Trinity 17, 8 October 2017, Fr Peter Wolton , United Benefice of Holland Park
Trinity 17 – Preached by Peter Wolton on 8 October 2017
There was once a preacher who was told he needed to be relevant. He was preaching about the parable of the Wicked Tenants in the Vineyard. So he gave an update on the grape harvest in France. Listen carefully. For 2017 he said, Bordeaux is a vintage of 2 halves. Sadly small producers severely hit by frost and yields are down 50%. The vineyards that avoided frost have a vintage of abundance; my friend who is a MW says nice but not great quality. You will be relieved to know that in Burgundy its good quality and yields are healthy.
And this brings me onto our readings this morning. The analogy of the vine and vineyard, symbolising Israel, is one of most used in both the Old and the New Testaments, culminating in Jesus stating “I am the true vine” in St. John’s Gospel. And it is through wine that we enter the beating heart of the sacred mystery of the Holy Eucharist. Our readings [this morning] from Isaiah and St. Matthew both tell of the hopes of the owner of the vineyard being dashed.
The readings are surprisingly relevant to today’s world as I shall come onto.
Isaiah opens with the excitement and deep love that is required to create a vineyard. The unqualified joy of the builder, reminiscent of that of a new father, turns to dismay; no beautiful tasting wine but bitter unquenchable liquid. “I expected it to yield grapes but it yielded wild grapes.”
In the Gospel, the tenants of the vineyard kill the owner’s slaves when they are sent to collect the produce. Eventually the owner decides to send his son. “They will respect my son.” he says. But the tenants kill the owner’s son.
Jesus’s parable, is I suggest, very contemporary. Today there are some who may reject the tenants’ actions but nevertheless sympathise with them. They might argue the owner had gone off to a foreign country – a non-resident absentee landlord. Whilst others would say that it is the owner’s investment and endeavour that planted the vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. And without an environment that supported such investment there would be no vineyard and no produce.
Or are perhaps the events in the vineyard analogous to those that have taken place in Catalonia this week (PAUSE) or Las Vegas this week, or in Zimbabwe? Or in any country where a harvest of wild grapes has caused multitudes to flee.
These events, these different opinions show we live in an age of increasing polarization, fermented by social media. We are aware of the technological revolution we are living through and how it has favoured consumers. But perhaps we are only becoming aware now of its polarizing influence.
Social media also gives everyone a say and a voice. For example: press or text “Like “or “1” if you support the tenants of the vineyard or RT (retweet) or press 2 if you back the landlord.
And with social media, everyone has a public profile. A much used phrase is “It’s good,” or “It’s not good for the brand – my personal brand.” Many people actively “manage their brand.” This is no longer the remit of so called “celebs” but anyone participating in the world of social media, which for people below 50 is just about everybody, needs to do this because our profiles can be rapidly assembled from publicly available information.
What can our creator God, who has made this world with the same love shown by the builders of the vineyards, what must our God be thinking as he watches this polarisation, this harvest of wild grapes? And how are we to break this cycle and make known the “true vine” –which is the only “brand” that matters, this God who wants His creation to bear good fruit?
Because it is the true vine, the true brand of surpassing love of God that provides true life. It is this love that can bridge this polarisation. It is our challenge to be mediators and bring about a harvest of beautiful succulent grapes.
I do not want to be seen as “good on diagnosis -poor on solutions.”
This week the church remembered St. Francis of Assisi who whilst praying in a semi derelict church distinctly heard the words “Go and rebuild my church.” And this led to a religious revival. We need a revival, a movement to rebuild the church.
The three steps in successful marketing are Awareness, Consideration and Action.
Let us make the world more aware of God’s love. Let us give more people the chance to consider whether the church is for them, to give them the chance to act. Let us remind ourselves of Philip’s reaction, having met Jesus, when he exhorted Nathaniel to “come and see.” Bring your friends to St. George’s and St. John’s – to experience the true vine.
We pray that we may yield good fruit in all we do.