Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
October 6, 2002
The Gospel: Luke 9:18-24
Sermon: "Good Stewards of the Vineyard"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Jesus said, "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 watchtower. 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."
Good Stewards of the Vineyard
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost - October 6, 2002
Today's Gospel lesson has been one of the most misunderstood parables in the .history of Christianity. The misunderstanding of the story has been used to fuel the fires of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism throughout the history of the Christian world. This morning I would like to explain how this misinterpretation occurs, offer a different way to see the story, and then offer us a physical way to apply the new interpretation in the year ahead. .
The misinterpretation of this parable has occurred by taking this parable at face value. In the misinterpretation, the vineyard is the land of Israel. The tenants are the people of Israel. The landowner is God. The slaves the landowner sends to the people are the prophets and the son is Jesus Christ. According to this reading, the landowner builds the vineyard and then leases it to tenants. The people of Israel are the tenants. At the time of the harvest he sends slaves to collect his dues. These slaves are beaten and killed. The prophets sent to Israel like Jeremiah, Ezekiel and others were also treated in harsh ways. Some were beaten or jailed and some were killed. The landowner sends his son to the tenants. The tenants kill the son believing they will receive the land. Now, that idea is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Living on the land at the time meant ownership. Possession was determined by occupancy. Therefore if they kill the heir the tenants will own the land. Jesus is the Son sent by the landowner, God. The tenants, the people of Israel, kill the Son, Jesus, in order to receive the land as theirs forever.
As a result, the landowner will take the vineyard from the tenants and the give it to someone else. The Pharisees and scribes are even hasher. They say the tenants deserve to be put to death. Here is the misinterpretation by the Christian world. The Jewish people are replaced in the vineyard by the Gentiles. Because the Jewish people killed Jesus they are to be killed. This false interpretation has been the foundation of centuries of false trials, beatings, pogroms, and genocide. These horrible actions are the result of a shallow surface reading of the text.
A deeper reading of the text leads to a very different interpretation. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, the chief priests, and the scribes. They are the leaders of the Hebrew people. What if the tenants are these leaders and the vineyard is actually the people of Israel? Then the leaders have been given stewardship of the people. They are the ones who are supposed to be teaching the people about God. They are the ones who are supposed to teach the people about the love of God. They are the ones who are supposed to teach the people how to share the love of God. However, they were not taking care of the vineyard adequately. The people were not being taught about the love of God appropriately. For this reason the prophets are sent. They are sent to collect the ripe fruit of the garden, which is the people of Israel. Remember, Israel was to be a light to all the nations. All of the world was to learn of God through Israel. The garden was to produce incredible fruit. The fruit was to be juicy, sweet and plentiful. The leaders did not tend the garden well. Instead of being loyal to God and being good stewards, they want the people to themselves. In essence, they do not want to be stewards they want to be like God. They want to be the owners. They want to claim the vineyard as their own. They want the vineyard to serve them.
Now, how about us? We are a part of God's chosen people. We are tenants of a part of God's vineyard. Our vineyard includes this church building and the grounds. This vineyard includes the people who are members here. Age doesn't matter. Health doesn't matter. Personal social status does not matter. We are all tenants. This vineyard also includes the city of Reidsville and the county of Rockingham. It also includes the Diocese of North Carolina and the Episcopal Church of the USA. This vineyard has wide borders.
As the tenants of this vineyard God has given us all the tools we require to help this vineyard produce great fruit. Now, we are not in the wine business. We are in the God-sharing business. Individually we have been given various gifts. Individually we have been given various talents. Individually, we have various incomes. Corporately, together, we have everything we need.
The question we have before us is how do we use the gifts, talents, and finances to the glory of God in this vineyard? Here is where we begin to take action.
This year we have added a little more action to our stewardship than the pledge card. Later this week every person in this parish will receive a simple gifts and talents survey. Each person will receive a personal information data sheet. Every person junior high and older will receive a pledge card.
The gifts and talents survey will ask each person to look at their abilities and what they like to do. When the survey is done, we hope everyone has learned something new about themselves or had their gifts and talents confirmed. When the form is returned we will put the gifts, abilities and service information into the computer and assist everyone in finding a ministry in this vineyard. We hope this task will enable each of us to find a ministry we love and enjoy.
The personal data sheet we also ask everyone to review. We want to be sure we have everyone's correct information. We will be able to celebrate events in people's lives and enhance communication. We already know there is some incorrect information in the system. Some birthdays are wrong. Some addresses are incorrect. Through the wonders of software bugs we seem to have a large number of couples that were married in 1993. Through these two tools we hope to be able to enhance everyone's capability to use their gifts and talents in God's vineyard.
Finally, we have included a pledge card. For many years the pledge card has been interpreted as the church asking for money. That connotation is directly related to the answer of the leaders to the landowner in the misinterpreted version of the parable. They saw the owner asking for his due as a burden and an inconvenience to them. The pledge card is actually our offering to God of the first fruits of our labor. We don't bring cattle, goats or wheat because we are not farmers in our every day lives. We bring the fruits of our labor to give to God for our work as tenants in the vineyard. These funds enable us to accomplish our ministries. They enable us to have great worship. They help us educate our children and adults. They help us spread the love of God through pastoral care and outreach. These funds help us put our gifts and talents to use in God's vineyard.
This week we will all receive these materials. They are to enable us to be good stewards in God's vineyard. We become good tenants and we live into our life in stewardship. Please take the time to fill out the forms and return them to us. We want to be able to enhance our ministries and our response to God. Our desire is to be faithful stewards and to hear God say, Good servant, well done.