October 4, 2020, Scripture Readings and Sermon
Message from Rev. George Porter
Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people of Judah,
judge between me
and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?
And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry!
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the firmament shows his handiwork.
One day tells its tale to another,
and one night imparts knowledge to another.
Although they have no words or language,
and their voices are not heard,
Their sound has gone out into all lands,
and their message to the ends of the world.
In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun;
it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.
It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens and runs about to the end of it again;
nothing is hidden from its burning heat.
The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.
The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever;
the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold,
sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.
By them also is your servant enlightened,
and in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can tell how often he offends?
cleanse me from my secret faults.
Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me;
then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a great offense.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
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. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
Sermon: George Porter
Creation Season and Psalm 8
I was really very happy to hear good reports from the Sunday outdoor service at SCEC. I know this has been a very long time, and a very hard time, for many people – probably for all of us. However, this first Sunday gathering is a hopeful step toward being able to share again in-person in the worship, prayer and fellowship of the people of God
I have heard a good deal about people wanting to get back to ‘normal’, but I’m not too much interested in ‘getting back to normal’ – whatever ‘normal’ might be. One of my favourite musicians – Bruce Cockburn – sings ‘The trouble with normal is/it always gets worse.’ So, I’m not much interested in getting back to ‘normal’ nor in some ‘new normal’.
The gospel is never about ‘normal’. The gospel is about God doing a new thing. It’s about moving on with what God is doing – and finding our place in the new thing that God is doing.
If you’ve been following my sort of rambling reflections during the Season of Creation, I really have been trying to get somewhere. Whether or not I have succeeded is an entirely different matter.
Be that as it may, the ‘somewhere’ to which I have been trying to get isn’t any sort of nostalgic romanticism about nature. Neither is it about espousing this or that cause. There are a good many causes around. There are many men and women working very hard and courageously – sometimes even at the cost of health, freedom and even their own lives – in defense of environmental justice and preservation.
In a world of some billions of people – numbers probably too big to mean much to most people – nostalgia is inadequate and unhelpful. It is impractical – impossible – to just go back to ‘the way we were’ – to whatever ‘normal’ we might espouse.
I’m looking at something more basic, more fundamental or more foundational. The challenge I face myself, and with which I have been trying to challenge you, has already been said by many others – including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Pope Francis and the Dali Lama, for example – much better than I could express.
Running through it all, however, have been some common themes. It is recognized that in regard to creation, among other things, we have missed the mark. We have sinned. (The most common biblical word translated as ‘sin’ is literally ‘to miss the mark’ – to be off target.) Among the challenges of Creationtide, therefore, comes the call to repent – to think beyond what we already think, to think in a new way that leads to a new way of living – in this case a new way of living in relationship to the Creator and the Creator’s cosmos.
This Sunday is the culmination of Creationtide. It is appropriately enough also the Feast of Francis of Assisi. In 1972, Franco Zefferelli’s film ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon’ came out. It’s a rather sentimental retelling of the transformation of a wild and hedonistic young man into one totally dedicated to God and to the rebuilding of God’s church – symbolized by the restoration of a tumble down stone chapel. Francis of Assisi has been traditionally known as the patron saint of animals and the environment.
When I introduced the Lakota prayer Mitákuye Oyás'iŋ – all my relations; we are all related – I was trying to draw together the realisation that the gospel isn’t just about personal salvation – about our relationship as individuals with God, not even just about our relationship as a community with God. It’s not about being a ticket to paradise.
The good news of God’s love and grace, of mercy and forgiveness and reconciliation in Christ has cosmic implications. It has this sort of ‘bigger picture’ dimensions. That’s what I meant when I referred to Paul writing that all creation is eagerly awaiting, groaning with longing so intense that it is like the pains of childbirth – standing on tip-toe – to see the sons of God come into their own, to see human beings fulfilling the calling inherent in being made in the image and likeness of God.
