Sunday, October 8, 2017

Sermon: Don't Let Worry Steal Your Gratitude (Part 2 of 5)

Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude:
"Don’t Let Worry Steal Your Gratitude" (Part 2 of 5)
Matthew 21: 33-46; Philippians 4: 1-9
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
October 8, 2017

[Jesus said] ‘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. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce.

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 in 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.

Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They 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.’

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 fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
- Matthew 21: 33-46

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
- Philippians 4: 1-9

Jesus spent time in the house of worship and out on the streets. He drew near and met people where they were in life. He knew their concerns and the ways they saw the world around them. He taught in parables to speak into the everyday highs and lows. Jesus did this in order to reveal hidden truths of God’s kingdom and to instruct how we might grow as kingdom people.

Today’s parable of the wicked tenants is a powerful telling of God’s greatest desire for us. It points back to Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard (Isaiah 5: 1-4).

Creator God is the landowner and great master gardener, if you will. God joyfully got his hands in the dirt to prepare the soil and care for the land with a dream to plant a rich and fruitful vineyard. God set boundaries around the vineyard. God built a watchtower as a stable refuge of strength and entrusted the community to keep and care for God’s gifts. God placed a wine press in the center for the community so that all may see the yield of good fruit and taste the goodness of the Lord.

However, Jesus’ parable echoes the great tragedy that unfolded from Isaiah’s parable. God intended for the vineyard, which symbolized God’s people, to be cared for with justice and right relationships. However, humanity’s sin left bloodshed and the vineyard cried out in pain.

Creator God lifted up a deep lament saying, “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?” Jesus knew the heart of God and knew how God’s plan would unfold next. Jesus’ parable foreshadowed that God would send his Son who would be disregarded, seized, shamed, and killed. The One who humbled himself was obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Thanks be to God that we have the gift of faith through the obedience and unconditional love of our Savior who willingly took the pain, the brokenness, and sin of the world.

While this parable bears a deep conviction that we hold true, it also reveals a hidden truth about the way we are to grow as kingdom people. And I have to be completely honest with you. This past week as I have held our biblical texts in one hand and the current events in the other hand, this parable haunts me. I have needed this parable and the Apostle Paul’s words to ground me because worry has been stealing my gratitude. I know worry has been stealing your gratitude too.

This past week we have seen violence rear its ugly head again, this time in Las Vegas. Fifty-nine of our sisters and brothers lost their lives and over five hundred were injured. We worry for friends and family members that we know who were in that area. We worry because we feel helpless to stop the violence; the debates sharply rise and fall on gun reform and the shadow of shame still looms over efforts to bring awareness to mental health. We worry from compassion fatigue as each week unfolds with another natural disaster and destruction. We worry for the sufferings that remain here in our own backyards.

Certainly, God weeps with us. God laments with us as the Lord’s beloved community is subjected to the sin of violence and hate. God laments as the world groans in labor pains. God laments with us when our worries get the best of us. God laments when fear disorients our trust that God is still in control.

And yet the Apostle Paul says, “Do not worry. Stand firm in the Lord in this way. Rejoice in the Lord always. Do not worry about anything. Pray. Focus on things worthy of praise.

But there is something hidden in Pauls’ words that shines some light on Jesus’ parable, for Scripture always speaks to Scripture. Those words are “Let your gentleness be known to everyone; the Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:5).

In Jesus’ parable the Lord is near for God is in the watchtower. For “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). The watchtower stands tall with a 360 degree view of God’s beloved community. God sees the seeds of faith taking root and bearing fruit. God also sees what threatens the beloved community.

Our faith cultivates a great sense of gratitude in knowing the strength we find in God as our strong tower. But God also invites us to climb up into the watchtower. God entrusts you and me with the caring and keeping of God’s beloved community. It is in the watchtower that we gain a new point of view to see into the world. We are given an opportunity to see both the blessings and the brokenness around us.

You see our world is wounded and it is hurting and it is crying out. The world does not need for us to be up in the watchtower giving knee jerk reactions. The world needs for her pain to be recognized.

Pain that is not addressed in a constructive way metastasizes into bitterness, anger, resentment, hate, and violence.

Brene Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston. Her career the past sixteen years has been studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy.

In her newly released book, “Braving the Wilderness,” she says:

Not caring about our own pain and the pain of others is not working. How much longer are we willing to keep pulling drowning people out of the river one by one, rather than walking to the headquarters of the river to find the source of pain? What will it take for us to travel together to the cradle of pain that is growing in all of us in such a rate that we couldn’t possibly save everyone?

Pain will subside only when we acknowledge and care for it. Addressing [pain] with love and compassion would take a miniscule percentage of the energy it takes to fight it...Most of us were not taught how to recognize pain, name it, and be with it. Our families and culture believed that the vulnerability that it takes to acknowledge pain was weakness
… [1]

That kind of vulnerability seems illogical. However, God recognized our human pain a long time ago. God became vulnerable to point of putting on the thin skin of humanity in Jesus Christ to fully experience our brokenness and pain. On the cross, Jesus Christ took on all our pain to make known God’s steadfast love and compassion. Through the empty tomb Jesus Christ gives us the hope that pain may be transformed by the power of grace.

You and I are called to be stewards of God’s beloved community. We are to have the mind of Christ and see the pain that is wounding our world. Seeing that pain is not judging it, but striving side by side to allow faith to seek understanding. We seek understanding by living into Jesus’ example of unconditional love and compassion.

The mind of Christ moves us to see the pain in the lives of others by listening to the story of another’s pain even when that story is vastly different from our own experience. It is in our commitment to live in relationship with God and one another that we may let our gentleness be made known to everyone, for the Lord is near through the body of Christ.

But also our commitment to live in this way means we are to take what we have seen and heard and learned and work with God to make a difference in the world for the sake of God’s beloved community to flourish. That is how we grow as kingdom people. We live out our faith that is intentional to bear the fruit of justice and right relationships.

In these troubling times, don’t let worry steal your gratitude. God is still in control. Rejoice when you see God’s grace through others. Pray. Focus on things worthy of praise.

But more than anything, may you and I allow the spiritual reality of the cross to open our eyes and recognize the world’s pain. For God invites you and me to join the Lord in this holy work of transforming pain by the power of God’s hope, vulnerability, compassion, and grace.

That is something to be grateful for.

In the name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Watchtower photo from the Holy Land
[1] Brene Brown, “Braving the Wilderness” (New York: Random House, 2017), p. 67.

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