Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Kingdom Economics 101: Production

Matthew 21:33-46  Kingdom Economics 101: Production

            “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 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 have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore 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 let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”
            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 marvelous in our eyes’?
            Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
            When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

On January 17, 1925, President Calvin Coolidge was speaking to The Society of American Newspaper Editors in Washington, D.C. when he made this observation:

“There does not seem to be cause for alarm in the dual relationship of the press to the public, whereby [the press] is on one side a purveyor of information and opinion and on the other side a purely business enterprise. Rather, it is probable that a press which maintains an intimate touch with the business currents of the nation, is likely to be more reliable than it would be if it were a stranger to these influences. After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world. I am strongly of opinion that the great majority of people will always find these are moving impulses of our life.”

Coolidge went on to say, “Of course, the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence,” he said. “But we are compelled to recognize it as a means to well-nigh every desirable achievement.  In every worthy profession, of course, there will always be a minority who will appeal to the baser instinct. There always have been, probably always will be, some who will feel that their own temporary interest may be furthered by betraying the interest of others.”

Really.  Calvin Coolidge may have known about business, but he didn’t know anything about Kingdom Economics. 

Let’s pray, and then listen carefully to Jesus. 

The Vineyard Business
Kingdom Economics.  Payment – Profit – Process – Production.   

If you’ve been with us over the past few weeks you’ve probably realized how often Jesus uses vineyards to talk about the Kingdom of God.  A vineyard is a business.  No matter how we try to romanticize vineyards, no matter how we love to stand on a hill in Napa, Bordeaux, or Tuscany and view the well-ordered vines and feel the warm sun beating down to nourish the grapes; no matter the enjoyment we get from standing in a museum and contemplating an artist’s rendering of a vineyard or a still life of a bunch of grapes; no matter the pleasure an evening with good friends can be sipping a good vintage with just the right cheese, fruit, and crackers, the fact is that vineyards are businesses. 

Because vineyards are businesses, we have to talk about three aspects of production.  We need to look at the method of production.  How are we going to accomplish the task at hand?  We have to look at the master of production.  Every vineyard needs a master vintner, or else it is merely a plot of land with grapes growing on it, and you may as well sell the grapes to Smuckers or Welches, because without a great vintner, you’ll never produce a great wine.  And we have to look at the makers of production – the people who actually do the work that brings the grapes from the field to the vats, from the vats to the casks, from the casks to the bottles. 

The method of production
The Vineyard Owner that we read a few minutes ago clearly lays out the method of production the vineyard owner had in mind.  There were nine steps in his production process.  (You’ll want to have Matthew 21 open in front of you so you can really soak in this parable.)  As Matthew recounts Jesus telling the story, the nine steps in the production of wine were:
1,  Plant a vineyard
2.  Build a fence
3.  Dig a wine press
4.  Build a tower
5.  Lease the vineyard to tenant farmers
6.  Send servants to collect the product
7.  Sell the product
8.  Pay tenants their due
9.  Bank profits

The vineyard owner’s plan is very simple really.  He’s put together a working vineyard from top to bottom.  The grapes are there, all planted and ready to go.  The wine press is there, so there can be no mistake about what it is we’re going to do with the grapes.  The tower is there so you can observe the grapes and make sure no animals are pillaging the grapes.  When the vineyard owner handed the tenant farmers the keys to the vineyard, I’m sure the tenant’s first reaction was, “Wow!  What a set-up!  There’s hardly anything we have to do!” 

In production, the hardest part is always the set up.  Henry Ford was remarkable, not because he built cars.  In the first part of the 20th century, lots of people were building cars.  Ford was remarkable because he figured out how to mass-produce cars.  When workers came to Ford’s plant in Dearborn in the early 1900s, the two things they were overwhelmed by were the simplicity, even monotony, of the job and the high wages Ford was willing to pay workers willing to do the job.   There was nothing his workers had to figure out.  It had all been put there, ready to go when they arrived at work. 

The vineyard owner presented the tenant farmers with a working vineyard.   At the end of the process, just as Henry Ford could have stood at the back door of his assembly line and expected cars to begin rolling out the door like clock-work, when the vineyard owner came back from doing business in a foreign country, he fully expected to see vats, filled with wine.  It would not be enough if he came back and was handed bunches of grapes.  The way the story is told, it is clear that the fruit of the vineyard was wine, ready for market, not simply the grapes, or else there would have been no need to tell us about the wine press and the tower.

