I’m basing this month’s reflection on the Parable of the Wicked Tenants which was the set Gospel Text for our eucharist service on 8th October, the seventeenth Sunday after Trinity. When Jesus tells this Parable, He is telling it to an audience of mainly Jewish leaders, men set apart to keep God’s household in order. We might even say that the parable was directed at them. However, we cannot be complacent. As the present-day caretakers of God’s vineyard, we are invited to transplant this parable into our own contemporary religious setting and to let it have its way with us.
When Jesus’ parable is interpreted allegorically for us in the present day, we could say that the landowners represent God; the vineyard represents the church, God’s people; the tenants are the religious leaders, the archbishops, bishops and priests (me! Yikes!); those tasked with keeping and attending to the vineyard (the church); the slaves are the prophets, both those documented in scripture like Isaiah, Amos, Malachi, John the Baptist as well as modern day prophets or inspirational Christian leadersliving in present or recent times; and the son is Jesus.
The main thing that the parable shows us is that God expects the church to produce fruit. And by fruit, I mean the love of God and the love of others. The parable warns us that church’s leaders, instead of producing fruit for the sake of God and others, often end up presiding over a self-serving holy huddle, not least because they themselves set a bad example.
In response to this all too frequent reality, the owner (God) sends a succession of servants (the prophets) to the people to warn them about their behaviour, to call them to repentance and to collect the produce.
What questions does this parable raise for us as the church?
Do we, as God’s vineyard, allow fruits to be hoarded by some?
Do we, as God’s church, yearn for justice?
Are the leadership structures of this church determined enough to challenge those who abuse power?
Do we challenge oppressive systems?
Do we silence the voices which call us to account for our stewardship?
And so this month, I am prepared to let this parable have its way with us and challenge us with these questions and questions like them. And I’m proud to say that I think we’re doing pretty well.
Firstly, in a bid to support trade justice and help alleviate poverty, the PCC of this church recently renewed our commitment to using Fairtrade products including tea and coffee. This may seem like a small gesture. But we have to remember that we are a part of a huge network of faith groups who desire to make a difference to the lives of more than 1.65 million farmers and workers in the developing world.
You will also be aware of our recent partnership with Farsehare. Fareshare takes surplus food from the food industry and redistributes it for use by local charities and groups. Currently we use the food we get from Fareshare for our night shelter and food bank.
By doing this, we are saying, as a church that we do not want to see good food going to waste. There are people in our parish who need that food.
We should therefore also be immensely proud of our Foodbank. We know that food is proportionately less affordable for low-income households than it ever has been. And changes to the benefits system, especially the new sanction regime mean that many of our local families struggle to put food on the table.
Our partnership with Fare Share, Asda, the Droylsden Food bank and more recently St Willibrord’s and the Wells Centre, not to mention the incredible generosity of the congregation both with food donations and money, means that St Cross is now at the forefront of tackling food poverty in this parish.
On Friday our Night Shelter began. We are ready with an army of committed and willing volunteers, to welcome women into our church, who have no doubt been battered and bruised, both by the situations they have had to face in their own countries and with the asylum system in this country.
So all in all I’d say we were doing pretty well. We are a church which is committed to serving the weakest members of our society. And in serving the weakest members of our society we can be sure that we are producing good fruit to God’s glory.
And there’s even more good news. In the parable we heard this morning we hear about an owner who is unwilling to give up on the tenants. He send messenger after messenger. He just keeps on coming. We will often fail in offering God the fruits of our lives. There will always be more that we could be doing. We must never take our eyes off the life of God revealed in Jesus Christ. There we will see the fruits of the kingdom. The fruits we must go on producing. Love, intimacy, mercy, forgiveness, justice, generosity, compassion, presence, wisdom, truth, healing, reconciliation, self-surrender, joy, thanksgiving, peace, obedience, humility. This church is our vineyard. And the people of this parish are the people, relationships, circumstances and events that God has entrusted to our care.
We have to go on producing kingdom fruits. On the 22nd October we will celebrate our Harvest Festival, God’s provision of our needs and our need to go on being responsible and compassionate stewards and sharers of His provision rather than just careless consumers. On the 29th October at 3pm, we will have our pet service. Here again we will be thinking carefully about what the kingdom fruits of justice and mercy might require of us in relation to our four-legged friends, particularly against the backdrop of a culture that exploits and denigrates animals.
In learning how to serve this community better St Cross will be carrying out a review of its practices as part of the Mission Action Planning Process. The first part of this process will take place on Saturday 14th at 1pm in Church - all are strongly encouraged to attend.
The parable was directed at us. The present-day caretakers of God’s vineyard in this part of the world. St Cross Church. Amen