Sunday, October 06, 2002

Isaiah 5:1-7
(Isaiah 27:1-5, Matthew 21:33-43) -
“I Love Rotten Corn”

20th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A - Lutheran Worship Readings)
Saturday, October 5, and Sunday, October 6, 2002

Once upon a time, there was a farmer. And you could hear that farmer whistling a love song as he worked out in his cornfield. Whistling He wasn’t just whistling while he worked; he was whistling to the field, serenading it, telling the field that he loved that land. The farmer whistled while he cleared that field of stones and stumps. He whistled while he tilled the soil, turned it over and over again, breaking up clumps, making it ready for planting. Then he planted the seeds and fertilized the field.

As the summer grew warmer, as the corn stalks began to grow, the farmer sprayed for bugs and weeds. He built a corn hopper so that he’d have a place to store his crop. He went out and rented machinery for the harvest. When the days got dry and there was no rain, the farmer watered the field. And so the corn kept growing. All the while the farmer whistled his love song to his field of corn.

And yet. . .and yet, the field only brought forth rotten corn. All of it, every ear of corn on every stalk was just plain rotten. Mushy kernels. Missing kernels. Rotten husks. A field of rotten corn.

So now, judge between the field and the farmer. What more could the farmer have done for his cornfield? When he worked so hard to care for his crop, why did it only bring forth rotten corn?

What can the farmer do but plow that field under? Who could blame him for tearing out every rotten stalk of corn? What keeps the farmer from just selling the whole field to make a Walmart?

We are the cornfield, and God is the farmer.

God has set us up as His children. He has been whistling His love song to us through His Word, telling us that He made us and loves us and cares for us and wants to have a relationship with Him. Like the farmer with his cornfield, God has done everything He can to care for us and create faith in our hearts. He sent His Holy Spirit to us. He watered us in Holy Baptism. He planted the seed of faith and helped that seed to grow. He fed us through His Word. He drove away the demons and servants of Satan that would’ve torn us apart. And all the while God whistled His love song to us.

And yet. . .and yet, this field only brought forth rotten corn. All of us, every one of us is just plain rotten. Sinful hearts intent on leaving God behind. Even when God has brought us into His faith, made us to be followers of His Son, even when God has put us here in the church, we still bring forth rotten corn, bad fruit, bad actions. We don’t live like children of God.

So now, judge between the field and the farmer, judge between God and us. What more could God do for us? While God works so hard to care for us, why do we keep sinning?

Wouldn’t God be right to plow us under, judge us to eternal death? To take away His protection and let us be destroyed by Satan. To walk away from us and stop giving us His Word, stop encouraging and building up our faith. To stop His Spirit from working in our hearts. Who could blame the farmer from not wanting to deal with a rotten field? Who could blame God for not wanting to deal with a rotten people?

Whistling – But this farmer keeps whistling a love song to his rotten field. No one could blame God if He just walked away from us sinful people, but God doesn’t. He doesn’t walk away. Even while He’s looking at all of our rotten deeds, our dismal, despicable, deadly, disease-filled deeds, even so, God sings a love song to you and me. And the name of His love song? “I Love Rotten Corn” And He does. He loves rotten corn. He loves bad fruit. He loves us. Despite the fact that we’re everything that goes against what He wanted, God still loves us.

If we turn to chapter 27 of Isaiah, we hear God singing His love song to rotten corn, His love song to the vineyard that He said He’d destroy. The Lord says, “Sing about a faithful vineyard: I, the Lord, watch over it; I water it continually. I guard it day and night so that no one may harm it. I am not angry. I’ll battle against the evil briars and thorns that try to infest my vineyard. Better than that, let the briars and thorns make peace with me.”

In this love song, the owner looks out at a desolate vineyard and realizes that despite its bad fruit, that he will guard with his whole life. He will battle with thorns and briars, but his goal is to find a way to live in peace and bring forth good fruit.

