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Abiding in the Vineyard April 29, 2018

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John 15:1-8

Fifth Sunday After Easter

April 29, 2018

 

Focus:  God cleans (baptism) and prunes (Lord’s Supper) His people.

Function:  That the hearers abide in Christ by keeping His commandments.

Structure:  Textual Illustration.

 

Abiding in the Vineyard

 

Last week, we had an image from Jesus that we could relate to.  An illustration, that we are sheep, and He is our shepherd.  For many of us, that is so relatable because we’ve heard it over and over again.  Even if we’ve never been shepherds and we’ve never watched them care for their flock.

Here today, Christ gives us another illustration, and this time, it’s one we can even more fully understand.  Even if you’ve never seen a vineyard, grapes growing on the vine, we are all familiar with fruit growing in a garden.  It could be an apple tree.  It could be a berry bush.  In the sermon today, I’ll stick specifically with the words Jesus picked, but we get the idea.

We have the roots and the trunk.  And then we have branches.  And from those branches, we see fruit.  And we know that there is a time to prune, so that the branches will bear fruit again.  And we also know, what happens if a branch falls off the vine? It withers, dies, and no longer produces fruit.

And so today we learn that Jesus is the vine.  He is the root, He is the trunk, He is the whole plant.  He is the grape vine that spans across the vineyard.  Jesus once again declares Himself with this parable to be God.  His I AM statements throughout the gospel according to John are declarations that He is God.  When God reveals His name in the Old Testament, this is it.  The divine name is the Hebrew phrase, I AM.  Ehweh/hwha.  We know Jesus is making this connection to the Old Testament, because the Pharisees try to kill Him for it.

One of my favorite things about this text is verse 3.  “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.”  Already you are clean!  Not tomorrow, or next week.  There isn’t a plan to add you in next year.  You are already clean!

This weekend we ourselves are witnesses of this very act.  God washes us clean.  Right here, Eden is washed clean.  Right here, Walter was washed clean last weekend.  Right here, you were washed clean.  Your sins are gone, removed from you by the washing of water and the Word.  You are His.  You are His child, you are His branch.  God grafted you onto the vine.

Another wonderful thing about this parable from Jesus is that it’s not just me.  It’s not just you.  All the “you’s” in the text are plural.  God’s got Himself a whole vineyard.  Everywhere you look around you, that’s what you see!  You see Christ the vine.  You see His Church the branches.  You’re surrounded by Christ Himself.  We’re in this fruit-bearing thing together.

And so, what is it then that Jesus instructs us to do?  Abide.  Eleven times in the chapter, ten times in just the first ten verses.  Abide in Me.  Abide in the vine.  Abide in My love.  That’s the work that’s called of us.  That we remain in Christ.

And Christ defines this for us.  That’s our gospel reading for next weekend.  But I won’t leave you in suspense.  We have to keep it together to see what all Christ is teaching us in the parable of the Vine and the branches.  And so we read in verses 9-13:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

And so abiding in Christ in the vine is the Ten Commandments.  It’s the first table of the Law, that we would trust in God above all things and that we would enjoy the gifts that He gives through regular use of His Word and Sacraments.  And it’s also the second table of the Law, that we would love one another.  That we would give of ourselves to care for one another.  Even to the point of death.

This is the Law.  To abide in Christ is to keep it.  And I’m terrible at it.  As the storms buffet against the vine, branches can fall off.  As we’re tempted in the midst of the difficulties of this life, we can fall off.  We’re tempted to idolatry. We’re tempted to chase after other gods, even if we don’t call them such.  We can put our trust and our hope in things that cannot save us.  And so as the rains come and the winds howl, we cling to false hopes, to worldly ideals and dreams.

As the hail pounds down upon us, we find ourselves neglecting and hurting our neighbor.  It won’t be so bad if I tell people what she did last week.  It’s not really gossip if it’s true.  We have no problem bad mouthing our authorities and ignoring their voice, whether that’s our parents, our boss, or our government.  We convince ourselves that divorce isn’t adultery.  Or that lingering stare doesn’t really hurt anyone.

Indeed, even as the devil’s tornado roars, we jump right off the vine, abandoning the things God provides to keep us safe and in the faith, only to be sucked up into a whirlwind of death and destruction.

If you’ve ever seen a vineyard, the vinedresser goes to great lengths to keep His branches safe, strong, and healthy.  He’ll put posts for the vine to attach itself to.  He’ll run fencing and wire for the branches to be wrapped around.  It isn’t the branches that are doing this.  We are given work to do, and we often don’t do it well.

Jesus says in verse seven that “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  At all times, the Word of God dwells in you.  The words “you are My child,” through your baptism.  The words, “Your sins are forgiven” through Christ’s Absolution and His supper.  God has built a vineyard for you.  He’s grafted you into His own Son the vine.  And He’s surrounded you with all the support and help that you need in the midst of sin and death.  We cling to His promises.  We abide in His vine.

