The Parable of the Wicked Tenants
Scugog Island United Church
October 4th, 2020
Welcome, Announcements and Opening Prayer:
First Hymn: All Things Bright and Beautiful
Second Hymn: The Church's One Foundation
Pastoral Prayer and Lord's Prayer:
Third Hymn: What a Friend we Have in Jesus
Offering and Blessing:
Closing Song: Go Now in Peace
Sung by Avondale United Church choir during this time of self isolation
Text of Today's Service:
Hello. My name is Ned Wells and I am the minister at Scugog Island United Church. Our in person service was cancelled after serious reflection on the number of new cases we have seen this week. This decision was not an easy one to make, but it was made with the desire to keep the congregation safe. Our hope is that we can be back in the church for the Advent and Christmas services.
Orange Shirt Day was September 30th
Bible Study. I’d like to start an online bible study as a way to keep connected with others if you are interested please let me know.
Annual Meeting We were hoping to have our Annual Meeting in October, but it has been Postponed
Operation Scugog Foodbank
There are a few changes from past years for safety’s sake:
Asking for donations of cash or gift cards to local businesses or cheques made out to Operation Scugog Foodbank
Families will be doing their own shopping, so donations need to be collected by the first week of November
More information will be shared over the next few weeks
This Prayer of Discernment is by the theologian and priest, Rev. Thomas Merton.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going I do not see the road ahead of me I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you and I hope I have that desire in all I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me on the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, will I trust you always. Though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my struggles alone. Amen.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 21: 33-46
“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.
The reading today is a tough one. It seems more appropriate for Lent or Holy Week than in this season after Pentecost. It takes place in the Temple after Jesus had made the processional entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus has challenged the authority of the chief priests and the scribes. So in turn they question his authority and attempt to silence and undermine him. But Jesus is able to overcome their attempts to silence him and he continues to share his message about the kingdom.
When I read this parable and I see a cycle of escalating violence. The tenants attempt to get what they want through violence. The parable ends with the consequences of that violence, the landowner will put them to death and replace them with new tenants. But would that act of violence solve anything? Does it address whatever root issues caused the first tenants to refuse to pay? And what’s to stop the next tenants from doing the same or worse when they see how violent the landowner can be? Any family or friends of those tenants first tenants might be brought into the next conflict against the landowner. The cycle of violence would continue, causing harm for future generations. This would mirror the reality of Jesus’ day. Where popular uprisings were common, but the Roman army was quick to put them down. The Romans sought to achieve peace through violence. We have seen how this plays out in our world. In trying to secure peace through violence, the seeds of the next conflict are planted.
Today I am conscious of another cycle of violence and harm. On Wednesday September 30th it was orange shirt day. A day to stand with Residential School survivors and remember the children who were taken to the schools, but never came home. The purpose of the residential schools was assimilation. This meant separating Indigenous children from their families and teaching them to disregard the history, culture, beliefs, and values that they grew up with. They were also forbidden to speak their own language. Many children returned home unable to speak with their parents, siblings, or others in the community. The consequence of this was that generations of Indigenous People grew up without the strong connection to their family and community. There is so much we learn from our families and communities that is never taught in school. It’s hard to imagine the scale of what was lost by taking the children from their homes. In addition to this the abuses and the trauma that many experienced was something they lived with their whole lives. The harm done to them, continued to cause harm for the next generation when they started having families.
In my last year of my undergraduate at Trent University I took several Indigenous Studies courses. I also started attending a weekly Visiting Elder series on the campus where Indigenous People from across Canada would come to teach and talk with students. I found in the stories, conversations, and teachings from the different elders something that filled my spirit and gave me more energy for the week. Learning from those elders each week helped me get through a difficult year. I remember how at the time I thought my experience listening to the elders wasn’t all that different from experiences I have had of being spiritually nourished in the church. That realization was accompanied by a feeling of sadness as I learned about the efforts the government and churches made to erase Indigenous culture, spiritual practices, and languages. I was shocked by just how much of what I was learning about was outlawed in the past.
At the regional meeting this past Sunday there was a special learning event to reflect on the 5 year anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions report. We were fortunate that Senator Murray Sinclair who chaired the commission was one of the speakers. When asked about what the next steps for reconciliation are he said,
The question of what is it we can do is one that I get asked a lot. You need to be aware of all of this. You need to inform yourself. You need to ensure you have a grasp of why this happened, so that you can ensure it doesn’t happen again. And you need to ensure you have a grasp of the consequences of it so you can figure out where in those consequences you might have a role to play.
