Sermon on Septuagesima Sunday 1850
What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? (Isaiah 5:4)
The Great Husbandman of the vineyard laments by prophet Isaiah in the 5th chapter how much he has labored and travailed for his vineyard, but he has not got much acceptable fruit for all his trouble. He has dug ditch around it, lest animals could tread and shit there.
He has even planted there the best vines that are found in the land of Canaan, and He built there also a tower, and placed there a winepress where grapes are pressed and turned into sweet wine. He waited that it would bring forth grapes, but it brought bad berries, thorns and thistles. Therefore the Husbandman of the vineyard threatens that He will forsake the whole vineyard because He does not get anything for His trouble.
‘’Its hedge will be taken away; its wall shall be broken down, so it shall be trodden away”. Namely, when the hedge of the vineyard will be taken away, animals get in there to tread and shit. All bocks and goats which even otherwise tend to jump over the fence, get in there to spoil it. This shall take place with the vineyard that is so unfruitful, even though there has been so much labor on it. At last the Husbandman of the vineyard says: “It shall not be pruned, nor dug; but there shall come up briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it”. Then the whole vineyard will become desolate.
These parables are found in the fifth chapter of prophet Isaiah. There is also a short explanation what these parables mean. God’s vineyard is the Christian congregation where He works through the Word and sacraments upon the heart of man, in order that it would become fruitful and fit for all good works. But people are so evil that God will not get any delight or blessing for His work.
And because people do not commit penitence or repentance, at last God has to take away the fence or the outward service and the word. Thus the vineyard will be trodden down. Those people who do not have the Word of God and the outward service will at last become heathens and creatures, whores and thieves and drunkards. And then they tread and shit in God’s vineyard or the Christian congregation.
As people do not have any holdbacks, or inward restraints of conscience, that would prevent them from ruining themselves, they will at last become wild spirits, or wood devils, which quarrel, fight, drink, curse, steal and commit adultery, blaspheme the Word of God and despise the mediums of grace. They do not care any more about the church or the service, and they consider Christianity vain. Such are the animals and creatures that tread and shit in God’s vineyard, when the fence is taken away.
Christianity is the fence that God has built around the congregation. And the stone wall is the living faith which is built upon the rock, Christ. But when the Christians begin to fall away from the living faith and commit evil, then they bring forth bad fruits. Therefore God intends to destroy first the stone wall, or the living Christianity, and then He will take away even the fence, or the outward Christianity. Then the animals are able to tread and shit in God’s vineyard. Because when the stone wall is taken away, there is no obstacle even in the outward fence. The goats will jump over it anyway.
Now the stone wall has long since become broken down. God began already in the Old Testament to build a stone wall around His vineyard. But because He did not get from His vineyard anything but bad berries, He took the stone wall away, and left the outward fence, or the outward service, that the Jews had.
Again the Husbandman of the vineyard began to build the stone wall during the time of the Savior, and it stood almost three hundred years, but again the vineyard began to bring forth bad berries. Then the Husbandman took away the stone wall, and left the outward fence yet standing.
Again during the time of Luther the Husbandman of the vineyard built the same stone wall but it did not stay for a long time. Soon the enemy broke it down. Now only the outward fence is left, and it has already decayed, so that not only do the goats jump over it, but even the pig lifts with its snout the rails up and enters there. And when the pig has made a hole, other creatures come after and shit in the vineyard.
If the Husbandman of the vineyard will not again begin to build a new fence and stone wall around His vineyard, then soon will arrive the time, of which Isaiah has prophesied in the aforementioned place, that the Husbandman of the vineyard will break down both the stone wall and the fence, and will make the vineyard desolate. He will not give even moisture from heaven, which means tears of the penitent. He will take away the winepress where He intends to press and squeeze grapes.
The winepress of God’s hatred is the spiritual outward and inward chastise by which the children of God are tried. But God only tries their faith by outward persecution and inward affliction of the heart. This spiritual chastise is the winepress.
However, God is not able to chastise evil men in this way because they will not receive chastise. As the Lord of the vineyard has now begun to build the stone wall and a steady fence around the vineyard, and to dig a ditch and pick away stones with the hope that He could for once enjoy of good fruits for His trouble, then we can guess that there is need for lots of laborers. The Husbandman of the vineyard has gone out to hire them.
But there are still many of those who are standing idle in the marketplace, even though they could indeed labor in God’s vineyard. They claim the fault is that nobody has hired them. But as the Husbandman of the vineyard has yet come in the evening to hire workmen, even they have to go to labor who have stood idle the whole day. Because the lazy ones who will never go to work, will get nothing, but they may eat their nails, when the night comes.
