Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:8-14; Luke 20:9-19

Are you aware when you are living a biblical text?

As I understand the stories of the coming of settlers to the vast arid landscape of South Central Idaho, they were living the texts of Isaiah and the 126th Psalm:

  • a way was being made in the wilderness…, rivers in the desert…, something miraculous was about to happen; if they went out with weeping, then they would return with shouts of joy.
  • Hope was contagious. Pictures had been sent to cities in the mid-west and east, to Chicago and New York, showing strawberries the size of a person’s hand.
  • “Virgin soil, put a plow to it, plant the seed-everything will grow—not only grow, but too large to imagine, as if by magic” “Towns will grow; you will prosper”, said the land developers.

And the people came; towns did grow-Buhl, Filer, Hanson, Kimberly, Paul, Jerome, Twin Falls and Gooding. Bliss, Eden

Protestant churches flourished, for the people who came were Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran. Congregations were established and grew.

Initially, crops indeed grew as if by magic, then the soil soured and the crops did not grow well.

The people had moved to the Snake River Plain—now known as The Magic Valley—with great hope, believing that they were responding to God’s call. With the decline in the soil conditions, as the psalmist expressed it, their fortunes needed restoration.

A system of canals, gates and ditches had brought the needed water, now they needed to lay hundreds of miles of tile to provide adequate drainage for their fields. When it had been completed, crops again would grow, communities would flourish, God would continue to be praised.

They were living the text.

In the process of settlement, native peoples had been displaced, lives were lost in the building of both the irrigation and the drainage systems and the face of the land was drastically changed. In our history is both our attempt at faithfulness to God and our disregard for others and creation.

Today is the 5th Sunday in Lent; not counting Sundays, 12 days remain. Within the tradition of the United Methodist Church, we are invited to observe a holy Lent by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.

The texts of the morning challenge us and invite us to ask ourselves—corporately and individually—hard questions. Do you expect anything from God? Do you expect God to be active in your life? Do we live our lives as though we think that God no longer cares? Is no longer present? Do you trust God?

Isaiah was saying to the people of old: don’t discard memories of God’s faithfulness in the past, open your minds to new possibilities, a way in this new wilderness will be provided; rivers will be there, your thirst quenched, your needs will be taken care of. On God’s behalf, Isaiah was addressing a people who no longer expected God to be active in their lives. Are you living that text?

The psalmist expresses images of hope and expectation: God would do something…the people also had a part to play. With heavy hearts, they went out to plant-they went out—an image of hope; they sowed seed—an image of expectation. With hope and expectation, they believed that God would provide the harvest. The psalmist’s expectation in faith was that God would transform their despair to rejoicing, their fear to hope, the scarcity to abundance.

What do you expect from God?

As the Gospel Lesson is recorded, it has been allegorized—things stand for something else: God is the vineyard/land owner; Jesus is seen as the son, the servants as the prophets, the tenant farmers as the scribes and Pharisees. Scholars believe that what we have probably isn’t the way the text began, but it’s what we have so we need to hear it as we have received it.

What did you hear when the text was read? Were you in the story? As harsh as it may sound, I think that we are often in the story. We are the tenant farmers. We are accustomed to doing things on our own without interference, confident in our own abilities, unwilling to give the vineyard/landowner that which we had agreed to at our Baptism, confirmation and when we offer our membership vows and even able to deny the Son any claim on our life—all actions of the tenant farmers of the parable. Are you satisfied with that role in the Kingdom of God on earth?

Is there anything you need to change in the remaining 12 days of Lent?

With the continued sense of “manifest destiny” of previous generations, settlers moved to Idaho ever confident in the power and presence of God.

More than 100 years later wherever we live, may we live by God’s mercy, grace, forgiveness and love, may we live our lives confident that we can expect much from God and that God, not only expects much from us, but God also empowers us to remain faithful to that calling, to be more than tenant farmers in the reign of God. We are called to live the texts of Paul’s epistle to the Philippians, as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.