This is the homily delivered by Dianne Mesh this morning. The readings which inspired it are linked below the homily, but they are not necessary to appreciate Dianne’s reflection on our times.
If my knowledge of vineyards was the determining factor, this would be a very short homily. I know vineyards produce grapes and their end product is most often wine. I know Newfoundland’s soil and climate are not conducive to grape growing. And I know the process of transformation from vine to wine is not quite the same as the one from maple tree to syrup.
While Isaiah’s choice of imagery doesn’t do much for me, I have no trouble empathizing with the vineyard owner. I expect you don’t either. After all, who hasn’t entered into a relationship, started a business or begun a ministry with eyes seeing only promise and hearts chalked full of hope?
“This is it,” we all have thought at one time of another as we surveyed our own fertile hills. “This has all the makings of a stellar success. If I pour all my love and energy into this, the end product can’t help but be awesome, absolutely awesome.”
Only sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes our eagerly anticipated crop is choked by weeds or hammered by a hurricane. Sometimes our love is abused, or it dies, or it simply isn’t returned. Sometimes the engagement does not lead to a wedding and the pregnancy does not lead to a birth.
Sometimes all our work for justice seems to lead to more conflict and division. Sometimes all our work to build up a progressive and vibrant worshipping community doesn’t get the job done. Sometimes, when we have tried so hard and done our best, the disappointment, the pain and the heartache of a “wild grapes” harvest can hurt so bad that our first instinctive response is to deny the reality of it and push it away.
More often than not, that denial results in a kind of wheel spinning, stuck-in-the-ditchness, an over and over again repeating of the same behaviour in the hope of a different result. And if we keep that up, it inevitably beats us down and wears us out until we just fade away.
Sometimes our denials take the form of a relentless and unanswerable asking of why. Of course, lots of why questions are good and necessary. Figure out why the zipper on your coat won’t work, and you can either get it fixed, get it replaced or get a new coat. But ask how a vineyard planted with only good grapes could yield only wild ones… Well, it may just be my ignorance of grape growing showing itself again, but that one seems unanswerable to me.
Seriously though, sometimes there’s no fathoming why things go the way they do. After all the love and care bestowed on the Israelites in their wilderness years, all the miraculous provision of manna, water and quails, all the carefully crafted laws designed to promote a just and peaceful society and all the festivals designed to feed the body and lift the spirit, why aren’t these people thriving? Why have the northern and southern kingdoms broken with each other? Why are some of them wealthy landowners while others are dirt poor? Why have so many things gone so terribly wrong?
Of course, many prophets, including Isaiah, had some strong views about that. They were not slow to critique the behaviour of others and to apportion blame. The prophets were not slow to point the finger and say, “This is all your fault and God is going to get you for it. Just you wait and see.”
I’m not saying they weren’t often accurate in their apportioning of blame. What I am saying is that apportioning of blame wasn’t the prophets’ only role. Their role also included feeling and expressing the deep pain, disappointment and heartache of failure. Their role also included discovering and sharing how the acceptance of uncomfortable and unwanted feelings could become a place of intimate and healing connectedness with the most holy, the most sacred, the divine.
I think that’s exactly what’s happening with Isaiah in today’s reading. “Let me sing a love song to my beloved,” he says, “to my beloved who hoped so much, who loved so much and who has been so disappointed. I need to sing because my beloved’s pain is my pain and it’s going to crush me from the inside if I don’t let it out.”
Right now, there’s a lot of disappointment, pain and heartache being denied and it’s crushing a lot of people from the inside. Disappointment, pain and heartache are everywhere. Given all that’s happening in the world, these feelings can’t help but be everywhere. They are here at Holy Trinity and, I dare to suggest, their presence is not a bad thing.
Having these feelings and allowing ourselves to fully express them is absolutely essential to being fully present to our own humanity. They are a sacred portal into the fuller Presence of God.
Denial magnifies pain. Acceptance soothes it. Denial keeps us stuck in a ditch.
Acceptance gets us back on the road. It frees us to plot a new course.
Denial separates us from our best selves, from the deepest parts of ourselves where love is always waiting to be found and kissed, sung or otherwise freed to grow, spread and soar into the very centre of our lives.
Acceptance of the difficult emotions soon releases them. (Whoever said we will feel much better after a good cry knew what they were talking about.) Acceptance of the disappointment, the pain and the heartache opens doors that take us home to our true selves and home to the Sacred Mystery that is the beating heart of all life.
So, come, let us sing a song to our beloved. Let us begin the journey home.
A reading from the prophet Isaiah (5.1-7)
5:1 Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.
5:2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
5:3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.
5:4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
5:5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
5:6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
5:7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!
A reading from the Gospel according to Matthew (21.33-46)
21:33 Jesus taught in the temple saying “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.
21:34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce.
21:35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.
21:36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way.
21:37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’
21:38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’
21:39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
21:40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
21:41 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.”
21:42 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’?
21:43 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.
21:44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
21:45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.
21:46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.