May those few souls who have borne the burden and heat of the day, not murmur against the Husbandman that they will not get a bigger salary than those who come late to work, but may they rather pray with me the Husbandman of the vineyard that He would always go to hire more workmen to His vineyard, in order that they would be able to better repair this place in the vineyard that has not become repaired. So that they would better be able to wind up big and heavy stones from the more fruitful earth of the vineyard. So that they through great trouble would be able to dig a ditch, build a stone wall and lift up such a fence that goats and dogs or other creatures could not get in to tread and shit. So that the few branches which are grafted into the living vine would become fruitful and would bring forth red grapes from which the Husbandman will get sweet wine when He presses them in His winepress.
We hope that the Husbandman of the vineyard who has come to seek grapes, would find some berries that would be ripe and sweet in His mouth, as He has got before only bad berries, dry branches and nettles. Hear, Thou Husbandman of the vineyard, the sighs of them who are in heavy labor. Our father etc.
Gospel: Matthew 20:1
With the guidance of our holy gospel we shall today consider how the workmen labor in the vineyard. 1. In what condition is the vineyard when the first laborers come there? 2. In what condition is the vineyard when the last ones come to work? 3. Why do they first murmur when the Husbandman of the vineyard does not give them any higher salary than to the last ones?
We hope that the Husbandman of the vineyard will put His householder to look after how the workmen labor in the vineyard. Because if the householder does not look after the people, they begin to laze and lie at noon imagining that the Husbandman does not know how they labor, as the householder does not always have time to hasten the lazy workmen with a whip.
1. In what condition is the vineyard when the first laborers come to work? We heard just from the writing of prophet Isaiah that the vineyard is in poor condition when the householder goes early in the morning to hire laborers in His vineyard. He lamented already then that He has worked a lot upon this vineyard, in order to make it fruitful so that it would bring forth berries, but it brought forth only bad berries which are bitter in the mouth of the Lord. Every time when He comes to taste the berries, He has to spit them out of His mouth.
Then He has to forsake the whole vineyard. And even though the Husbandman of the vineyard has already before built a stone wall around the vineyard and dug ditch and raised a high fence, lest the goats and other creatures could get in to eat vine shoots and to shit, then the enemy broke down both the stone wall and also the ditches and the winepress. This has taken place with the consent of the Husbandman. As namely the Husbandman has not got anything for His trouble, He has to give the whole vineyard in the hands of the enemy.
When the first laborers came to work, this vineyard was full with thorns and thistles. The stone wall was broken down. The ditches were full with mud and dung. The winepress was away. Goats had eaten the vine shoots. Swine had lifted with its snout the fence which had even decayed. Creatures had trodden and shit there. Owls, earth spirits and wood devils had built their nests in the tower which was about to fall down. And the whole vineyard had become desolate according to the word of the Lord.
There is poor order in this vineyard when the first laborers came here. First they had to begin to clean away devil’s shit from tree stumps. They had to clean up the ditch which was full with mud and dung. They had to tear away the fence which was rotten. They had to drive away swine and goats from the vineyard.
Earth spirits and wood devils which cursed and laughed at the laborers came too close to the holy fire which the householder had kindled, as He said: “I have come to kindle fire upon the earth”. The earth spirits and wood devils thought this flame of fire is horrible. They came to peep in, and there they burnt their hair.
Because the laborers whom the Lord has hired began to split rotten vine stumps with an axe, and cut thorns with a sickle, and wind up stones with an iron rod, and prune dry trees with a sharp sword, and shoot with bullets owls which had built nests in the tower, then even bastards began to flee from the vineyard. And instead small chickadees began to build their nests in the tower, and vine shoots began to grow more rapidly.
And even though the few grapes which are growing in the vineyard have not yet riped, before the Lord gives more moisture from heaven, and allows the sun of grace to shine from the morning to the evening, it is still our hope that the Husbandman of the vineyard shall not seek in vain red grapes, as He in ancient times sought berries in the fig tree, and then He had to curse the unfruitful tree. Oh Lord! Do not yet curse these unfruitful trees, and do not prune the unfruitful branches before the sun sets!
2. What kind of order is there in the Lord’s vineyard when the last laborers come to work? Even then all places have not become cleansed. Even though the first ones who come early in the morning may work heavily and bear the burden and heat of the day, there is still much to do even for those who come to work in the evening because they have stood a long time idle in the marketplace. And when the householder asks: “Why stand ye here all the day idle?” they will answer: “Because no man hath hired us”.
It may indeed be so that nobody has hired you. But I wonder if the Husbandman had driven you away, if you had come to work without being hired? It is rather because of your own laziness and carelessness that nobody has hired you. Nobody employs those who are lazy, and furthermore stupid. And such lazy and stupid laborers who have first slept the morning, and at noon tend to fall asleep, they demand especially that they should be given a big salary and soft bread for every meal. Bark bread is not good enough for them.
It is truly also an obstacle that nobody has hired them. Therefore the lazy laborers assure themselves that nobody has to come to work without salary. But somehow even the lazy laborer has to conceal his faults, because this question: “Why stand ye here all the day idle?” is by no means praise and honor to the lazy ones, but it is a rebuke to all those who do not go to work without being hired.