The master of production
Now we know the method of production and we know the goal of production.  The master was so confident that his ready-made vineyard would produce good wine, when it came time to collect the fruit of the vineyard, he doesn’t even go himself.  He sends a series of his servants to do the collection because he is sure his production method is fool-proof and there will be wine to take to market.

You see, the master of production, the vineyard owner, knew his craft so well and was such a hard worker himself, he expected the same out of anyone who came along and said they’d like to operate the vineyard.  The master of production had planted the vineyard himself.  The master of production had built a fence around the vines himself.  The master of production had dug the winepress himself.   The master of production had built the tower himself.  The master of production had interviewed the tenants and showed them the vineyard and told them what the task was they were to do.  He had done all the work, in advance, himself.  This was a master vintner.  He was not merely a gentleman farmer who sits on his porch and watches while others do the work. 

In the wonderful little 2008 movie Bottle Shock, a young vintner, speaking about the production of wine says this, “You have to have it in your blood, you have to grow up with the soil underneath your nails, the smell of the grapes in the air that you breathe. The cultivation of the vine is an art form. The refinement of the vine is a religion that requires pain and desire and sacrifice.”

The makers of production
The vineyard owner in Jesus’ parable had done all that.   So why doesn’t he end up with marketable wine?  The problem isn’t with the production method.  The problem isn’t with the master of production.  The problem is with the workers, with the makers of production.  He had planted a vineyard and done everything necessary so the vineyard would be easy to maintain and ready to produce wine, but those he entrusted the fruit to were greedy and lazy.  When they looked at the vineyard all laid out for them, they decided they liked the idea of owning the vineyard far better than the idea of working the vineyard.

Do you remember the children’s story of the Little Red Hen?  This is a story that ought to be taught in every church.  I’m almost sorry the kids have all gone off to Sunday School, because I think they’d get a kick out of hearing it.  But just in case you’ve forgotten it or your parents never read it to you when you were little, here it is:

Once upon a time, there was a little red hen who lived on a farm . She was friends with a lazy dog , a sleepy cat , and a noisy yellow duck .

One day the little red hen  found some seeds  on the ground. The little red hen  had an idea. She would plant the seeds .

The little red hen  asked her friends, "Who will help me plant the seeds ?"
"Not I," barked the lazy dog .
"Not I," purred the sleepy cat .
"Not I," quacked the noisy yellow duck .

"Then I will," said the little red hen . So the little red hen  planted the seeds  all by herself. 

When the seeds  had grown, the little red hen asked her friends, "Who will help me cut the wheat ?"

"Not I," barked the lazy dog .
"Not I," purred the sleepy cat .
"Not I," quacked the noisy yellow duck .

"Then I will," said the little red hen . So the little red hen  cut the wheat  all by herself. 

When all the wheat  was cut, the little red hen asked her friends, "Who will help me take the wheat  to the mill  to be ground into flour ?"

"Not I," barked the lazy dog .
"Not I," purred the sleepy cat .
"Not I," quacked the noisy yellow duck .

"Then I will," said the little red hen . So the little red hen  brought the wheat  to the mill  all by herself, ground the wheat  into flour , and carried the heavy sack  of flour  back to the farm . 

The tired little red hen asked her friends, "Who will help me bake  the bread ?"

"Not I," barked the lazy dog .
"Not I," purred the sleepy cat .
"Not I," quacked the noisy yellow duck .

"Then I will," said the little red hen . So the little red hen  baked  the bread  all by herself. 

When the bread  was finished, the tired little red hen asked her friends, "Who will help me eat  the bread ?"

"I will," barked the lazy dog .
"I will," purred the sleepy cat .
"I will," quacked the noisy yellow duck .

"No!" said the little red hen . "I will." And the little red hen  ate  the bread  all by herself.

A much simpler version of this same tale was told to me when I went to graduate school in Ohio.  The pastor remarked one morning that church was like an Ohio State Football game: 22 men working their guts out on the field while 88,000 others sit in the stands eating hot dogs and drinking beer while commenting on how they could have done it better.