All creation in this posture doesn’t describe spectators. All creation has a vital – a life and death – stake in this encounter. Paul doesn’t speak about creation waiting to see the Creator directly intervene but waiting for human creation to come to their senses and reconnect with the Creator and with the Creator’s purposes.
You see, the gospel of salvation is purposeful. It’s not just a divine rescue mission for people who send out a spiritual SOS. Because I spend quite a bit of time in relative wilderness, hiking and canoeing and so forth, I recently acquired a Garmin In Reach. It’s a little device that I carry so that, when it’s switched on, I can call for help wherever I am. Emergency rescue workers can locate me and get me out of whatever trouble I’ve gotten myself into. I’m afraid that many people think of the gospel in this way. We send out a cry for help, and God swoops in to rescue us.
There’s enough truth in this that we can’t just forget it. At the same time, we have to remember that the gospel message is about God setting things right. This ‘setting things right’ is experienced primarily in terms of relationships, as I said last week: relationship with God, yes, and relationship with other humans, yes, but also with creation – with the land, the water, the air and with non-human creatures with which we share ‘this fragile earth, our island home’.
Historically, it’s been very hard for people to hold these two realities together and in balance. Historically, it’s been very hard for the church, for the people of God, to do this. Somehow we have to figure out how to hold them together because only by doing so can we hear the good news of God in Christ and living into our mission – our vocation – as the people of God.
It is true that there is a certain primacy in the scriptures of the God-human relationships. We have the distinction of being, after all, made in the image and likeness of God. I was thinking about Psalm 8 in this regard:
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name throughout the earth,
You who have covered the heavens with Your splendor!
From the mouths of infants and sucklings
You have founded strength on account of Your foes,
to put an end to enemy and avenger.
When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
the moon and stars that You set in place,
what is man that You have been mindful of him,
mortal man that You have taken note of him,
that You have made him little less than divine,
and adorned him with glory and majesty;
You have made him master over Your handiwork,
laying the world at his feet,
sheep and oxen, all of them, and wild beasts, too;
the birds of the heavens, the fish of the sea,
whatever travels the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name throughout the earth!
The making of humans ‘a little lower than the gods’ doesn’t mean making non-human creation less important. Instead, it identifies the unique role of those made in the image and likeness of God. It also recognizes that because this role necessitates responsibility, this is where everything got off track. This is the locus of ‘missing the mark’ – of ‘sin’.
It makes sense then that this would also be the focus of getting things back on track – back on the mark. That’s what I meant by Paul writing about creation not waiting for God to just unilaterally set things right. Instead, creation is waiting humans to get right, so that creation can be renewed. Getting it right – setting things to right – has to start here.
It starts here, but it doesn’t end here. The prophet Isaiah, the Apostle Paul and the Revelation all speak about ‘new creation’. Yes, there is a sense of ‘renewed creation’, but also of ‘new creation’. This means that the Easter gospel – passion, death and resurrection – isn’t just something about Jesus. It’s not even just something about humans. It’s about all creation. The new thing that God is doing is making humans new in Christ and making creation new through this renewed humanity – these restored image-and-likeness creatures, a little lower than the gods, who are called by the Creator to be the stewards, care-givers and nurturers of creation.
Every day we here of more things that have gotten worse with nations, health, powers, famines – disasters of all sorts. Many people have stopped watching the news because it’s just so bad, and Cockburn seems to have been right: ‘The trouble with normal is/it always gets worse’.
Yet in the midst of it all – all the messy, brutal reality of so much bad news – we have the announcement of good news – the gospel of God’s unending, undefeated love and grace – the good news of hope in the midst of despair. Hope that is not just wishful thinking: ‘I wish things would go back to the way they were; I with things were different; I wish this; I wish that; I wish.... I wish ....
Rather, the good news brings responsible hope. There is no denial of the way things are. There is no banking on a way of escape. Rather there is a sense of hope in the one who ‘is able to do more than we can ask or imagine’ and the one who is ‘steadfast in love’ – the persistence of God who stubbornly and tenaciously refuses to abandon us – who has us engraved on the palm of the divine hands in the indelible marks of nails.