The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
4 October 2020
Isaiah 5: 1-7
Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
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 watch-tower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
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?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?
And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry!
Philippians 3: 4b-14
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Matthew 21: 33-end
‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’
Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes”?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless
till they find their rest in you:
pour your love into our hearts
and draw us to yourself,
and so bring us at last to your heavenly city
where we shall see you face to face;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
you call us to fullness of life:
deliver us from unbelief
and banish our anxieties
with the liberating love
of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Harvest reflection in 2020
"Then shall the Earth bring forth her increase" (Psalm 67)
The work of bringing in a harvest, once a whole village activity, is these days reduced to a few people armed with high tech machinery. Nevertheless there is a deep sense that even in our season-less, industrialised, consumer-driven world the harvest needs celebrating in towns and cities as much as in the countryside. This year, those celebrations will be very different from what we have come to accept as normal. No village harvest supper. Churches stripped to a Lenten austerity rather than being decorated with fruit and vegetables, and empty of joyful singing.
It is worth using this year's different experience to explore what lies at the heart of harvest festivals that have been celebrated one way or another since the invention of agriculture. For our ancestors, and for many in other parts of the world today, harvest was never certain. Failure and famine always a possibility. Has our post war Western drive for security over food and other resources (oil for example) led us to ignore our true relationship with the planet and its intricate ecosystems?
Harvest is clearly a blessing upon humanity, and made more precious in our eyes because it has the element of a gift to us from the natural world. We would be wrong to think of it as a dependable right. It is better understood as a partnership between human action and nature's providence. Mankind in partnership with our Creator God. Partners have to agree their roles and responsibilities.
Psalm 67 often used at Morning Prayer as a hymn of blessing is familiar to many. It has a particular poetic structure (chiastic structure) loved of ancient writers. In reproducing the text here I hope to show how this works. Each verse steps up to the next until we reach the centre of the poem, the punch line. Then they step wise return to the starting point like this: A-B-C-D-C'-B'-A'. This give the central message a frame.
Psalm 67 is all about blessing. Verses 1 and 7, beginning and end are the framing verses that set the pace. God will bless his people and the whole world will be in awe of it. Next, the blessing has a purpose for the Earth; the Earth being mentioned in both verses 2 and 6. Those blessed will know the creative intentions of God (v2), and "Then shall the Earth bring forth her increase" (v 6). All that is in the purpose of the Creator will come into being. As a result everyone erupts into praise for the wonders taking place on Earth (verses 3 and 5 which are identical as a refrain). Note the important "Then shall the earth..." What has to happen first?
We are pointed unmistakably to the central message of verse 4. We are to be judged and governed righteously. While that might sound ominous in fact we will be glad of it. The link between divine governance and the Earth's productivity has immediate relevance for the partnership between humans and God that is needed for a harvest. We have to acknowledge that greedy self interest has not distributed the Earth's resources fairly, and over exploitation has led to the ecological crisis of our times. Some would add that the current pandemic itself has its origins in that same exploitation of nature. Mass displacement of people, and wars over dwindling resources follow remorselessly from the founding injustice. Care for our neighbour on the other hand would lead to sustainable living and partnership with the natural world. If we see the generations that will follow us as our neighbours too, there is the prospect of intergenerational justice. Something that young people rightly raise in their public concern about ecological collapse.
This year harvest celebration might move us from the usual congregational expression of gratitude to a deeper reflection on our relationship with our children, the generations to come and our planet. Our private consumption and our appetite for change are up for review. As Christians we can do this confidently in the assurance that justice and blessing are bound to each other. According to the Psalmist, justice, both at a private and at a national level is the key step that unlocks the full bounty of the Earth and leads to fullness of life.
1 God be gracious to us and bless us ♦
and make his face to shine upon us,
2 That your way may be known upon earth, ♦
your saving power among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; ♦
let all the peoples praise you.
4 O let the nations rejoice and be glad, ♦
for you will judge the peoples righteously
and govern the nations upon earth.
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; ♦
let all the peoples praise you.
6 Then shall the earth bring forth her increase, ♦
and God, our own God, will bless us.
7 God will bless us, ♦
and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.
Mark Taylor, Reader