My, my, my!

A sermon text, based on Matthew 21.33-46, video-recorded and shared with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, October 4, 2020.

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Jesus tells a parable. As is true of all of Jesus’ parables, he employs ideas and images that are well-known and easily understood by his audience. All to make a point about (indeed, to point to!) God’s kingdom – the realm (but not really, for the kingdom of God is no physical place, but rather), the being and character of God; who God is and what God does.

Jesus tells a parable. In this case, a business-as-usual situation in Roman Empire-occupied Palestine.

A landowner plants a vineyard. Then, as oft happens, the landowner departs, venturing into another territory of the widespread Empire; perhaps in search of other commercial opportunities. The landowner, as an absentee, leases the land to tenants, who are expected to pay rent at harvest time in the form of produce from the vineyard.

When the owner’s servants arrive to collect what is due, the tenants default on their obligations. Beating one. Killing another. Stoning still another.

This is not business-as-usual.

The landowner dispatches another delegation of servants with the same sorrowful result.

This is not business-as-usual.

Then the landowner (now, if I was the landowner, I would summon a soldier or two or more to enforce my rights!) sends his son. Somehow, oddly, he thinks, crazily as it turns out, that these thieving murderous tenants would respect the inheritor of the property. They don’t! For they, somehow, equally oddly, crazily thinking that they can claim the vineyard for their own, kill the son.

Jesus tells a parable about the kingdom of God. Yet, truly, this story also is his prediction of his death. For Jesus is the son. The landowner is God. The vineyard is Israel. The servants, the prophets, sent by God to collect from the tenants, the chief priests and the elders, the due portion of the harvest of obedience to God’s love and justice for all people.

“When the owner of the vineyard comes,” Jesus asks, “what will he do to those tenants?” The chief priests and the elders reply, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him the produce at harvest time.”

With this answer, they, ironically, unwittingly reveal their blindness to the reality that they are the object of Jesus’ scathing indictment. They are the wretched tenants who refuse to give God the harvest of righteousness. They are those who have confused their sacred leadership for the people with sovereign ownership of the people. For the Owner of the vineyard is God and God alone, always and in all ways.

And that point, from the first century unto this day and unto eternity, is, for us, as the followers of the teller of this parable, our universal truth.

It is difficult, well-nigh impossible for me, for anyone to communicate, whether writing or speaking without using the word “my.”

My wife. My daughter. My family and friends. My people of St. Matthew’s Church, Spartanburg, South Carolina.

My mind and heart. My soul and spirit.

My home and property.

My day and time. My life and labor and leisure.

My money.

My perspectives and prejudices about society, America, and race. My politics. My candidates. My vote.

The risk of employing this necessary word referencing our relation, our connection to people, places, things, and ourselves is that we, who dwell in time and space and in physical flesh, unconsciously can come to believe, and act accordingly, that we possess people, places, and things. (An equal danger being that people, places, and things can possess us to the point that we cannot live freely, fully, and faithfully without them.)

Yes, in this mercantile world, we do own things. Our creditors and the Internal Revenue Service surely think so! And, yes, as in death we can take none of it with us, it is prudent that we make legal provision for the disposition of our things.

Nevertheless, these worldly practicalities cannot, must not, must never obscure our constant realization of the eternal revelation that God is Owner and Provider of life, in this life and the next. In the words of King David, “All things come from Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.”[1]

Therefore, we, as followers of Jesus, always, every day, every moment of the day are to discern, come to know, and to decide, choose, to offer to God the produce, the harvest of our living in our love and justice toward all. For it is in this act of faith, hope, and love, that we, with sincerity and in Spirit and in truth, can say, “my God!”

Illustration: Parable of the Wicked Tenants, James Tissot (1836-1902)


[1] 1 Chronicles 29.14

5 thoughts on “My, my, my!

  1. This sermon certainly made me think Paul! From the title, I wasn’t sure what to expect, as it is an exclamation I use a lot about things that happen in this world!!

