Trinity 15 - Labourers in the Vineyard

A sermon preached by the Revd Ivo Morshead in St George's Church on 28 September 2014, the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood

Ezekiel 18.1-4, 25-end; Phil 2.1-end; Matt  21.23-32

Son go and work in the vineyard today.. words from the gospel for today.

I had my hair cut on Friday morning. The barber’s shop where I go has three chairs each with a man to cut your hair. It is an old fashioned establishment in Hammersmith  who do pensioners for £6.It happened that I was still wearing my black clerical shirt but without the white dog collar and the talkative chap in the next chair must have seen me in the mirror coming in. Conversation led to him complaining about never having won a prize on the lottery all the years that he had been buying them so the barbers each said what they would do if they had a win and then asked old Bill what he would do. Well, he said, giving me a wink in the mirror, you lot should be ashamed of yourselves, what about giving some away, for a start I would give nice lot to my local vicar and I am a Jew!  All of us, Bill the cockney Jew, me a Christian and the Moslem barbers all had a good laugh and I blessed them as I left.

Among the privileges and obligations of the priesthood is to bestow a blessing, to forgive sins and to celebrate the Holy Communion. I was ordained 50 years ago in Bristol cathedral and was given this bible in which is inscribed my name followed by the Latin words ad ordinem presbyteratus in ecclesia cathedrali Bristolienses. The word presbyter is translated in the bible as elder, thus in Acts 1 v 30 when there was a famine in Judea, the disciples sent relief to the believers commissioning Saul and Barnabas to give the money to the elders of the Christian communities. Again in Acts 15, 27 the Apostles and elders are mentioned as having the consent of the church to choose men from their communities to be sent to help bring order to communities in dispute among themselves. Presbyter or elder as a term was inherited from the Jewish synagogues each of  which was administered by a board of Elders. At first the term presbyter was synonymous with bishop but gradually it developed into the word to describe those who derived their authority and prerogative from the bishop and the presbyterate came into being, the members of which in common parlance, now are part of the order of priesthood.

In my day in 1964 the only order of service for priesting was part of the book of common prayer. The bishop of Bristol read these words as part of the admonishment which is in the Ordering of Priests; and now again we exhort you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you have in remembrance, into how high a dignity, and to how weighty an office and charge ye are called; that is to say, to be messengers, watchmen, and stewards of the Lord; to teach and to premonish to feed and provide for the Lord’s family; to seek for Christ’s sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for his children who are in the midst of  this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ for ever.

We are indeed in the midst of a naughty world but when have we not been? Jesus lived in a time of tumult in a country under foreign rule seething with the possibility of violent rebellion against the occupying Roman forces. Perhaps those who shouted Hosanna as he entered Jerusalem hoped that they at last had a secular leader who could restore the former glory of the old Kingdoms. What Jesus preached though was not a call to war against a military foreign foe but a call to respond to the love of God who sought only for the chosen people to turn from disobedience to obedience. John the Baptist was Our Lord’s predecessor with his call for repentance, John who lived a life of austerity as a mark of  opposition to general greed and self worship but who paid the ultimate penalty for his witness against the authorities incorporated in the power of the puppet King Herod who, in the horrid reincarnation of   the practice today, had him beheaded. Then Jesus who opposed the Temple Elders for turning what should have been a shrine of holiness into a sordid market place overturning the tables of the money changers and exclaiming my house should be a house of prayer but you are turning it into a den of robbers and then  was challenged by  the chief priests and the Jewish elders for his teaching of God’s love as we see from today’s gospel & in a short while was wickedly sentenced to an even worse fate than beheading as he walked the way of Calvary. It was a naughty world then as it is indeed today, naughty in the sense of  the world, naughty in the sense of  the individual.

Our conversation in the barber’s shop was last Friday morning, the same day on which members of  parliament were debating whether or not to intervene with force in the Middle East, a situation effecting very much  those of the Jewish, Islamic and Christian beliefs and practices. In contrast our talk was
on the personal level about how we spend our time and what are our daily interests. Talk as I would guess in which most of us indulge in our daily lives. A priest is commissioned to be a messenger, watchman and steward of  the Lord. The message demanded is not just the actual word of Scripture, the bishop’s admonishment in the prayer book  also says Have always imprinted in your remembrance how great a treasure is committed to your charge. The priest is to work for the Church and congregation given to his charge as the ordinal says; that you never cease your labour, your care and diligence, until you have done all that lieth in you to bring those committed to your charge into the faith and knowledge of God and to that ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ , that there be no place left either for error in religion or for viciousness in life .

Jesus in the parable today used the words Son go and work in the vineyard today..In my 50 years since ordination to the priesthood I have worked in 4 different vineyards and a 5th if I can count the 23 years that I have been privileged to hang my cassock here at St George’s helping out when needed. A priest has to be conscious of a certain responsibility in return for the tremendous privilege of a wonderful job satisfaction of having to be aware that you stand for the church in others eyes as witnessed last Friday at the barbers. The ordination charge tells you what you have to do to cope as the ordinal says and I quote with your office which is both of so great an excellency and of so great a difficulty. As well as having care not to offend by way of life style or behaviour I was bidden to pray earnestly for the help of the Holy Spirit.. to be studious in the reading and learning of the holy scriptures and to lead a life agreeable to the same.

We are all in one sense called to the priesthood and so share what is given and required of  priests. We have only to look to the First letter of Peter in the second chapter when he addresses the exiles of the Dispersion ..let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood  and again you are a royal priesthood.

I have tried in my 50 years to carry out the bishop’s charge but can in no way claim that I am any more holy than anyone else nor have I have done all I should in the way of study, prayer and service. But I do very much endorse the ordinal from which  I was bidden to be always thankful to the Lord

May we all as part of the royal priesthood, heed our Lord’s words in the parable today and continue to work in the vineyard of his kingdom today.
Holland Park Benefice