“You are always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve.” In a week like we just went through, how I want this to be true. This statement from our opening Collect speaks of the readiness and generosity of God. It speaks of a God who waits and longs to hear our prayers, a God who wants and is able to provide much more than we need.
And yet, we hesitate. For some reason, we don’t want to bother God with our problems. Maybe we think we’re not good enough. Maybe we’re too proud. Maybe we bought into that myth of the rugged individual, the person who is, or should be, self-sufficient. The person who doesn’t, or feels they do not, need anyone. We are in charge. This is our world. We like to think of ourselves as John Wayne.
Ok, true confession time. I’m a sucker for John Wayne movies. I could spend all day watching them. From the cowboy outlaw in “Stagecoach” to the 1950’s Commie-hunter, “Big Jim McLain”, he is the epitome of the great American loner.
But if you watch a John Wayne movie, you’ll see he’s hardly ever alone! He always has a partner, ranch hands, soldiers, and buddies along to share his adventures and to help him get out of tough situations. I also notice how many of his buddies die trying to get him out of those tough situations. It makes me wonder why anyone would want to ride with him anymore!
Street smarts, being tough and independent, and accumulating wealth and status; these things are prized in our world.
Even Saint Paul bought into this idea. In his letter to the Philippians, he writes of all his accomplishments prior to his revelation of Jesus. Paul did not come to his understanding of God through Jesus out of need or despair. He was a very successful, powerful person; a proud Jew, a learned Pharisee, and a good citizen of Rome.
But what does he say about all this after he encounters the Christ? “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ my lord.” He regards all the work and accomplishments of his life before Jesus as, “rubbish”, as trash. Paul understands that his ideas about life, about his life, about who he is, has changed. He now knows that the “righteousness” of his life does not come from the Law, or from the world around him, but that righteousness comes from his, “faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, based on faith.”
Paul writes, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him.” Paul’s whole idea of who he is was changed because of his encounter with Jesus. He can’t change who he was before that encounter, but he can reclaim those skills, talents, knowledge, and experiences from his past and use them to re-shape his future. Now he can use those gifts to become the great evangelist, that worker in the field, working to spread the Good News of God’s love through Jesus Christ.
Stacy Swain, the Pastor of Union Church in Waban, MA writes, “We need to have a sense of who we are before we can become who we were meant to be.” But somewhere along our journey of spiritual growth, when we begin to experience Jesus in our lives, we must face and examine who we are and how that fits into our greater goal and the purpose of our life.
We need to know who we are before we can proclaim whose we are. Otherwise, we are unprepared for the journey. Our lives will become distractions or impediments to our faith journey, which is, after all, the true purpose of our lives. It’s not about me, it’s not about us, anymore.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the parable about those who fail or refuse to change their lives, their view of the world, or their expectations.
A landowner provides a complete, growing and functioning vineyard. It lacks for nothing, except people to come and keep it going. He leases the vineyard to tenants, who kill his servants when they come to collect the produce. Thinking they will respect his son, the landowner sends him and the son, too, is killed.
Now to our ears, and with hindsight, this seems to be the story of Jesus, the Son of God, sent by the Father to gather in the harvest. Often we hear this story interpreted as Jesus telling the Jews that, because of their lack of faith, they will lose God’s Kingdom, and it will be given over to others. And that’s probably the story the writer of Matthew wanted to tell to the new followers of Christ.
But, remember, Jesus himself was a very observant Jew. Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not replace it. So what are we, today, supposed to do with this?
Somehow, the vineyard tenants in this story got it all wrong. After working day in and day out, getting caught up in their lives of caring for and maintaining the vineyard, they began to think of it as their own, that it belonged to them. They lost sight of, or ignored, their relationship to the land and the land owner. They became so caught up in their work and their own reward that they forgot the true purpose of the vineyard, to be something that would benefit others.
The vineyard was never theirs. It never belonged to them. It was theirs to use for good work, to produce good grapes and good wine which others could enjoy.
So, too, this world, this Creation, is not ours. We didn’t make it, it’s not our own. In the same way, our lives are not our own. We are created to tend to and work in the vineyard of God’s Creation. We are called to use our lives to do the work God has given us to do, to love God and to seek and serve the Christ in others. The Church, too, needs to remember it is a creation of God. It is a vineyard on a more local scale. It does not belong to bishops, or popes, or priests, or even deacons. All of us are called to be workers in the field. That is our life’s work. That is our calling.
We were not born, we are not alive, we are not here to be perfect pillars of morality or some sort of living monument. We are not called to prove our worth or to work for our salvation. Those are gifts we already have. We are here to form and shape our lives by sharing the Good News of God’s love for us. It’s that simple, and it’s that difficult.
We cannot do it on our own. But we can do it together. We can only do it together, relying on the God who is, “always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve.”
I’ll see you in the vineyard.