We Are God’s Vineyard
“We Are God’s Vineyard”
Archbishop Loren Thomas Hines
Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
October 8, 2017
Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80
In our lessons today we are confronted with a story that’s repeated to us twice. It’s not the only time that God has repeated something twice to us. He understands our weaknesses and the situation we find ourselves in many times – how that we pay little attention to what He is saying to us and listen more readily to the world around us. Today’s story is given to us both in the Old and New Testament. In the New Testament, it’s in the form of a parable while in the Old Testament God speaks to His people. Notice in the Old Testament, it says He sings this song to His well-beloved (Isaiah 5:1). The context of that alone shows God’s heart, something that goes beyond just simply talking to someone. He sings thru a song of love and compassion. This is the heart of God because God is love. Everything He does is done in compassion, grace and mercy. Listen to the words of this Old Testament reading: “My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill”. This has something so powerful in it and if only you understand, you’ll be jumping up and down. A fertile hill means it will produce. This is one of the most potent areas of the earth. He built a protection around it so the enemy couldn’t stop it from growing. He planted it with the choicest vines. The word “choicest” means the best, the most elite, the most powerful vines. He built in the middle of it a tower so that the enemy could be seen when he tries to come. Notice how gracious God is to His people. He then hewed out in the midst of it a wine vat so you could take the grapes from the vine and make great wine with them. Something powerful is being said to us here if we will only allow the Holy Spirit to quicken it to us. God says later that this is Israel; that He is doing this for Israel, and the vines are the people of Israel. They are His choice vines; they aren’t just ordinary people. He did this so that the rest of humanity could understand the love of God, His grace and mercy. He gave the best, not second best; the most elite, powerful and potent to His people. His people were not to be in poverty and in need. They were not to be beaten down so He built a protection around them. This is what God did.
We can look at the Gospel today where it says basically the same thing, but it isn’t only Israel. In this particular situation He says He will take it away from those who will not take advantage of it and give it to others who will pay Him His due. God wants us to pay attention to this story. He didn’t just give us birth and then leave us to make it on our own. The life He gave us is the choicest life because we were created in the image and likeness of God Himself. This gives us potential and ability, strength and power. Not just human, not just flesh but created in the image and likeness of God, with the ability to recognize how great God is that goes beyond the normal in humanity’s standards. He didn’t just give us the ability to bring forth birth, but this birth, this life He’s given us is so powerful that it conquers, overcomes, rules and reigns. Genesis 1 tells us that when God created man in His image and likeness, He commissioned man to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth. This was His blessing upon man. How could we have been deceived by the world system to find ourselves in bondage and slavery to commercialism? Proverbs tells us “Let your fountain be not for you alone and let that fountain be powerful to bring forth all your needs”. God didn’t create us without ability and potential. He created us with that life in us that is greater than anything that can come against us. He breathed His life into man, and that life still remains in us. In the midst of Ordinary Time, God is telling us in common terminology: “Wake up! You’re not slaves to the world and circumstances. I have created you in My image and likeness. You can take what’s dark and void and turn it into something powerful, if you’ll listen to Me and use what I’ve given you”.
