Gospel: Matthew 21:33-46
1st Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7
Imagine you find an abandoned cat or dog, scared, hungry, injured, and neglected. You spend all your money getting it healthy, making a good space in your house for this pet, fencing the yard, getting a microchip, acclimating the pet to the other animals in the house, providing a nice cozy bed and plenty of food. You put in time getting to know your new pet, getting it used to you and the new space.
Just imagine your disappointment when the pet not only destroys property, but bites the other animals and you, continually runs away, and attacks your children and grandchildren.
Now, your heart is heavy because you’ve put all this investment into this pet, hoping that it could recover and lead a happy, healthy life in harmony with other creatures around it. But now you have no choice but to put it down.
We know that when an animal is like this, something has happened in the past that makes them this way. Maybe they were abused or suffered so terribly they can never recover. But when God has set everything up for us to live together in harmony, to have everything we need, to be comfortable and happy, and instead we get aggressive and selfish and destroy ourselves, our environment, and other lives around us, that is a choice we’ve made. In the readings for today, we can infer that God gets mad, but I think just as much, God gets sad and we all get sad and wonder where is the hope in this world if people are not willing to be tamed and live the way God intended, a life-giving way for everyone.
I suppose first we have to stop and admit what we’ve done. Are we really so bad as a wild animal or a trampled vineyard? We try to do right, live like other people, and protect ourselves. We go to church most Sundays and even if we don’t, we believe in God. We give some of our income to charity to help other people. We volunteer. We let people go in front of us at the grocery store. We’re kind to animals.
We probably didn’t set out to be wild grapes, but that’s how it has ended up. We are so isolated and removed from each other we don’t even know how our choices affect those around us. We are so comfortable behind the closed doors of our homes, we don’t even know the neighbors right next door are suffering. We tend to think of our home, money, and yard as ours and do with it what we wish, forgetting that everything we do affects other people, and that these are gifts from God that actually belong to God, not to us. We are just borrowing them for a little while.
We forget that our land once belonged to someone else and that at one time it belonged to all God’s creatures in the area. We forget that someone after us will use it and that the things we do to it will affect future generations.
We think of our money as our own, that we earned it and should be able to use it as we like. We spend it on so many frivolous things. Some of these are even for our pets. In this country we spend $61 billion a year on our pets. We spend about 7 billion on Halloween. Yes, those things make us happy. They keep our economy going. But thinking of hungry children, of single parents who can’t find work, of elder neglect, and people who can’t afford medical care, might make us consider what God’s priorities might be over our own.
I don’t think God’s given up on us yet. We can see that our way of life is unsustainable and that it is destroying this earth, using up resources, and polluting our air and water and soil. We are starting to experience the consequences of our actions. God is still saying, there is another way, a way for life to flourish for all, for everyone to have enough, and for us all to live together peacefully, for our planet to thrive. But we have to be ready and willing to change. God is saying when all these changes happen in our world that wake us up to what we’re doing, God’s is offering us another way. We will have to let go of the life we’ve known and embrace something new, something we can’t anticipate exactly, how it will all work. But we’ll have our strong faith and the stories of death and resurrection, of facing reality and making a change, and receive strength that it can be done. We’ll have the support of our community to make the changes necessary. We won’t be alone. And we will live again. We’ll find a new way of life in which we will bear the fruit of the Kingdom—new life, loving God, loving our neighbor, loving God’s good creation, behaving in loving and balanced ways. God says, why not start making these changes now, so that the destruction that is coming won’t be so disastrous?
We do the easy things. We change our light bulbs for energy efficient ones. We recycle. We turn out the lights in rooms we aren’t using. We do the things that are culturally acceptable and popular. God says, the Kingdom of God is not culturally acceptable. This is needs to be a deeper change that is risky. It makes you look foolish to your friends and family and neighbors. People will make fun of you. They will talk behind your back. But it is the way that eventually leads to more life for everyone and it is God’s way, it is the way for us to survive and thrive on this earth. It will be worth looking like a fool.
Jesus came to show us how to really live. He was kind toward those everyone rejected. He put other people first and their welfare. He emptied himself of everything and still had something to give other people. He taught us to share when we have next to nothing. He taught us to live without things that are unnecessary. He taught us to give everything away. He taught us to have a thick skin about what other people think. He taught us to look out for the little guy and even for the plants and animals. These are the lessons of healing for our community that Jesus teaches us. And he taught us to die, to let go, to be transformed, to give ourselves into God’s hands—to trust.
Because after death comes resurrection, new life, new relationship, God’s Kingdom in our midst. I challenge you this month to start a new habit, to do something a little harder to bring in God’s Kingdom. For every dollar you spend on your pet, give another dollar to the Pongo fund to give pet food to those who can’t otherwise afford to fee their pets, or give a bag of dog or cat food to a shut-in neighbor with pets. For every dollar you spend on Halloween, give a dollar to Lutheran World Relief to fight Ebola in Africa. For every dollar spent at Starbucks, give a dollar to Backpack Buddies. For every hour spent watching TV, spend an hour volunteering for the pantry or a local shelter or reading to kids at a school.
We have been given something wonderful and amazing, this beautiful world and many riches. It is not for us to use as we see fit. It is not ours. We can use it the way we want to, but it will be our destruction. Or we can let God tame us and show us new life and we will drink of the wine this land produces and share in its riches. We have a responsibility to the one who has invested so much in us, to God. And we have a responsibility to this earth that has provided such a wonderful life for us, to care for it that many future generations will be able to enjoy what we’ve enjoyed and know the blessings of God’s good creation.