18th Sunday after Pentecost
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20, Psalm 19, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46
When I hear this parable the refrains that runs through my mind is:
It doesn’t have to be that way.
And while I appreciate the imagery of the vineyard used to envision our life together with each other and with God, I grimace at how how the relationships unfold in the parable.
Like the recent National Geographic with two covers, one of best case scenario and worst case scenario, this parable story aligns more with a worst case scenario of life together in the vineyard. 1
This is a tension we’ve been grappling with a lot later. For many of us, we wonder where the outcome and fallouts of the pandemic will land on the best case worse case continuum. No doubt there have been many better case scenarios for us here in the Great White North. However, the teeter totter is starting to lean a little heavier in the other direction. But we know what do, don’t we?
The other day I read a lovely story a about a better case story. It was about a woman named Hazel Jacobs who is an 86 year old and a recent blogger. Her blog called Scarf Aid has become a lifeline to people struggling with the isolation of the pandemic. She started writing her blog in March just after lockdown began.
The reporter wrote:
“For weeks, Hazel, a widow living alone, had ventured no farther than her garden. Benevolent neighbours brought her groceries and she had regular phone check-ins from her daughters and grandchildren, but a minor stroke weeks earlier had sent her into quarantine before most and a chronic eye condition was eroding her sight. No matter. She opened a closet and began pulling out a collection of scarves — hundreds of them, gathered over decades of travels around the world. There were countless memories stitched into their hems, each silky expanse a story waiting to be told.” In a zoom call she said, “I’m only choosing the happy memories. You don’t live to be my age and not have unhappy memories, but I’m very good at skipping over them.” So Hazel, took each scarf and began to write as a way through this pandemic. Hazel was use to supporting others before the lockdown, she thought, “This will be my role, to cheer people up.” 2
Now, I don’t know if skipping over all of the bad memories is the best idea, but Hazel is making a conscious choice to reframe her life in a way that also gives hope and life to others. In a world with so much negativity and gloomy news, she’s working on the the other side of things. Instead of contributing unending echo chamber of whinging to the conversation, she contributes words of hope and life in the present.
Hazel is certainly growing fruit of the kingdom in her own life and sharing the fruit of the kingdom with others.
We wonder, what fruits of the kingdom does Jesus speak?
What are the fruits for today?
Today’s Readings: Intersection of the Commandments and Parable
The readings today point us in this direction. They ask us to consider relationships and how we dance together with all of creation and how together we tend the vineyard that is entrusted to us.
It’s no surprise than that the lectionary writers pair the ten commandments with a parable of life in the vineyard. Giving us a relationship roadmap in the commandments to help us navigate the sometimes rocky terrain of human interactions. Without this roadmap, we run the risk of turning God’s vineyard into a worst case scenario type a vineyard. Who wants that? Not I, said your pastor. Don’t we all want the best case scenario of the vineyard?
When we look at the intersection of the commandments not followed in the parable of the vineyard, it’s easy to see how the vineyard turned into a mess. Aside from the obvious of murder, stealing, coveting, it’s likely mired with people bearing false witness aka gossip. But the main and most important intersection is with the first and second commandment.
The tenants begin to think they own the vineyard. For the tenants, the 'God and idol’ become what they thought they owned.
I say, ‘what they thought’ they owned because it seems the tenants forget they are tenants. It’s easy for us to fall into the trap of defining our worth by what we think we own. Everything around us that we have worked raise up. Even our beautiful children to whom we give so much of our time, love and care, to whom we birth and raise, in the end are not ours to possess but God’s. All are gifts from God. Only God is the owner of all of creation.
In this parable, God is identified with the landowner and Jesus with the son who is hurt.
We are the tenants, tending, caring, raising up, enlivening, observing, enjoying, cultivating and even harvesting the fruit entrusted to us.
In the kingdom of God we are not owners. We are the stewards who care for the gifts entrusted to us for only a short time frame in the history fo the world.
How are we doing at tending God’s vineyard?
Sometimes, to answer this question we need to look at ourselves first.
Care of Creation
Tending God’s vineyard also means tending the gift of our bodies. Caring for our bodies with healthy eating and exercise is another part of caring for creation. God created you in God’s image.
It is no surprise that a large part of pre-pandemic church ministry was around food. The church is good about doing food, although not always the healthiest options.
The church cares deeply about feeding people through Out of the Cold.
Loaves and Fishes began as a way to bring nutrition to seniors.
The first meal for Loaves and Fishes was served on March 1, 1972 at a cost of 60 cent. It offered a nutritious meal and supportive community. Before Covid, seniors would gather at St. Matthews three times per week for a hot nourishing meal and conversation. Vegetables were even provided but sometimes not eaten.
Nourishing our bodies with food is part of the discussions churches engage. Although we often talk about food, one part of caring for creation that we speak about less often in church is the care of our own bodies in the form of exercise.
So often we care for people around us and leave caring for our selves as an afterthought instead of a priority. What time do I have to exercise? Do you de-prioritize your self care to care for others? I am sure you have and do sometimes. We make sacrifices for the ones we hold dear, willingly and lovingly. But it’s also important to remember to take time to care for our own bodies for they too are a gift.
As a mom of three, wife and pastor, sometimes I get caught up in all that needs to be done. Do you know what, I forgot that I really, really love to exercise. Seriously. It’s one highlight of my day when I get to channel my inner athlete. After three babies it’s been a challenge to establish a new routine. For the last 3 months I’ve been committed to exercising 30 minutes on most days of the week.
What a difference it makes during these pandemic times. Those 30 minutes of daily exercise re-focus my life, energy and eating patterns, making my body stronger so that I can tend and care for the vineyard.
Caring for our bodies through exercise and healthy eating is important for us to thrive. Exercise and healthy eating can be like prayer and meditation making us mindful of what is happening within our very selves. One of God’s first gifts is to give us beautiful and diverse bodies in all shapes and sizes to appreciate. Healthy bodies and health body images, contribute to a healthy mind and spirit. And this in turn contributes to a healthy vineyard.
Now friends, we are made up of all different ages and abilities. Please don’t go and do an exercise of your youth. No cartwheels or pop a wheelies. It’s best to talk to your doctor about age appropriate exercises to prevent injury. Many of you have been faithfully walking during this pandemic.
God entrusts a vineyard for all of us to live and breath and have our being together. Loving the vineyard around us, we participate in the care of God’s vineyard, like Hazel and all of the others who share a piece of their lives and hearts.
Even as this parable of the vineyard shows us a worst case scenario of life together in the vineyard and initially has me responding with the refrain, "It doesn’t have to be that way" as people of hope in the resurrection, we know it’s not the final word. As we know, even in God’s kingdom such worst case scenarios as Jesus going to the cross lead to life. So all is not lost. With God, all is never lost.
Death does not have the final word.
Isolation does not have the final word.
Closure does not have the final word.
Pandemic does not have the final word.
Maybe that’s the point.
God has the final word.
And God’s words to us, don’t leave us where they find us.
God’s word to us, picks us up and says try again.
God’s word to us, quiets our racing heart in steadfast love.
God’s word to us, invites us to be still amidst the chaos and know God in the stillness.
God’s word to us, calms our fears so that we boldly live this Gospel call.
God’s word to us says, I am with you until the end of the age.
And to this we say, Amen. Thank you, Lord Jesus. To you be the glory, forever and ever.
1. Thomas, Debie. A Lament for the Vineyard. Debie Thomas. Journey with Jesus. Sept. 2020
2. Purtill, Corinne. In Lockdown, an 86 Year Old Blogger Finds an Audience and Purpose. New York Times. Sept. 2020