The lazy person has no desire to go to work before he is promised a big salary. Nevertheless, the Husbandman of the vineyard has to command even them to work who have stood a long time idle, because the Husbandman has so much work that He has to take all who do for that work. When these last laborers come, then the first ones have already worked a lot, as the Savior says to His disciples: “Ye have come upon others’ work. The others have worked, and ye may harvest”. But if these last ones work with greater diligence, they will also get their penny, because in the vineyard the last will become first, and the first will become last.
The sorrowless should not own these words and think that even they will become first, as they postpone their penitence to the last, because we know that a sorrowless person owns himself such places from the Bible that do not suit for him at all. When a sorrowless person hears that the last will become first, he takes from this support for the sorrowlessness, and he thinks that he will become first in the kingdom of heaven, even though he saves his penitence and repentance to the last.
Behold! The Devil paints such things in the mind of the blind wretch. When a sorrowless person will be asked to expound the Scriptures, it is the same thing as to put a bock to watch for the garden. Why is there a fence around the garden? Can the bocks and goats guess? The garden would certainly be soon cleared up if the bocks and goats were let in there. But the vineyard is not made for them; on the contrary, it has been erected in order that the grapes and branches and shoots of vine would grow and flourish. From these the Husbandman shall get red wine when He builds a winepress where He presses grapes and taps new wine in new bottles.
Grow up, grow up, ye shoots of vine! Grow up, grow up, ye fruitful branches! Grow up, grow up, ye red grapes! Soon you will be cut off and put in the winepress, when the Householder says: “I have trodden the winepress alone, and of the people there was none with me. Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat?” (Isaiah 63: 3, 2).
3. Why do the first laborers murmur against the Husbandman because their salary is not bigger than that of the latter ones? It is difficult to say why they murmur. But if we take some places from the Bible as example, then we will find that the sons of Zebedee wanted to become the best Christians, or the foremost in the kingdom of heaven because they were the first apostles whom the Savior had called as disciples.
But the Husbandman of the vineyard does not take into account who has come first to labor but the Husbandman looks upon who has labored with greater fever and diligence. The first laborers have indeed borne the burden and heat of the day, they have suffered much pain and trouble for the sake of Christianity, they have become blasphemed and persecuted by the children of the world. If they have again sat lazy or slumbered at noon, then the Husbandman has not gained more from their labor than from the labor of those who came in the evening.
For they have carried with great devoutness and zeal stones into the wall and rails for the fence, and they have dug ditch and cleaned devil’s shit from the vineyard which many people would not like to do. A stout maiden would not care to gather sheep shit which is indeed clean. But she does not care to clean at all devil’s shit, even though she would be given a golden heart as salary. The last laborers have had to commit this unclean work. And therefore all earth spirits and wood devils are angry with them.
But the first ones are dissatisfied as the last will get as much salary as the first. The oldest Christians always want to get more power and glory than the beginners. But it is uncertain it the old Christians are before God worth of them who work in their first zeal and diligence in Lord’s vineyard, or try to gain some souls for the kingdom of heaven.
The nature of Christianity is such that the last will become first, and the first will become last. Among them who will become last are not only they, who want to become the best Christians, like for example the sons of Zebedee, as they are not able to drink the cup which the Savior has drunk, will become last, but even those who think they are better than others, as for example Peter, will easily fall into temptation.
But the sorrowless think that they will become first in the kingdom of heaven, as they claim they are better than those who acknowledge the great power of Jesus to help and heal sinners. The sorrowless boast that they are holy and pious. The awakened and graced ones are in the mind of the sorrowless in spiritual pride, as they say that their conscience is awakened, that they are God’s children, and furthermore they condemn the sorrowless. But the sorrowless are humble, as they do not consider themselves Christians.
But what do the sorrowless think they are, as they do not consider themselves Christians? They do not consider themselves God’s children, neither do they consider themselves children of the Devil. For this word they get very angry, and they begin to use a stick or a knife. Maybe they are angels, as they are neither children of God nor children of devil.
But we hear in today’s gospel that nothing of this gospel belongs to the sorrowless, except for the bad berries, thorns and thistles which are mentioned by the prophet Isaiah. The sorrowless are not laborers in God’s vineyard because they work for the prince of darkness. But the awakened and graced ones labor in God’s vineyard, as they exhort and advise sorrowless to repentance.
The graced and awakened souls are the first and the last who labor valiantly thereupon that this vineyard which is now in poor condition would become cleansed and built up, so that the Husbandman of the vineyard could at last taste red grapes when he comes again to seek fruit in the fig tree, so that He would not have to curse anew this unfruitful fig tree, and that the builder of the vineyard would have some red grapes to put on the table, when the guests come from heaven. Amen.