So, too, God looks out over us, a sinful people, and He says that despite our bad actions, that He will guard with His whole life. He will battle the servants of Satan and the evil that try to infest our lives, that try to lead us astray. He will fight the battle against His enemies, those people who deny Him or reject Him or teach falsely about Him, but all the while He hopes to make peace those people, to help those people know about His love. He is saying that He loves rotten corn. He loves His corn no matter what it is like, and He will do everything in His power to save His field. He loves us His people no matter how sinful we are, and He has done everything in His power to save us from death.

Incidentally, this works really well with Joan Jett’s song from the 80’s, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” “I Love Rotten Corn.”

God stays with us. God stays in this rotten field and keeps trying, keeps trying to bring forth good fruit from a bad crop. God stays with us and says that one day He’ll make us completely new again, He’ll plant us again to live for eternity and we’ll serve Him and bring forth good corn, sweet corn. God loves us and gives us a new spiritual life, a new spiritual life that comes through His Son.

And that takes us to the parable that Jesus tells, and you know how this parable works, right? It’s even worse than the first one. The owner of vineyard sends his servants to collect the rent from some farmers renting his land. But the renters don’t feel like paying their rent, so they kill the servants. Well, the owner of the vineyard decides that if he sends his own son, surely, the renters will listen to him. The son comes to ask for the rent money, and the farmers take the son and kill him.

God sent His Son Jesus to us, but the world rejected Him, the world killed Him, put Him to death on the cross. That makes this a field of blood, and just because it happened a long time ago, doesn’t mean that we’re innocent. We’re sinful too. We’re turned away from God. We’re a bad crop in a field of blood.

Whistling - And yet, somehow through all of that, God’s still whistling a love song. Even though God saw the people He created turn out to be sinful. Even though God saw His own Son be killed by those sinful people. Even though God sees us turn on each other in ugly ways, sees us reject Him. Even though God has seen all of that, He still loves us.

The blood of Christ covers us, but instead of just marking us with guilt, God says that the blood of Christ washes away our sins. God takes this evil thing, this death, this sin, this killing, and He turns it into forgiveness, salvation, eternal life.

No one would blame God for putting us all to death because of our sinfulness, but God instead says that one death, the death of His Son, that will be enough. This one death will give everyone new life.

So indeed we are a field of blood. We are marked with the blood of Christ, but that blood gives us forgiveness for our sinfulness. That blood gives us new life. That blood is the promise that we will have life after death.

And yet, we’re still a field of rotten corn. Just because Jesus died for us, just because we’re marked with His blood, just because God has given us faith in Jesus, doesn’t mean that we are perfect. We’re still sinful. We still do things that God doesn’t like. We still do things to hurt other people. We still don’t produce the good corn, the good fruit, that God would expect.

He would have every right to plow us under, but He can’t bear to do it. He would have every right to walk away from us, but He can’t bear to do it. He stays with us, out in the field working to help us become healthy plants again. He stays with us, in our lives working to help us become loving, righteous people. He stays with us to tell us about His Son who once came into this field and was murdered here. God stays with us so that we’ll know why His Son died and how the death of Jesus gives us new life. God stays with us, because He knows that without Him we’d die on the vine, we’d rot on the stalk, we’d be dead forever in the cold, hard ground. God stays with us, because He loves rotten corn.

And so now, turn and sing this same love song to your neighbor. Tell the people around you, “I love rotten corn.” Tell your brothers and sisters in Christ, tell your family, tell your friends, tell strangers that you meet, tell them that you love them despite the fact that they do things to hurt you. God has shown us the depths of love, that He loves us despite how rotten we are. So God calls on us to go and love one another in that same way, to love each other despite our faults. Yes, you’re surrounded by rotten corn, but God loves that rotten corn around you. So say to one another, “I love rotten corn.” Say to one another, “I love you.”

Isaiah’s love song in chapter 5 turns out to be a song of destruction, God’s judgment on sinful people. But through God’s grace, the farmer kept whistling, God kept His love for us. Through Jesus Christ, we will not be plowed under. We will live again after death. We will have a new life. We will one day live where we will always bring forth good corn, sweet corn. For now, though, we have this assurance, God loves rotten corn, God loves you.

