SERMON ON OCT 8
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength, and our redeemer. Amen.
Good morning, I am Elle Morgan. I am a seminarian from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific – which is an Episcopal Seminary in Berkeley, California. I am in my third year of a four year program, which is partly online and partly in California. In our third and fourth years, we are assigned to a parish for field education, and I was delighted to be assigned to St. Philips. Over the past five weeks, the spirit of hospitality shown by you has made me feel very welcome. This summer in Berkeley, I studied Homiletics – the art of preaching or writing sermons. The class was structured around helping students find their own homiletic voice – a style of preaching that is beneficial to a congregation but represents the authentic voice of the preacher as well. Father Michael has clearly found his homiletic voice. After giving several sermons over the course of the class, we were invited to give feedback to each other. These are people that, by now, with which I am full community, and in whom I have a high level of trust. The feedback I received was that the humility I exhibit while preaching does not represent my true character – reluctantly, I was willing to accept this feedback. I am also happy to hear feedback from you, if you think it would be helpful to me in finding my homiletic voice.
A new friend recently shared with me that parables are not allegories. That is, that there isn’t a point by point correspondence with every element in the story representing something else. But rather the idea that a parable has one big punch point. For me, the punch point of today’s Gospel is that everything has consequences. There are always consequences. My kids love to tell the story about how I disciplined them growing up. If I wanted them to do something or stop doing something, I would warn them that their actions would receive consequences. I would never say what those consequences would be. It was an effective strategy that nearly always worked. The uncertainty of unknown consequences was an effective tool to redirect them.
Our Gospel today provides us with another important parable told by Jesus during His ministry in Jerusalem, shortly before his crucifixion – the Parable of the Wicked Tenants – where there were consequences. This parable is found in the synoptic Gospels – the writers of Matthew, Mark, and Luke appear to feel that it was essential to include in each of their writings. Interestingly, some of Jesus’ best-known parables, like the Good Samaritan, occur in only one Gospel but nowhere else. Only the parables of The Sower, The Mustard Seed, and the Wicked Tenants appear in all three.
The parable is situated within the context of Jesus’s interactions with religious leaders in the temple. It conveys essential teachings and warnings about rejecting God’s messengers and, ultimately, God’s son. Jesus tells this story to share a profound message.
This collision with the leadership is a thread running through the whole Gospel. The arguments between them were most often not always about religious practices but also, the economic and social policies of the Roman Empire. But here is nothing opaque about this parable – it is told at a time of growing difficulty to people who needed to hear it – and it’s not a difficult message to discern. Whether we chose to see the parable as an allegory or not, the characters in this parable are clear:
- The landowner represents God. God is the creator and owner of everything. God
expects those in God’s care to produce good fruits, which can be interpreted as
righteous living and spreading the Gospel.
- The vineyard serves to represent God’s kingdom or the people of Israel.
- The tenants represent the religious leaders and authorities of Jesus’ time, particularly
the so-called religious elite. This parable suggests that they were entrusted with the
spiritual guidance and care of the people but often failed in their responsibilities.
- The servants sent by the landowner symbolize the prophets of the Old Testament.
Throughout history, God sent prophets to guide the people and call them back to
righteousness. As we know, many of them were ignored, mistreated, or even killed.
- The landowner’s son represents Jesus. He is God’s ultimate messenger on earth
through the incarnation. This parable foreshadows the crucifixion as he is
ultimately rejected and killed.
So today, we learn of a landowner who planted a vineyard, leased it to tenants, and went away for a time—perhaps relying on the covenant between himself and the tenants. Biblical scholars tell us that the vineyards were not expected to be fruitful for about five years, so it isn’t unreasonable that the tenants haven’t heard from the landlord for a while. The parable reminds us that we are merely tenants of God’s vineyard. This is why Christians understand that we are stewards of God’s creation rather than its owners. I'm offering no excuse for the tenants, but imagine that you have worked hard for the last five years and produced fruitful crops – and you haven’t heard from the landlord. It might be tempting to forget your covenant. You might imagine that the servants might never appear, and you could keep this all for yourself. But now, here are the servants. It would’t be too big of a stretch to imagine that the tenants began to believe they owned the vineyard. Is this a danger for us, too?
We know what happens next in the parable: the tenants killed the servants who came for payment. But the landowner is persistent; he sends other servants also maltreated by the tenants and ultimately sends his son as a proxy for himself, perhaps believing that he will be treated more respectfully and with more authority than a mere servant by the obstinate tenants. This could be viewed as an extreme measure, but the other attempts failed due to the hubris and violence of the tenants.
When the son showed up, the tenant farmers probably assumed the owner was dead. Jewish law allows that property not claimed by an heir within a certain period could be taken by the first party to claim it. They may have greedily assumed that the property would be theirs if they could get rid of the son. They killed the son precisely because they recognized who he was and wanted the inheritance for themselves. What does this parable teach us about ourselves? What about US? Jesus teaches us that we are now the tenants and stewards of God’s vineyard. God has trusted us with this world, with all we have, and now we are called to care for it and share the fruits of the harvest. Our beautifully decorated church reminds us of the loveliness of creation and all that God has given us.
The parable also warns us that we should not take any of this for granted. This beautiful world, our lives, and opportunities for salvation are all gifts from God. It can be tempting to think we can keep the fruits of God’s vineyard for ourselves. We work hard to make livings for ourselves and our families, and it can be easy to forget that everything we have is not ours but belongs to God.
For me, what this comes down to is faith. It’s about the importance of believing that God is real, and the world is a vineyard that we do not own. We have been entrusted with this beautiful creation, the gifts we have been given, and with each other. Our stewardship for the world and humankind through mission and service are likely the covenantal promises for which we will be accountable.
God calls us to bear fruit and gives us different spiritual and physical gifts. What we do with those gifts is our choice, but we are expected to do something worthwhile. We might ask ourselves how we are bearing fruit. We are not all called to be priests or pastors, or to be missionaries, or to live among the poor. God asks us to do God’s work on earth in ways we choose to honor and glorify and lean into our baptismal covenant to seek God’s people in the world.
Maybe you help your elderly neighbor or volunteer with Power Packs, serve on the vestry or help with coffee hour. Maybe what you can do best for someone is to pray for them and offer your support. There are many ways to bear fruit for God. If your call isn’t immediately evident, start with the command to love one another – another baptismal covenant.
What I didn’t focus on was the consequences for the tenants. We know that there are consequences to every action and there were consequences for them. Let us make decisions that will allow us to receive the consequences we are hoping for.
I hope we can take the messages of Jesus’ parable with us this week. For me, it is twofold: It is an understanding that all we have is given to us in stewardship from God AND that we are to acknowledge God in all of it and share those benevolently given gifts with others. Life is full of consequences. May our actions support the inevitable consequence of God’s all-encompassing love for us.
In Jesus name, amen.