First Congregational Church UCC
220 West Lyon Avenue
Lake City, Minnesota 55041
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 SUNDAY, MAY 2, 2021

Good Morning!    

Wine has been around a long time. 
Vineyard work is ancient.

Grape growing is historic.

The Bible mentions it many times.

Jesus talked about it, too.

There's a lesson of faith in the vineyard.

Let's explore the fruit of the vine.  

-Pastor David
     Jesus is the reason that we bear good fruit. 
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First Congregational Church UCC
114 North Oak Street
Lake City, MN  55041
Here Is Today's Message

"Following Jesus Is As Tough As Growing Grapes"
A message from
Rev. David S. Badgley

Sunday, May 2, 2021

     Here’s a multiple-choice question for you.  
     How many times is wine mentioned in the Bible?  
  1. Between 25 and 75 times
  2. Between 150 and 180 times
  3. Between 200 and 300 times 
     The answer is “C” as in Cabernet and Chardonnay.  
     Wine is mentioned 281 times in the Bible (that is in the New Revised Standard Version).
     The first mention of wine is in the first book of the Bible: Genesis.  And it all starts with Noah 
     You know Noah, God’s chosen captain of a floating zoo, called an ark, with two of every kind of animal on board.  Noah and his family were on the ark with no boots for stable duty and no zoo-keeping experience for 40 days and 40 nights, until at last there was dry land.  
     After that traumatic experience, God put a rainbow in the sky to lift Noah’s spirits, and Noah put a grape vine in the ground to lift his own spirits.  
     The Bible says, “Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard." (Genesis 9:20)
     The Bible continues, "He drank some of the wine and became drunk and he lay uncovered in his tent.” (Genesis 9:21)  
     But who could blame him after that 40-day zoo-cruise! 
     As you can see, the Bible wastes no time talking about getting wasted on wine and getting naked.  
     So, why is it that we always hear about Noah’s Ark and we never hear about Noah’s Vineyard or Noah’s Wine?  
     Why do we always hear about the animals and not about the grapes?  
     Here's a statue of Noah with clusters of grapes in his hands and a miniature ark at his feet.
     Noah is actually given credit for being the first one to plant a vineyard.  Noah is “a man of the soil” who cultivated the ground.  And that contribution of a vineyard becomes a major part of the life of God’s people, and people all around the world.  
     I dare say Noah’s vineyard contributes more to our daily life than Noah's ark.  We are far more likely to bring in two bottles of each wine than two animals of each kind.   
     The word vineyard is mentioned 109 times in the Bible (again, that is the New Revised Standard Version).  And there are references to the labor required in a vineyard.  
     The Book of Proverbs points to a vineyard to teach a lesson about the importance of hard work. The writer says, 

I passed by the field of one who was lazy,
    by the vineyard of a stupid person;
and see, it was all overgrown with thorns;
    the ground was covered with nettles,
    and its stone wall was broken down.
Then I saw and considered it;
    I looked and received instruction.
A little sleep, a little slumber,
    a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
    and want, like an armed warrior.

Proverbs 24:30-34  (NRSV)

