"God Said, ‘Vengeance Is Mine!"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - October 5, 2008

Psalm 19:1-14; Matthew 21:33-46

     Last week I was with most of our pastors in the Annapolis and Washington East Districts that were having a meeting with our bishop at Mount Oak United Methodist Church.  As I circulated among my colleagues, I asked probing questions about their retirement accounts, investments and how the unstable financial markets were affecting them.  Most of them were frightened.  Pastors who were planning to retire indicated that they may put off making that decision for awhile.           

     Most of them agreed that there was no safe place to put their financial assets that would both preserve them and allow them to grow in value.  Like others in our society, the ones with whom I spoke had become very anxious about their financial futures.

     Recognizing the tension among many of his pastors, our bishop spoke about our nation’s circumstances and quoted from a parable of Jesus, 

Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow:  they do not work or make clothes for themselves.  Yet, I tell you that not even King Solomon with all his wealth had clothes as beautiful as these.  Do not start worrying about your creature comforts.  God already knows what you need.  Instead be concerned about what the Kingdom requires of you and God will provide everything else.  (Matt. 6:28f) 

     It was good to be reminded that there is far more going on in our lives than just the bottom line on our investments and retirement accounts.  The bishop’s words were encouraging but the anxiety caused by events in recent weeks was still affecting us. 

     Jesus talked about money in the Gospels more than any other aspect of our material world.  He knew that financial issues that remained outside of the control of his listeners would always get their attention and capture their imaginations.  Material issues are still on the front burners of most of our lives today whether we care to admit it or not.        

     Americans were angry this week.  Members of both Houses of Congress were flooded with e-mails filled with dire warnings not to support “the bailout package.” Their constituents were pointing to the greed of Wall Street executives and the lack of regulatory oversight of many of our financial institutions.  Finger pointing was everywhere.  People were most eager to root out the rouges that were responsible and urged those in power to see that swift justice is done.

     I titled my message this morning with one purpose in mind.  That purpose was not to communicate that God’s nature can be consumed by the human responses of wrath and vengeance.   The truth about God is quite the opposite.  It is we who judge others with violent thought patterns.  Today, we are the ones that become angry sometimes at the least provocation.  God was only stating, “If there is going to be vengeance anywhere in creation, let such a response originate from me.  When you, my children, get involved with anger issues, you can easily forget who you were designed to be.” 

     Even though the themes surrounding the state of our nation’s economy and the persons responsible for it are vastly different from those in our lesson today, the message is the same.  When the vineyard owner sent his servants to collect his assets, twice they were beaten, stoned and killed by the tenants renting the vineyard complex.  Then he sent his son and he was killed as well.

     Jesus asked his listeners, “What will the vineyard owner do to these tenants who killed his son?”  Some responded, “He will certainly kill those evil men.”  Jesus’ response, however, was quite different from what his listeners expected. He said, “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from them and be given to people who will produce the proper fruits.”

     We have a remarkable society that is very resilient and skillful in managing extremely challenging circumstances.  Anger, vengeance and resentment are not responses that can solve problems.  In fact, such responses only reveal another truth about us that Jesus taught -- “Where your treasure is, there will your hearts be also.”  A question we need to answer for ourselves is always the same each time we are confronted with extremely difficult circumstances.  What spirit do we want to guide us when our world is out of our control?

     Greed and the lust for wealth in our society created consequences that have affected the value of the financial assets of millions of people, businesses and institutions.  Just like the vineyard owner, when we went for what was ours, we discovered that those in whom we had trusted betrayed us.  As a result, many of us demand justice.  God, however, always has a better form of justice from the one we tend to want. 

     Again, Jesus asked his listeners, “What will the vineyard owner do to these tenants who killed his son.”  Some responded, “He will certainly kill the evil men who did this.” God does not destroy the lives of evil doers as some of us believe.  What happens is they dismantle themselves in the most essential area of life.  Such people cannot find peace, compassion and live guilt free lives as do those who reflect the beauty of the lilies of the field that Jesus described. 

     The simple truth is that greedy, self-serving people cannot graduate when they have not learned the basic lessons of spirit.  We human beings have free will, but we do not have the power to establish the curriculum that moves us toward being children of the light once we learn it.  This is the message of our lesson today.  Jesus was teaching his listeners to stay away from the attitudes that will only breed more resentment, hatred, bitterness and continued unhappiness. 

    Jesus gave up his life while communicating this message.  God did not respond with vengeance upon those responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion.  Instead, we experienced an empty tomb.  We learned that death is not the final answer to our lives.  What a precious gift!  God has no need or use for vengeance; God allows people to determine who they want to be and how they wish to define themselves. 

     Each of us is creating and living by thought and emotional patterns that can take us anywhere we choose.  God knows, however, that we cannot pretend at having compassion, joy, peace, tranquility, sincere smiles and pleasant dispositions.  Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from them and given to the people who will produce the proper fruits.”  This is the ultimate form of justice. 

     Our society will get through these challenging moments.  As individuals, only fear of the unknown has the power to confuse and dilute our faith.   Those who live with hope and trust, knowing that God is in charge, will always navigate their lives with confidence.  Never forget, we are more than the sum of our earthly experiences.  Our real treasure is in knowing that God is in charge.


     Loving and always merciful God, we often come to your son’s table because it is our custom to do so.  Like saying the Lord’s Prayer, receiving communion is easy.  Just as forgiving others as we want to be forgiven is often difficult, so is coming away from Jesus’ table committed to being a light in the world.  So often our faith does not translate into a form that others easily recognize.  So often our attitudes reflect a spirit that no longer communicates compassion and understanding.  So often we recognize love’s presence only when it is coming toward us.  Kindle our remembrance of Jesus’ invitation to bear fruits of the spirit so that we become givers of what we receive to a world that needs your embrace.  We pray these thoughts in Jesus’ name.  Amen. 


     Loving God, we are so grateful that in our blindness to some forms of truth, you still lead us.  We are grateful that during times when we do not understand life, you know that there is nothing of which we ever need to be afraid.  We are grateful that when our minds are challenged by so many unanswered questions, we understand that you never lose control over any aspect of creation. 

     People who appear to have no regard for the value of human life trouble us.  We find innocence suffering in so many places. We cannot make sense of what is happening in our world-economy, as well as the shrinking value of our personal retirement accounts.  We sense frustration when our world leaders find few solutions that might heal humanity’s lack of trust in each other.  What we do know is that we are living a world being guided by the trust that you can make sense of all of it.  There are those of us who desire to be instruments of your peace. 

     We do not need to know how the story ends before we choose to be a loving participant in life’s drama.  We do not need to make sense out of our experiences for us to make visible the truth that we know.  We do not need to have clarity to any outcome before we become a healer with our responses.  As we come to the table this morning with Christians around the world, may we understand our combined strength as we confront ignorance.  We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .