To the Dump

Isaiah 5:1-7

Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watch-tower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people of Judah,
judge between me
and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice, but saw bloodshed;
righteousness, but heard a cry!

 

Philippians 3:4b-14

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

 

Matthew 21:33-46

[And Jesus said:] “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to 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.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’

“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophe

 

 

When I moved to Summerside we ended up buying the manse which needed a lot of work. I took out all the old carpet upstairs and refinished hardwood floors and put in some new hardwood. I put in new countertop and an island in the kitchen. I put new fixtures in the downstairs bathroom. I painted ceilings and walls and baseboards and doors.

There was a lot of work to be done and I made a lot of trips to the dump. I can remember the first day that I worked on the place. I borrowed a friend James’ truck and I tore up the old carpet and loaded it into the truck and took it to the dump. And then there was the underlay, and let me tell you, the carpet was bad, but the underlay was disgusting.

I took several loads of carpet and underlay to the dump that day. Garbage.

Not that long ago, Fiona and I did a little cleaning and went into the storage room and garage and spent some time pulling things off the shelf and deciding whether we needed this or needed that and we ended up with several boxes of items that went to the garbage.

 

There are times however when we have to get rid of stuff that maybe isn’t garbage, but we have to get rid of it.

You know we have moved lots of times and sometimes we would have a garage sale. You go through the house and find stuff that still has some value and you put up a big sign. “Garage sale and you put it out on the sidewalk or on your driveway and you sell it. And stuff you paid a hundred dollars for, you are lucky to get ten for. That’s how it goes with garage sales, you pretty much sell the stuff for next to nothing, but you want to get rid of it.

Sometimes you have some valuable stuff and you are really selling it for a discount, because you just need it to be gone.

And then there are occasions in life when really valuable stuff has to be dumped. Rare though they are… And mostly limited to stories, movies etc, nonetheless they happen.

 

You are in a car accident and you are badly damaged and the paramedics get out the scissors and cut up your $700 Pierre Cardin worsted wool suit, so they can bandage your wounds.

Or the house catches fire and I actually have known people to whom this has happened. You only have a few seconds, so, what valuables do you grab as you leave the house? You grab the kids.

You let a whole bunch of valuable stuff burn, because you realize in the whole scheme of things it isn’t nearly as valuable as all that.

Or the early pioneers crossing the Great Divide, take their wagons high up into the mountains and run into deep snow. The wagons are too heavy, stuff must be thrown out. They throw down the side of the mountain the dining room set, a piano and all manner of expensive stuff, because it is a manner of life and death.

 

We all know about getting rid of stuff. Garbage to the dump, or stuff you don’t want that has some value, on Kijiji or in a garage sale.

Or maybe even there was some kind of emergency and you had to let go of some valuable stuff for something even more valuable, like your family or your health or your life.

 

I want to tell you about somebody who dumped some good stuff one time. His name was Paul.

From the very beginning of his life he was dedicated and committed to serving God. He was someone who kept the commandments, never missed going to worship, gave ten percent of all he had to God.

He was someone who knew his scriptures and studied them daily.

He was born into a good family and he rose to a position of prominence in society and also with the people of God. His character was impeccable. No skeletons in the closet.

And yet he says: “I count all this garbage.”

 

“Take it to the dump.”

 

Now, we are used to, in the Christian life taking things to the dump. We call it confession.

We are to be in a constant state of reform, laying aside sin, and the things that constrict us and enslave us.

A whole lot of us could take a few things to the dump like greed, selfishness, bullying, impatience, anger, blame, unforgiveness, violence, name-calling, gossiping etc. etc. to the dump.

I have heard people get up in church and talk about a life of sin or crime or drugs or alcohol and Jesus changed them.

And they let a whole bunch of bad stuff go to the spiritual dump.

 

But here Paul isn’t talking about evil and addiction. He is talking about social standing and prestige and comparative wealth and yet…

It means nothing to him.

 

It is nothing without love. It is nothing with the spirit of God. It is nothing without Christ.