    I wasn’t expecting “my, my, my” to be about things we own (or don’t own) or most importantly what God owns and provides for us (which haven’t haven’t been great stewards of).

    When 2020 began none of expected this year to have gone the way it has. It’s been horrible with now more than 205,000 deaths from the pandemic, and many people losing their livelihood as a result of not working. During this time I was Blessed to keep “my” job and all the things I “owned”, yet the guilt of all I had when others didn’t forced me to “give away” so much of “my stuff” that I surely didn’t need. I also have a tenant that I love. I had plans for how to use her rent money which I’m now rethinking. Prior to 2020 I believe I’d been too focused on “my, my, my”. In this year I’ve relied on my faith and on what God has given me. I’m trying to Use those things more wisely and will continue to “give away” things I don’t need to help others. I pray I will carry that into philosophy into 2021 and continue to focus on the lessons from the sermon. Glad I could start my Sunday off with your words. Blessed to have done so!

    Much Love

    Like

  2. Thanks, Loretta, for the always kindness of your encouragement.

    And, Lord, have mercy, yes! 2020 has been quite the year. When I think of the woes of this year, for me, I count 5 (listed in no order of priority or power of trial and tribulation!): (1) political polarization, (2) racial turmoil, (3) economic recession, (4) natural disasters, and (5) viral pandemic. And, as that saying goes (though, in its original context, relative to the music industry, but in this year of serial punishments, it applies): The hits just keep on coming!

    So, I strive to lean on faith, hope, and love, for without these three, I do believe I’d lose my mind and if not that, then, surely, any semblance of inner equilibrium.

    The other thing, which came to me as I wrote this sermon, that helps me carry on is to remind myself that God is the giver of all things and that God, as the Lord of the harvest, calls me to offer unto God the fruits of Divine pleasant planting. For me, it’s love and justice for all. Yes, I fail at it more than not, yet, so far, I’ve not given up asking God to use me in that way.

    Love you

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Paul,

    I love this sermon. It could not be more timely and significant to where we find ourselves at the beginning of October, 2020. I love your comment also, Loretta, and I offer a hearty “Amen!” in response.

    At the end of the sermon, for some reason I got an image of myself as a child sitting at the preacher’s feet and wanting to beg, “Tell us the rest of the story, please! Did the vineyard owner himself finally come back and set things right? What happened to those awful vineyard lessees???? What happened to the people who could only say ‘my, my, my’? Did everything turn out OK?????”

    I know you can’t respond to my pesky child, Paul. And I know all of us hold the end of the story in our own hands, and I know we all must fight the monumental battle against the “my, my, my” that keeps throwing itself up as the end-all and be-all of human existence. But wouldn’t it be nice to get some reassurance that the bad lessees won’t possess the vineyard forever? That what belongs to the vineyard owner will one day be paid? That the vineyard itself will survive?

    Maybe I’m trying to turn a parable into a fairytale. I know there’s very little chance of happily-ever-after, but maybe we could hope for just a fighting chance of some justice and truth and peace and love. And then I realize that’s why you preached the sermon. Because of justice and truth and peace and love. And because of your faithfulness to the hope of God’s being able to inspire us, sustain us, and love us to just a little happily-ever-after.

    With gratitude and love for your persistence and patience, Paul,

    Karen

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My beloved Karen, there is nothing wrong in reading and desiring that a parable be and become a “and they lived happily ever after” fairy tale. In part, because, for me, again, as I mentioned at the start of the sermon, Jesus’ parables are testimonies of God’s being and character, who God is and what God does. Thus, in this case, there is a reckoning. God will remove from proprietorship those who misuse and abuse the creation. In the meantime, it is our work to do, I believe, to fulfill our petition in the Lord’s Prayer, so to bring in the kingdom of God by doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. Thus, I say and pray, at the end, calling myself and us all to discern and decide how, when, where, and in what way(s) we give unto God the produce of the harvest.

    May it be so in me and you and in us all.

    Love,
    Paul

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And I would say, “Amen!”

      Thank you, dear Paul

      Love again,

      Karen

      Liked by 1 person

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