Pentectost 19 and Baptisms.
Sunday, 8 October 2023
Revd Canon Marion Chatterley, Vice Provost
Our faith is focussed on the Cross, but it is brought alive in the truth of the Resurrection.
I find myself having some sympathy with the tenants of that vineyard. Rich man invests in a business and then goes off to his island or yacht or wherever and leaves the workers to get on with things. And he sits back and waits for the profits to come rolling in. Now this is a vineyard, so the rewards won’t be immediate. I think it takes at least 3 years for there to be any return on this kind of investment. Three years of physical work, we might assume with little contact with the landowner. And then the moment arrives – the harvest is ready and finally there is something to show for the years of toil. And who shows up – not the landowner with some words of thanks, but his slaves who were simply the couriers. I’m not entirely surprised that those slaves didn’t get a warm welcome. Now, for the avoidance of doubt, I’m not advocating stoning or beating or indeed killing people who are just the messengers, but I do have a bit of sympathy with the need to express some anger.
That seems to be a story that is as relevant today as it was in the days of the early church. The divide between rich and poor is still a feature of our communities.
We may have abolished slavery but we haven’t abolished the ability of people with money to purchase the labour of those who have less. And in our society, we see increasing dissatisfaction with the demands that are put upon the workforce. I saw a survey of midwives recently which was exploring the reasons people are thinking about leaving the profession. I was surprised to find that pay was relatively far down the list. The primary motivations were an overwhelming workload and a loss of job satisfaction. Of course people need to be paid a fair wage for a fair day’s work, but after that people need affirmation that they have done a good job, that their labour is valued, that they are valued. And this story is a good reminder of the consequences of devaluing and disregarding other people, especially those on whose labour we depend. We see the consequences of such thinking when the bin men go on strike or when there is a shortage of people to maintain the infrastructure of our communities.
And if we follow through with our story, when the owner of the vineyard finally shows up himself, he is only able to respond in a vengeful way. There is no chance of him rationally processing the steps that led to the killing of his son. He meets violence with violence. He responds in kind.
Listen to what Jesus said as he was teaching this parable: the kingdom of God will be given to a people that produces the fruit of the kingdom. So what is the fruit of the kingdom? We get a clue in today’s Epistle – at the end of the verses we heard St Paul says: I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God. The heavenly call of God.
In just a few minutes we will be baptising Hamish, Jack and Mary into the church of God. Their parents and Godparents will respond on their behalf to the call of God, the call to these children to be full members of the Body of Christ in this place. And being full members of the Body of Christ is a commitment to honouring the humanity and dignity of all people. Hamish, Jack and Mary, promises will be made on your behalf to commit to respecting God’s people. Promises that speak of honouring God in all creation. There has never been a more important time to make such promises. We see, day after day, the impact on individuals and communities of a lack of respect. We see, day after day, the impact on our planet of a lack of respect. And it’s all too easy to see those problems as someone else’s problems. Something for others to solve. But actually there are no others. We are the people of God. We are collectively the Body of Christ. We are the ones tasked with taking forward change. We are the only people who can be agents of change. And if we don’t take that seriously, what are we saying about our commitment to a future that will support and enable Hamish, Jack and Mary to reach their full potential?
Easy words perhaps, but for most of us a bit of a Herculean task. Let’s go back to St Paul for a little help with how we might go about this task. He says: I want to know Christ. Not, I want to know about Christ, but I want to know Christ. This isn’t a commitment to reading words on a page or reflecting on historic events. This is Paul’s commitment to the risen Christ, to the post resurrection Christ who makes himself known in the breaking of bread.
Our faith is focussed on the cross, but is brought alive in the truth of the resurrection. We honour both Jesus on the Cross and the Christ of the resurrection in the affirmation of faith that we will all make in a few minutes. We will all express our faith in our Trinitarian God. I will ask the parents and Godparents of these three children to make the promises that we all made (or had made for us) at our Baptism – to turn away from evil and to turn to Christ. That is the essence of our faith.
We live in a world of injustice and inequality. We live in a world where we witness acts of evil on a regular basis. And it would be easy for us to respond to that negativity with negativity of our own. But that is not what we are called into. We are called into a faith that has at its heart the desire to know Christ. To know him and then to follow him. To know him and through and with him to honour all people, to respect God’s creation, to care for God’s people.
To know Christ means different things at different times for each of us. There will be times when we have the opportunity to know Christ in the silence of a sacred space.
There will be times when we have the opportunity to know Christ in our response to the creative arts. There will be times when we know Christ in the lives and actions of people round about us.
And week by week in this place, we know Christ in the blessing and breaking of bread, in the moment when we share that which has been set aside and consecrated to provide our spiritual nourishment. Hamish, Jack and Mary, this is the faith that you are about to be baptised into. This is the promise that we as a church community make to you – we will offer opportunities for you to know Christ. We pray that you will, in time to come, find ways to respond.