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Renew Your Lease with God

REV. JODI L. BARON – October 5, 2014 – Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Psalm 19; Philippians 3:4b-14;Matthew 21:33-46

downloadI opened up the door last week to let my dog, Daisy, out to go to the bathroom. When the cool crisp air hit my face, I felt something I hadn’t in a long time.

More than felt, though, I also smelled something.

Fall.

It was as though my body knew exactly what was going on. I got a warm feeling, memories flooded my mind, and my heart swelled as I envisioned the forthcoming season, not just in terms of weather but for our church, liturgically.

Outdoors and Indoors have a way to mark the changing of the seasons.

Outdoors and indoors, the air begins to smell a little different.

Outdoors and indoors the colors begin to change.

But we’re not there yet.

We still have  work to do in this “green” season.

We have peace to declare.

Animals to Bless.

Heavy lifting to do, like in today’s readings.

We are called to remember the words God gave Moses through thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking. The words to remember who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. The words that call us back to remember what it takes to live the God-life in community.

We’re reminded that God’s law is perfect and is meant to be to you a boundary so you don’t go too far, so you don’t become            less-human      through sin.

We’re drawn into the psalmist’s prayer of gratitude, exaltation, praise, and wonder.

We’re invited to make their meditation, ours.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”

Paul propels us forward with the ultimate goal set before our eyes: to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, that I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

And then another looooooooooooooong parable.

Wicked. Wretches. Murderers. Thieves. Kingdoms taken away from some and given to others.

All of the things these other passages have given us hope NOT to be.

What                is going            on?

This is one of those parables that is told in the gospels of Mark, Luke, and (as we read today) Matthew.

Some stories of Jesus were only in one Gospel, or another. But some, like today’s, were in all three.

And, as tempting as it is to blend all three accounts together and make a “gospel soup,” the real work is in staying right here. Right in this Gospel and digging into why it says what it says.

The real work is our remembering that these stories took on their shape and meaning through the re-telling and passing down from generation to generation. And this gospel was shared among one particular community who were comprised of both Jews and Gentiles.

Kind of like Grace. Only we’re not literally Jews and Gentiles. But we do have a healthy mix of different cultural upbringings. Not all of us are “cradle Episcopalians”, some of us were Baptists, or Lutheran, or Catholic, or Reformed. Not all of us are seminary trained, some of us hold PhD’s or are bankers, police officers, lawyers, teachers, restaurant workers, students.

Yet we’re all here, aren’t we?

They, like us, are a post-Easter church.

They, like us, know the whole story of Jesus, from womb to tomb…

They, like us, are in the midst of a world dominated by competing narratives, conflicting pulls for our time and attention.

They, like us, are seeking to know God better, more fully, and to know the power of the resurrection in their lives.

So, here we have a story that Jesus told.

A story about a vineyard and a landowner, some tenants and slaves, and it reveals, in parable form, a hidden meaning that is tricky and difficult to open sometimes.

But that’s ok. Parables are supposed to be challenging. We get to keep coming back to these stories, over and over and over again. And each time we get to hear something that we needed to hear for this time and place. For the people assembled here…and there…and way back there.

Notice, that in this morning’s account, we have not a “man” (as Mark and Luke describe), but a “landowner”, a “household master” evoking images of stewardship and proper care.

I think, this gospel is reminding us that the point is that God isn’t focusing on the mistake/sin/crime. Instead he is looking at our productivity.

God knows what we are capable of and still invites us to care for his vineyard.

In this parable, the tenants had come to view this land as theirs, and then realizing the landowner wasn’t absent, after all, greed over took their hearts, mob-mentality set in. They lost their focus.

And, understandably, the leaders Jesus was addressing thought justice would be to punish the tenants.

But, as is Jesus’ custom, he calls attention to yet more scripture that all of these guys should have known in their bones. Where the psalmist writes in 118 “the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”

Thank God our God doesn’t give us what we deserve, right? Thank God we have a forgiving Landowner.

He wants us to keep leasing from him and caring for the vineyard, even when we mess up.

Really bad.

We, the good people of Grace, have been entrusted to care for God’s vineyard even though God knows we’re probably going to screw up and make really bad choices from time to time.

And God, being God, is able to see through all that clouds our ability to believe we are each, a child of God.

God sees your faithfulness to the work you’ve been entrusted to do, not the mistakes you are sure to make.

Despite ourselves, we have each, still, been invited into the HOLY work of “producing the fruits of the kingdom,” by virtue of baptism.

We have all been invited in to be who were are and get to work.

Remember, this passage isn’t telling us that getting it perfect is the goal. It’s reminding us that the goal is producing “fruits of the kingdom.”

And the kingdom has been revealed to us through the life and teachings of Jesus.

Through his life, death, and resurrection we can know God and be known by God.

Through Jesus we remember that these “fruits” are products of faith; righteousness and justice.

When God looks at you, GRACE, he sees what he created and he sees that what he created is good. And so he puts us in communities so we can learn how to be our fully-created human selves, the way he wanted us to be from the very beginning.

We, like the Israelites, from time-to-time forget what it means to be human, and to be in community. We forget that we’ve been entrusted, as “stewards”, with the task of proper care and oversight of the people and things God has given us.

And God still invites us to renew our leases. To renew our covenant with him to care for each other and this earth, our island home.

So come. Renew your lease with God.