October 2, 2011, 16th Sunday After Pentecost
The Rev. Doug Hale
Isaiah 5:1-7; Matthew 21:33-46
Isaiah sang a song for his beloved’s vineyard and Jesus told a parable about those who tended a vineyard. While I don’t think I’ll try to sing you a song today, let me tell you about my new yard.
Our new house has an amazing garden. There are blackberry vines, apple trees, peach trees and cherry trees. You would expect that it would yield a variety of fruits, but other than the very productive blackberries, the apples were inedible and the peaches and cherries bore nothing.
Clearly, those who tended this garden in the past were not concerned that it bear fruit. The trees have gone without pruning. It is as if it had been allowed to go wild and fallow. On the other hand, I am sure it has received plenty of Oregon rain.
So judge with me. What should be done? This garden needs a new tenant who will help it bear fruit. In the many places I have lived, I have always tried to work with what the yard already has in place, trying to help it look it’s best.
This yard is the most challenging I have ever faced. It is the only one that ever had fruit trees, and I don’t know if I know enough to judge what are the right steps to take for the path to fruitfulness.
I know it will take some drastic pruning in some cases and some dormant spray. And then I will have to wait and see if they will bear worthy fruit or not.
Unfortunately, I already know that a peach tree and an apple tree will have to be dug up and cast out, for I judge that they are already dead.
In time, I hope to see a restored yard that is pleasant in appearance, and keeps me busy during the summer gathering in it’s fruits.
Being the recipient of the gardener’s pruning saw may not be a pleasant experience. At the time that it happens, do the trees really know the difference between the branches cut off by a gardener’s judicious cuts and branches snapped off in a storm? The shock to the tree is one thing when yearly pruning removes small amounts of the tree is one thing. But what is it like for a tree to have half of its branches removed because it has gone out of control and it is not producing worthy fruit?
What is it like for us when difficulties come in our lives and large portions of who we are are torn away from us? It can be deeply painful. And how do we understand it? Is it simply the vicissitudes of life? Is it God’s punishment? Is it the judicious discipline of our Lord? Whatever it is, it hurts all the same.
How shall we respond to what has happened to us whatever the cause or reason? Shall we be angry? Depressed? Shall reject the idea of God’s judgment? Or what?
Let me tell you about what else is in my yard that I do know something about. There are five rose bushes of varying conditions. None of them had been cared for recently. The aphids where having a hay-day, when we moved in. Four of them seemed fairly healthy with a lot of growth, but they had not been properly pruned and they had very few if any blooms.
By the driveway is an old rose. It looked like it had been through a war. There were very few branches and fewer leaves. And yet, when we moved in, it had two large beautiful white with red blooms. I was amazed that it could actually bloom at all.
I did a bit of judicious pruning and applied systemic fertilizer and insecticide. Then I waited to see what would happen.
One has produced amazing clusters of small pink blooms. This rose will do well. But three of the healthiest looking roses have yet to bloom again, but they have put a lot of energy into more branches and leaves. This winter, I will need to do some drastic pruning and then wait and see if they will respond.
Then there is the old rose by the driveway. It began to put out new growth. On closer inspection I realized that in that new growth were five new buds…amazing! One of them began to open yesterday. Clearly, this rose knows that it’s purpose in life is to produce flowers.
The purpose of life is what really matters. What was the purpose that Isaiah’s beloved gave to the vineyard? To produce fruit! What purpose did Jesus’ landowner give the tenants? To produce fruit!
God gave to the fruit trees the purpose in life to produce fruit for eating and for the roses to produce blooms of beauty.
God has given purpose to our lives as well. Jesus speaks of people producing the fruits of the kingdom. Isaiah tells us that God wants our lives to be ones of justice and righteousness. God wants our lives to produce to satisfy the hungry hearts and care for those who suffer. God has planted us for this purpose.
God has applied to our lives a myriad of blessings to help us grow. God has pruned us so that we might be better focused upon what we are here to do.
Remember in those times in your life, when it is so painful, what your purpose is life is. Take a lesson from the old rose. Produce the fruit God has asked of you to produce,no matter your condition at the time.