And it isn’t just in the times that we fail, it’s not just when we sin that we see God pumping life into us through the vine of Christ by forgiving us of our sins.  God regularly is pruning us.  Working on us that we might bear fruit.  He is constantly edifying His bride the Church.

He builds us up each and every week through Word and Sacrament.  You can gather together, branches in the vineyard, right here at St. Matthew.  Here you can hear the Word of God both read in the readings and professed in the sermon.  Here you can receive the forgiveness of all yours sins through Christ’s very own body and blood shed for you.

God builds up His Church even in the midst of suffering and persecution.  For when the branches are being pruned, they’re being strengthened.  The pains of this life, although not part of God’s plan, are still a way by which we are strengthened in our faith.  God can work through our suffering to teach us to cling all the more to His promises, to trust in Him, to abide in the vine.

God builds us up with His daily provisions.  It is through the gifts that He provides each and every day that we see all the more clearly who He is and what He does for us.  We see the provisions of my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members.  We see the provisions of food, shelter, and clothing.  We see the provisions of family, friends, and neighbors.  We see the provisions of safety, forgiveness, and life.

It’s like the advice that you receive about stray cats.  Don’t ever feed ‘em, because if you do, they’ll stay.  Even the simple cat, another of God’s marvelous creatures, shows this to us.  That as the cat received provision, it began to trust that that food would be there again.  As we receive our daily bread, we begin to trust that it will be there again.

The parable concludes with verses sixteen and seventeen.

16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

 

You are part of God’s kingdom, a branch of the vine.  It’s not your doing.  He chose you.  He washed you clean and He grafted you in in your baptism.  He gave you His Law, and then laid down His own life for your failure to keep it.  And so you remain, you abide, because whatever you ask of the Father, He gives you.  And so you ask for your daily bread, you ask for forgiveness and life, and you ask for the strength to love your neighbor in the hope that they too may be grafted in.  And God, our Fatherly vinedresser, provides.

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The Fat Feast April 1, 2018

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Isaiah 25:6-9

Easter Sunday

April 1, 2018

 

Focus:  God swallows up death forever.

Function:  That the hearers be glad and rejoice in His salvation.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

The Fat Feast

 

The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers; the highest people of the earth languish. The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left. The wine mourns, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of the tambourines is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled. No more do they drink wine with singing; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. 10 The wasted city is broken down; every house is shut up so that none can enter. 11 There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has grown dark; the gladness of the earth is banished. 12 Desolation is left in the city; the gates are battered into ruins.

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, these are the words of the Lord, spoken to His creation by His prophet Isaiah, the 24th chapter.  The party is over.  The creation is broken, the fruits of the world downtrodden, and its inhabitants ashamed, standing condemned by their own guilt.

The party’s over.  There’s no more gladness, no more rejoicing, no more instruments.  No longer do the people drink wine and burst out into song.

Chapters 24-27 of Isaiah’s prophecy are apocalyptic.  They’re about the end, about our own self-destruction and self-absorption, but also about God’s response to our despair.  Because in our text today in chapter 25, we learn that the party is far from over.  In fact, the party has really only just begun!  We’ve seen the judgment, now we get to see the restoration!

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
Talk about a promise!  A feast, but not just any feast.  This isn’t Golden Corral or Pizza Street.  The words used by Isaiah are the choicest of foods, the best of wines.  Literally, the best money could buy.  Here’s an endless feast of the perfect cut of meat.  An endless feast where the barrels of perfectly aged wine are bottomless.

And it’s for you!  That’s the best part of the promise: it includes you.  The promise is for ALL people.  It’s a gift, given for us.  And it happens right here.  On THIS mountain.  Isaiah is referring to Mt. Zion, to the city of Jerusalem, to the city on a hill.

 

And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.

 

Notice again, those same words twice more.  ALL peoples, ALL nations, and THIS mountain.  Regardless of your background, regardless of where you come from.  This promise is for you.  It is again, right here, in Jerusalem, the promise going out to God’s people.

That phrase, to swallow up, in Hebrew is the word “Belah” ([lb).  And every time it’s used, every time something is “swallowed up,” it’s always an act of judgment.  And so here, that judgment is not on us.  That judgment is on what afflicts us.

God will swallow up the covering, the veil that is upon us.  Remember those years where your favorite sports team was just plain awful.  You go to the game, with your brown sack in hand.  You’ve cut out the eyes and the mouth, and you sit there in the stands, with this bag over your head.  You’re ashamed; your team is a disgrace.  And yet there you are.

This veil and covering is our shame.  And it goes far beyond a paper bag and a losing record.  You have guilts that cling to you.  You have those times in your life that you can’t undo.  Things you’ve said that you can never take back.  Harm that you’ve done to someone you care about that you can never reverse.  Things you’ve seen and heard, things you’ve done that you’ll never be able to put out of your mind.

Satan accuses.  Our sinful nature accuses.  It takes our sins and turns them into guilt and uses them mocks us.  “You’ll never be good enough.”  “No one could possibly love you.”  “You’re hopeless.”

