Tuesday, September 27, 2011
I looked up the phrase "sour grapes" only to find that the source given was not the Bible nor Ezekiel but an Aesop fable. In Aesop's fable the Fox and the Grapes, we have a fox driven by hunger who tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine. He jumped with all his strength as high as he could but they were beyond his reach. As he went away, the fox said smugly, "Oh, you aren't even ripe yet! Well, I didn't want sour grapes anyway." Sour grapes refer to our anger, disappointment, and offense when things do not go as planned, promised, or anticipated. I guess that counts most of us in. Sour grapes describe us pretty well - at least some of the time.
But today we did not listen to an Aesop fable. We heard the prophet Ezekiel tell of the sour grapes eaten by the fathers that set their children's teeth on edge. In other words, the people of God complained that when God did not punish the evil doer who repents, He was soft and when He gives the sinner his just reward, He was hard and callous. But God speaks plainly of simply wanting all people to turn from the error of their ways and return to Him that they may be forgiven and restored. Being a parent must be sort of like being God – you are damned of you do and damned if you don't. God cannot win. If He calls us to repentance, we complain, “Who me? What about those other folks and their sins?” If He forgives the public sinner, we complain, “Where is God’s justice? Why if He only knew how bad those people really were!”
The remarkable thing is that God still calls people to repentance – his experience with calling to repentance not working out so good. Jesus points to all of this in the Gospel for today with the story of two sons – one who said no to his father and then relented and did the father's will and one who said yes but then never did what he had been asked. So which one actually did the will of the father? It seems an easy enough question to answer but the answer rubbed the religious leaders the wrong way. For implicit in the answer is that they were not obedience or righteous but some unlikely folks were. They did not like Jesus’ tone.
The common complaint is that God is not fair. Well, we heard about that last week. And just maybe a few voices from within our own congregation have made the same complaint today. What we forget is that refusing God's grace, means rejecting His promise. You do not come to God on your terms. Each of us meets God on His terms. If we complain that God is merciful, it implies that we think we have earned His favor. If we accept His mercy, then it implies that we are sinners and cannot earn His favor. Either way we judge God as the one at fault – and not us. It is sour grapes.
God's greatest authority is not His wrath but His love. God's greatest power lies not in the lightening sent from heaven but the Son whom He delivered up to be our Savior. It is not His power to condemn but the power of His mercy that is without comparison. The real authority of God is His love. His love forgives the guilty evildoer, forgives the wicked who confesses his wickedness, and forgives the sinner all his sins - no matter how great. The engine of forgiveness is fueled by the obedient suffering and life giving death of Jesus Christ and not by our worth or merit. To reject Christ is to reject what Christ has won and what He offers us freely - forgiveness, life, salvation.
God never stops speaking mercy. He calls to us in mercy. Even the voice of the Law that calls us to repentance is sent forth in mercy. When we hear and heed His call and repent of our sinful ways, He always forgives. He does not forgive because we repent but because of Jesus Christ. Repentance is God's work in us to prepare our hearts to receive what Christ has won for us. Every sinner is welcomed by God with the heavenly gift and grace that none of us deserves. Whether we be the temple authorities so familiar with the house of God or the prostitutes and tax collectors so familiar with the house of sin. It does not matter where we come from, but only that grace receives us.
But, we complain.... it is not enough. Israel rejected God because He showed mercy to those they did not think deserved it. The dilemma for the religious leaders was John – do we honor him as prophet and heed his call (though we think ourselves better than that) or do we reject him and his call as without authority? Ultimately it was the same dilemma with Jesus.
It is all just sour grapes. When Israel found our that the mercy of God was offered to all, Israel decided they did not want it so much. When the people who believe that they are righteous hear that the path of God is repentance, they decide they do not want what God offers if to get it you have to go through confession and forgiveness. Sour grapes. Bitterness. Resentment.
Sour grapes always produces bad wine. That is what we are left with. Sour grapes and bad wine. I am going to be blunt here. There are plenty of folks among us, me included, who complain that we do not get what we deserve. We figure that we are better than those abject sinners around us and God ought to know this and treat us differently. We assume that because we are who we are, we should get better from God. And that is the point. It is because we are who we are that the only path to God is through repentance, contrition, confession, and absolution.
They say in politics that the candidate who changes his mind is doomed. People do not like candidates who change their minds. Well, I do not know about politics of it all but God loves those who change their minds. In fact, He makes that change of mind and heart possible by the gift of His Spirit. God loves those who let go of their air of righteousness and, by the power of His Spirit, end up on their knees before Him. In fact, God is in the business of changing minds. He takes the mind and heart of the stubborn sinner and the Lord changes that sinner through repentance, confession, and forgiveness.
I can't tell you how many husbands and wives, parents and children, come to me for counseling and say, "I can't change. I am who I am. You will just have to love and accept me for who I am." Baloney! God is in the change business. By the God's grace and the power of His Spirit, change is all around us - and within us. To say you can't change or you really did not want or believe in the first place is sour grapes. Change is how God works and it is all God’s work!
So what will it be? The sour grapes of those who complain that they did not need saving or the humble heart that confesses we are, indeed, sinners? Repentance, confession and absolution keeps the focus right where it must be – upon the Lord.... that is where God meets us today... And if, by the grace of the Spirit we hear His Word, heed His voice, and meet Him there, good fruit is born and great wine is made. The authority of the Gospel is what calls us here today where the Word equips us with faith, builds within us repentant hearts, and instills within us the means to receive the grace of absolution and His power of transformation. So let us not be the fox who complains because he decided he did not really want what was outside his grasp. Let us hear and heed the call of Christ and meet Him in His Word. There the sinful find forgiveness, the guilty find righteousness, and the dying find life. Amen.