October 2, 2011 Gospel: Matthew 21:33-46 Psalm 80:7-15
1st Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7 2nd Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14
In the past few years we’ve had a number of stray cats staying in our yard. I don’t know if this is part of the downturn in the economy that people are abandoning their pets because they can’t afford them or not spaying or neutering their animals because they can’t afford that, or just some co-incidence. Three strays have lived in our yard. I suppose they chose us because they know we’re suckers. They know cat people. They know how hard it is to say no. I hate to see an animal starving, so I’ve looked into what I can do about it. With the first cat, I called the Humane Society. At the time there was a 6 month waiting period for them to receive strays. I put a flier around the neighborhood and asked people of it was their cat. I could have taken “Stachey”—named for his mustache—to the pound, but the likelihood that a perfectly healthy, beautiful cat would be euthanized was too much to bear. And I took him to the vet to see if he had a microchip. He didn’t, but he panicked and I learned he was feral—had probably never been indoors before and too wild to sterilize. We gave him to someone who lived out in the woods and needed a barn cat, because he had killed a squirrel and several birds, but he instantly ran away and we don’t know what became of him. Now that we have two other strays in our yard, we are feeding one and our neighbor is feeding the other and I don’t really know what else to do.
Maybe it is because we know what it is like to be rejected that we latch on to these creatures who need us. Maybe we have soft hearts. Maybe we are suckers. Maybe we have compassion.
The Gospel reading for this morning says, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” God knows what it is like to be rejected. In the first reading, God puts in all this hard work constructing a vineyard. The rocks are cleared. The vines are planted. The watchtower is built. The wine vat is in place. The fence goes in. You can just imagine the vineyard owner’s anticipation. Every rock removed is a sign of the hope he has in the upcoming harvest. He believes that very sore muscle is going to be worth it. It takes a long time for grape vines to get established and mature enough to produce grapes. He has delayed gratification and put everything into this venture.
And it is all for nothing. The grapes are wild.
Think of God, preparing this earth, developing every tree, perfecting every river and brook, evening out the seasons, bringing night and day, setting the earth on its axis and spinning it, placing the stars in the sky, painting every sunset, providing snow melt every spring. All this will nourish us and help us thrive, and yet, here we are, wild grapes, not acting like God’s people at all—not producing what God was expecting.
And put it in the context of the Gospel, God sending prophets and teachers to help us understand what God wants for us and to help us out. And we kill those prophets. We don’t want to hear it. And God sends more people to show us a better way and we do the same with them. And God sends the Son and we don’t want anything to do with him. We kill him, too. God knows what it is like to be rejected—and mocked and spit on and tortured. We rejected him until he couldn’t be rejected anymore, because we had killed him.
Understandably, God is upset, just like we are when we get rejected. In the Gospel, the vineyard owner is really, really mad. The Kingdom of God is taken from those who reject God and kill God’s representatives. The cornerstone crushes those who don’t produce the fruit of the Kingdom.
In Paul’s letter to the people of Philippi, there is a different response. Instead, God makes us all his own. God doesn’t take the fact that we’ve rejected God and use it to reject us. Instead, God comes back to us again with compassion and understanding and adopts us again. That’s what any parent does with their kids. Parents teach their kids the best they can to make good decisions. Most children don’t do everything the way their parents taught them. That is part of becoming their own person. Parents may even feel rejected by their children. Yet parents continue to love their children and help them.
That’s the nice thing about our pets, it is very rare that they reject us. They can be so loyal. They might disobey us. They might destroy something important to us. They might get away and run around the neighborhood, but none of it is malicious. They are innocent. More often, we reject them. Every night I throw the cats out of our bedroom. I have lately been throwing the cat out of the crib. I have it covered with a sheet and yet she finds a way to climb on top of it and lay down in a warm, satisfying sleep! I put my cats out in the rain. I may not pet them for days. Yet, every morning when I get up, they trust me to feed them. As soon as I sit down at the computer in the evening, they are walking on the back of the chair or begging to get in my lap, which unfortunately for them is getting smaller and smaller. They are loyal and loving, like God.
The truth is, we have all been rejected and we’ve all done some rejecting. We’d like to think we’re not rejects—we’d like to think we’re somebody important. But we are quirky and vulnerable and weird and are afraid of being rejected.
The good news for this morning is that there is a place for rejects, with God. God, who knows what it is like to be rejected, accepts and loves all of us just as we are. That kind of acceptance, after all we’ve done against God, can help us be more compassionate toward those who have rejected us and those we once rejected.
We are the stray cat that is hanging out in God’s yard, abandoned by our friends, scruffy, hungry, pathetic. But God sees the potential there. When he tries to comfort us, we may scratch or bite. We might keep our distance. But when the food bowl is filled, we come running. Everyone, even a reject, could use a good meal and some love. So we are invited to the table from all our various corners, not to claw and scratch, but to be redeemed rejects with value and hope for a brighter future.
Discussion question for this week:
In what ways has God blessed you through your pets or through nature?