Monday, October 3, 2011

There Is a Big Bright Beautiful Tomorrw

This last week I was on vacation with my family in Disney World.
My favorite ride in all of Disney World is a ride called, “The Carousel of Progress”.
For those who have never had the extreme pleasure of going on the Carousel of Progress let me explain a little about the ride.
It was originally designed by Walt Disney as an attraction at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City.
You sit in a theater and watch a number of scenes as an American family move from the turn of the 20th century until the present day.
The theater moves in a circle as the father of the family explains all the technical advances of the 20th century.
For example, in the opening sequence the father of the American family explains that they can get from California to New York in Seven days by train.
He goes on to explain that two brothers are working on a flying contraption that “will never work”.
I love this ride because it reminds us of where we have been, of all of the progress that we have made in a short time of human history.
But I love it most because it reminds us that the future is wide open.
That all things are possible, and that we as human beings have a great capacity to think, invent, and create.
The chorus to the song on the ride goes, “There is a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day.”

When I read the Gospel for this morning I instantly thought of this ride.
Because one of the questions we always have to wrestle with is why didn’t the religious leaders of Jesus day recognize who he was?
Why didn’t they know he was the Messiah?
Why did they conspire with political authorities to have him killed?

Last week we heard them question Jesus authority, and Jesus told them a parable.
They didn’t understand that parable so Jesus tries again with the parable of the vineyard.
In this parable the stewards of the vineyard come to believe that the landowner is done with the vineyard, and that now they own it.
So when servants show up to ask for the fruits of the vineyard the steward left in charge doesn’t want to hear it.
Here is part of the problem of the religious authorities.
They stopped believing that God was talking to them.
They believed that God had chosen them, and have made certain promises to them.
That God would deliver the kingdom to them.
They came to believe that the vineyard was theirs instead of God’s.
They got stuck in what had always been and forgot that God is always working on the future.
Because of this they did not believe that God was still at work in Jesus.

I believe this sometimes our problem too.
We have become complacent with the idea that Jesus Christ is our savior.
We have become complacent with the idea that the Church is the gathering of God’s people.
Because of this we forget that God is always speaking to us.
God is always demanding that we are producing fruit.
To be the people of God, to be the Church, it is not enough to merely believe that God is with us.
We have to act like we believe it.

If we live in the grace in mercy of God then we will act like it by extending that grace to others.
Do we believe in the big bright beautiful tomorrow of God?
If we did we would not believe that everything is done or that are best days are behind us.

One of the great things about the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that it points us not to what happened, but what will happen.
It shows us that God is never done, but always working.
We should always be in on the lookout for what God is up to next.
I once heard a comedian talking about people’s obsession with television.
He said, “You gotta understand my generation saw Lee Harvey Oswald get shot on national television. We were glued to the screen for the next forty years wondering what would happen next.”
The same is true for our lives in Christ we should be clued to the screen wondering what will God do next?
What ways will God call me, our congregation, and the Church to bear good fruit?
What needs to be gathered and harvested for the good of others?
What is it this day that God is calling me to give so others may flourish?

I really believe that we are living in an extraordinary time in Christian history.
It is time when anything and everything is possible.
All of the old doctrines are being questioned.
Lines of denomination and even religions are being crossed.
Barriers to people often left out are being crumpled to the ground.
Consider that in our day the supposed third world has the largest growing population of Christians in the world, while Christianity in America and Europe are fading away.
I could for see the day when Africa sends missionaries to the United States to try and convert us heathens.
Consider that in our day young people are saying no to discrimination, hatred, and prejudice based on gender, race, sexual orientation, or anything else.
Consider that more and more people are pushing the boundaries of the Church beyond four stained glass walls and into bars, coffee shops, homes, and wherever people are meeting.
Consider that information and ideas flow between people at a pace that is sometimes dizzying but always interesting.
All of these things are making for some pretty exciting times in Christianity.
They are making for opportunities to reach out and be a blessing to the world.
Are we ready to follow God into his bright big beautiful tomorrow?

It is also scary times for some people.
Ways of thinking that have sustained people in difficult times in the past are being questioned.
Ways of making ourselves feel safe are being torn away.
But I believe it is simply God speaking to us in new ways.
God helping us see the progress that tomorrow brings.
God helping us see what happens when we labor in the vineyard, not because we own it and expect to get paid, but because we know it belongs to God and expects everyone to share in the bounty.

I suppose some of you could take my sermon this morning and just think that I have gone drunk with the magic of Disney.
But my sermon comes from my faith in God who does not leave us alone.
It comes from a Biblical faith that God has promised us a bright big beautiful tomorrow and given us the gift of being stewards in the vineyard.
What a gift to have this wonderful vineyard that God planted, put a fence around, dug a wine press in, and built a watchtower.
What a privilege to serve God in God’s vineyard.
And God knows that we need reminding from time to time that it is not our vineyard, but God’s.
We need reminding that we don’t tend this vineyard for our own purposes, but for the world to see.

In our Isaiah reading this morning the prophet reminds the Israel that God made them a people not for their own good but so they might be a blessing to other nations.
That is why we have a church.
Not to hold the relics of the past, but to remake a big, bright, beautiful tomorrow in the image of God.
That is why God sent Jesus to us.
Not so we could brag that we are favored by God, but so that we might spread God’s love, joy, and peace to the world.

The religious leaders of Jesus day might have known the past.
They might have known tradition, but they forgot God’s future.
They forgot that the vineyard was planted not for them to horde, but for them to give away to the world.
Because of that they shut their hearts to hearing the message Jesus brought.

May we always have our hearts open to Jesus message as we see God’s great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of everyday!

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