Tending the vineyard, making the new wine

SERMON 

Sunday 4th October 

St Andrew’s Parish of Indooroopilly 

Exodus 20.1-4, 20.7-9, 20.12-20 

Psalm 19 

Philippians 3 

Matthew 21.33-46 

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.  

+Amen.

1 Andrew Marr, Moving and Resting in God’s Desire, (St Gregory’s Abbey, 2016)pp. 206-7.

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