Christ is the rock on which he is building his life.

 

He could have boasted. He was more spiritual and more moral and a better Jew and Pharisee than anybody else.

Like Lancelot sings in the musical Camelot.

 

“C’est moi. C’est moi. I forced to admit, I’m far too noble to lie.

 This man in whom these qualities bloom.

C’est moi, c’est moi. Tis’ I.

I’ve never strayed from all I believe. I’m blessed with an iron will.

If I had been the partner of Eve, we’d be in Eden still.

 

But his superior morality, his superior spirituality, his prestige and standing.

To the dump.    Why?? Why???

 

For the story of Jesus as Paul came to know it is of Jesus who even though he was equal to God, threw that away and humbled himself and became a human. Not only a human, but a servant. Not only a servant, but he gave up his own life.

Jesus took his heavenly glory and took it to the dump so that he could save us.

And Paul thought: if that’s the way Jesus was, then maybe that’s the way I should be.

 

Paul would have understood today’s Parable very well.

 

It is about a landowner who invests in a vineyard. He spends a lot of money with fencing, and a well and a winepress. Then he leases it out to some farmers.

But when the time comes to collect some of the harvest as rent, the farmers beat up the servants who come calling.

More servants are sent and some are even killed.

 

The landowner says: “I will send my son. Surely they will respect my son.” The farmers said: “here’s the heir. Let’s kill him and get the inheritance.” And so, they did.

 

So, after giving this little parable, Jesus asks the crowd: “What will the landowner do?”

The crowd says: The landowner will get an army and kill those miserable wretches and rent the vineyard to people who will take care of it properly and pay rent.

 

And Jesus says have you never read the scripture from the Psalms:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’

“Therefore, I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.

 

Then the Chief Priests and Pharisees realize that Jesus is talking about them.

On the face of it the Parable seems such a violent parable.

The tenants are violent and beat up and kill the servants and then the son.

Then according to the crowd, the landowner is going to come and kill the tenants.

 

And there have been some very unhelpful interpretations of this scripture. One bad interpretation is that God is taking grace away from the Jews and giving it to the Christians, and the Jews are bad and going to hell.

 

Another is similar. It is about bad people going to hell and Jesus giving the vineyard to good Christians.

 

But think of it this way. The vineyard is this world, or it is this country, or it is this community, or it is this congregation,…

And what is the vineyard about. Producing fruit. And what fruit are we supposed to be producing.

 

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

 

Remember, all these parables are about radical grace.

And Jesus is criticizing the Chief Priests and the Pharisees, and indeed all of us.

 

They are the ones who have been in charge of the vineyard. Humans have been in charge of the vineyard and yet they haven’t produced radical grace. Love, joy, peace, patience etc,

 

And so, something has to go to the dump.

 

But it isn’t, as you might expect the chief priests and the Pharisees.

It is the system of privilege that needs to go to the dump.

 

The system that says that there are those better than others who deserve grace more, that deserve God more. The system that rewards the morally superior and the spiritually superior, and punishes the losers, the reprobates, the different and the not-good-enough.

 

And to prove that the old system of privilege is useless and hurtful.

Jesus lets that system put him to death.

 

Jesus becomes the stone that is rejected. He is the son of the landowner that the farmers kill.

He empties himself and does downward mobility.

 

Why? To show a different way. The way of love. The way of service.

 

And does God go and kill all the people that put Jesus to death. No God doesn’t.

Instead Jesus intercedes for them and pleads for them and prays for them.

 

Jesus tells the spiritual leaders of the Israelites that the system is going to be taken away because it bears no fruit.

It doesn’t love. It isn’t graceful.

 

And yet those systems of privilege still run rampant in this world.

The systems that economically take the wealth from the poor and putting it into the hands of the rich.

The systems in so many countries and communities  which repress free speech or the truth.

Even the President of the United States calls true facts about himself fake news.

The systems in the world which use violence to keep the privileged privileged.

The systems in the world that deny climate change, and ignore environmental concerns and do not look after the vineyard.

