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Established May 2009, Little Rock, AR

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People In The Presence Of a Frustrated God

October 8, 2017

PEOPLE IN THE PRESENCE OF FRUSTRATED GOD

A sermon for October 8, 2017

New Millennium Church, Little Rock, AR

 

Isaiah 5:1-7


5Let me sing for my beloved
   my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
   on a very fertile hill. 
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones,
   and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watch-tower in the midst of it,
   and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
   but it yielded wild grapes. 


3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
   and people of Judah,
judge between me
   and my vineyard. 
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard
   that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
   why did it yield wild grapes? 


5 And now I will tell you
   what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
   and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
   and it shall be trampled down. 
6 I will make it a waste;
   it shall not be pruned or hoed,
   and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
   that they rain no rain upon it. 


7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
   is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
   are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
   but saw bloodshed;
righteousness,
   but heard a cry!

 

Matthew 21:33-46


33 ‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ 41They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’

42 Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:
“The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone;*
this was the Lord’s doing,
   and it is amazing in our eyes”? 
43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.* 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’*

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

Frustration is the English word we use to name a sense of not achieving what we have expected.  The verb in English is frustrated, meaning to prevent someone from achieving what he or she intended, as in to make the effort to achieve it useless.  As we ponder these passages from Isaiah 5 and Matthew 21 today, think of them as lessons about humans frustrating God, as in actively working to prevent God from getting what God expects.  

 

In these lessons, God is represented as a landowner who planted a vineyard.  Planting anything is an act of hope.  We plant hoping to harvest.  People pick ground, cultivate, fence it, put and put grape vines on it expecting to eventually harvest grapes.  They expect results.  They hope.  

 

But in these passages, God’s hopes are frustrated.  In Isaiah, the frustration is like that of a disappointed lover.  Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard.  My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.  He dug it and cleared it of stones; and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes [Isaiah 5:1-2].  In other words, despite all the attention and care God invested in Judah, God’s attention and care was spurned.  The society behaved in unloving and oppressive ways, as if it had not been favored by God.

 

The prophet explains the allegory at verse 7:  For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!  Despite all God had invested in Israel and Judah, the people refused to produce justice.  Instead, God found widespread violence (bloodshed) and suffering victims because of systemic oppression (heard a cry).   God is presented as frustrated.

 

Jesus made the same point in our lesson from Matthew 21.  There God is presented as a landowner who decided to plant a vineyard.  But in this lesson, God isn’t frustrated by the grape vines.  God is frustrated by the tenants to whom the vineyard was entrusted.  God expected the tenants to care for the vineyard, harvest the grapes when they ripened, and produce wine, as shown by the wine vat on the property.  

 

But when the vineyard owner sent employees to collect the income produced by the vineyard, the tenants intentionally and consistently mistreated them:  But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.  Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them the same way.  Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.”  But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him [Matthew 21:35-39].  

 

These lessons present God as frustrated, disappointed, spurned, rejected, defied, and even violated.  God is mistreated.  God is defied. God is spurned like a jilted lover.  In Matthew 21, God sends servants – prophets – to plead God’s cause.  But the prophets are mistreated.  Even God’s child is not respected.  

 

Dr. Marvin McMickle (President of Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School [CRCDS] in Rochester, New York)has observed that the idea of rejecting and frustrating God, as shown in these lessons, is repeated in various ways in our time.  According to Dr. McMickle, some people reject the very idea of God as Creator and Sustainer of the universe.  Some people have chosen to disavow involvement with God in any personal sense of commitment in favor of “spirituality.”  Then there are the people who, according to Dr. McMickle “two-time the Lord.”  The point he makes is that these passages challenge us to see the various ways we reject God, frustrate God, defy God, and even do violence to God. 

 

God is frustrated most of all by humans.  Humans alone in all the creation have the moral capacity to disobey, defy, and even make war against God.  Despite all that God has invested in us, humans frustrate God’s goodness.  We frustrate God’s love and justice.  Humans are the greatest threat to peace and hope in the world.  Despite all that God has done for us, with us, and on us, humans frustrate God!  

 

We frustrate God by the way we treat each other.  We frustrate God by mistreating the creation and other creatures on this planet.  We frustrate God by the ways we mistreat people who are vulnerable, marginalized, and helpless.  We frustrate God by embracing ideologies and ways of living that demand allegiance we only owe to God, what Marvin McMickle termed as how we “two-time God.”  

 

We don’t frustrate God accidentally, inadvertently, or by mistake.  These lessons force us to ponder the ways we deliberately, systematically, and knowingly live in opposition to God’s love and purposes. 

 

Allan Boesak is on target when he makes the following observation in his latest book:

 

The wrongs we see are not just happening; they are caused to happen, and they are happening to the vast majority of God’s children who are vulnerable, targeted, and excluded from human consideration.  They are not happening randomly, they are deeply systemic, deliberately built into systems of oppression, domination, and dehumanization. And we must not be afraid to say it.

