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Grapes and Pumpkins – Br. James Koester

Isaiah 5: 1-7; Psalm 80: 7-14; Philippians 3: 4b-14; Matthew 21: 33-46

First of all, a disclaimer: I don’t know anything about vineyards or growing grapes. I don’t know how to graft one kind of grape onto another. I don’t know why you sometimes get good sweet grapes and at other times you get wild, sour, rotten ones. All I know about grapes and grape growing can be poured out of a bottle and into a glass, and even then the only thing I know about the end product is what I like, and what I don’t. So I don’t know much about vineyards and growing grapes.

But after this summer what I do know is a little about pumpkins and pumpkin patches. I know that pumpkin seeds require a certain temperature in order to germinate, which is why you plant them in hills so that they stay warm. If the seeds are too cold or too damp, they go moldy and fail to germinate. I know that if you are not careful, the weeds will take over and in a sense drown out the pumpkins and rob the soil of nutrients that the pumpkins themselves need in order to grow. I know that if you try to move the vine once it is established you pull up the tendrils and the plant dies, and all is lost, so it is better to give the pumpkin plant LOTS of room to grow wherever it wants rather than try to move or direct them. I also know something about pumpkins and turkeys. Now we all know that pumpkins and turkeys go together, at least at a certain time of year on the dinner table. But let me assure you, pumpkins and turkeys do not go together in the wild, or outside in the garden. This year we have had a flock of nearly 40 wild turkeys which spend their days making a big circle of the Emery House property. Some days they are like clockwork appearing at certain places on the property at the same time each day. For a while, one of their favourite places to spend time in the very early morning and the late afternoon was the pumpkin patch where they liked nothing better than pecking at those tender, young, green pumpkins which they found nestled among the vines, that is, until Jonathan and I put up a fence around the pumpkin patch to keep them out.

Today in both Isaiah and Matthew we read about vineyards but the point of the story is not so much about grapes as it is about gardens, and it is not so much about gardens as it is about love.

The story that Isaiah tells is the story of a gardener who pours his heart and soul into his vineyard. He digs and clears and plants and builds and hews. No doubt he sweats and aches and groans. He probably watches and weeds and waters. He protects those vines from birds and too much sun and too little water. In this part of the world he would think about frost and hail as well. And each day, and perhaps several times a day he stands and gazes and points out to his friends and brothers and says to himself and to them: look, look at those grapes, look at those pumpkins aren’t they fabulous? See how they are ripening, how they are turning red, look at them as they turn orange! I can’t wait to taste them!

But after all that work, after all that labour, after all that love, something goes sadly wrong. The grapes are wild, sour, rotten, stinking. The pumpkins are small, and tasteless and mushy. After all that work, after all that labour, after all that love the turkeys may as well have eaten them. The birds may as well have plucked them.

Now lest you think this story is just about grapes and gardens, pumpkins and turkeys Isaiah pointedly tells us that this story is not about someone, or something, or somewhere else. It is about us, for the vineyard is none other than the house of Israel and the people of Judah; the vineyard is none other than the people of God. This story is not about some nameless gardener, or even a gardener named James. This story is not about grapes and pumpkins but it is about you, and me and the person sitting next to you. This story is a story of God’s overwhelming love for each one of us and how God has poured His very heart and soul into creating, and tending and nurturing us. This story is a story of God’s love for us as individuals, and as a community, and as a church. This story is a story of love poured out. And it is a story of love rejected.

In both Isaiah and Matthew the gardener-landowner expects one thing, and receives something quite different. In Matthew that landowner expects his due rent, but instead his servants are beaten and his son is killed. In Isaiah the grapes are sour and the work wasted. In Israel and Judah God’s love is spurned and justice and righteousness are replaced with injustice and oppression.

We may not know anything about growing grapes or pumpkins and that doesn’t matter because this is not a story about gardens. It is a story of love, and how much God loves us. But sadly it is a story of how we reject God’s love.

And yet, and yet, and yet ….

No matter how many times we reject God’s love, no matter how many times we as individuals turn our backs on God’s love; no matter how many times we as a community spurn God’s love; no matter how many times we as a church scorn God’s love, God always, in the person of Jesus stretches out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross longing to embrace us and bring us home.