So many of the systems in this world, including the religious ones support the elite and the priviledged and the so called superior ones.

 

But Jesus has another system. Of giving and forgiving, of sharing, of honesty, of love, of kindness and gentleness, of non-violence and peace… It is grace and love for all and in this system nobody is better than anybody else. All are held in tension by God as both sinners and yet children of God.

 

And the way to participate in this system is by downward mobility.

By emptying yourself of all that gets in the way of Jesus.

 

Take your morality pills, your good Presbyterian pills, your good little Christianity pills, even your good spirituality pills and take them to the dump.

 

It is not about being better, more moral, more spiritual or more anything, and especially not more Presbyterian.

 

It is about being you and knowing Jesus and living in the vineyard and producing the fruit of love and grace.

 

You are no better or worse. You are just you, and all you need is Christ and Christ’s love.

 

And if all you have is Christ, then you will start serving, start loving, start sacrificing, start giving, start interceding, start practicing equality. Justice, mercy and compassion.

 

I read a story recently that touched me, about a family in 1946.  A mom and three kids, 16,14 and 12. The father had died five years earlier without leaving the family any money.

 

It was Easter time and the minister announced that a special holiday offering would be taken to help a poor family. He asked everyone to save and give sacrificially.

When the family got home, they talked about what they could do. They decided to buy fifty pounds of potatoes and live on them for a month. That would allow them to save twenty dollars from the grocery money for the offering. Then they thought that if they kept the electric lights turned out as much as possible and didn’t listen to the radio, they’d save money on that month’s electric bill. The kids took odd jobs. In the words of one of the children: “That month was one of the best of our lives.”

At night the family would sit in the dark and talk about how the poor family was going to enjoy having the money the church would give them. That family alone raised seventy dollars and on Easter Sunday went to church proud as peacocks. Some of the people looked down on them in their poor clothes but it didn’t matter because they felt rich. They put their seventy dollars into the special offering

All the way home from church they sang as they walked. The mom had bought a dozen eggs, and they had boiled Easter eggs with our fried potatoes!

Late that afternoon, the minister drove up in his car. The mother went to the door, talked with him for a moment, and then came back with an envelope in her hand. The kids were curious about what the minister wanted and what was in the envelope. She didn’t say a word. She opened the envelope and out fell a bunch of money. There were three crisp twenty-dollar bills, one ten-dollar bill and seventeen one-dollar bills.

 

The family had gone from feeling like millionaires to feeling poor.

They sat in silence for along time. Then it got dark, and they went to bed. They got back their seventy dollars and 17 more besides.

 

They didn’t want to go to church on Sunday, but Mom said they had to. At church there was a missionary speaker. He talked about how churches in Africa made buildings out of sun-dried bricks, but they needed money to buy roofs. He said one hundred dollars would put a roof on a church. The minister added, “Can’t we all sacrifice to help these poor people?”

The family looked at each other and smiled for the first time in a week. Mom reached into her purse and pulled out the envelope and place it in the offering.

When the offering was counted, the minister announced that it was a little over one hundred dollars. The missionary was excited. He hadn’t expected such a large offering from the little small church. He said, “You must have some rich people in this church.”

Suddenly it struck the family! They had given eighty-seven dollars of that “little over one hundred dollars.”

They were the rich family in the church! Hadn’t the missionary said so? From that day on, they were never poor again.

(By Eddie Ogan, from Chicken Soup for the Golden Soul)

 

It is hard to take our ego to the dump. It is hard to take our standing, our status, our privilege, our reputation, our wealth to the spiritual dump.

It is not easy to empty oneself.

To become poor for the spiritual wealth of others.

 

It is called. Taking up a cross.

 

But I have known many, many, people who emptied themselves, humbled themselves and became servants of others…

who took out the trash of their own egos and were left with all kinds of room for love and grace…. So much so that they ran over with love and grace for others…

And most of those people I have known, full of love and grace to share, were just ordinary people who sat in the pews on Sunday morning. Amen.