 

These lessons were addressed to people who held themselves out as followers of God!  Isaiah and Jesus did not focus their attention on pagans, but on people who claimed to believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses.  

 

When we consider these lessons in that light, we cannot escape knowing that they apply to the religious attitudes and conduct in this society and that dominate throughout its culture.  

 

When one thinks of all God has invested in this society, why should God not be frustrated?  This nation is rich in natural resources.  The climate of this land is not only suitable for humans to live in, it is fruitful.  There is enough land and water to sustain and nourish every person who inhabits this society.  We live in a land with abundant resources.  Yet, many people suffer gut-wrenching poverty, hunger, and are homeless despite all the hymnals, Bibles, Bible study groups, and “soul-winning revivals” we see and hear about.  God is frustrated.

 

God has sent prophets to call this society away from our addiction to greed, violence, and oppression.  But instead of hearing and heeding Martin Luther King, Jr., this nation branded him a moral and political threat before it killed him.  This nation deliberately labeled Dr. King, Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, Angela Davis, Cesar Chavez, and other activists for peace and equality threats when they challenged racism, materialism, classism, sexism, imperialism, and other forms of injustice.  God is frustrated.

 

With unmistakable and deliberate conceit and hypocrisy  our nation twice committed the greatest act of mass murder known to humanity – within only three days – when it dropped nuclear bombs on children of God living in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.  

 

On August 6, 1945, our self-professed God-fearing nation deliberately dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, a city with an estimated population of 330,000 children of God.  The death toll from that bomb by December 1945 is estimated at between 90,000 and 120,000 people!  Three days later (August 9, 1945), the United States dropped a second nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, with its estimated population of 250,000.  The death toll from that bomb by December 1945 is estimated at between 60,000-80,000 people!  God was frustrated by what this nation did to the world when we cold-heartedly committed mass murder using nuclear weapons.   

 

God is frustrated by the usual religious suspects of our time – the Bible thumping cheerleaders who enable and encourage oppressive actions against immigrants, people who are hungry, homeless, sick, afflicted by physical, emotional, and other conditions of impairment.  

 

God is frustrated by religious bigotry against women, children, and God’s LGBTQ children.  God is frustrated because the usual religious suspects have co-signed that violence.  

 

The usual religious suspects elected a ruler who refused to show kindness and empathy for Hurricane Maria victims in Puerto Rico.  

 

The usual religious suspects cheered, campaigned for, and celebrated the election of a ruler who termed racial and ethnic bigots “fine people.”  

 

The usual religious suspects cheered when that ruler issued a pardon to a former law enforcement officer who used his office and power to terrorize Latinos in Arizona.  

 

Now the usual religious suspects are cheering as women and girls are being denied access to contraceptive care and services and celebrate while God’s LGBTQ children are threatened with loss of federal protection from discrimination at work and when they seek healthcare. 

 

According to these lessons, the time comes when  entrenched opposition to divine love, mercy, peace, and hope is intolerable even for God.  

 

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the LORD’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?  Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruit of the kingdom.  The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”  Matthew 21:42-44.  

 

According to Jesus, God always has other options when we will not produce justice!  God has the option to turn to other people – meaning not the usual suspects – to produce the fruit of justice, peace, and hope God expects in God’s world.    

 

God has the option to work through other people – meaning not the usual suspects – who will be faithful and humble stewards of creation and God’s natural resources.    

 

God has the option to work with other people – meaning not the usual religious suspects – who will show the world how love is supposed to act.

 

God has the option to work with other people – meaning not the usual suspects – who will show that a prosperous society is defined by how poor, sick, persecuted, elderly, helpless, and immigrant people are treated with dignity, hospitality, respect, compassion, and tenderness, not how privileged people enjoy luxury.  

 

The religion of Jesus is the religion of “not the usual suspects.”  It is the religion of unconditional and inclusive love.  It is the religion of extravagant hospitality.  It is the love of fierce advocacy for the oppressed.  It is the religion of love and life in community with other children of God, not war and empire.  

 

God is calling us, in Jesus, to become part of a holy movement for love, peace, hope, justice, and compassion toward all.  God is calling us, in Jesus, to forsake the values and vices of the usual religious suspects.  Rejoice, beloved, because God is raising new servants who are replacing the usual suspects.  

 

Black Lives Matter is replacing the usual suspects.  The peace movement is replacing the usual suspects.  Faithful people are challenging the imperial vicious pretensions of the United States in this society and across the world because God is replacing the usual flag-waving, bomb and bullet worshipping, hymn singing, and hate-loving religious suspects. 

 

Do you see it happening?  Can you sense how the usual suspects are uneasy?  The usual suspects are no longer considered trustworthy voices about love, truth, justice, and hope.  They are deadly afraid of being replaced because they sense that their age of male patriarchy and white supremacy is passing away!  They are fired up about “Make America Great Again” because they know their days are numbered!  

 

This is the Lord’s doing and it is amazing in our eyes!  Amen.

 

©Wendell Griffen, 2017