Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


Two sons
September 25, 2011, 12:00 pm
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at Holy Nativity, Knowle, Sunday 25th September 2011

A man had two sons. Which of the two did the father’s will?

This story (the second about working in a vineyard- we had the first last Sunday) is found only in St Matthew’s Gospel, and it is full of little touches typical of Matthew. For a start, it is directed towards “the chief priests and the elders of the people”- the religious establishment, so to speak. There are some today who say that this shows the anti-Jewish bias of the Gospel, but that is to miss the point. This Gospel is thought to have originated in a Jewish-Christian community, probably in Galilee, thirty or forty years after the Crucifixion. The community would not have thought in terms of “Jews” and “Christians”. There was a part of Israel which had recognised Jesus as Messiah (and which was now open towards the Gentiles too), and there was a part of Israel which refused to accept Jesus, and which continued the attitude of the Establishment of Jesus’ own time. Nearly two millennia further on, we can still take it as having a warning to any religious establishment, now or whenever.

A man had two sons. Who are these sons? It is clear from what follows that one represents that establishment to whom the story was first told; the other, all those people whom that establishment clearly regards as “outsiders”, for whatever reason. These are they who, when they first hear the call of God, refuse to listen to it; whereas the establishment at least outwardly accepts the calling with alacrity. Bishops, priests, God-fearing laity- we all say, Yes, yes, to God. We come to church, we sing hymns, we pay our dues.

What was the father’s call? To work in the vineyard. Here is another very Scriptural image. The vineyard is Israel, the People of God. Only a little earlier in his Gospel, (as we heard last week) Matthew recounts that other parable of labourers in the vineyard. In that one, too, those who first accept the call complain about those who only come in at the last minute. Until Christ, the vineyard had been seen as Israel over against the Gentile nations. With Christ, the perspective widens so that all nations, the whole earth, can be seen as the vineyard of the Lord. Every human being is called, or invited, to work in that vineyard. Indeed, every human being is also part of that vineyard- the saints remind us that “working in the vineyard” includes tending our own souls.

Working in a vineyard means tending and caring for the vine. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says that he himself is the vine. So we are called to tend and nourish the growth of Christ in ourselves and in the world. This is the fundamental call to every human being: to allow Christ to be planted in our hearts, to take root there, and to grow up to maturity in us. Some people find this too challenging, or just meaningless. They do not recognise Who it is that is calling them, nor do they understand how much they themselves will be enriched if they respond. Other people seem to respond eagerly, but neither have they fully recognised Who is calling, or what He is asking them to do. They seem to do all the right things outwardly, but the inner reality is missing.

Sometimes it is only when people are broken, when they have really messed up their lives, that they come to see Jesus as a Saviour. People like the prodigal son in another parable. Those of us who belong to the “establishment” know the word, but have not experienced the reality. We are constantly saying “I go, sir!” but we are standing still. We are like the ridiculous policemen in “The Pirates of Penzance”, singing “We go! We go!”- but we don’t go! We are not labouring over the growth of Jesus Christ in our hearts and minds.

Three years ago, on the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham, the Archbishop of Canterbury was preaching in Lourdes. He began by reflecting how Mary, visiting Elizabeth, carried Jesus within her; and how Elizabeth, though not yet knowing of Mary’s pregnancy, felt a current of joy in her own unborn child at the approach of the Saviour. “Mary appears to us here as the first missionary,” he said, “the first human being to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to another; and she does it simply by carrying Christ within her.” He continued, “When Mary came to Bernadette, she came first as an anonymous figure, a beautiful lady, a mysterious ‘thing’, not yet identified as the Lord’s spotless Mother. And Bernadette- uneducated, uninstructed in doctrine- leapt with joy, recognising that here was life, here was healing.”

He went on, “So there is good news for all of us who seek to follow Jesus’ summons to mission in his Name; and good news too for all who find their efforts slow and apparently futile, and for all who still can’t find their way to the ‘right’ words and the open commitment. Our first and overarching task is to carry Jesus, gratefully and faithfully, with us in all our doings… And if we are faithful in thus carrying Christ with us, something will happen, some current will stir and those we are with will feel, perhaps well below the conscious surface, a movement of life and joy which they may not understand at all. And we may never see it or know about it; people may not even connect  it with us, yet it will be there- because Jesus speaks always to what is buried in the heart of men and women, the destiny they were made for. Whether they know it or not, there is that within them which is turned towards him. Keep on carrying Jesus and don’t despair: mission will happen, in spite of all, because God in Christ has begun his journey into the heart.”

Our invitation to work in the vineyard of the Lord is first and foremost the same invitation that came to Mary, to receive Christ and allow him to grow within us; to carry him to other people; to seek nothing for ourselves except the privilege of allowing him to use us. Working in the vineyard is not a matter of planning and assessment and getting the right results. It is letting Christ live and work in us, transforming us every day into his own image. It is carrying him in our own persons to bring his joy to those we meet.

 

 

 

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