Sunday, February 24, 2002

John 4:5-26,28-30,39-42 - “A Different Woman”

2nd Sunday in Lent (Year A - Lutheran Worship readings)
Saturday, February 23, and Sunday, February 24, 2002

This is the story of a woman, a different woman. This is the story of today’s Gospel reading from John. Not a story as in a fable or fiction, but a description of an event that really took place. I’ve expanded this story with details to help us understand that woman, to help us see ourselves in her story.

She didn’t have time for this. The day was hot—the kind of hot where the wind just moved the heat around, kicking up some dust to stick to your skin and sting your eyes. She just needed to get the water and get back home. She didn’t have time to make conversation with a stranger. She didn’t have time to get water for this strange, traveling man.

And yet, it didn’t really surprise her to meet a man at the well. Every once in awhile there was one waiting for her. She guessed that they figured she was easy picking, easy to lure. There weren’t many reasons to be fetching water from the well in the heat of the day. Men knew to hang around a well at midday if they were looking to meet a woman who was unattached and already had a damaged reputation. She was one of those women. She figured he was one of those men.

So it didn’t surprise her that he asked her for a drink from the well, but that didn’t mean she had time for this. Just because she had a damaged reputation, was a social outcast who couldn’t fetch water in the morning with the other women, didn’t mean that she wanted to get picked up by a man. Not today.

So his request didn’t surprise her—but his accent did. This strange, traveling man asking for water was a Jew. Jews hardly ever traveled through Samaria, and even if they did, they’d never talk or associate with Samaritans. On top of that, Jews knew just as well as Samaritans what kind of women went to the well at noon.

She decided to try to blow him off as directly as she dared. She just wanted to draw the water and get home. She says, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan, a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” And what she was thinking to herself was, “Are you dense? Are you that thirsty that the fever has clouded your better judgment? Do you not care about your own sacred rules?”

The man says to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and if you knew who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

She could’ve kicked herself. Her blunt way of pointing out their differences was supposed to end the conversation, but instead, it seemed to make this man more interested in chatting. Couldn’t he see that she was different, different from him by race and culture and faith and gender? She was a different woman. She was one of those women. He wasn’t supposed be to talking to her.

And yet, she thought, and yet what was it that he just said? If I knew who he was, I’d be asking him for water? Then he’d give me water, living water, water that brings life, water that is a gift of God? This thought was intriguing, and for a moment, she forgot her frustration with the conversation.

She puts down her water jar and says, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?” She thought she had him there.

But before he could answer she realized this man was claiming to be able to give her water that was better than the water from the well. That was a claim that stood in the face of history, so she says, “Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his flocks and herds?” Not even a Jew would claim to be better than Jacob, the father of Joseph, the father of 12 sons, the father of the Twelve Tribes, Jacob also known as Israel, the father of the nation.

The man answers, pointing towards the well, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman no longer was concerned about what was appropriate or what she had to do that day or what her reputation was like. She wasn’t worried about being a different woman. This man was offering her something special, some kind of special water, some kind of elixir. To her it sounded like the way to end these daily trips to the well and the daily embarrassment of doing it at noon. She says, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

To this, the man says, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

The woman sinks to her knees. For once, someone was offering her something special—water to keep her from being thirsty. For once, she wasn’t a different woman. This man had been looking past the fact that she was from a different country and a different faith and a different reputation; he was looking past all of this to treat her like she was important and special. For once, her dream of being loved was almost coming true—and then he had to ask about her husband.

She couldn’t hide. She couldn’t leave. There was no use in trying to lie—sinking to her knees gave her away. She might as well tell this strange, traveling man the truth. Could it be that he’d still look past her bad reputation when he knew the truth?

She says, “I have no husband.”

Even as she said it, she lost all hope that this man would really continue talking to her. Before, her bad reputation was just a guess. But now there it was, out in the open. Now he knew for sure that she was a different woman. Her eyes drop to the ground in shame waiting for the ridicule or the snide remark or the slap or the lewd request.

