Proper 22A Life in the Vineyard

The Rev. Mary E. Davis

October 7, 2017
Proper 22A
Matthew 21:33-46
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May your words be spoken, and your words be heard. Amen.

It all seemed so promising.

Life in the vineyard – the vineyard in today’s parable – was approaching its peak. The soil carefully tilled and fertilized. Seeds sown. A sturdy fence and watch tower, to protect the budding seeds.
It took years, I bet, pruning and protecting, weeding and watering. Until finally, a glorious vineyard, full of mature fruit, emerged. The grapes were about to reveal their glory, to be transformed into a rich and full-bodied wine, wine as smooth as anyone has ever tasted.

Hope was as abundant as the grapes on the vine and as deep as the roots in their fertile soil. So it was time for the owner to send his representatives, and return to that field of promise.
But suddenly, and without warning, that hope and promise were interrupted. Blood was shed; poured out over those precious grapes. Violence had tainted the vineyard, so much so, that those vineyards of hope had become killing fields. Hope for the vineyard seemed to be lost.

Except that it wasn’t lost. Because the owner of the vineyard was so completely consumed by love, so filled with hope and promise for his creation that he didn’t know when to call it off. Pulling back his love was unimaginable. Unthinkable. I can hear the tenants’ disbelief as the landowner sends crew after crew to the vineyard. ‘This guy is crazy . . . over-the-top, obsessive even . . . he has no idea when to stop.’ But, for the landowner, it didn’t need to make sense to others. The only thing that made sense to him was love, and no level of violence could overcome that love.
Sadly, and tragically this week, there was another vineyard – a field – that began with hope and promise, a glorious end to a music festival in Las Vegas. Thousands upon thousands had come to dance and enjoy the sound of music. But suddenly, and without warning, those sounds were interrupted. Violence, like we’ve never seen before, tainted the vineyard. Blood was shed. Like the vineyard in today’s parable, this vineyard of hope and promise also became a killing field. Hope, indeed, seemed to be lost.

I struggled this week. What is our response? What is my response? Well, first, taking my cue from today’s parable, I looked for that hope, the hope of the (land)Owner. I looked for the Owner’s crazy and excessive love. Which, of course, I found. Because the Owner’s love is everywhere. I found it in the stories of people running to help, rather than running for cover. I found it in the audio-recordings of tender last words. I found it in the first responders, the nurses, doctors, and chaplains working non-stop. And, in the sacrificial acts of people shielding not just loved ones, but strangers.

But this week, finding the Owner’s love wasn’t enough. A mass shooting like this left a field filled with blood. And I wondered to myself, who would possibly be there to clean it all up? And that’s when I celebrated the Eucharist on Wednesday morning. As I poured wine into the chalice – wine which becomes God’s Real Presence, Jesus’ own sacrificial blood – I left plenty of empty space in that chalice. It’s in that empty space that I prayerfully put the grief, sorrow, and even the blood from the Vegas shooting. “This is my blood,” I said, echoing Jesus’ words to his disciples, “poured out for you.” This is Love that can’t be pulled back. Love that is unimaginable. Love that doesn’t make sense, that violence cannot overcome. And after we shared that Love with one another, I cleaned the Chalice, making sure to wipe every last drop of Jesus’ love poured out for us. That’s when the image of Mary, Jesus’ mother, along with the other women at the foot of the cross doing the same thing, entered my mind. After Jesus’ death, they carefully tended to his lifeless body, and I have no doubt, they must have also cleaned his blood from the scene. That’s when I thought, that too, must be our call as Christians. To clean up after the violence. To remain in the vineyard, take care of the toxic or hazardous materials that evil creates, and continue to care for God’s harvest.

But, I learned, that same day, that’s still not the end of our call. I realized this after stopping at the grocery store that afternoon. As I returned to my car, I looked up and noticed an elderly woman had fallen in the driveway of the parking lot. Her cart and groceries were strewn about, and she was lying there, face down, not moving. One of the store’s employees was standing next to her, but no one else seemed to move her way. So I put my groceries down, walked over, and sat down, right next to her head. I rested my hands under her head, protecting her face, which was bleeding, from the hard pavement, and tried to comfort her. It wasn’t until the rescue squad arrived that I realized I was sitting in a pool of blood. Maybe, I thought, it’s not just about recognizing the reckless Love of the Owner, or cleaning up after violence in the vineyard. But maybe life in the vineyard means moving, intentionally toward the pain of the violence, going to it, sitting in it and with it, cradling it in our hands.

Jesus’ parables are meant to be wrestled with and interpreted by each generation in their time. And this week, sadly, we relate to this parable in a tragic and painful way. But it’s a reminder that our lives, as Christians, are lived out in the vineyard. Sure, not the particular vineyard of the Gospel text, or the vineyard in Vegas; but in the unique vineyard of our own workplace or school, the vineyard of our home; the vineyard of our commute, the vineyard of our Diocese, the vineyard of the grocery store. These places are filled with abundance beyond measure, offered to us, on loan, through God’s grace. But there is also violence in the vineyard. Violence of words. Violence of rejection. Violence in the form of depression or desperation, rage or aggression. Violence within our own bodies.

But God is about transformation, about interrupting that story of violence with a crazy and persistent Love. And we are called to be that Love in the vineyard, to tend to those places of violence, and to till the garden in the way that God intends. Sure, people will call you crazy. And maybe it is.

But if being crazy means being like the landowner - who never stops hoping, who never stops loving – then sign me up. But, please, let’s be crazy together, because the vineyard needs all of us. Amen.