     Vineyard work is not for the person who is lazy or stupid.  If you have ever been to a vineyard for an actual tour (not just wine tasting) you will know the amount of effort required to produce good grapes. 
     On one of my trips to Arizona to visit family, my sister, brother-in-law, and I took a tour of a local vineyard.  Arizona has become a major producer of excellent wine. That may surprise you considering the climate.  
     Our tour guide explained that there are two major challenges to growing wine grapes in Arizona.  What do you think they are?   
    You’re probably inclined to say hot temperatures and lack of rain are the two main challenges, but that is not the case.  
     The two main challenges are freezing temperatures and too much rain. 
     I know, I was surprised, too. But the desert nights drop to freezing, which can severely damage the grapes as seen in this photo.
     The Arizona monsoon rains drench the desert near the time when the grapes are harvested.  When the grapes get too much rain, the water content of the grape increases, which dilutes the sugar content of the grape. The proper sugar content is crucial to the taste of the wine. The grapes must be picked at exactly the right time while being threatened by monsoon rains.
     Vineyard work is demanding, and it has been that way since ancient times.
     Jesus told a story about work in the vineyard, and these workers were stupid, just like in Proverbs.    
     More than stupid, they were wicked, which is why the story is called the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. The parable appears in all three gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, testifying to its importance.      
     The Gospel of Mark says, 
Then Jesus began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.  
Mark 12:1-8 (NRSV)
     Jesus tells this story to illustrate the bad behaviors of God’s people.  God is the one who plants the vineyard and entrusts it to the care of God’s people.  Yet when God sends prophets to collect the fruit of the vineyard, which is justice, peace, and compassion, God’s people beat up and kill the prophets. Even God’s beloved son is sent to the vineyard and the people kill him.  
     The religious authorities didn’t like this parable from Jesus.  The Gospel of Mark says, “When they realized that Jesus had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd.”(Mark 12:12, NRSV)  
     The thing is, the religious authorities had heard this same message before.  Jesus based his story on one in the ancient book of the prophet Isaiah.  
     Isaiah tells a story about a vineyard, which represents God’s people.  The vineyard has yielded inferior grapes and God is not pleased.  Isaiah presents the story as his love song for God.  Isaiah writes, 
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.
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;
    but heard a cry!
Isaiah 5:1-2, 7  (NRSV)
     Another Bible version reads, “God expected a crop of justice, but instead he found oppression.  God expected to find righteousness, but instead he heard cries of violence.” (Isaiah 5:7, NLT)  
     You can see the similarities between the poem from Isaiah and the parable from Jesus. 
     They both use the setting of a vineyard to describe the behaviors of God’s people, which pretty much reflect what Proverbs described as lazy and stupid. 
     Jesus and Isaiah both are saying that work in the vineyard is hard.  It’s not easy to be God’s people because it requires doing the work of justice, and peace and compassion.
     John the Baptizer, who baptized Jesus, told the people to “Bear fruits that show you have repented,” and when the people asked him what those fruits were, John said, “Share your clothes and food with those who don't have enough, don’t steal, and don’t make false accusations.” (Luke 3:8-14) 
    The Apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesians urges, “Live as children of the light - for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” (Ephesians 5:8-9)
     As God’s people we are to bear good fruit, and as I explained from my vineyard tour, good fruit requires great effort.  
     Jesus himself understood the demanding nature of bearing good fruit for God.  On his last night with his disciples, Jesus told them, 
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit...Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing...My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
John 15:1-2, 4-5, 8 (NRSV)
     Jesus uses the centuries-old image of a vineyard, and grapes, and cultivation to illustrate his relationship with God and his relationship with his followers.  The relationship is intimate and organic and produces good fruit in us.
     Surprising to us, Jesus says that God prunes away the parts of Jesus that are not useful. 
     It may be hard for us to imagine anything in Jesus needing to be improved or removed, but Jesus is honest about how God works in his life.  And that is how God works in our lives, pruning away whatever is preventing good fruit in us.  God helps us to produce abundantly and satisfyingly.
     Many of you know that I enjoy wine.  Just over a week ago – four days after my birthday – a volunteer who was working at our Pass It On Thrift Shop stopped over to the parsonage, which is next door to the shop.  She brought me an item from the shop because all of the volunteers working that night agreed it was perfect for me.   
     Here it is.  
       It’s a wooden cross, 13 inches high by 10 inches wide by one inch thick, inlaid with wine bottle corks.  It's apparently made from a kit, although I think you have to drink your own wine to supply the corks.  
     At the intersection of the cross there are two squares of cork with the printed initials J C.  Hmm, I wonder who that could be.

     I have seen square-shaped trivets made with wine corks, but this is the first cross-shaped piece I have ever seen.  The volunteer said it was a belated birthday gift.  I loved it.  I thought it was perfect for a wine-loving preacher. 
      But then I started to wonder, “Is this really okay? Do the wine corks make the cross look frivolous?  Is this wrong?”  The answer came to me as I was working on this sermon.  Now I understand how right my cross of corks is.  
     The wine corks remind me of the work of the vineyard.  It is hard work, which I am to do on a daily basis, bearing good fruit for God.
     The cross reminds me that I abide in Jesus Christ, for he is the vine and I am the branch, and apart from him I cannot bear good fruit. 
     Then I noticed something else on this cross.  It’s a design feature, but now it has deeper symbolism to me and to you. 
     All the corks are paired up.  There are ten pairs with two corks from each winery.  They are laid out two by two by two just like... the animals in the ark.
     And that is where it all began.
     God's chosen captain of the ark was the first to plant a vineyard.  

     Noah stands at the beginning of our hard work to bear good fruit.
     And when we bear good fruit, we glorify God. 

-Pastor David
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