Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Other Tenants

2 October 2011/Proper 22A – Exodus 20:1-20/Philippians 3:4b-14/Matthew 21:33-46
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, MD
Do Not Let God Speak To Us!
This is what the people say to Moses after delivery of the 10 Commandments. It is pretty much what the chief priests and Pharisees are saying to one another after Jesus announces that the vineyard of the Lord will be let out to “other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” Do not let God speak to us. After which we say, “The word of the Lord,” “Thanks be to God.”

It gets kind of familiar, our response to this stuff. Almost glib. “Thanks be to God.” Are we all that thankful to hear this parable? To be reminded that we are to have no idols, that we are not to covet, that we are to give God the produce at the harvest time. After all, we are the “other tenants.” Just how eager are we to give God “the produce at the harvest”? In the matter of six or seven weeks we will find out.

In the meantime, there is Paul who continues to describe for us, week after week, what it means to be a tenant in God’s vineyard. And as George Harrison put it so well, “You know it don’t come easy!” (It Don’t Come Easy)

Paul writes to the Philippians as a prisoner of Rome, his previous employer, as he points out, while he was still a “persecutor of the church.” He is a prisoner because of his complete turn-around as an apostle of Jesus Christ – that is, one who is sent to spread the Good News – which would be, or to wit, that even one who was as far gone as Paul, one who stood by and watched as other Christ followers were stoned and otherwise put to death at his command, even Paul discovered that he was loved by God despite all that he was and all that he had done.

Now for those of us who, as one observer has put it, want our spiritual journey to more closely resemble a trip to the corner store than an epic journey or a lifetime spent in and out of jail on account of our zeal for Jesus, this all comes as a bit of a shock. Becoming a Christ follower like Paul comes at great expense – and yet Paul makes it abundantly clear, it is all more than worth it once we are able to put all the covetousness and idolatry behind us, just as God had asked us to do all the way back at the very beginning of our story (Exodus 20).

Philippians is perhaps the most sublime of all Christian texts, and one with which we are perhaps the least familiar. Last week it included what many consider the oldest Christian Hymn:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ
Who, though he was in the form of God
Did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped
But emptied himself
Taking the form of a servant
Being born in human likeness
And being found in human form
He humbled himself and became obedient unto death
Even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)

As always, I find myself intrigued by what is not in our portion for today – for after giving us deep insight into the mind of Christ in chapter 2, the very next verse after our portion begins, “Let those of us who are mature be of the same mind…” (Philippians 3:15a) What falls in between, the balance of chapters 2 and 3, are some examples of what it means to have the mind of Christ, and a constant refrain, “ Rejoice with me(2:18)…Rejoice in the Lord(3:1)…Rejoice in the Lord, always; and again I say, Rejoice!(4:4)” Strange imperative from one who is imprisoned, is it not?

So we have God’s ten principles we are to obey. We have the example of God in Christ humbly being obedient. We have Paul humbled, blinded, brought to his knees to learn just what being obedient really looks like. In the missing verses (2:25-30) there is an example of just how the Philippians have embodied the Good News by sending one of their own to be with Paul in prison, Epaphroditus, to bring Paul nourishment and companionship. If someone did not visit you in Roman prisons, even under house arrest, little was provided for you by the Romans themselves. Evidently Epaphroditus became ill and nearly died serving Paul. So Paul, once Epaphroditus is feeling well enough to travel, sends him back to Philippi, perhaps to carry this letter, and the news that Paul was still alive, well, filled with joy and purpose!

The takeaway from all of this: Christ Followers live for others because an Other lived and died for us. But it gets better – Paul writes, “For his [Christ’s] sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him….I want to know Christ and the power of his Resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in death, if somehow I may attain the Resurrection of the dead…I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ.” Rubbish! How much are we willing to consign to rubbish!

At the heart of Paul’s appeal is letting go of everything – emptying himself, resulting in a sense of hope and joy that cannot be equaled. Evidently adopting the humility of Christ results in a joy and hope more abundant than all our idols and covetousness can promise.

So here we are – the “other tenants” of God’s vineyard. The Philippians heard God’s word and life changed completely. The contrast is clear: Rejoice like Paul, or shout out, “Do not let God speak to us!” when we hear the expectations for life lived with God.

The harvest time is upon us. Have we become those “other tenants” who give God the produce?
Or are we still like the old tenants keeping it all for ourselves? Only time will tell. Amen.

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