Who Owns the Vineyard?
Have you ever taken a journey in your mind? When you read something or hear a word, a phrase, or you think of someone or an event and it reminds you of something which is related to something else.
You begin to think of people or events related to whatever triggered the thought and before you realize it you are off on a different subject. I admit I do it all the time.
For example, yesterday, while making a mental list of things I had to accomplish for the day, I saw a police car. The car reminded me of an obituary I saw last week. The obituary was of state policeman I once knew in West Virginia. He was injured in a training exercise and had to retire early. So, I wondered why he died so young? Now, what did that have to do with my list of things to accomplish?
As I said, I do it all the time.
In the beginning…
I read a Native American Proverb recently, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.” When I read the proverb, I began to think about climate change. I thought about the earth warming, glaciers melting, oceans rising, fires in tropical rainforests, and the number of species of birds that have disappeared over the past 5 years.
Then I thought of the growing political debate. On the one hand the reports of changing weather patterns and on the other hand the accusations of false reports. Although climate change is not a new political issue, it is relatively new as a theological issue, debated by politicians. Not new in reality, but new in that politicians are using theological arguments to undergird their positions. Is the climate changing or is it political leverage to garner votes?
That thought took me to creation. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). And then to God giving the responsibility for creation to us, human beings (Genesis 1:28-30).
There is a Wideness in God’s Mercy
Then I wondered if God was pleased with the way we humans have cared for God’s creation. Which then took me to a hymn I remembered singing in Sunday School as a teenager, “There is a Wideness in God’s Mercy.”
There is a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in God’s justice, which is more than liberty.
For the love of God is broader than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
I began to give God thanks for God’s mercy. I remember the day that God’s grace became real to me. It was related to learning I was adopted. God had chosen me, given me a name, and had loved me from the very beginning of my life. God’s grace was big enough to include me. There is a wideness in God’s mercy.
Then I thought about how God’s love is big enough to include everyone. As I have heard it said, “There is room at the table for everyone.” There is a wideness in God’s mercy.
Then I thought of the Parable of the Tenants in Luke 20:9-15.
“A certain man planted a vineyard, rented it to tenant farmers, and went on a trip for a long time. When it was time, he sent a servant to collect from the tenants his share of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants sent him away, beaten and empty-handed. The man sent another servant. But they beat him, treated him disgracefully, and sent him away empty-handed as well. He sent a third servant. They wounded this servant and threw him out. The owner of the vineyard said, ‘What should I do? I’ll send my son, whom I love dearly. Perhaps they will respect him.’ But when they saw him, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Let’s kill him so the inheritance will be ours.’ They threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What will the owner of the vineyard do to them?”
Which reminded me of something I heard over 30 years ago in a pastor’s school in West Virginia.
Our Landlord is a Softy
In 1964 Arthur Hoppe, of the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote an editorial titled “Our Landlord Is a Softy.”
The editorial was written as follows:
The scene is a pearly lit executive suit. The Landlord is seated on a throne-like chair and is listening to the annual year-end report of his chief collection agent, Mr. Gabriel.
Mr. Gabriel says, “And so, Sir, there is no question. You have a beautiful piece of property there, all right. Ah, the way the grass smells after a rain, the brilliance of a snowfield on a crisp morning, the softness of the desert in the moonlight, the way a sea fog creeps in.”
Landlord sighs. “Yes, yes, Gabriel, I know. But, let’s get down to the facts and figures. What about depreciation this past year?”
Mr. Gabriel shaking his head. “Not so good, Sir. They burned some more holes in Viet Nam and they have frayed the Arab and Israeli border rather badly.”
The Landlord says, “Just write it off under normal wear and tear, Gabriel.”
Mr. Gabriel: “Well, if you say so, Sir. But what about the air?”
Landlord: “Well, what about the air?”
Mr. Gabriel consults his notes. “They poured another 16.2 million tons of exhaust fumes, industrial smoke, and other garbage into the air, Sir. Rapidly, it is lowering the value of the entire property.” Then he added, “But I can say they did not make it as radioactive as they did the year before.”
The Landlord nodded. “See, there is an encouraging note.”
Mr. Gabriel continues, “But it is a different story with the water supply.”
The Landlord sadly replies, “I suppose it is.”
Mr. Gabriel, “Yes, they have dumped 13.2 trillion gallons of more sewage, mud, and industrial chemicals, and other poisons in virtually every river and creek. You cannot lie on your stomach and drink from a cool, clear stream anymore without chancing typhus, hepatitis, or cholera.”
The Landlord holding up his hand says, “Please! How are the crops? I assume they have been growing things.”
Mr. Gabriel: “Yes, I was going to get down to soil erosion next. During the past 12 months, no less than 82.5 million tons of rich loam…
The Landlord interrupts Mr. Gabriel, “But they have been improving the property, I’m sure. What about new construction?”
Mr. Gabriel: “Yes, let’s see. They built 122,233 more public buildings all of which they claim will look very nice once the trees grow back. They have also erected 27,342 new oil derricks, and paved over 43 alpine meadows with freeways…
The Landlord winces, “Not my alpine meadows.”
Mr. Gabriel reluctantly, “Yes, your alpine meadows. Thanks to new advances in rocketry, they have reached new heights with their debris, while at the same time they have been busy drilling a deep hole into the earth to see what’s inside.”
The Landlord: “It is more curiosity than vandalism, I’m sure.”
Mr. Gabriel: “Sir, you must face the facts. You have a beautiful piece of property and undesirable tenants. By any conceivable rule of property management, you have but one choice.” Raising his golden trumpet to his lips, he says, “Shall I sound the eviction notice now?”
The Landlord hesitantly says, “No. No. Let’s extend their short-term lease for just one more year, Gabriel.”
Mr. Gabriel: “But you have been saying that for years, Sir.”
The Landlord sighs deeply, “I know, Gabriel, I know. But I keep thinking that sooner or later they are going to stop acting as if they own the place.”
Oh, there is a wideness in God’s mercy!
Now, what do you think?
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