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Title: Vinea Mea Electa (My chosen Vineyard)
Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor
Date: Palm Sunday 1 April 4.00pm
Readings: Psalm 80, Isaiah 5:1-7, Matthew 21:33-end
‘Beer is made by man’, said Martin Luther, the church reformer.
‘But’, he said, ‘wine is made by God’. I tend to agree.
If God makes the best wine, we might assume that God takes an interest in vineyards as well. Just imagine the vineyards that make the beautiful wine: beautiful vineyards, full of choice vines and gleaming grapes, sun-drenched vineyards which are carefully tended and cultured, the soil rich, the terroir bountiful, the land a treasure passed on from one generation to another, imagine the vineyards which produce the most fruitful wine which is both a gift and a blessing from God.
The symbolism of wine, and the vineyards that produce it, are peppered throughout the scriptures, good wine is often seen as the fulfilment of God’s promises. The prophets look towards the time when the Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on the holy mountain; a banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, refined mature wine, a gift and blessing from God.
We see that gift and blessing in the story of the wedding at Cana, when Mary pleads with her Son to fix a shortage of wine at a family wedding, and in his first miracle recorded in the Gospel of John, Jesus transforms water into the most beautiful wine, the best wine, which is to be shared as part of a banquet, a celebration, and which becomes a sign not only of Jesus divinity, but of God’s generosity and love.
Jesus also refers to himself as the vine, and his disciples as branches, and time and time again, we, his disciples of today, are encouraged to work at bearing good fruit, seeking life in all of its fullness and abundance, we too are called to be a gift and a blessing and a sign of God’s generosity and love.
On the night before he died, Jesus shared a meal with his friends, he took a cup of wine, and after giving thanks, gave it to them saying, ‘Drink this, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.’ Jesus takes this nectar from the fruits of the earth, and places it at the heart of his church.
However, this is not what we have heard in our readings this evening. The images in our readings are of ruined vineyards, vineyards which have either not produced the expected harvest, or vineyards which become a focus of malicious and selfish gain, through appalling violence.
The parable that Jesus tells us from the Gospel of Matthew, is of a landowner who owns a beautiful vineyard and lets it out to tenants. When he sends his slaves to collect the harvest they are killed. Then the landowner sends his son to collect the harvest, and this time the tenants kill him, in order to gain his inheritance. The vineyard has been ruined, it is no longer a place of plenty, but a place of terror. No good wine can come of this. There is no mention of the grapes, nor of the beautiful harvest, rotting on the vines, languishing in the sun, thereby preventing the production of the most beautiful wine that can be shared at celebrations and family meals for years to come.
The parable is of course figurative, it speaks of humanities reluctance to tend and nurture and grow and our propensity to reject that love which helps us produce the best harvest in our lives. The very gifts that can bring so much joy and that can share so much grace: we diminish, we reject and we destroy. So often the inclination of the human heart seems to be towards greed, hatred, selfishness, violence, when Jesus is always so very clearly calling us towards generosity and love. Christ comes to help us see the Father’s love for us, so why do we as human beings, so often reject it?
Today we begin our journey to the place where we learn what true generosity and true love is. We see God giving us his son, nailed to a cross, as a sign of his boundless love for the world. The cross stands there in the vineyard of our hearts, saying to us, there is another way, there is a beautiful harvest waiting for you, which will produce the very best wine.
It is there on the cross, as he waited to die, that the sour wine given to Jesus is transformed through God’s love into the most beautiful life-giving wine. The blood pouring from his side, becomes for us the new wine of the new Kingdom, shared from a cup at the banquet which celebrates the new creation, where death will lead to life, sins will be forgiven, hope will be restored and our vocation in Christ will be affirmed.
Christ comes to us, only in generosity and love, to invite us to the banquet,
where wine will flow in abundance, the best wine,
wine which is a gift and a blessing from God,
who offers us a cup, and longs for us to take a sip
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