This promise is for you.  That God Himself will swallow up your guilt, your shame, your despair.  God Himself will swallow up your sin!

 

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.

 

The repetition in these verses is like gold.  Yahweh is going to swallow up our enemies, the veil, the shame from upon us.  God Himself is going to swallow up even death itself!

The people of Israel that Isaiah wrote this book for, they lived in the Promised Land of God, a land that He took from the Canaanites and gave to His own people.  These Canaanites worshiped a false god, Baal.  And in their mythology, there is an ongoing battle between Baal and Mot, or death.  When the spring comes, Baal crushes Mot, and life begins again.  But every fall, Mot swallows up Baal, and death falls on the land.  In much of the ancient artwork, Mot is even pictured as a large and grotesque beast with an even larger mouth just waiting to swallow up life.

But for us, for the people of God, this stands in contrast.  This promise is not dependent on the seasons.  It doesn’t come and go.  No!  God will swallow up death forever!  It’s the main course on His dinner plate! He will wipe away tears from ALL faces.  He will take our shame, our despair, our reproach away from us, away from ALL people.

And He doesn’t simply cast them aside.  They aren’t merely removed from you temporarily only to harm you again later.  The veil of our shame and our guilt, the veil of our sin and our death is taken on by our Savior.  He carries it for us.  And by carrying it to the cross, He has swallowed it up forever!

Isaiah doesn’t mince words.  He’s intentional; he’s deliberate.  And He only uses this phrase “For Yahweh has spoken,” three times in the book.  And each time, it’s a statement of finality.  It is finished.  That is, God’s Word always accomplishes that for which He sent it.

This promise isn’t based on you or what you do.  We don’t trust in this promise because we can see it, or taste it, or find it, or predict it.  We trust in this promise because He said it.  Look back through the text thus far.  Yahweh is the doer of the verbs.  Not you, not me, not Isaiah.  God has done it.  We bring our sin, and God swallows it up.

 

It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

 

Remember from before, we’re living in chapter 24.  We’re living in the midst of our brokenness, our sin, and our shame.  We’re living in a place where there is no singing, nor wine, nor joy.  But in spite of this, God tells us what to say.

On this swallowing day, God gives us the words to speak.  We may live in the midst of despair now, we may not yet be at the feast of God that never ends, but God gives us the glimpse.  These are the words that we’ll be singing at the promised feast.  And we can start practicing right now.

In fact, that’s what you’re doing.  That’s why you’re here.  It’s called Christian worship.  You have come to foretaste the feast.  You have come for a glimpse of the promise that is yet to come.  As Pastor Otto stood before you this morning, you heard the forgiveness of sins!  They were swallowed up by God Himself.  The Absolution is a foretaste of God’s final verdict for you: My beloved child!  As you come up here in just a few moments, you are partaking of a glimpse of the feast that is to come.  You are feasting on the body and blood of God Himself, poured out for you on the cross for the forgiveness of all your sins.   Your guilt is swallowed up in Him.  It’s a foretaste of the final wedding feast of the Lord that has no end!  For Yahweh has spoken.

The Hebrew word in this verse for “waiting” isn’t what we typically think of.  The word Cavah (hwq) means to wait for something you know is going to happen.  It’s not an anxious worrying, it’s not chewing on your nails waiting to hear from your doctor the results of the recent tests.  This is much more like waiting for the sun to rise in the morning, or waiting for the spring and for warm weather again.  You KNOW these things will happen.  We wait for our Savior because we KNOW that He will save us.  We wait for Yahweh, because this promise is for you.

The last word of our text this morning should never be forgotten.  Salvation.  Every time this word is used in the Old Testament it is announcing the power God has over His enemies.  The Hebrew word here is Yeshua ([wvy). Salvation. We wait in gladness, we wait and rejoice in His Salvation.  In His Yeshua.  It’s the Hebrew name Joshua in English.  And in Greek, it’s the name Jesus.  Let us be glad and rejoice in His Jesus.  Our Lord and our Salvation.

It is on THIS mountain that Jesus has swallowed up all enemies.  It is on THIS mountain, that Jesus Christ swallowed up your sins and your despair and your grief by bleeding and dying upon the cross.  It is upon THIS mountain that Jesus Christ swallowed up even death itself by bursting forth from the tomb on Easter morning.

CHRIST IS RISEN!  (He is Risen Indeed!) ALLELUIA!

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus has feasted on our enemies by swallowing up the veil of shame, the cover of sin, the reproach of guilt, and the tears of death.  And so we gather in His house this day to celebrate this very thing: God has swallowed up death forever.  We gather in His house this day to celebrate an empty tomb, that Jesus is alive, risen from the dead, giving us life that never ends. Jesus feasted so that we would feast forevermore.

This promise is for you because Yahweh has spoken.  Let us be glad and rejoice in His Jesus.  Amen.