What, exactly, were the tenants doing?  The answer is, nothing.  They saw the vineyard entirely as a way of becoming rich so they wouldn’t have to work.  They imagined the Vineyard Owner’s life was merely a life of leisure, and they were willing to do anything, even kill, in order to protect their position of leisure. 

The really odd thing about the tenant farmers is that because they were unwilling to produce anything, the inheritance they so badly wanted – owning the vineyard – would do them no good.  It would only take a single season of not tending the vines for weeds to take over and kill the vines.  The fence would need mending, but they were unwilling to do that work, and so the fence would soon fall into disrepair and vermin would get into the vineyard they so highly prized.  Soon enough the tower would be of no use because it too had not been attended to.  The wine press itself would become unrecognizable, because rain and time would ultimately obliterate the pit.  In the end, all these farmers would end up with, even if they killed the vineyard owner’s own son, was a worthless piece of overgrown land.

Where the Vineyard Is
In Luke 10 Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
(Luke 10:2 ESV)

The number one thing I keep hearing from church members here at PCC and that I have heard over and over everywhere I travel and meet other pastors and see what is going on at other churches is this, “Pastor, it is so hard to get anyone to volunteer to do anything around here.”  And yet, go to any church and you will meet tenants who believe they own the place.   Church:  It is time for a reality check.  Here it is.  This place doesn’t belong to you.   This place belongs to the master of production.  It is his: lock, stock, and barrel. 

You are tenant farmers, and God will reward you with the greatest commendation anyone could receive, “Well done, though good and faithful servant,” if you will tend to the vineyard.  The stakes, the netting, the fence, the wine press, the tower: none of these are the fruit.  They are not even good for resale.  We make a huge mistake when we begin to imagine the buildings and grounds are themselves the most important part of the equation.  They must be used for what the master of production designed them for: as tools to use to cultivate the grapes.

Jesus also said, in John 15, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
(John 15:5 ESV) 

Church: the place where Jesus needs laborers the most isn’t in here.  This building is nothing more than the bunkhouse for the vineyard.  If you believe this is anything more than that, your vision is way too small.   That’s why this room in most churches is most often called The Sanctuary.  This is the place to which laborers must go for rest, for refreshment, and to meet with the master of production to learn more of his production methods. 

Jesus said the laborers are few.  We must not turn away anyone who seriously comes to us and says they want to work in the vineyard.  The vineyard is out there!    Jesus said the laborers are few.  There is room out there for the elderly laborer who has an idea – a way to reach lost souls for Christ.  Jesus said the laborers are few.  There is room out there for the single person who has an idea – a way to reach the lost for Christ.  Jesus said the laborers are few.   There is room out there for the poor person who has an idea – a way to reach the lost for Christ.  .  Jesus said the laborers are few.   There is room out there for the disabled person who has an idea – a way to reach the lost for Christ.   .  Jesus said the laborers are few.   There is room out there for every sinner person who has an idea – a way to reach the lost for Christ. 
In here is where you can hatch those great ideas, have conversation with other laborers about how to tend the vineyard.  But make no mistake.  The vineyard is not located at 1817 Poquonock Ave., Windsor, CT.  For the workers who will recognize it, the vineyard IS Windsor, CT.  

Are you tired of people forever asking you to serve on a committee or board around here?  Go out into the vineyard and work there.  Do you wish there were more people in here when we gather for Sanctuary?  Go out into the vineyard and work there. 

Do not lose sight of what Jesus is producing.  The fruit of the Kingdom is not simply grapes, but fine wine.  And the vineyard doesn’t produce anything without laborers who go out into the vineyard.  “You have to Jesus in your blood, you have to grow up working with Jesus, with the soil underneath your nails, the smell of the messy lives of men and women in the air that you breathe. The cultivation of the vine is an art form. The refinement of the vine is Jesus, and that requires pain and desire and sacrifice.”

The difference between the story of the Little Red Hen and Jesus is that even if you have never seriously gone out into the vineyard to tend the vines and love the people and introduce them to the master of production and invite them to enjoy Sanctuary with you and with him, Jesus is here today, and he’s saying to you, right now, “Who will help me eat my bread?” 


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