is to know Christ, to be like him, and to do what Christ wants him to do. Whatever task God has in mind for you—keep at it. Go through the open door and use the talents and the tools you are given. Paul tells us “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it [his goal]. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me . . .” (Philippians 3: 13-14). Like Paul, we have all done things that we regret, but Paul encourages us to close the door on the past. Get rid of the guilt and set your mind on what is ahead—your hope in Christ Jesus.

Wine is a key element of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. When we are joined with Christ in the Sacrament, we receive his Spirit and are transformed into his body in the world. We become his workers in the vineyard by carrying his love into the world. God sent his Son to work the vineyard, and left us with his Spirit. The Trinity Vintners are master vintners who know what they are doing. They have been at it for millennia. We are blessed to receive an incomparable vintage every time we partake in the Sacrament and when we meet him in the private cellar of our hearts in prayer. It is their gift to us—a legacy to us to carry into the world. God invites and challenges you to share the blessings of the fruits of Spirit with those around you.  Will you accept the invitation, and the challenge?

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost are Isaiah 5: 1-7; Psalm 80: 7-19; Philippians 3: 4b-14; Matthew 21: 33-46.

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