A reflection for Trinity Seventeen

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Offered for Sunday 04th October 2020


Stephen

Reflections Script

Trinity 17

October 4th 2020


In any story true or fictional
we always like to side with the 'Good Guys'!
This is no truer than when we come
to read the parables of Jesus!
We naturally side with the comfortable
and agree with Jesus when he berates people,
especially the religious leaders of the day!

But very often to get the full impact
of Christ's teaching we need to step
into the shoes of those Jesus
is often negatively referring to!

For example, a congregation had been looking forward
to a particular service for a long time.
It was to be their normal weekly communion,
but their guest speaker
was in such popular demand
the booking had to be made over a year before.

The sense of eager anticipation grew
as the service progressed,
until all stood for the reading
of the Gospel from Luke 18,
the parable of the
'Pharisee and the Tax Collector
Praying in the Temple'.

The Pharisee prayed,
"God, I thank you that I am not like other people";
and the 'Tax Collector',
"God, be merciful to me, a sinner!"

Slowly the guest preacher
ascended the pulpit steps,
praying both he and his listeners
might be open to the love and truth of God.

For a moment he looked round
the expectant congregation,
making eye-contact with each one.
And then he spoke.

"Hands up," he said,
"anyone who didn't think,
'Thank God I'm not like that Pharisee!'"
And then he returned to his seat.


Let us Pray


God our Father,
you call each of us by name,
and you treasure each of us individually
as though no-one else exists.
Inspire us
to respect and value
each person that comes
into our lives this day.
An help us not to judge
simply on first impression. Amen.


Address

Many of us have heard girls say
'they would like to have a baby
so they will have someone to love them'.
Anyone with any practical experience
of children will know
this is far from guaranteed!

Once a parent has got through
the constant demands of a young baby,
including frequent feeding both day and night,
they enter the battleground
known as the "terrible twos"!
The typical toddler
may only just reach above your knees
yet they assume they rule the roost
and if you think
they're going to share their toys,
well think again;
surely everything belongs to them!

And then, of course,
there are the teenage years!
The parable found in today's Gospel shows God,
as our heavenly Father,
has similar experiences with us,
his children.

The imagery of a vineyard
would be very familiar
to the Jewish leaders whom
Jesus addresses here.

It was commonly used in the Old Testament
as an image of Israel,
God's people,
and in the parable from Matthew 21
would have reminded them
of a very similar tale about a vineyard,
found in Isaiah 5 verses 1 to 7.

But it's by looking at the differences
between these two stories
we get a real insight into the point Jesus is making.

In both parables the owner
of the vineyard represents God,
but in the Isaiah tale
the owner not only builds the vineyard
but appears to stay around
to tend and maintain.
In this parable however,
the owner sets up the vineyard
then rents it out to tenants
while going abroad.

It can take up to four years
for a vineyard to start producing fruit
and there would be a lot of hard work
for the tenants to do before a harvest.
Now in the Isaiah parable
the owner is angry
that the fruit produced is bad,
he destroys the entire vineyard.

In Jesus' parable,
the owner's immediate problem
is the tenants' reluctance
to give the owner his rightful share
of the harvest.
Numerous times the owner
tries to get what belongs to him,
sending servants who are all killed.

These servants would remind Jewish leaders
of the prophets God sent,
the last prophet being
the recently beheaded John the Baptist.

Finally the owner sends his only son.
He would surely have realised
it was a risky thing to do.
It may be that when the tenants
saw the son approach,
they assumed their landlord was dead.
So, by killing the son
they would have sought to take advantage
of a law which said that land without ownership
belongs to the first to claim it.

Whatever their reasoning,
their desperate desire
to keep hold of the land
led them to murder even the son.

In the parable,
the owner returns and destroys
not the vineyard,
but the tenants themselves,
an aspect of the parable directed
at the Jewish leadership.

The vineyard is then passed
on to other tenants willing
to share the crop.

In this way Jesus is pointing towards
the extension of God's kingdom
beyond the nation of Israel
to the Gentiles,
which was to come to pass
through the early Church.

This parable highlights
the vulnerability of a loving God.
Again and again he puts himself
through the indignity of trying
to communicate and have a relationship
with his people who continually
ignore and humiliate him.

Just like human parents
whose children refuse to acknowledge them,
so God, our Father, suffers.

The prophet Hosea writes in Chapter 11 v 1 to 2:
"When Israel was a child,
I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more I called Israel,
the further they went from me."

God took a risk in giving us
the freedom to choose to love him
and the opportunity to work alongside him.
This risk is intrinsic
to love and allows
the possibility of rejection.

Yet the parable shows despite being hurt,
God doesn't give up on humanity.
Even when his people
fail to listen to him,
he tries yet another way to communicate,
at huge cost to himself:
sending his only Son.

And now through that ultimate sacrifice
all people can know him as Father.
As with the tenants,
there may be areas of our lives
that we don't want to let God into,
and things we cling on to
and insist are ours.

But we can be helped
in our fear of letting go
and letting God in,
by reflecting on the persistent,
unfailing and sacrificial love
God has for us.
The love of our
heavenly Father can be trusted.


To Summarise

Just as children
don't always return parental love
and sometimes hurt their parents,
so God has similar experiences with us,
his children.

In the parable,
the tenants refuse to give up
to God what is rightfully his.

All his attempts to reason with them
end in rejection and humiliation.

Despite such constant rejection,
God doesn't give up trying
to build a relationship with people.

He tries a new way,
sacrificing his only Son
so all people of the world might know him.

Like the tenants, we can refuse
to let God into all of our lives
and sometimes this is because
we are too afraid to trust him.

But we can be helped to trust
by dwelling upon his unfailing,
unflinching, unending love.


Our Blessing

May the love of the Lord Jesus
conquer your fear;
may the truth of the Lord Jesus
deepen your vision;
may the strength of the Lord Jesus
embolden your heart;
and the blessing of God almighty...


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