Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Year A Proper 8 WED 2020 You Have (NOT) Arrived

Year A Proper 8 WEDNESDAY, 1 July 2020

Video Service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“You Have (Not) Arrived” 

Collect: Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 21:33-46

‘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.

This is a harsh parable, one hard to hear. It is full of assumptions. Those who assume to know who is in. Those who assume to know who is out. This is where I want to spend my time this morning.

The story is a simple one, tenant farmers choose to ignore the fact that they are not the ones in charge. They work the land, they do not own the land. Their obesience belongs to the the owner. And yet, they refuse all the representatives sent, even and up to the son of the Owner. They kill him and assume that they can claim his inheritance and keep the land as their own. Little do they realize that they have crossed the Rubicon, there is no turning back. And, little do they realize that their fate is sealed, and their death is imminent. A sad, hard story. It is a parable of judgment. It drips of it.

Those in power, the chief priests and the Pharisees, were well aware that Jesus was claiming that they were usurpers who would be replaced.

They despised him. And he despised their hypocrisy.

Jesus quotes back to them Psalm 118:22-23, with:

“The stone that the builders rejected

   has become the cornerstone;

this was the Lord’s doing,

   and it is amazing in our eyes”?

It was written long before he was born, that those who think of themselves having arrived, have missed it entirely. The greatest stumbling block in the life of faith is assuming that we have no further to go. 

Jesus came to confront the powers that be to claim that God wants us righteous and holy, not comfortable and content. And it rears its ugly head here.

When I was serving a church in Northern Virginia, I once saw a church who had hung in its narthex/foyer a banner that read, “You have arrived.” I thought to myself, how sad. It is either delusional, wrong in its understanding of sin, or just vane. 

As wonderful as our facility is, and as many a good thing as we use it for during normal times, we are not a center where one comes to arrive. We are a filling station enabling you to get on your way with God. Via con Dios! Go with God!

These times remind me all the more the truth of that statement. We miss each other, and we miss this place. It may be a filling station, but many of us are running on empty. Hear and know this, you are loved, you are missed, and we are here for each other, just not as readily accessible as face-to-face. Our muscle memory has not gotten used to how these times are going to be different.

I want to take one more venture into today’s story. At the beginning, it mentions how much time, effort, and expense the owner put into this property. He “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…” God invested in us. God wants us to succeed. God wants us to flourish. As we are promised, “He who began a good work in you, is faithful to complete it.” Hold to that. Especially in days of doubt and fear. Our journey is not over as long as there is breath in our lungs. Faith is not about Arrival, but about the Journey we find ourselves on. We never know what vista the next curve may bring. Amen.

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Blessings, Rock