Today, like every Sunday, indeed every day, the story we read in scripture is a story of love: it is a story of God’s love and desire for us. It is a story that does not end here in this place, in this building, in this chapel; for just as God stretches out His arms of love toward us, He longs for us to reach out to Him.

In a few moments three things are going to happen: God will reach out in love to touch us in sins forgiven; in hands clasped in peace; and in bread broken and wine poured. In a few moments we are going to have a number of choices to make. We can choose to forgive as we are forgiven or we can choose to bear our grudges and nurse our hurts. We can choose to offer and embrace and receive that peace or turn our backs. We can choose to reach out and touch God who in bread and wine is made near and real and present or we can choose to go hungry.

But I must warn you if you choose to forgive as you are forgiven; if you choose to offer and embrace and receive God’s peace; if you choose to feast on food for the journey then your work of love will begin, and it will begin as you head out those doors and out onto the street.

In a few moments, one more thing will happen. I will say to you: “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord”. And you will resoundingly answer: “Thanks be to God”. And that is when your work of love will begin, for then you will show God how much you love Him in return by doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God.1

The story today from scripture is a story of love offered, and love spurned. It is a story of God’s love and how the people of God reject that love. But today we have an opportunity to rewrite the ending. So let’s do that. Let’s rewrite the ending of the story, not by rejecting God’s love, but by accepting it and showing it through works of justice, acts of kindness and lives of humility.


1 See Micah 6:8


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  1. marta engdahl on August 8, 2018 at 20:48

    Thank you for reminding us of our potential answer to God’s work in us, with your graphic stories of pumpkins and grapes. May the God in us reach out to the God in others. Namaste’

  2. Ruth West on August 4, 2018 at 18:35

    Thank you, Br. James, for this good sermon. How often Jesus used the everyday growing things to teach a lesson!
    And yes, the bottom line is love. As you stated He loves us, regardless of our response. May we take that everlasting love to the world, to those near and afar. Blessings on you and your brothers.

  3. Sandy Gordon on August 3, 2018 at 21:38

    An outstanding sermon Thanks so much for bringing me back to earth. Sandy Gordon

  4. Rev. Maryan Davis Deacon in the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire on April 28, 2018 at 07:55

    I loved reading this today . . . And finding peace that I am on the right track with my sermon writing for tomorrow. So much richness is placed in a sermon where Jesus teaches using simple earthly things to help us understand how much God Loves us and that as we abide in him he will always abide in US. That much we can be sure of.
    I love reading your sermons when preparing to preach.
    Your words always inspire me in a special way.
    May the Christ in me meet the Christ in others as a I journey the path and way of Jesus.

  5. Tudy on September 23, 2015 at 11:12

    Thank you, Brother James, for intertwining our practice as Christians with Scripture and nature.

  6. Christopher Engle Barnhart on September 23, 2015 at 08:54

    This coming Friday, three churches in our community, including All Saints’ Episcopal, will be serving hot food, coffee, tea and providing clothes, shoes, bedding and other necessities to the homeless people of our community as we have done for the last five years. This is done out of Love and kindness for our fellow human beings who are less fortunate than ourselves. We ask nothing in return but receive greatfulness from those we serve.

  7. JoAnn Lumley on September 23, 2015 at 08:40

    I occasionally worship with my neighbors at St. John Lutheran Church. As you leave the property on the stone fence post is a placard which states: You are now entering the mission field.

  8. Sue Berkenbush on June 2, 2014 at 07:55

    I was greatly moved by your description of the turkeys and pumpkins at Emery House! Growing up in West Newbury Miss Emery (Georgina?) came to All Saints every Sunday as a very elderly and fragile person. We curtseyed to her and felt a gentle loving smile in return. That smile taught me more about love and grace than any sermon…till yours!
    Thank you!

  9. Suzanne Benson on May 17, 2014 at 14:01

    today, my therapy dog and I will venture out to yet another Nursing Home to give God’s love to those who are in need of God’s love.

  10. Connie Holmes on May 17, 2014 at 08:51

    Clear, luminous preaching and so entirely on message.
    We are sent out into the world to do the work He has given us go do.

    Many thanks to Br. James.

  11. Diane on May 17, 2014 at 07:35

    Excellent. Your message is simple and clear . May we walk towards all those we meet filled with god’s love for us.

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