Sunday 4th October
St Andrew’s Parish of Indooroopilly
Exodus 20.1-4, 20.7-9, 20.12-20
Tending the vineyard, making the new wine ©Sue Grimmett I would have sent in the troops. Wouldn’t you?
The vineyard had been set up with everything it needed to produce abundant grapes to make into rich wines, but instead everything keeps going wild. The management is descending into chaos and one after another, the servants sent to assist in the harvest are expelled and even put to death by the tenants. The tenants want it all. In their crazy isolation and fear they decide they need to run the show and have it all on their own terms. Their grasping nature takes over when, scheming together, they even seize and put to death the landowner’s own son. How foolish can the landowner be? Isn’t it time for a more strong armed response?
Jesus asks those religious leaders what they think the landowner will do. “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time,” they answer.
No doubt it would be what those religious leaders would do themselves. It is time these tenants be pulled up and made to account for what they have been doing. They need to have everything taken away from them. Of course, this would probably be what the tenants in the story expected and feared would happen all along. It is this expectation that has kept them picking up the stones with each new visitor. Like those tenants, we too expect to have to fight for our own corner of the planet, defend our right to it and probably won’t be surprised when the expected retribution catches up with us.
But Jesus tells those religious leaders that their days of running the show like that are over. It is time to let go of our fiefdoms and entitlements and drop the stones we have ready in our clutching hands. God is doing something entirely new and wondrous. I love the way Andrew Barr retells the story;
Imagine being one of the workers in the vineyard of a vast estate, who is sweating profusely while a well-dressed boy who you know is the heir, coolly walks by with his father on his tour of the place, learning the way things run. Imagine further being caught up in the rebellious fervour that spreads among the workers so that you go on strike and allow the grapes to grow wild. When the son, grown into a young man, comes to collect the produce, you join in the attack and kill the heir. Then comes the reckoning. You and your fellow workers are brought to the magistrates, and you expect to suffer a grim fate for what you have done. To your shock, the owner of the vineyard shows up in court with the son you killed. The young man is very much alive, although the wounds inflicted on him are still bleeding. This really has you shaking in your boots. But to your further shock, the father gets out his will and announces that the vineyard was bequeathed, not only to the son but to all of the workers. More shocking still, the father and his son welcome all of you back to work in the vineyard as joint owners.1
So much of our life hinges on whether we can imagine a grace that wide, a gift so great and a responsibility so humbling. If we cannot, we are condemned to a universe of scarcity, a sense of creeping despair that nothing we could do can change anything and are left to the same mechanisms of reward and punishment that will never set us free from the fear and violence that is in us.
Ultimately, so much of our experience is determined by whether we can accept that we are accepted. There is nothing we have to do. All has been done for us. Forgiveness changes the world and gives us back to one another.
God does not dish out the kind of vengeance of which we are so fond. As much as I would like to see, for example, Donald Trump not running for president, I can never casually condemn or cancel others, whoever they may be in my life, whether on the public stage or causing me issues on social media or in my private life. In the Christ vision there is no one who is outside the grace and love of God. But… neither can we sit back and allow the tenants to continue to kill and destroy, idly watching the vineyard become lifeless and barren.
It is time to embrace the truth that we belong to one another and to the earth, and we have been gifted a great responsibility for its care and for the care of each other. It is time to gather up our feeble, wavering faith, (after all, what other kind is there?), and live our lives with the courage born first in love.
Who is looking after the vineyard now? It is a key question this parable leaves us. Instead of the endless patterns of fear, exclusion and violence, worrying over whether we have enough and whether we are enough, it is time instead for hope and for action. It is time to take seriously our role as joint owners of the vineyard; joint heirs with Christ and co-creators of the world as God dreams it could be. We can’t change the past, but we can shape the future, and we are not left alone with the task. St Augustine said, “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” If we are to be the Church in this time, the beloved children of God who are stewards of the earth and of one another’s dreams, we need to find the kind of communal hope that is born in anger and courage.
Somewhere the church got lost in trying to teach us how to secure our individual salvation, or how we can ensure we get to go to heaven when we die. None of that teaching changed our behaviour. We had the opportunity to make fine wine together and instead we let the vines grow wild while we attended to getting the church rules right and finalising how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Now is far past time for the harvest, yet our fears keep us defending the bulwarks and making sure there are no newcomers coming to take over.
We have already been made co-heirs with God’s holy one, despite all we did to him and the prophets that came before him. The cross stands as the symbol of all God will endure with us and from us, and yet still hand us back the kingdom. We need no longer be enslaved by our fears and trapped in our nightmares. The worst thing possible has happened– the death of God at the hands of the beloved creatures made in God’s own image- but it has been overturned by forgiveness and transformed by resurrection.
It is time for the church to find its voice and empower one another to live lives of simplicity and love. It is time to return to the radical call of the way of Jesus. The latin for radical comes from the word radix meaning root- one who returns to the source. St Francis, whose feast day we celebrate this weekend, did not have a sentimental, romantic attachment to nature, but rather showed us the way to a radical alignment of his one precious life with Christ; a life which led
him to affirm the goodness of all of God’s creation and the brotherhood and sisterhood of all humanity. It was Francis’ receiving of his God-given identity as the beloved heir of God’s family that has made his light shine down the ages. Francis lived, like St Paul, as a new creation, putting on the mind of Christ. This left him free to embrace the gospel with utter openness, allowing scripture to speak in ever new interpretations and the Spirit to give him eyes to see the glory of God in all creation.
We don’t need to send in the troops. We don’t need to let our fears decide our behaviour and divide us from one another. We no longer even need to expect to receive what we deserve because we have a God who says everything I have is yours. Our job is to skilfully nurture the garden of creation and tend the vineyard of our lives, our relationships and communities, together producing fine new wines that will never run out, at a table where everyone is invited.
1 Andrew Marr, Moving and Resting in God’s Desire, (St Gregory’s Abbey, 2016)pp. 206-7.