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    Oct 08, 2017

    Proper 22A; October 7/8, 2017

    Preacher: The Rev. Ted Foley Deacon

    Series: Deacons

    Category: Weekly Sermon


    In today’s Gospel we hear, yet again, another parable where a vineyard is the setting and Jesus uses that setting to draw out an important lesson for those whom he is teaching. Last week he talked about the two sons – one who told his father he would work in the fields but didn’t and the other did just the opposite. The week before we heard the parable where the workers who showed up late in the day were paid the same as those who worked all day.  Now this week, we hear this parable about the wicked tenants overseeing a vineyard.

    Of course, Jesus placed these parables in this setting because he knew the people around him could easily relate to them - making the stories and the underlying teachings more relatable. But for many of us, who aren’t all that familiar with how a 1st century vineyard might operate, it requires a bit more work to understand the full extent of the teaching.

    As we first look at Jesus’ parable, I think the message is pretty clear. When Jesus is talking about the wicked tenants being removed and replaced by new tenants, he’s talking about the changing of the guard from a religious perspective. The message is that the chief priests of the Temple and Pharisees are no longer the leaders entrusted by God (the landowner in the parable).

    The people now need to look at the new cornerstone, Christ Jesus, and his followers. These followers of Christ are the new tenants charged with caring for God’s people.

    So, the main message is pretty clear. However, there’s a sub-text in this parable that is important also.

    It was very common in those days for vineyards to have absentee landowners. It wasn’t uncommon for a single landowner to have acquired several plots of land and these plots might be spread out over several miles. So, it was impossible for a single individual to tend to all of his vineyards all by himself. So, the landowner would lease his land to people that would operate his vineyard for him and share in the profits.

    However, and here is the critical point, being a “tenant” meant far more than someone today who might be renting a house or an apartment. Being a tenant for a vineyard meant that it was your responsibility to take care of all aspects of the vineyard. Essentially, it was your responsibility to care of the owner’s property. Being a tenant meant that you were also the caretaker, or the steward, of the property.

    By harkening back to the reading from Isaiah, Jesus was saying that the chief priests and Pharisees were being bad stewards. They were bad because they were not taking care of God’s people, for whom they were responsible. In Jesus time, it’s evident that the chief priests even colluded with the Roman occupiers.

    So, because they failed as caretakers, they were being replaced.

    This was an important story for 1st century Christians. Imagine yourself in the place of someone in Palestine trying to make a decision, ‘Do I continue following the ways of the Temple or do I follow the disciples of Christ?’ However, I doubt that many of us sitting in this church today are in that same predicament. Most of us have already made our decision. That’s why we’re in a church and not a synagogue.

    However, we should ask, “So what does this parable about being good caretakers or stewards have to do with us today”? I’d like to tell two quick stories that might give us some insight into how God is calling us today to be good caretakers – and what is the best motivator for us to be good caretakers.

    The first story is about Portland, Oregon. As many of you know, Kathy and I have a daughter who has been living there for about ten years now, and we visit her regularly. You might also have gotten the message that I really love Portland. I love the clean air, I love the snow-capped mountains, and I love their beer. As we get off the plane in Portland, we sometimes experience an entire change in mindset.

    One of the things that hits us is how much the people of Portland value and cherish the environment. They may not talk about it as, “God’s creation,” but they really love it - and their love for God’s creation manifests itself in many ways.

    For example, the people of Portland aren’t just into “recycling”. People work to minimize waste by buying products with little or no packaging. And, rather than throwing out food waste, they try to compost and use it to fertilize their gardens. Even when a house is demolished, they first try to retrieve anything that might be re-usable and bring it to the “re-build” center.

    Also, in Portland, bicycling is not just an enjoyable exercise. Bicycles are environmentally friendly and a major mode of transportation. Most of Portland’s roads have bike lanes. Some of their traffic lights have special signals for bikers. They just completed a major bridge over the Willamette river that doesn’t carry cars – only bikes and mass transit.

    Even Portland restaurants are different. Most restaurants not only offer organic choices, most offer several vegetarian options, and many even have vegan choices.

    Whenever anyone visits Portland, it’s clear how much people love their environment and how they have made life choices to take care of it. Essentially, they are trying to be good caretakers or stewards of God’s creation.

    Before I begin my second story, I need to stop and explain something. I need to tell you that Mother Joan never sees my sermon before she hears it on Saturday night. So, she has no idea what story I am about to tell.

    Okay, let me tell you what my usual Sunday afternoons usually look like. By the time I get home after serving at an 8 AM service, and then engaging with a book discussion group, and then serving at the 10:15, and usually having several side discussions along the way – after that, I am usually exhausted by Sunday afternoon. Kathy will tell you that I usually spend Sunday afternoons sleeping on the beach or sleeping while “watching” golf or football. Sometimes, my daughter Kristen, a priest from Edison, comes down and we take turns watching each other sleep. Ministering on Sundays can be tiring.

    But napping doesn’t seem to be an option for Mother Joan, and last Sunday was a good example. Not only did she serve and preach at the 8 and the 10:15, she also served at the 12:30 Spanish language service. But she did not go home for a nap. Mother Joan knew that there were several people in the hospital that could really use a visit from her. In Community Hospital there was Tony, Bill, and Anne. She then went next to Kimball Hospital to visit another parishioner. And she then went to Jersey Shore Hospital to see Mary Lou.

    With each person she visited she spent time to listen to whatever they had to say, to pray with them, to anoint them, and, if possible, share communion. Six pastoral care visits in three different hospitals after a full day of services. I would say that this is a great example of being a really good caretaker or steward of God’s church.

    I didn’t ask her why she made all those visits. I really didn’t have to. She didn’t make those visits because it was her job, or because it was an obligation, or anything like that. She made those visits out of love for the people in the parish. The people in the church – God’s church. Just like the people in Portland Oregon who love God’s creation.

    I didn’t tell this story about Mother. Joan to embarrass her or to ring her praises or anything like that. I just think it’s a good example of living into today’s Gospel.

    Jesus tells us this Parable of the Tenants as a call for each of us to become good caretakers or stewards of God’s creation. Whether it’s a vineyard, or the environment, or the church, we are all called to be good stewards of the gifts that God has given us.