The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s059g08 Sunday 26 28/9/08
'go and work in the vineyard' Matthew 21.28
Last week I spoke about the vineyard not being the church but the whole human community. It is only if we see the truth of this, that the words of Jesus today begin to make sense. The tax collectors and prostitutes had joined in the human community they didn't have any choice - whereas the religious exempt themselves from dirtying their hands with menial work amongst such company. They had obeyed the command of the Lord while the 'religious' rebel.
There are lots of ways of putting oneself above others. I am reminded of the first of the Chronicles of Narnia the Magician's Nephew, where uncle Andrew, after tricking Polly to take one of the rings and disappearing, is rebuked by Digory. His uncle responds: 'Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny.' (p23)
So those who see themselves as especially religious see themselves as exempt from the rules and regulations that others have to observe. Sometimes these rules are just acting courteously towards others. Bullies, like the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, use any justification for their maliciousness. It is not the sole prerogative of clergy sometimes lay people can see their role in a congregation playing politics.
Some people suffer from delusions and again place themselves above the help that doctors and nurses offer.
There is the old yarn about the person caught in a flood on the top of their roof. As the water rises the person prays that the Lord will deliver him from drowning. Along comes a boat, but he refuses help, citing his prayers. Later a helicopter comes by, but again he refuses help. When he eventually drowns he comes to the pearly gates complaining bitterly that God did not rescue him. He is asked who he thought had sent the boat and the helicopter? I often have cause to say to patients that if people want to know where I see God at work, it is not in churches but in hospitals. It is here in hospitals that all can come and no matter who you are, every effort will be made to help you to your feet and to be able to think clearly restoring your primal dignity as a human being.
The other way to avoid joining the human community is to deny that there is a problem. Denial the other face of stigma is as destructive to others as it is to the person themselves.
Sometimes it seems great experiences of God lead to great inhumanity. I am reminded by the article at http://www.theage.com.au/national/new-faith-throws-out-the-ten-commandments-20080915-4h3d.html where 'Dr Macnab said the Ten Commandments were full of what people could not do, and were given by a patriarchal figure, Moses, who was a mass murderer. The Bible records that Moses killed 3000 Israelites who worshipped the Golden Calf. Allegedly he went up the mountain and came down and said "you shall not kill', so how come he was such a genocidal man?'
I was blessed by a sermon for the feast day of St Matthew this morning and the preachers' words led me to realise that the question of the scribes and Pharisees 'Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?' implies that they were in denial of the harm that their theology of exclusion was doing to other people.
I find it interesting, in mental health, the real difficulty is not with the illness itself but in stigma. Denial is a product of stigma. Each of these is about the gulf between people them and us. It is this gulf between people that Jesus' bridges.
This is the vineyard that Jesus calls us to work in, the one that bridges the gaps between people.
When one works alongside someone else it really doesn't matter what the form of work is the gaps between people are broken down. One of the holiest Bishops I have known insisted on helping to do the dishes after enjoying a meal - to the extent that he always did the washing. Mostly guests offer to help by drying the dishes, but when one thinks about it the person who dries the dishes can put them back in their proper places. Anyone can wash the dishes for they simply put them on the drying board. But this bishop's holiness is directly related to his insistence to work alongside others in the ordinary tasks of life.
I find it interesting that the first of the sons of the father initially refuses to work in the vineyard perhaps because he was not feeling like work that day. But he gets over his lethargy and goes out to work. The second son is happy and eager to work perhaps because he knows that his brother had already refused so he immediately agrees to the request. So his change of mind is not about the work, but probably that he realises that he has to work alongside his brother who has already started.
A while back I realised that 'holy' and 'catholic' complement each other. The holiness of God is not something that keeps others at a distance, it is a holiness that embraces all the real meaning of 'catholic'. It is the same as the bishop washing up it is a willingness to be a part of the real world to be incarnational that demonstrates real holiness not pretend holiness. Idolatry is a perpetuation of pretend holiness.
And so to return to the question about authority. When the real issue is separateness or inclusion, it would not be difficult to quote some scripture to justify separateness. Perhaps the classic text would be in Ezra chapter 9. The authorities want to get Jesus involved in a debate over differing passages of scripture. Jesus doesn't take the bait, but throws the question back at his opposition. Taking the bait and debating the relative importance of different passages of scripture would be to avoid the real task of life to work together with all others for the betterment of society.
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