I don’t think most of us grasp the meaning of the protection He has given us but Psalm 34:7 says “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him and rescues them”. Instead of feeling anxious when we find ourselves in the darkness or in the midst of unpleasant things, we should be feeling secure and at peace because God is watching over us. We can choose to reject what God has done. We can choose to live in want and need. We can choose to be beaten down. Remember we have the key. God has given us everything pertaining to life and godliness. Nothing has been held back. This parable speaks so loudly to us of His compassion, grace and mercy. His plans for us don’t include failure and defeat; only victory. It’s amazing how we’ve allowed our minds to see only the negative. Our minds only see the difficulty, not the ability we have to overcome. God has given us grace and mercy. The problem may seem bigger than us but our God is so much bigger and He will not fail. It’s all in our thinking and this is why Romans 12 tells us to renew our minds. Because we train the mind in the ways of the world, it thinks as the world does. So rather than listening to what God says, we do things according to how we see they should be done. We spend a lot sending our children to universities of man but do we take the time to teach them the ways of God? Do they know God, His ways and provision for us? Men who walk the way of God are seen as peculiar in this world. They aren’t easily accepted, but people envy these men and wonder why favor is upon them. Because we walk with God, that favor belongs to us. It’s ours because God created us that way. We were called, commissioned and programmed (it’s in our DNA) to produce and multiply and cause things to happen. That’s our nature. I had the biggest shock of my life this week. I’ve told you that I talk to my trees, telling them that they were created by God to bring forth fruit for His glory. I keep talking to them and blessing them. Last week I harvested 72 kilos of calamansi. This week it was 170 kilos. Didn’t God say He will multiply? My trees are still full. This is what God does when you walk with Him and believe in Him, proclaim Him and hold on to His promises with faith. This isn’t just for me, but God is speaking to us to show us His favor in our lives, if only we believe and not follow the ways of the world. I don’t listen to the ways of the world; I do what God says.
We must realize this – we are His vineyard and this vineyard was created to bring forth abundance. Our fountain, according to Proverbs is supposed to be able to take care of and feed others, not just ourselves. This is the attitude that God has implanted within us but the world has deceived us and made us slaves to it. It tells us we have to do this and that to survive, but we survive only because of Christ. Commercialism is destroying humanity by making us slaves to its system. Advertisements for goods of different brands compete for our money and they do this by destroying one another. God’s character is building, not destroying. He restores, He builds up and strengthens. We’re not here to enrich ourselves. What we do, we do for God and He will do the rest. This is the story that He brings to us.
In Philippians 3, we’re told to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”. The prize is eternal life, peace and joy; it’s not the fighting and battling and the conflict. It’s so easy to get all uptight; just drive through the traffic. But why do we put ourselves in these situations? We think the only way we’ll survive is to get to the city. What’s wrong with the country where the trees are and there’s no pollution, and where it’s quiet and peaceful? We’ve been deceived into believing that we can only survive in the city. People have made a lot in the cities, I don’t deny that but it’ll pass away because it’s not built on the Kingdom of God.
This is what God wants us to understand in today’s lessons. “I’m giving this to you. I’m taking it away from Israel because Israel would not give Me what is due Me. They were worshipping other gods. They were not listening to Me, so I’m taking it away from them and giving it to you. But if you don’t handle it properly, I’ll also take it away from you”. We should realize that we should be peculiar. We don’t want to be normal the way the world is, consumed by the desire for material things. Our standard is the Kingdom of God which gives us a pattern of peace, holiness and righteousness. We have to renew our minds so we won’t be thinking the way of the world. The world is so full of corruption. Go to the courts, the justice system; they don’t deal in righteousness but in how much you’re willing to give them as bribes. Corruption is basically in all realms. God wants His Church to establish righteousness and not to accept the system of the world. It’s so easy to accept bribes. It’s not wrong to honor somebody because he’s done something well. That’s not bribery. Bribery is when you pay them so you can get what you want. I used to travel a lot and when ever I checked into a hotel, I would give a good tip to those who carried my bags. So every time I would go to the hotel, they would all be out there to get my bags as soon as my taxi arrived. They knew I’d take care of them. That’s not bribery; that’s honor you’re giving them for helping you and because you know they don’t make that much. We don’t buy our way through life. God has already given us life. His provision is ours. He wants us to be blessed.
The way I interpret Scriptures is the day will come when the cities will be destroyed because even in Isaiah, we are told that if we build houses side by side on land next to each other we’re under a curse. It’s not what God wants. He wants the blessings of the garden where there’s no pollution because the trees were created to bring fresh air. This got me so excited as I was meditating on it because God has promised us abundance. We set a standard and we hold to that standard. I’ve heard several reports from international media that people throw away tons and tons of good food everyday because they don’t meet their standards – just a little defect in the color and they are thrown away. We throw away the blessings of God because according to our standards they aren’t right or acceptable.