He explained that for a therapist to be an effective support for Indigenous Peoples they need to have an understanding of the history of residential schools, the history of colonialism, and the consequences these have had on the lives and mental state of Indigenous Peoples. Likewise a teacher needs to know this history and the impact it has had and bring that into their teaching for Indigenous and Non Indigenous children to create shared understanding of the history that they can work from together. An athlete like Canadian Olympic cyclist and speed skater, Clara Hughes used her skills and her platform to advocate for mental health awareness and has done a lot to support youth in Indigenous communities. As a minister I am aware of the church’s role in the residential schools and work to educate myself to fully understand the consequences of the church’s action so that I can be part of the healing.
The calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission include calls to action for the church, which gives a roadmap for how we can work toward reconciliation. To summarize, Senator Sinclair’s advice was, “Know the history, understand the consequences, find your place in those consequences and then make the decision to work for the healing.”
Let’s return to the parable. I commented that in it I saw a cycle of escalating violence. With the tenants meeting a harsh end. But it isn’t Jesus who says the landowner will return and put the tenants to death. It is the priests and scribes who say this when Jesus asks them, “when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”. What Jesus says in response to their answer is a bit confusing. He talks about the stone the builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone. He talks about the kingdom of God being taken away from them and given to a people who produce the fruits of the kingdom.
What Jesus is saying is not so much about punishment, as it is about restorative justice. He acknowledges that rejecting the cornerstone has consequences. It makes the building unstable and puts people at risk. So Jesus does the work of lifting up those who are rejected just as he was rejected. Jesus’ ministry was about going out to those rejected people. He called his followers to do the same. He told them that they should give clothes to the naked, give food and water to the hungry and thirsty, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner because “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Our call is to lift up those who the world rejects. In doing so we are putting the cornerstone back in place.
Doing this is also how we produce fruits of the kingdom. We can look back to Jesus’ sermon on the mount to learn about the fruits of the kingdom. Jesus proclaimed, blessed are the poor, the mourning, the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. The merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are all blessed and receive the kingdom of God. Jesus’ message to all of us who follow him is, You are called to be The Salt of the Earth, and the Light of the World. Just as salt brings out the flavours the food, just as light makes it possible to see the world around us, You bring out God’s blessings in the world. You help people to see God’s presence in their lives.
Jesus said to the Priests and the Scribes “the kingdom will be taken from you and given to those who produce fruits.” The Kingdom is given to those who produce fruits of the kingdom. This isn’t a punishment, but rather a fact that the kingdom doesn’t belong to anyone by virtue of their authority, or status. The kingdom belongs to those who live it. So let us live in a way that produces the fruits of the kingdom. Let us lift up those who are rejected so that the cornerstone might be secure. Let us end the cycles of violence and harm, by loving others just as we have been loved. Amen.
We begin our prayer by lifting up those on our prayer list and all the people we are holding in our hearts:
Doris Lynn and Bob Homji, John and Diane Findlay, Todd Green, Susie Baird and family, Gilford Pfrimmer, Brenda Stowell-Smith, Nancy and Don Scarrow, Debbie McIntyre, Anne Chillingworth, Linda Brunton, John Black
In our prayers, let us give thanks for the gifts of God, and pray for those who work in God’s vineyard, saying: we give you thanks, blessed Spirit.
For the bounty of the earth, for the goodness within the human heart, for power to change and the will to learn let us give thanks: we give you thanks, blessed Spirit.
For all those who work for healing, for people in the caring ministries, for ecologists and researchers, for pastoral care workers and friends, for the hands of Christ in the world, for others we may wish to name… let us give thanks: we give you thanks, blessed Spirit.
For all those who learn and teach, for apprentices and supervisiors, for students and resource people, for program directors and camp leaders, for schools and educators, for wisdom and knowledge and guidance, let us give thanks: we give you thanks, blessed spirit.
For those who struggle for liberation and justice, for the wintess of base communities, for those who risk their lives for others, for those who work for human rights, for those who speak truth on behalf of the oppressed, let us give thanks: we give you thanks, blessed Spirit. Amen.
Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory. For ever and ever. Amen.
In our services we collect an offering. Our offering isn’t just the donations that people generously make to the church. The offering is about all the different ways that people share the gifts they have for the sake of others. It might be the time and effort that volunteers put in or the music for the services. Thank you for sharing your gifts in what ever way you feel called to share them.
· Operation Scugog Foodbank
· Mission and Service
· Scugog Island United Church
· Or any other way you feel called to offer the gifts you have.
Let us pray:
We bring our gifts to you, God. Here is the work of our hands, and here is the work of our hearts. Accept them and use them, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
May God bless you and keep you. May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May God look upon you with kindness and give you peace. Amen.
photo "Vineyard" Media from Wix.
Opening prayer by Thomas Merton.
Pastoral Prayer from Celebrate God's Presence: A Book of Services for The United Church of Canada. (c) 2000 The United Church Publishing House. All Rights Reserved. All materials, except those otherwise marked, may be freely copied for use in public worship in The United Church of Canada.