Producing the Fruit of the Kingdom

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

18th  Sunday after Pentecost Sermon –8am and 9:30am Chapel of St. John the Divine

Proper 22 RCL Year A 10/8/2017

 Scripture Text:

Isaiah 5:1-7

Psalm 80:7-14

Philippians 3:4b-14

Matthew 21:33-46

Sermon Text:

Today we move from recognizing God

As the one ready to give more than we either

Desire or deserve, in our collect,

To hearing the desire of God for his people

In the love song concerning his vineyard

From the Prophet Isaiah,

To the parable of the wicked tenants,

Which is one of only three parables

That appears in all of the synoptic gospels,

In Matthew, Mark and Luke.

So it must be important.

We see this theme of giving and receiving,

Of the interaction between God and God’s people.

 

All of this is happening,

Interestingly enough, on a day when,

In honor of St. Francis,

We are bringing animals into the church,

Animals we love and care for,

And that makes the connection

To being cared for by God

And serving him in the church and world

To be more palpable.

 

Look at the way we treat our pets.

We feed them, house them,

Give them exercise and activities they enjoy.

We cuddle them and pet them.

They respond, most of the time,

The way we would expect.

Sometimes they give us love.

Sometimes they reward us tangibly.

I often tell people that chickens make great pets,

Because not only are they beautiful

And soft, but they give back tangibly.

They love us back, our pets,

sometimes more than we deserve.

I saw a sign recently that challenged the reader

“Be the person your dog thinks you are.”

I loved that because whether we project it on them or not

Our pets show us this devotion

That seems much greater than we deserve.

 

We don’t require much of them though,

Perhaps because we know not to expect much.

 

We are not pets, as far as God is concerned

We are so much more,

And accordingly God expects more from us.

Hundreds of years before Jesus came,

God lamented that his vineyard,

His people, had yielded wild grapes.

What he had carefully planted and cultivated,

Responded as if there was no care, no protection,

No cultivation.

We on the other hand love God,

And we love that God provides for us.

We know God to be the listener and giver who

As we said in the collect,

Is “always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve.”

So we ask him to give us those good things,

For which we are not worthy to ask.

And he does, he places us in his vineyard,

In the garden that he created,

That he owns and grows.

But he doesn’t place us there as slaves,

Or as pets, he gives us a responsibility

For caring for that vineyard,

He allows us to enjoy the produce

Of our work, but he places us there

As tenants of what he owns,

And so he expects something of the produce in return.

He expects the fruits of the kingdom.

 

As one of my favorite preachers,

Karoline Lewis writes,

“We are on lease from God to care for God’s people,

to care for God’s creation,

to care for the Kingdom of Heaven

with the Beatitudes as our gardening tools.”

 

But we are not the first tenants in this vineyard.

As Jesus so carefully points out with his parable,

That draws such a strong connection

To the prophecy of Isaiah,

Some 700 years earlier.

God’s vineyard is not producing

What God intended of it,

In part because the tenants,

The ones who are supposed to be drawing

In the harvest and sharing it with the owner,

Have not lived up to their responsibility.

They have tended it as if the vineyard were theirs,

As if the produce of the vineyard were theirs alone,

And disregarded the slaves (the prophets)

Who were sent to collect the produce.

Jesus is calling out the people who were his contemporaries,

And pointing to himself,

To what they would do to him,

By including in the story

That the owner sent his own son,

Who the tenants threw out of the vineyard and killed.

We are familiar with that story,

Indeed we call ourselves the ones

Who follow the Son.

 

That son was killed,

But he rose again,

And calls all who will follow him,

To assume their place in his vineyard,

To give him the fruits of the kingdom that he requires.

We have been placed in this part of God’s vineyard,

And so we may want to consider,

What are the fruits of the kingdom

that God requires of us?

But before we take on that question,

We have to consider whether we acknowledge

That everything we have been given

Belongs to God.

As we say at the early service

When we bring up the offerings.

“All things come of thee, O Lord,

And of thine own have we given thee.”

 

If we really know that everything is God’s,

That we are tenants of God’s vineyard,

Then it is not so hard to give what God requires.

If we think of our earnings, for example,

As our possession, we might think,

What right does the Church have to ask

For 10% of what is mine?

But if we realize that everything we have

Belongs to God,

That God could require everything back from us,

Then God’s asking for a tithe,

For 10% of the income we receive

In God’s vineyard doesn’t seem so much,

In fact it seems generous from God

To require so little of us,

To reinvest in his Church.

 

The fruits of the Kingdom that God requires of us,

Are more than just our tithes and offerings.

Those are just where we start to be faithful.

The fruits of the kingdom

Are a community of faith, that is strong

And full of people who follow God.

A community of faith shaped by

The beatitudes that Jesus taught,

As Gardening tools shape the plants in a garden.

We are workers in the vineyard,

Asked to plant more seeds, and shape them as they grow.

 

Planting those seeds, so they will produce fruit,

Means inviting people into the life of faith

That God wants for all.

Cultivating the seeds, the plants,

Means teaching them to hunger and thirst for righteousness,

To teach the blessings that await,

The merciful, the poor, those who mourn,

To encourage people to be peacemakers,

And pure in heart.

These teachings, and others of Jesus,

Shape us, and the community of faith,

Into producing the kind of fruit

That God wants, the fruit of the kingdom.

 

This Chapel, St. John’s is our place

In God’s vineyard.

Each of us has a part in helping cultivate,

And grow the Chapel.

We know it all belongs to God,

As does everything we have,

And everything we are.

If we work together,

And give of what we have received,

If we reach out to others and draw them in,

If we teach those around us

The way of following Jesus.

We will present the fruits of the kingdom

From this Chapel to God,

And it will not be taken away from us.

 

The good news today,

Is that we are not wicked tenants,

Abusing the servants of God,

And withholding the produce that belongs to God.

Nor are we simple pets,

Of whom little is expected.

We are valuable tenants in God’s vineyard,

Working for God’s own son.

 

In another place in Isaiah,

God says of his Son,

“so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty,

but will accomplish what I desire

and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

We each and together have a choice,

How much we will work to be a part of that accomplishment.

As we consider what we contribute

To the life of this part of the vineyard,

Let’s together as the Chapel,

Join with Jesus in achieving the purpose

For which God sent us.

 

Amen

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Father Rob goes by Father so that he remembers his duty to the people of God whom he serves. He’s been ordained since 2006, serving in Florida and Tennessee and before that served as a youth minister in Long Island, NY. More details