A sermon by the Rev. Linda Harrison
Proper 22 / Ordinary 27 Oct 8, 2017
Isaiah 5.1-7; Psalm 80.7-15; Philippians 3.4b-14; Matthew 21.33-46
God expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!
I can’t tell you how tired I am of standing here before you after one more horrific event with assurances of God’s love and care. Right now, I don’t want God’s tears of pain and anguish mingled with mine. I want God’s rage and anger. I want God, as the prophet warns, to devour and make waste and trample the vineyard – to rid the vineyard of sour grapes, of unrepentant elected servants, of lawmakers whose priority is staying in office by cow-towing to donors and lobbyists rather than serving the best interests of the people who entrusted them to the offices they hold.
Yeah, I am pissed. And in my anger I hear the prophets’ warnings against a corrupt and ineffective government, a government that does not consider the health and welfare of the the people over their own self-interests. I hear the warnings that a government that does not promote the flourishing of all the people and of creation because of misplaced allegiances – idolatry – will eventually contribute to the demise of the nation. The corruption of the rulers of Israel and Judah weakened the nation and left it vulnerable to attack from the outside. They turned their backs on the covenantal law of caring for the widow, the orphan, the poor, the immigrant and stranger in the land. The rulers and the officials were more concerned with personal wealth and prestige than with protecting the land or promoting the flourishing of the people.
And here we are today …
God expected justice but saw bloodshed … Las Vegas, Dallas, Orlando, San Bernardino, Colorado Springs, Roseburg (Ore), Chattanooga, Charleston, Marysville (Wash), Isla Vista (Calif), Killeen (Tex), DC, Santa Monica, Newtown, Brookfield (Wis), Minneapolis, Oak Creek (Wis), Aurora (Colo), Oakland (Calif) … this is a partial list over the past 5 years from a NY Times article … And let us not forget Tucson, Arizona, six years ago, and Blacksburg, Virginia, ten years ago.
God expected justice but saw bloodshed … Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Philando Castille, Alton Sterling, Kathryn Johnston, Sean Bell, Eric Garner, Rekia Boy, Amadou Diallo, Mike Brown, Kimani Gray, Kenneth Chamberlain, Travares McGill, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Freddie Gray … and too, too, too many more …
God expected justice but saw bloodshed …
America is a nation with a deeply troubled past: conceived in land grabs and genocide, birthed through armed conflict, and reared and raised on the backs of black and brown enslaved people. God expected justice but saw bloodshed … If we do not, as a nation, acknowledge the inconvenient truths about our origins and repent of the injustices of our beginnings, we will not move forward in righteousness. Our collective soul is in peril.
As a nation, we do indeed have much to be proud of. And that pride, in all humility, should give us the courage to face the truths of our past so that we can move forward with the better parts of our nation and ourselves.
We can be proud of advances in science and technology that add to the quality of life, in the amazing arts and literature American citizens produce, in ensuring marriage equality, how communities continue to come together to help and support one another after tragedies … We see God in the midst of all of this and we can be grateful for the good work in our vineyard and at the same time we must not be blinded to the truth of our origins. Even in the midst of good fruit, sour grapes and rotten produce can appear.
It will continue to escalate if we do not, in humility, address the original sin of our nation. I used to think the US would benefit from a sort of Truth and Reconciliation Commission – akin to that of South Africa – to address the hurts and schism that remained after the Civil War. I now believe we must go further back in our history. Our hurts and fears and distrust of one another run much deeper than unresolved issues of the Civil War. It is but a symptom of a virus that affects our collective consciousness; it runs deep in our spiritual DNA.
I am not advocating for a theocracy, but as people of faith, we can and must move the conversation farther and deeper along the lines of repentance, reconciliation, and forgiveness of our violent national origins. To acknowledge our pained and violent beginnings is the first step. I am heartened by the number of communities that now focus on Indigenous Persons on what was once a day that celebrated the beginning of colonialism and genocide. I know this is far from a popular take on the holiday some call Columbus Day. Honesty and truth are often not popular … at least at first.
The prophet calls for a good and bountiful harvest: one of justice and righteousness, of mercy and compassion. Jesus calls for good stewards in the vineyard to produce that bounty – guess who the stewards are. According to the words Matthew puts in the mouth of Jesus, Jesus sounds quite violent. No matter how distressing and unnerving that sounds today in light of recent and continued violence, we must look at the entirety of the gospel, and all the gospels. Jesus’ actions are very different from the words Matthew records. Jesus welcomes discourse. Jesus does not bar anyone from the Dominion of Heaven. Jesus does not fence the table or deny access to anyone. Jesus does not return violence with violence. Jesus continues to speak the truth and call out injustice in the face of death threats.
Jesus’ truth telling was far from popular. It got him crucified. And, counter-intuitively, therein lies my hope, and I pray, yours as well. Therein lies the salve to soothe my anger and my rage … and my fear. Because the crucifixion was not the last word – there is Resurrection and therein lies the strength and courage to continue one more blessed day, to guide me to speak and act against the evil in our society. Therein lies my resolve to work and care for the Dominion of Heaven, to persist in resisting elected servants who continually work against the interests of the vineyard, who blatantly ignore and even undermine the flourishing of humanity and creation.
Therein lies our conviction to answer the call to be the good stewards in the vineyard, to be the leaders for the Dominion of Heaven that those in our government refuse to be. Because, at the end of the day, we put our faith and our hope in the resurrected Christ … in the One who took our very worst, the very worst of our intent, our violence, and our evil, and turned it into God’s very best. Humanity attempted to kill God’s love on the cross, but God’s love cannot die. And therein lies the strength of our convictions to be good workers and stewards in the vineyard, to tirelessly work for justice and righteous … our conviction lies in the Resurrection that assures us that Divine Promises cannot be dismissed or denied, that human hate will not triumph, and that Love cannot be destroyed – not even by death.
Blessed be God forever. Amen.