18th Sunday after Pentecost

  1. Pentecost 18.20 “The Vineyard Chronicles, Episode 3: A New Hope” Matt. 21:33-46

So, a lot has gone on in the vineyard since we visited last week in Episode 2, in which we met two of the Owner’s sons; son #1—who said he wouldn’t go to the vineyard (but went anyway) when he saw it was fun, and son #2—who said he would go but didn’t when he saw it’s just tons of fun. Son #2 got like this from going to Harvard (what a horrid, dull, and dreary place, speaking from a totally non-biased perspective) and getting an MBA, which sold him on machine learning and rigorous efficiency, and made him (like so many of the original Crimson Tide) a fun-hating spoil-sport outraged at dad’s mad passion for making the vineyard more fun than efficient. He’s especially annoyed at dad’s idea of union-busting: basically, pay everyone so ridiculously much more than any union could ever demand that there’s simply no need for them.

Which, speaking of unions, takes us back to Episode 1 of “The Vineyard Chronicles” 2 weeks ago, in which we heard from a day-laborer who was hired at the first hour to go into the vineyard for a denarius, and was so annoyed that everyone got a denarius regardless of how long or hard they worked(!)—and the lack of strict workplace safety rules(!)—that he started Vineyard Workers Union Local 507 and led a (mostly) peaceful protest that ended with the Master’s death and the trashing of the vineyard.

Which brings us today to “The Vineyard Chronicles, Episode 3: A New Hope”—in which we have, strictly speaking, neither a prequel, nor a sequel to the first two episodes, but instead, a fresh look at the events of Episode 1, but this time, from the perspective of an Omniscient Narrator (who seems to be the Vineyard’s Master, Himself).

Now, those who know me know that I’m a big fan of unreliable narrators, and the ones we had for Episodes 1 and 2 were about as unreliable as you can get! Fun though they are, there is a lot to be said for a good, old-fashioned, omniscient, reliable narrator—if you really want to get to the gist of the Story, that is. Which I do. And I bet you do, too?

So, no tricks, no games, here we go…

We begin at the very Beginning—a very good place to start! We’re told by the Omniscient Narrator that: at the start, there was a master of a house who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into Another Country. Now, it’s a little bit of an assumption, but a pretty safe one, I think, that this is the same vineyard as in Episodes 1 and 2, since this is all part of the same Series (Grandaddy of them all!) called “The Bible” or “The Holy Scriptures”.

[Are all Seasons in this Series equally gripping? Honestly, no… they are not. The Series starts with a Bang, literally, in Season 1, “Genesis”. Season 2, “Exodus” is thrilling; but Season 3, “Leviticus”? That one kind of runs out of steam early, I have to say—an awful lot about clean and unclean beasts and which parts need to be sacrificed and can and cannot be eaten, ritual purity, who gave birth to whom, and far less mayhem than in the first two seasons. Not as sexy. A lot of people lose the thread at Season 3. My advice is to skip around a little bit, and come back to the slower Seasons after you’ve streamed the stronger ones—like Season 40 a.k.a. “The Gospel of Matthew”. Hey, I’m here to help, a guide, geeked out on IT all.]

Anyway, back to “Matthew”, Season 40, Episode 21, “The Vineyard Chronicles, Pt. 3”. Today, we learn that the Master planted His vineyard, fenced, it, built a winepress and tower and then leased it to tenants and went to Another Country. The Master is a tough character to pin down! He comes and goes. His ultimate purposes are Good; but… He has some pretty windy, twisty roads to get you there. He can vanish from our sight for centuries at a time! And when He pops back in, not everyone recognizes Him—and those who do aren’t sure they like Him…

We learn in Season 23, “Isaiah”, Episode 5—which we heard from in our first reading—that the Master had vineyard problems almost from the start. There were talking snakes, fires, violent rebellions, and many (mostly) peaceful protests that caused a surprising lot of damage to the Place. But the most shocking bit we get from Season 23, Episode 5 is that it was the Master Himself who trashed the vineyard, at least one time!!! Whoa! An inside job? What’s going on with that? You mean the Government was behind the peaceful protests, the looting and the trashing all along? Whaaat? Why?!

Well, it doesn’t say, exactly. The Story is rife with Mystery. Interesting! Fun! But Season 24, “Jeremiah”—which I’ve been bingeing on, 3 Episodes a day (lately)—suggests that it was to get the vineyard tenants’ attention. See, they’d become rather entitled and recalcitrant, wicked and evil actually, and this was the only way to get the Story back on track for a happy ending. I told you the Master’s Road is winding and difficult!

But today’s Episode 3, “A New Hope” really fleshes out the Story. It wasn’t so much that the Master Himself plotted to trash it, or did it Himself, as it was that He let the tenants trash the vineyard in order to rebuild the whole thing on new, more solid foundations. Weird, I know, but listen; Omniscient Narrator says:

He planted the vineyard and leased it so the tenants would enjoy the place—have a good time; taste some mighty fine Wine. When vintage time drew near, the Master sent other servants (from that Other Country of His) to party with the tenants at vintage time. But the tenants beat one, killed another, and stoned another (“this one’s called ‘Help Me Get Home’!”). The Narrator doesn’t spell it out, but I think (from having watched other Seasons in the Series) that the tenants kind of think they built the vineyard—that is belongs to them solely, and they can do as they please with it; and what pleases them is hoarding and hogging everything for themselves and acting like they are Boss over everyone else—including the Master whom they pretend not to recognize…(!)

Until… He shows up in the Person of His Only Son. Seeing Him, they go: “This is the Heir! Let’s kill Him and then the Vineyard will be all ours!” They do this. But then the Narrator breaks the 4th wall and tells us: “You write the ending: what happens next?” And the audience goes: “The Owner puts those wretches to a wretched end and gets new, nicer tenants!”

And Jesus (The Narrator) says “OK! The Stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”(!)

But… not in everyone’s eyes (the Series gets plenty of 1 star reviews!). Those who find IT humiliating (but marvelous!) that THE LORD OF ALL willingly does our dying for us to give us a New Hope, a New Life just feasting freely in the Vineyard together(!) will enjoy a rich (though undeserved) Reward; but those who unfriend the Master (branding Him a cruel tyrant who deserved to die) will be crushed by falling all over Him.

We are the tenants! This is our Story. And the Final Ending remains to be written by each one of us. Now, those who confess their sins, who find the Story Marvelous and Moving will Feast with the Master always, but those who don’t, uh… won’t enjoy the Peace surpassing all understanding that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. The End.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.