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Pentecost 17 Proper 22A RCL October 5, 2014

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

In our beginning reading from the Book of Exodus, we are with God’s people at Mount Sinai, and God is giving them the Ten Commandments. The first four of these commandments have to do with our relationship with God, and the last six commandments deal with our relationship with each other. These commandments were the foundation of the life of the covenant community, and they can serve as an excellent framework for life together over three thousand years later.

In our epistle, Paul has been trying to counteract the efforts of opponents of his, some of whom have been trying to convince Gentiles who are joining the new community of faith that they have to follow the Jewish dietary laws. Paul lists his credentials. Like Jesus and John the Baptist, he was circumcised on the eighth day of his life. He is an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee, an expert on the law. On the secular level, he is a Roman citizen. Paul openly admits that he persecuted the Church. But when he met the risen Lord on the Road to Damascus, everything changed. His whole world was transformed.

All that Paul wants to do now is to grow closer to Christ. All of those previous privileges and honors and signs of status are as trash to him. Entrance into the kingdom of God has nothing to do with our past accomplishments. In fact, it has nothing to do with us. It is a gift. Coming from his own history and background as one who followed the law to the letter, Paul is now saying: Brothers and sisters, let us not make these new believers follow the law. That is not the point. The new life in Christ is a gift from God, Let us accept that gift. Of course, we will strive to carry out the commandments. But let us strive to surpass the law, to move from the letter to the spirit of the law.

Our gospel for today must be approached with great care. The gospel is an allegory. Jesus is in the temple and he is addressing the religious leaders of his time. The vineyard is an image used by Isaiah for the people of God. We could say it could also be an image for the kingdom, the shalom of God. The landowner is God. The slaves who were sent are the prophets, The son is Jesus. The tenants are the religious leaders.

Matthew’s gospel was written about 90 C. E.. Scholars tell us that Matthew’s community was a Jewish community which was incorporating new Gentile members. The new faith was being persecuted. This parable may have provided a ray of hope for Christians who were being oppressed.

But the point of this gospel is not to be anti-Semitic. It is to ask ourselves how we would receive the Son if he came to ask us how the vineyard is doing. Are we following the commandments? Are we bearing good fruit? Are we, like Paul, trying to align our lives with the life of our Lord? Are we trying to let him live in us? Are we trying to live in the light of his grace? Are we sharing his love with others?

This parable is asking us to look at religious leaders. The religious leaders of Jesus’ time were arguing with God. They were blind to the work that God was trying to do among them. Are we blind to the work of the Holy Spirit? Our Bishop has called us to engage in a year long process of discernment looking at what it means to be a missional Church. A couple of Saturdays ago some of us went to a Ministry Fair. In the context of Holy Eucharist, we went outside the walls of the cathedral to discover what God is doing in the neighborhood.

Several of the groups went to the Old North End, which is the less affluent part of Burlington. Many of our new Americans live there now, as well as in nearby Winooski. We found many signs of life, as some folks shared last Sunday—gardens, a solar installation. a Sustainability Academy, a compassionate veterinary practice, Pathway to Housing, an organization which provides houses for homeless people. We saw people sitting on their porches talking. We saw houses painted artistically in bright vibrant colors. There was a lot of life out there.

The religious leaders of his time were constantly challenging Jesus, Last Sunday they were asking him by what authority he healed and taught and forgave. Some people in Philippi wanted everyone to follow the dietary laws, Paul felt that was putting a stumbling block in the way of folks coming into the new faith. It is a sad thing when religious authorities or religious people get in God’s way.

One of the ideas we hear about when we discuss the missional church is that we need to go out into the world and see what God is doing. I would say, what the Holy Spirit is doing. That is because I define the Holy Spirit as God at work in us and in the world. Wherever peace grows, wherever healing happens, wherever someone is learning, there is the Holy Spirit. And we need to support those things. The Holy Spirit is at work in many ways and in many people. Some of those people do not believe in God. Some of those people cannot believe in God because religious leaders or religious people have put stumbling blocks in their path.

One of the reasons I went back to school and got my psychology degree is that I wanted to help people on their journeys toward wholeness. I also wanted to be helpful to people who would never darken the door of a church. All of you are out in the world living your faith and doing your ministries. You are able to touch the lives of people for whom our faith has become irrelevant or. worse, a negative force.

I think that is what our readings are talking about today: living our faith and being open to the work of the Holy Spirit out in the world as well as in the Church. The Shalom of God is growing every day. Loving God, help us to be open to your Spirit. Give us grace to help you build your Kingdom, your Shalom of healing and harmony and wholeness. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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