[s3bubbleAudioSingle bucket=”sermons_asp” track=”2014100522A.mp3″]
October 5, Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22):
To listen to earlier homilies click here
Draft text, please do not cite without permission
This is, what, the third passage about vineyards in as many weeks?
There are a lot of vines in the bible.
Throughout Hebrew scripture Israel is compared to a vine or a vineyard.
Hosea sings of Israel as a luxuriant vine.
Jeremiah laments the bad shepherds who seek to destroy the vineyard.
Ezekiel, writing during the time of exile speaks of Judah, the southern kingdom, as a vine that has been “plucked up and in fury cast down to the ground.”
In the Song of Songs the female lover—often read as a metaphor for Israel or the church—her body is described as a vineyard.
The alternate Hebrew scripture reading for today from Isaiah is perhaps the most famous vineyard metaphor…
It’s drawn from a wine-harvest song and is full of fertility imagery.
“My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it; and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.”
The author of first Isaiah uses this image to trap the listener into understanding the justness of God’s wrath:
“and now, inhabitants of Jerusalem, and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.
“What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?”
The answer is “nothing,” and with this Isaiah gets Israel to pass judgement on itself.
Forcing it to recognize that it is the vineyard which has been unfaithful and yielded wild grapes.
Jesus uses a similar narrative, and similar technique to get the chief priests and Pharisees to condemn themselves in today’s gospel.
The whole of scripture can seem like a tangled mass of vines.
The first creation story we hear about in Genesis when God calls forth vegetation, plants yielding every kind of seed and trees bearing every kind of fruit.
That must have been a chaos of plants and vines creeping and growing all over each other, competing for that little bit of sunlight in which they can thrive and grow.
Then God creates humans and puts us in the middle of all this clinging, leafy chaos and tells us to subdue it.
Take command of it.
Take care of it.
Just as God creates order out of primordial chaos, humans—bearing this creative image of God—are now responsible for taming chaos, and bringing some order to it.
In the second and different creation story in Genesis, God doesn’t create a riot of plants to be tamed, instead God plants a garden.
Now I am not a gardener, but I do know that a garden is by definition a planned space.
There are gardens that are designed to look like wild spaces but they are carefully planned to look that way.
Gardens take a lot of work; a lot of careful thought and planning; a lot of tending.
And in both creation stories God creates in abundance; and creates us in love, and then puts us to work.
Tending, pruning, subduing, being the stewards of creation.
And in the four gospels God, through Jesus, creates a community and then says..
“Get to work” tending, teaching, healing, being the stewards not only of creation, but also of each other.
A lot of vines and a lot of work tending those vines.
Vines don’t have trunks like trees that can fully support their weight.
They have to use other structures to support themselves.
Hence, they are labor intensive.
Communities, like vineyards, are a lot of work.
Communities also rely on fabricated structures to sustain themselves
The trellises of rules, laws,…commandments…social contracts.
Isn’t it interesting that one of the primary metaphors for life in a beloved community…
life in a church…
life with God…
is one that requires substantial amounts of commitment
The vineyard is an apt metaphor in another way because we also tend to grow in all kinds of crazy ways: seeking light, seeking sustenance, seeking support.
Vines can pretty easily get out of control, and grapevines especially have to be trained.
They have to be pruned and clipped and tied and trained to grow in certain ways, often using a piece of wood that’s shaped like a T or a cross which trains them to grow out in both directions.
Likewise we’ve all been trained, we cling to certain structures.
School, church, our families, society all teach us to grow along certain paths and not others.
In some ways our church and society trellises are similar: don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t lie…
In other ways the trellises of our faith train us to grow in ways that are uncomfortable—incongruous—with the structures of the world.
Honor the Sabbath…Keep it holy vs. our 24/7, you can sleep when you’re dead world.
Have no other God before me vs. all of the consuming idols of the world that also demand our adoration, our time, our talent, our treasure.
And it’s pretty common to get off track and begin to grow wild when we forget who we really are, and whose we really are.
Remember Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and you are the branches.”
The Franciscan monk Richard Rohr argues that what we modern people lack “is a deep sense of belonging.
“That sense of belonging is given to you by God from your very birth, and then it is mirrored to you in the natural world—if you are looking and listening.”
St. Francis saw everything as interconnected.
The birds, and the beasts; brother sun and sister moon; the poor and the rich…
Everything was interconnected and it was (and is) all sustained by God.
All that we receive is gift
And like vines we can be trained to respond with generosity, and compassion…
responding from the abundance we’ve been given in faith, hope, and love
Or we can be trained to respond from fear, and stinginess, and selfishness.
Take a moment now, and reflect on that deep sense of belonging that we each have to the source of being…
To the true vine.
To reflect on the absolute free and undeserved gift it all we receive is…
And then let us rejoice in giving thanks to God for it all.