Sermon given by Rev. Patrick Crocker at First Christian Church in Las Cruces on October 8, 2023.
What is growing in the vineyards of our own hearts? To who and what have we entrusted the vineyards of our hearts and our community? And how are we doing as stewards of that which has been entrusted to us?Read more: Looking for Life in a Garden of Stones
This story is one that follows immediately on last Sunday’s Scripture Jesus in the Temple, you recall, having been asked by what authority he dares to teach and act as he does. Who put you up to this? Scattering the money all over the ground, upsetting our nice, neat business arrangements. How dare you? Where do you get the audacity? After, Jesus responds by asking what audacity they have for acting the way they do. Then he extends this story.
Imagine a vineyard. This is a common image through the prophets for the nation, the people of God.
This, unfortunately, has been read with some supersessionist views throughout Christian history, and that word supersessionist means that it’s okay for us to feel good about having replaced the people that we’ve replaced. That within religious circles in the Judeo Christian context, that means that it’s all right for us to to have replaced the Jewish people. We are now God’s chosen people and not them anymore.
I have to wonder, does God only have one blessing? While this story, found slightly different in the earlier writing of the Gospel of Mark but still largely the same. This story reiterates themes found within the Prophets about the prophets being denied, despised, thrown out, beaten up, and yes even sometimes murdered. This story resounds throughout the history of the family of faith.
And it’s not just a Jewish problem. Most of us, when we hear someone calling us to account, are not throwing our arms open and saying, “Oh, I’m so glad you taught me a better way.” Most of us have a strong sense of shame instilled in us for not being right from the beginning. It’s something that I’ve been working on for 43 years and expect to continue working on. That sense of, I should have known better. That sense of, I should have been fully mature, not just “in the bulb there is a flower,” but right there there is a full thing fully formed already. Like Athena emerging from Zeus’s head, fully formed, fully dressed in battle armor.
But that’s not how we grow. That’s not how we exist. Neither physically, thankfully, and I’m sure all the mothers in the room will agree, thankfully we do not emerge fully grown, but neither do we emerge fully grown intellectually or emotionally. We grow. Forgiving ourselves for having been children is sometimes one of the most difficult acts of faith.
In this story, Jesus expresses a frustration and also calls to account. It’s a story that does need to be reflected on more often, both for leaders and for communities. Because each of us has been entrusted with something in God’s gracious community. And we must ask ourselves, what is it that we have been entrusted? And how do we act when the one who has entrusted it to us asks how it’s doing?
Within this story, the wealthy landowner comes and calls for all of the fruit. Peterson massages that a little bit and says he asked for his profits. Within Matthew’s story, this is God asking for absolutely everything. This is not just a story about a landowner asking for what was contracted. This is asking us, are you all in? Are you putting everything that you are into this faith journey?
The stewards, we look at the stewards and we find ourselves looking out of the reflection. We see that while this was initially aimed at the religious leaders of that particular time and place and the image of vineyard was especially tied to the temple where Jesus was teaching at that moment, We see throughout history times where stewards have not always done the best.
It’s interesting within this story, when Jesus asks the perhaps rhetorical question, “what do you think the landowner will do to those stewards when he gets back?” The human response is vengeance. Punitive. Kill them all and let God sort them out. Jesus’ response doesn’t go completely into putting a divine stamp of approval on that answer.
It’s interesting that Jesus is focused more on there will be a shift in stewardship. What happens to those who have managed badly? Well, we look at that and we think of other times within this same gospel where those who have not listened to one, to several within the church, to the whole church, they are treated as tax collectors and Pharisees. Which means starting over. Re-examining the basis of our values, our worldview. But this that we have together is not just a worldview. This is not just philosophical commentary. This is faith. This is living out that which we are. Out of our created being.
To what have we entrusted the vineyards of our own hearts? We find all kinds of values. And it’s helpful, I think, to think about those bumper stickers that would be on our own hearts. The elevator speeches that we would have to describe our values. Because that asking us to put it concisely, to condense it all down to ask what is the center of the gospel?
This can help us to see, are we looking for vengeance? Are we living out the values of the empire, or are we living out the values of a kingdom of grace and hope? What is it that we expect? What is it that we do with each other, when we have found someone who has not done quite as well with what we have entrusted to them? Each of us has had our own heartbreaks, our own griefs. How have we responded? This question reaches out through the ages, always calling us to be better stewards of that which has been entrusted to us: both the things that we can see, like a table, like a building, but also the relationships that make those things meaningful.
How have we acted and how might we be better stewards? How might we respond more joyfully by seeing that which has been worked on, that which has been nourished and nurtured? Seeing it come to fruit and seeing the joy in people’s eyes when they taste and see how good it is. They taste and see the work that has gone into nurturing a community, nurturing a relationship. We taste and see that the Lord is good.