There was this vineyard not far from a lake. If the wind hit just right, the intoxicating aroma from it would penetrate every car driving by even through closed-off vents and locked-up windows. But something even more tantalizing to the spiritual senses was emerging on the other side of the road. The field would be transformed into a corn maze this time of year. There would be hayrides and fall fixin’ foods set up in front of a few different paths of varying levels of difficulty. Of course, the youth would always want to venture into the hardest one through the old corn stalks. They wanted to prove to their friends, or even themselves, that they could master all the complicated twists and turns. Nevertheless, more often than not, there would be frustration and plenty of wanting to give up after a while.
There was this one young man named “Leon”: biologically speaking, he was a teenager even if his grade level wasn’t quite there. And yet, he would be the one to show children the way out of the seemingly never-ending dead ends. Not only that, but along the way he would help them feel safe, share a joke to make them laugh, have them convinced that everything was going to be okay. Now, “Leon” may not have always been treated the best at school, but he would always be the first to say, “God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good.” He would say those words over and over and over again, even if far too many people did not share much good God-loving behavior towards him. Regardless, it was as if his servant heart could not be altered whatsoever. And it wasn’t just that he helped young people find the way out of a corn maze. He helped numerous others find the most beautiful path of grace.
Because further down that same road is where “Leon’s” grandmother took him to worship on Sunday mornings. However, “Leon” was not the normal Lutheran, as he did not give his grandma any choice whatsoever where to sit. It had to be right up-front, because “Leon” had work to do during the service. When it came time for the children’s sermon, he would dash to the bowl behind the pulpit, so that the youth could give their offerings for the day. And when it was all said and done, “Leon” would make sure that every single child got their fruit snack before they went back to their seats. “Leon” insisted that everyone be included on feeling welcomed and appreciated for simply showing up.
It didn’t stop there for Leon, though. Eventually, he got comfortable enough that he dare desired to enter the maze that most thought was only reserved for the esteemed clergy to trek: that path right behind the altar. “Leon” wanted to help setup Communion. Yes, the liturgical police and most veteran Lutherans would have insisted he be kicked out from that supposedly far too holy of space for him. Except, as “Leon” would say, “God is good all the time and all the time, God is good.” And sometimes the church just needs be steered to the most beautiful path of all: the one of grace.
So, “Leon” continued to help setup Communion. He would even mimic the pastor with all the hand motions in raising up the bread and wine. He would hum along with the chanting, and maybe not always in the same musical key, but sometimes the church just needs to cave in to grace. Granted, that requires navigating through seemingly infinite twists and turns of inclusion and radical hospitality and above-and-beyond acceptance of people with different abilities; not just for them to be in our same precious space, but inviting them to use whatever gifts they have to make an impact on this topsy-turvy, but most majestic life-long path we all take with our Lord.
Unfortunately, we heard from Isaiah of a vineyard that did not quite live up to expectations for the not-so-pleasant crops it yielded. Sometimes we would like to follow that story’s lead and tear entire vineyards apart when we are not the biggest fans of the resulting fruit they dare bring into our precious fields. And yet, “Leon” was under the impression that “God is good all the time and all the time, God is good.” Not only that, but “Leon” was also under the impression that the church, that God’s children are set free to bring those words to life, including to those who feel trapped in a maze of impossible expectations or fears or worries or whatever else that makes us want to just give up some days.
However, “Leon” would be the first to tell us that part of God’s goodness all the time is setting up the vineyard of Jesus Christ himself within us from the very beginning: a vineyard with the most beautiful path of all in God’s never-ending grace with no dead-ends whatsoever. That most serene tranquility of God’s love has been most deeply dug and wonderfully grown in us. And no matter what happens, no matter what maze of life we dare traverse: that holy and life-giving vineyard in our Lord and Savior will never be taken away, because for some mind-boggling reason, “God [insists on being] good all the time.” For those precious servants like “Leon” who will never let us forget that Greatest News of all, we most certainly give thanks to God, indeed! Amen!