Saturday, 4 October 2014

A harvest of people

Sermon for Trinity 16. Parable of the wicked tenants.
Matthew 21:33-46 highlighting Verses 41, 43

They said to him, ‘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.’
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 

Warning: this is a pre-harvest festival ‘Harvest’ talk, though it’s not about a harvest of fruit and vegetables.

On Wednesday last week some of us met Bishop John on Whitchurch Bridge (in fact we had, not one, not two but THREE bishops on the bridge that afternoon; we were indeed triply blessed).
Pilgrims who had joined him on that day’s section of the Thames path were greeted by school children from Whitchurch Primary and we walked across to a midway point where we were met by school children from Pangbourne – a community that, though a few metres only across the bridge, is in a different County, has a different Local Council, is in a different Deanery and even a different Archdeaconry with a different Area Bishop.
So the Bishop of Dorchester and the Bishop of Reading also met in the middle and surveyed the beauty of the Thames in each direction; and Bishop John blessed the bridge and prayed for all who cross it each day and for those whose work is connected with it.
With blue ribbons being held to signify our fellowship across the Thames divide, and many Diocesan representatives accompanying Bishop John, it felt that we were all one in Christ.
After the lunch, there was a short act of worship for pilgrims continuing up Pangbourne meadow.
During that act of worship, Bishop John challenged us to consider two questions, and to walk the next stretch of the Thames in silence as we pondered them.
The questions were these:
What kind of person would you like to be when you ‘grow up’?
And: What is stopping you from becoming that person?
Several things were suggested: Would you like to be more compassionate, more courageous, more relaxed, more focused, more at peace, less judgmental?
What kind of person would you like to be when you grow up?
And: What is stopping you from becoming that person?

Two very good questions.
They seemed linked to our readings today.
And so I’d like us to think about a similar question now, linked to our reading about the wicked tenants.
What kind of people is God looking for today?
Is he looking for people with a perfect religious pedigree, or for people who will help him bring in the harvest?

Two strong readings today – you might call them uncompromising.
First of all St Paul talks about his religious background and upbringing, which was clearly very intense in its purity.
But it wasn’t enough.
It somehow missed the point.
Is it possible to be so immersed in a religion that we miss the point? It would appear so.
After meeting the living Christ, Paul considers all that special religious background of his as rubbish (a very polite translation of the word, which the KJV renders ‘dung’).
All that learning, all that desire to be a pure Jewish Pharisee, he now considers rubbish (dung) because of the great prize of knowing Christ.
Because knowing Christ puts everything else into a different perspective.
Then in our gospel we have Jesus falling out again with the Pharisees as he tells the parable of the wicked tenants.
Honestly, if the main requisite of being a religious leader were not to fall out with people, Jesus (and Paul for that matter) would have failed many times over.
We’re in Matthew’s gospel again, where Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of heaven is particularly important.
He tells a parable.
People had by now learned that when Jesus told a parable, you needed to watch out.
Because the parables tended to surprise. And to divide.
People were not stupid: they realized this parable is told against the Pharisees, because Jesus can see where their hatred of him will lead. And they know this. So in his parable of the wicked tenants, he sets out the history of God’s people, and places himself right in the middle of it.

So here’s the tale: A landowner plants a vineyard; puts a fence round it, digs a winepress there, and builds a watchtower in it.
What is the point of this, we may ask?
The whole point is the harvest.
Everything he does points to one end: he wants a crop at the end; he wants a harvest.
He goes away to a different land and rents the vineyard to tenants.
So far, so good.
When harvest comes, he sends his slaves to collect the harvest from the tenants.
This is the point at which the tenants are supposed to hand over the harvest so the owner gets his due; but they beat and kill the slaves and the owner gets nothing.
He sends more slaves; the same thing happens to them.
It’s as if the tenants, not the owner, have assumed ownership and are now doing whatever they please, even thought the vineyard was only loaned to them.
Finally, he sends his own Son, his own heir: surely the tenants will respect him?
But they do not. They seize him and kill him, thinking they can get their hands on the harvest themselves.
At that point, the owner comes back in person.
And Jesus stops the story!
And he asks his hearers what will happen next.

We’re going to do the same, so before we go on I want you just to discuss with your neighbour some of the questions posed by the parable, because a parable is something literally ‘thrown down’ alongside something else, so that one meaning is held up against another. So oblige me for a minute:

Who is the landowner, what is the vineyard; who are the tenants, the slaves and the son? Who are the new tenants who will deliver the harvest? And what is the harvest today?

So, what happens when the owner comes back?
Look carefully at verses 41 and 43.
Given the primary objective of the planting of a vineyard, and if the owner is God, what kind of people is God looking for?
He’s looking for a people who will bring in the harvest.
The religious leaders by and large rejected Jesus, but the ‘stone the builders rejected has become the capstone’ that is, the keystone around which the whole edifice of our faith stands complete.
And today Jesus is calling us to join with him in bringing in a harvest of people.
How, practically, can be we be fully involved as a church with that?

What do we want to be when we grow up?
And what is stopping us from becoming that today?
What kind of people is God looking for today?
Is he looking for people with a perfect religious pedigree, or for people who will help him bring in the harvest?
What or where is the harvest today?

1 comment:

  1. Getting people to discuss in church during the sermon- mission!