Benediction Online

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Living Life as a Blessing

Today’s Gospel reading gives us a difficult parable. It is the second in a series of three – last week we heard about two brothers, one of whom said he would work in the vineyard but didn’t and the other who said he wouldn’t but did – and next week we’ll hear about the wedding guests who didn’t show up. One major problem with these three parables is that on a quick reading they can be used to justify anti-Semitism. We can hear in today’s gospel of the vineyard tenants who killed the rent collectors and eventually even the heir to the vineyard an allegory of the Jewish leaders who didn’t listen to the prophets and then didn’t listen to Jesus and killed him.

The danger is that we sit in self-righteous judgment on these “terrible” Jews and this parable becomes justification for despising them. And when a people are despised it is only a small step to the terrible crimes that have been committed against ethinic groups, especially those against Jewish people, in the name of Christianity but actually in the service of ideologies that prey on fear and hatred.

We can be sure that Jesus did not intend this parable to be read like that. After all, Jesus was a Jew himself and so was Paul, and proud of it. So we have to use a different interpretative lens – one which is in keeping with the values that Jesus himself taught and lived. Using that lens we quickly notice that it was not Jesus who said that those wretches should be put to “a miserable death.” That was the response of the crowd, but it is not God’s way. God’s way is to offer grace even when we turn away from her.

The people listening to Jesus would have been very familiar with the passage in Isaiah about the vineyard that goes wild, and would noticed Jesus’ take on the old story – here it is not the vines that go wild and produce poor fruit but the people looking after the vineyard who fail to live ethically, instead giving in to their greed and the resulting plotting and murderous intent. They were not living the values of the reign of God. And just like last week’s parable, we hear that the reign of God is manifest not among the religious people but among those who truly live the values of God. Jesus says,” the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”

Because that’s what’s important – not that we keep to the letter of the law, but that we produce the fruit of the kingdom – that we use all that we have been given to honor the One who gives us everything and in whom we live and move and have our being. Like the tenants in the vineyard, this planet, this life has been given to us to use in God’s service. It is not ours to use as we wish but is a gift of grace, a gift of love, and we can use it to bless or to curse.

The people who produce the fruits of the kingdom are the ones who use their God-given life and gift as a blessing to the world around them. They are the ones to whom God gives life abundant as they pour out their lives in love and in service, not hoarding for themselves but understanding that energy moves in a circular fashion. As we give, as we bless, without reservation and without expectation, we too shall be blessed.
The kingdom of this world believes in scarcity and so hoards what it has. The very fear of scarcity leads to scarcity as people keep more than they need because there may not be enough in the future. Start a rumor about an upcoming shortage of TP, and before you know it there’ll be none available on the market shelves because we’ll all have got extra tucked away “just in case.” We get jealous and greedy because we believe that there isn’t enough love, there isn’t enough to go round.

In the reign of God scarcity does not exist. The paradox of course is that one can run out of TP in the reign of God.  Because the reign of God is not of this world but intersects with this world. To say that there is no scarcity does not mean that those of us enrolled in the reign of God always have everything we want and need in this physical world. But the general principle is that when we - the ones who are called to show the fruits of the kingdom - when we share what we have there is enough. When we give, we too are blessed.  It is when we withhold out of fear that we plug up the system. Instead of our hands remaining open in blessing and gratitude, they curl up and begin to grasp. And then we can’t receive what we are being given.
The tenants of the vineyard may have had a really good deal from the landlord. Presumably they wanted a vineyard in the first place and for some reason did not have their own family land. But it wasn’t enough for them. They wanted more. It’s not clear to me whether they wanted all the produce or whether they wanted to be autonomous and not have to answer to someone else. If the landlord let them alone they could pretend that they were the owners, whatever the legal paperwork might say.

In contrast, those who are producing fruits in the reign of God remember that all we have is a gift. Our abilities, our families, our friends, our homes, our church, the land upon which we stand and the air that we breath. Gift.  Pure gift. That’s partly what Paul was saying in the second reading this morning. The law was a gift to the people of Israel – part of their becoming a people – law is a gift to us today because it helps us avoid crashing into one another. But the Jewish people of Paul’s time had started to see it as something to be fought over and argued about, forgetting that it was a gift, a sign of God’s grace. They had started to idolize it: instead of seeing at as part of God’s plan it had become everything.

Those who are producing fruits in the reign of God are those who know that we are but stewards of what we have. And so we cherish our lives in all their comforts, not as things to be hoarded but as God’s sacred things to be cared for and used as a blessing in his service and the service of those around us. And that includes water and soil; oil and wood; food and drink. It includes this planet which is God’s gift to us; we are called to cherish it and bless it. It includes this church, which is a great gift; we are called to cherish it and bless it – not just the building and gardens but the community of faith which is the core of this spiritual center. We did that on Friday evening at our Gratitude Dinner – what a wonderful evening. Each one who came and participated gave themselves as a blessing.

Every time we come to church, every time we call another person, every time we choose to build up the Body of Christ with words of encouragement and caring, we are offering a blessing. And every time we share the wealth we have been given, we are giving a blessing to others and to God.

So instead of allowing ourselves to fester resentment and greed and the desire to call all the shots like the tenants in the parable, let us seek to be the people who produce the fruits of the reign of God. Let us remember that it is all gift. And in turn let us live our lives as gift. May our lives be poured out in gratitude, a rich red wine of blessing to God, to the earth and all who live on her.


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