A bonus mini sermon this week, written as part of the postal ministry in our Circuit for those who can neither access online worship or physically worship in a building at the moment.
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
In our garden we have some raised beds at the perfect height where I can sit and gently plant seeds, pull up weeds and lovingly tend the plants. We have had some successful vegetable crops over the years – this year less so, with the sum total of two beetroot in four meters of beds…
When we go away, we arrange for someone to come in and look after them for us – water them and make sure no pests are getting at them. We are more than happy to share the bounty, but I would be a bit upset if I found that they had claimed the crops, the beds and all the tools for their own, in return for a few days caring.
In today’s gospel reading, we have the picture of a beautiful vineyard. Well established, well equipped, well maintained and in good fruit. The owner brings in tenants to care for his property. The vineyard owner provided the very best equipment, all that was needed. It is not a rundown vineyard in need of repair, but well equipped and productive. It was not given to the tenants but left in their care. No doubt their contract laid out both what was expected of them – and what they would receive in return. It did, however, remain the property of the owner. But these tenants decide to hijack it for their own and turn away anyone who comes looking for the owner’s rightful share.
Jesus tells us a parable about God’s world, and about his kingdom. Psalm 24 tells us that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. He is the owner; we are trusted to care for all he has given.
We are very aware of the bad effects we have had on the earth that God has left us to look after. Collectively we have been poor tenants. In terms of a vineyard it is overrun with weeds and pests, we have overworked the land, mistreated it and we have failed to water and feed it. We have much to repent of, much wisdom to hear and much more to do in terms of how we are good tenants of the property we have been given.
But this parable is about much more than that. Jesus is in Jerusalem; these are the closing chapters of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus is working urgently to get his message across – and he knows he is going to be rejected. Many have come before to bring God’s message to share what God longs to say to his people, to share with them how they should be living for and with God – and they have all been rejected. Now in God’s final attempt, he has sent his son. If they will not listen to others, surely, they will listen to him. If they will not listen, surely, they will look at how he lives and get the message.
The Old Testament Reading for today is The Ten Commandments. God had already laid out the rules, the best way to live, the way that would honour God and be best for the people. Everyone knows how to behave, it is there, quite literally written in stone, yet people had not got it. They had wandered a long way from it, despite God’s many attempts to remind them, to call them out on their avoidance of and disobedience to those Best Guidelines for Living. They had continually refused to hear the message and wanted to do things their own way.
They did not want to listen, and they did not want to go that way. They rejected God’s messengers and the message. Now they are in danger of rejecting the most important one, God’s own son – the one who was in fact the cornerstone of life, living and all that we should be.
So, what about us? What questions does this raise for us in our life and faith today?
Firstly, what has God left us caring for? We are God’s representatives, God’s tenants in the world God made. God created a perfect world and left us with all the tools we need.
> We are left to care for the earth. To tend it lovingly, as if it were our own. We hold it and use it on behalf of God, but also on behalf of our fellow humans, in this generation and the many to come.
>We are also left to care for the church. It is no more ours to own and claim than the earth. We are stewards of it. We are not to use it for our own purposes, but to hold it in trust for everyone. It is God’s church and any growth and fruit it produces are God’s and to God’s glory.
>We are left to care for justice. Making sure that everyone gets their fair share is not just about the vineyard; it is about the whole of the earth. A fair legal system, good health care for all, a voice for those who cannot be heard, an equitable distribution of wealth, support for those who cannot support themselves. They are all part of care and making sure that The Landowner, God, gets God’s share of the wealth.
My second question is, who comes today to collect God’s share? Who should we be sharing God’s bounty to us with? What in our lives is rightfully Gods? I know, that’s three questions, but they are all wrapped up in one: what do I have, that God has given me, that I am meant to share with those God sends my way? God has blessed me with so much, not just in monetary terms, but also community, the unique people I meet that others may not, my personality, my gifts – how do I share those? You will have your own list of blessings, how will you share those, to offer them back to God as God’s due?
And finally, the stark question in this passage is who do I turn away, reject, or fail to listen to? Who do I reject because I do not like what they say, or they ask more than I want to give? What am I in danger of missing because I rejected the most important person? Perhaps I did not recognise them, because they did not look like I was expecting, I thought they were unimportant, or I thought I could get away with not doing what was asked or expected. And in doing so, perhaps I rejected Jesus and his place in my life. Perhaps I missed an opportunity to in part repay some of what God has given to me. We reject people at our peril. For we do not want to be turning away God, missing the opportunity to share all God has given to us and returning to God all that he is due.
How often Lord
have I rejected
those you send to me?
Tried to keep
what you grow
just for myself
and my group?
have I turned away
people sent by you,
eager to keep you to myself?
if I am honest,
have I turned away Jesus
when he has tried to come to me?
have I refused to give you your dues,
what you deserve of my life
and tried to keep it myself.
How often Lord
have I missed you,
the most important of all?
Forgive me I pray.
all I offer to you.