What do the feeding ministries of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan – helping to feed over 500 families weekly – and Redeemer Lutheran Church in New Paltz – gathering food to support the outreach work of FAMILY of New Paltz – who saw the number of people accessing their food pantry rise to over 250 as the pandemic hit, and the New Paltz Student Christian Center and its food pantry – providing remote access to its nutritious sustenance for students experiencing more financial struggles than ever, working ecumenically to try and create even more ways to provide even more access to needed resources; what do these ministries have in common?
We have been freed by the grace of God through Christ, sent by the power of the Holy Spirit to build vineyards pleasing to God.
In Bishop Elisabeth Eaton’s most recent message, found online or in print via Living Lutheran, she notes that for Martin Luther, “Liberation in Christ through faith was the freedom that transformed him” (Living Lutheran, Oct. 2020). Bishop Eaton goes on to talk about how this freedom described by Luther in his, Freedom of a Christian, is as much freedom for as it is freedom from. Yes, Luther reminds us through Bishop Eaton, this is freedom from spiritual bondage and freedom from the self being the center of the universe, and freedom from the law’s accusation and crushing judgement, and freedom from being estranged from God and God’s creation. That’s a mighty list that deserves breathing into with joy and gratitude to God for the graciousness of a Creator and Redeemer who has done the heavy lifting work of redemption for us.
But that’s not all! As Bishop Eaton reminds us, “Freedom for means that in Christ we are set free to love and serve others.” And this is not a new set of laws or a new to do list. We are not setting out to do good in order to prove ourselves worthy before God, or to show God how well we can tend the vineyard so as to gain God’s approval.
We are freed by God in Christ and this restores our relationship with God. And because our relationship with God has been restored, so, too, can our relationships with one another be restored. The brokenness of our human relationships, which is reflected in the systems that perpetuate inequality of access to food and health care, safe places to live and work that provides dignity and substance for those engaged in it; inequality that inhibits fair access to voting for people of color and promotes the inequity of treatment among human beings in general because of gender, race, and other defining characteristics; these are wild grapes in the vineyard that God has entrusted to God’s children, the human race!
Yet even now there is hope. God will not ultimately let the wicked tenants remain in possession of the vineyard. God will not let wickedness have the upper hand in our lives or hearts either. And God let the Son who was Jesus be killed so that at that Easter dawn, the story could begin again.
A story of transforming relationship. A story of the Owner of the Universe who is betrayed and then subsumes that betrayal within a larger narrative of blessing and new life. A narrative of people being woken up to the reality of a God who gave everything to bring life from death, and to restore to our broken hearts and broken world the possibility of relationship. With God, and then by extension with each other. Sending us with passionately renewed lives to right wrongs and feed people body, heart, mind, and soul not because we have to, not because we need to earn the love of a wrathful God – who does take issue with poorly tended vineyards – but because God has freed us for this work of restorative relationship building.
The power of the Holy Spirit literally seeks to flow through our freed hands, even as the blood flowed freely from the hands of our Savior as Jesus hung upon the cross.
Yes! We are being transformed in Christ through faith; faith that sends us out to do good works on God’s behalf for the world. Works of mercy and works of justice. We do not want to be like the vineyard described in Isaiah; the vineyard from which God expected justice and righteousness, but instead saw bloodshed and a cry (Isaiah 5:7). We do not want to be like the tenants in Jesus’ parable. And because of God’s grace through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit we do not have to be.
Bishop Eaton ends her article with a quote from reformation scholar Timothy Wengert, who posed the question, “What am I going to do now that I don’t have to do anything?” Then Bishop Eaton answers the question in a way that seems quite appropriate to pause our ruminations on the scriptures for today.
Wengert asks, “What am I going to do now that I don’t have to do anything?” And Bishop Eaton responds, “Serve God and neighbor in beautiful freedom.” Amen.