The man says, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

Even in her shame, she couldn’t resist looking right in his eyes after he said that. She stares at him in disbelief. He could’ve guessed about her reputation because she was at the well at noon, but there was no way that he could know her whole life story. No one in town really knew the whole thing—not about all five husbands. And he couldn’t have figured this out by watching her. There was only one conclusion to make:

“Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.” He had to have been a man of God to know so much. He had to be a holy man. Here she was suspecting that he was trying to seduce her, and he’s a holy man. Ah, enough regret, here was her chance. Since he was a prophet, he would know how to answer the question welling up inside of her. She had had five husbands, five divorces. She lived with a man now who wouldn’t even give her a legal marriage. She was a woman torn apart by sin. This strange, traveling man had seen that. And maybe this man would know how she, a Samaritan woman, could receive forgiveness for her sins.

She says, “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain in Samaria, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” It was a critical question. She wanted forgiveness for her sins, but meeting this Jew threw her world upside down. She doubted whether she could find true forgiveness without going to the temple in Jerusalem, but Samaritans were barred from that place.

The man says, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we Jews worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.”

She wasn’t sure that she understood all he had said. It sounded like she didn’t have to go to Jerusalem to worship and seek forgiveness. It sounded like God was bringing His forgiveness to her, right there. And if that was true, the world would drastically change. If the world was drastically changing, maybe this prophet was saying that the time had come, the day of the Lord had come, God was sending the Savior. Soon. Now.

She says, “I know that the Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

The man says, “I who speak to you am he.”

The woman was silent. The man was silent, a grin on his face that lit up his eyes. The sound of moving water came up from the well which was fed by a spring that kept it constantly moving and kept it clear and clean and fresh.

This man is the Messiah, the woman thought. The Promised Savior wasn’t in Jerusalem. He was right there with her in the midday sun at the well. He had revealed his true identity to her even though she had confessed her sins to him. She had come before God’s Messiah, and she had been so spiritually unclean, so sinful, so blatantly unholy. And yet he had not rejected her. He had offered her the gift of God, living water. He hadn’t seen her as different; he had seen her as special. Even when he revealed how much he knew about her dreadful past, his words penetrated her soul like. . .cool, refreshing water.

He had given her living water. Applied it to her very soul where she needed forgiveness and life. Soaked her in it. Her soul wasn’t thirsty anymore; her soul drank from the spring of eternal life.

The woman was silent. The man was silent. The sound of moving water came up from the well.

Without a word, without picking up her water jar, the woman took off and hurried back to town. Momentarily she forgot about what other people thought of her, and she spoke to everyone she saw. She didn’t worry about her reputation, because this man, this prophet, the Messiah, had made her a different woman. She was different than the woman that had come to the well. She was more different than she had ever been. Now she was different because she was forgiven and freed and loved and special. She was a different woman because God’s Savior had given her the water of life.

So in town, she simply began speaking to everyone without giving it a second thought. She says, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”

Her story intrigued the people even though normally they would have ignored her or shoved her away. And her theory that this man was the Messiah intrigued them even more, because even they, the people of the town, the people of good reputations, even they didn’t dare think that God’s Messiah would really come to them—the Samaritans. They were different; they weren’t Jews; they weren’t in Jerusalem. They knew there wasn’t much hope that God would choose to come to them. They were sinners. They were a different people.

Many of the Samaritans, though, already believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, the testimony she kept repeating and they kept repeating, “He told her everything she ever did.” This woman’s story was so convincing that they left town and went out to him.

And when they found him, sitting next to the well, the Samaritans urged him to stay with them, and this strange, traveling man, this Jew, this prophet, this man of God, the Messiah, stayed with these Samaritans, these different people, for two days.

And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

And they’d always emphasize that He is the Savior of the world, because like the woman, the town people realized that God had sent His Savior to them, a different people. God meant to include them in His salvation, His love, His mercy, His forgiveness.

Jesus came and gave them living water, the promise of eternal life. He applied it to their souls, and he made all of them different. Once they were different: thirsty, tired, sinful, forgotten, rejected, and now they were different: filled, refreshed, forgiven, remembered, loved, saved.

The woman’s water jar stayed at the well—empty, but she had brought back enough water for generations and generations.

Take a cool, refreshing, forgiving drink. This is the Gospel of our Lord.