God’s favor upon us is so great. He will meet our needs if we trust in Him. He will never turn His back on us. We are His vineyard. Do we understand what this means? I do because I have a farm. I understand that putting in the best plants and treating them properly will produce a harvest of plenty and good. We are given commandments to keep us on track; so we won’t waver. We are given leaders who are supposed to challenge us to stay on the plan of God and not to be deceived by the ways of men. This doesn’t mean it’s wrong for us to be involved in the ways of the world, but God wants us to use those to provide for what we need. The question I bring to you is how much time do you give to your investments in the system of the world compared with how much time you give to God? How much energy and ability do you use in trying to make a living for yourselves rather than using them for the glory of God and letting God give you a living? God will bless you with abundance if you will use His gifts for His glory. He won’t hold it back. I can witness to God’s favor. He takes care of His own.
When the negative comes, we refuse to accept it; we refuse to believe it. Instead we stand firm on His Word. God will not fail to fulfill His commitment if we have faith and confidence in Him. The world has many enticing things to pull us away from God; from trusting Him, but I encourage you to follow His commandments if you want to be blessed. My responsibility is to keep pounding on you with grace and mercy. Let’s walk with God. Never mind the other things. Yes, they are nice for a moment but they have no lasting benefits. Our citizenship is in heaven, not here on earth. We’re not Filipinos. We’re God’s children. We’re of the heavenly Kingdom. Yes, we have the color and flavor of the local but inside of us is the heart of God. It’s His breath and very being that are in us. The temple leaders were trying to put Christ in a corner but He knew something they didn’t. They were taking advantage of the people. Christ would not take advantage. He gave the people everything. He healed the sick, raised the dead, and fed the hungry. Everything He did was giving. Did He lose? No. I don’t know were He got His income from but He took care of 82 men everyday – feeding them and taking care of them. He was able to meet their needs because He had control over all things. He fed five thousand from a little boy’s lunch. If God can do that with a little boy’s lunch, imagine what He can do with what we have if we give it to Him? Can you begin to have a vision of what can take place if we will only let Him be the One that we put our faith and confidence in? He will not fail us. There may be the tests and trials but He will lead you through them. He won’t leave you in the midst of a failure. He won’t leave you in darkness but will bring you to the light. This is our hope and what Ordinary Time should be. We should be living it out. Instead we are so anxious about so many things. We’re all tense, in strife and in stress, trying to make both ends meet when in reality, when we walk with God, His abundance is more than enough. It doesn’t matter how much you have in the bank or in your pocket. God takes care of these things for you. I can tell you how many times God has met our needs. He doesn’t fail but we must have faith in Him.
Yes, we’re peculiar. I don’t want to be normal according to the world’s standards. I want to be what God wants me to be. These stories today – two in one day – are stories about the provision of God and how He meets our needs. You are a choice vine and this means you can bring forth abundant fruit. If you don’t produce fruit, you’ll be cut down. I cut down a couple of my calamansi trees because they weren’t producing. Cutting them down didn’t hinder an abundant harvest but aided it, because sometimes those diseased plants will spread to the others if you don’t destroy them. . When we’ve done what God wants us to do, He will not fail to make certain that our needs are met and He gets the glory. I bring these two stories from Isaiah and Matthew about the vineyard because this is where we are. He planted us on good soil. He made us a choice vine. There’s no failure in our lineage; it’s God’s lineage. We need to renew our mind. We’ve trained it in the ways of man and as a result, it doesn’t produce what God intends. We need to train it according to God’s ways and then it will produce fruit that will remain, because His Spirit is in us. This will bring unity. “If two agree on touching anything, it shall be done by My Father in heaven”, Jesus said. God loves you. He sings a song to you today, a song of encouragement, thanksgiving and hope, because you are His children, created in His image and likeness. He won’t fail you. Rejoice in Him.