The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s060g05 Lockleys Sunday 27 2/10/2005
"let us .. get his inheritance" Matthew 21.39
If you were to think about what God is interested in getting from us, we would most likely assume that God primarily wants our worship and respect. We of Anglo-Celtic stock are not particularly demonstrative people, so we use the word respect rather than love as the first of the commandments does, but I suspect that the difference is immaterial. We expect that the first thing that God wants is that we are in church each Sunday morning, and then that we acknowledge the faith as expressed in the creed.
Curiously, when Dr Keith Suter was speaking about his English religious background to Margaret Throsby recently, he said that he was an Anglican, because there you had to be something when you were born, so unless there were some indications that you were something else, people were automatically assumed to be Anglican.
But as I thought about this parable I thought how all of these people God sent, the two lots of slaves and finally the son, were not sent to get worship or love from the tenants; they were sent "to collect his produce".
Now the tenants leased a vineyard with a wine press, so the produce was presumably grape juice or wine, and the most useful thing to do with grape juice is to turn it into wine and spread it around.
This is a parable, so we recognise that the landowner is God, and God doesn't drink either grape juice or wine. So the wine is not for offering to God to drink. I don't recall wine ever being offered to God. The wine was for others, people other than the tenants, but who would no doubt also get their share.
Scripture tells us that God gives: "wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart." (Psalm 104)
So God is all about making us glad to be alive, God is about making all people glad to be alive.
The whole purpose of sending the slaves and then the son was to come to those who had the raw materials of this gladness, to collect, ferment and distribute to all -- that which makes us all glad to be alive.
And the whole point of the parable is that those who had the care of the raw materials for this gladness wanted to keep it for themselves. They so much wanted to keep it for themselves that they beat up the procession of slaves and finally killed the son.
We recognize that the killing of the son refers to the cross of Jesus, so the sending of the Son and his death is all about making all people glad to be alive. The resurrection assures us that the attempts to keep this gladness to a select few, was and is doomed to failure. Changing the metaphor from wine to milk, you and I and all people are meant to "Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her -- that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom." Isaiah 66.10-11
Now this is as much a message to us as to anyone else, so how do we as Christians share this entirely free, no obligation, "glad to be alive" attitude with everyone else. Certainly not by looking down on those who don't come to Church, or go to different Churches, or worship God in a manner that is different to us. We will not do it if we have the attitude that children are to be seen and not heard. We will not do it by quoting passages of scripture to others -- however correct those passages are.
We will do this by recognizing the sacredness of all people, by acknowledging the right of all others to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, unfettered by anyone else, least of all us.
For we claim to be the people of the new covenant, we claim to have been given the vineyard in place of the "wretches" -- have the same task -- we also will need to give to the landowner "the produce at the harvest time" so that it too can be distributed to others. If we were to try to keep the produce to ourselves, then we too will be put to "a miserable death" and the vineyard will be given to someone else.
Jesus goes on to talk about the rejected stone that "has become the cornerstone". The cornerstone of our faith is the eternal and unalterable will of God -- making us, and all people, glad to be alive.
Are we glad to be alive, or would we really prefer to be somewhere else this morning? Do we enjoy the ministry that we have?
I'm sure that the musicians and singers enjoy their ministry. It does involve practice, but that is all part of it. Those who read lessons and act as servers and lay assistants, once we get over our initial shyness, do enjoy this ministry. Our florists have a wonderful talent, and they enjoy their work. Those who are involved in fundraising, cleaning and gardening all see themselves as part of the whole and vital to our continued existence. It is good to be needed, it is good to know that there is something that we can do for God.
It is also good that it all doesn't fall onto our own shoulders. It is good that there are other people willing and able to do the things that we don't find easy or pleasurable. Let us acknowledge our own pleasure here and allow others the pleasure of doing what they want, exercising their own ministry in their own way.
Inevitably it will not be in the way we might do it -- it does not matter. I do not tell the choir how to sing, the fundraisers how they should do their jobs or advise the gardeners. I have learnt to shut up when something untoward happens -- for other people have their bad days, just like I have mine. And I want to spread happiness wherever I can -- an attitude that it is good to be alive, and its great to be able to be here.
I think that the words of St Paul are to be noted: he writes: "In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?" (1 Corinthians 6.7) Rather than proclaim how right we are, he calls us to be wronged and defrauded and not seek justice or retribution. How many Christians are actually ready to do this?
It is the constant temptation of every religion, including Christianity, that we exist only for ourselves and for those who follow our particular path. It is not just a temptation, it is the way of eternal death.
And finally if we keep the body and the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ to those of our own denomination and persuasion, are we doing anything different from the original tenants of our parable this morning? If we do this then I think that we have lost the whole point of who Jesus was and the faith that we proclaim.
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