The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s059g14  Sunday 26  28/9/2014

‘go and work in the vineyard today’   Matthew 21:28

We have a continuation of the vineyard theme in today’s gospel and so I continue from where I left off in last week’s sermon - that we cannot pretend to be christians while we are opposed to the world.   This is reinforced by the setting for today’s reading: the confrontation of Jesus by the religious over the question of authority.

I wonder what the ‘these things’ were that upset the religious.   In context, they were the triumphal entry into Jerusalem (1), the cleansing of the Temple (2) and the acceptance of the praise of the blind and the lame (3) who, from even before the Temple was actually built were barred from ever entering it. (4)   Each of these attests to the breaking down of the sacred / secular divide.   This is Jesus’ real accomplishment and the real reason for the antipathy of the religious.

So the question really needs to be put the other way: by what authority is the divide between the secular and the sacred erected?   And when the question is put this way we find the genesis of the statement that modern western humanity regards themselves as spiritual rather than religious - for they interpret religion as diametrically opposed to humanity, science, nature, community, indeed  common sense!  

Recently I reflected on that passage from Acts 2, the story of the outpouring of the Spirit on the first Apostles at Pentecost.  I hadn’t noticed before but three times the point is made that the Apostles spoke in the native language of the hearers.  ‘All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability .. each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. .. they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?   And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?   Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs — in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’  (5)   Of course it is the reason that all the various countries are listed, because of the very diversity of languages!   So the Spirit impels us into the vineyard precisely to learn the languages of others.  The Spirit doesn’t allow us to remain in our holy huddles speaking the language of the church to supposedly like-minded individuals.

This really is the miracle of Pentecost, the deifying of other languages, and by extension the thought-forms and individuality of others in all their diversity.

While we are parroting John 3.16 or 14.6 in the language of the King James Version of the bible, even if we do it on street corners and shopping malls, as if all truth resides in straight Anglicans of my particular variety, we cannot claim to be led by the Spirit; we can’t claim to be going into the vineyard as the story of the man and his two sons commands.

I find the story of the two son’s reaction to their father’s request informative.   The first son, at first refuses to do what his father requests but later thinks the better of it.   It is wise to keep on the good side of one’s parents.   My devious mind leads me to think that the second son knows of the first son’s refusal and thinks that if he obeys his father he will score a point against his brother.   However when he arrives at the vineyard and finds his brother busy at work he realises that the opportunity is lost and doesn’t join in working alongside his brother.   It is the same paradigm as that which precipitated the first murder.  Cain believed Abel’s offering was more acceptable to God - therefore he killed him.   I sometimes wonder if some ‘christians’ horror of that first murder might be altered if Abel was gay!   Hasn’t our church culture been predicated on one church claiming that their offering to God is more acceptable than the offering of any other?   In doing so is our church any different from Cain?  

Is not this the whole of Paul’s dilemma in Romans, that his religion led had him to persecute others - the wages of sin is death (6) - the death of others; and why the Lord’s words on that road to Damascus are so cutting: ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ (7)

Working in the vineyard involves working alongside others.   If we are so busy being worried about our relationship with God we miss the point and miss the boat.   One of the reasons I have difficulties with the Alpha course is that it purports to answer the question: ‘How Can I Develop A Relationship With God?’   We all already have a relationship with God - our task is to get into the world and work alongside our brothers and sisters - whether they be christians or not, people of faith or not, male or female, gay or straight. 

So if the vineyard is the kingdom, then the statement that: ‘the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you’ makes sense.   They are already in the vineyard; this is the real scandal for the religious.   They are living and working in the real world; they are getting their hands dirty working alongside other people.   Again the wicked servant who hid the master’s money rather than trade with it is condemned with the words: ‘Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.’  (8)   We gloss over the fact that this is actually forbidden in Deuteronomy.  (9)   The important thing is not what we believe or how we worship, but how we get on with others who are different in our day to day life.   This is the way of righteousness, this is the kingdom.   Of course the religious did not believe John the Baptist; why would they believe Jesus?   The real question is: do we?   But ‘the evidence of two or three witnesses’ (10) is sufficient.

I often reflect on that lovely parable of the lost sheep and the shepherd who goes off to find it.   So often this is interpreted as commanding the members of the church to go into the world to rescue those there and bring them into the church.   In the context it is far more likely that the lost sheep is the one who deliberately separates him or herself from the vineyard (Pharisees are the separated ones) and the shepherd drags the religious, kicking and screaming back into society, where the 99 are. (11)

And, again, while this might be nice if we did this personally, it will be when the church does this corporately that the world actually might be a nicer, kinder place in which to live.   And if this isn’t the real purpose of God, then that ‘god’ is a demon and not worth the worship of any thinking human being!

1.  Matthew 21:1-11
2.  21:12-13
3.  21:14-17
4.  2 Samuel 5.8
5.  Acts 2: 4,5,7-11
6.  Romans 6.23
7.  Acts 9.4
8.  Matthew 25:27
9.  Deuteronomy 23:19
10.  Matthew 18.20
11.  Luke 15.4