Where’s the harvest? Matthew 21:33-46 by Revd Alex Pease

Where’s the Harvest?

33 “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. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 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.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 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.”
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’?
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. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

This talk can be heard here or the transcript follows:

Harvest is always a wonderful time. A huge amount of work for the farmers and gardeners.

When harvesting at our house in Kilmeston, I used to enjoy stringing the onions together, hanging them up in the kitchen, collecting the courgettes before they became marrows, all of which I had sowed myself; but also we used to gather vast quantities of plums and sloes for plum and sloe gin from trees and shrubs, which we inherited when we bought the house.

In our different ways, we all experience the reality of harvest, if we live in the countryside and so the parable we have just heard has an immediate resonance for us.

Jesus tells of a landowner, who has developed a vineyard put in all the things that are needed for a fruitful vineyard for a bountiful harvest.

He has planted the seed, built a wall to protect from wild animals, erected a watchtower to keep away thieves and dug a winepress for the produce. He has got it all ready, done most of the work really, and then he lets it out to tenants to tend the vines and to collect the fruit for him at harvest.

So not unreasonably, when harvest comes, he sends his servants to collect the fruit. They ask of the tenants ‘where’s the harvest?’

But, astonishingly, the tenants just beat up the servants and even kill one of them, because they don’t want to be asked the question. They want to keep the harvest for themselves….so the landlord sends more servants – same result.

Then, eventually, he sends his son ‘they will respect my son..’ he thinks.

Perhaps the tenants guess that the landlord has died and that if they kill the son that they will get the vineyard on the basis of possession being nine tenths of the law.

‘It’s ours’ they think ‘not his’.

So they kill him.

The fury of the landlord knows no limits. But most importantly the landlord decides to chuck out the tenants and give the vineyard to others.

The parable is clearly a statement by Jesus about the Israel of his day. The vineyard is Israel, the tenants are the chief priests and Pharisees and the servants are the prophets the son is Jesus himself. And it is not really surprising that the authorities wanted to arrest Jesus after he tells this story.

But I believe it is also a parable which speaks to us today.

The whole idea of agriculture is that it is done for others. There is always more produce than the farmer can possibly consume himself and even more produce than the gardener can consume himself.

When we were hunter gatherers on the plains, we searched and killed for food just for ourselves or for our family. But when we became farmers, the few started to provide food for the many.

And its the same with Christianity. Farming is a good metaphor for Christianity because spiritually this is what we are meant to be doing too – the few providing spiritual food for the many.

Not keeping it for ourselves, but constantly encouraging those on the outside into our church community into a relationship with Christ.

We have been given, like the vineyard in the parable, we have been given, a church here in Itchen Valley. We only have it temporarily, during our short lives, we are tenants. We have received it from previous generations. But there is no particular reason why it should survive into another generation.

As former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey has said ‘Christianity is always one generation away from extinction’. Will it survive for another generation? Or will the vineyard that we enjoy be given to others? Muslims perhaps….

I don’t know if you have been to Istanbul there the basilica mosque of Haza Sophia has a huge Byzantine mural of Jesus. It has been a mosque for 500 years. But before that for 1000 years it was the cathedral of St Sophia.

Just because a place used to be a centre of Christian worship doesn’t mean that it will always be one.

Are each of us sure that we are doing in our generation whatever we can do to ensure that there will be a Christian community in this valley for the next generation? Because I am not sure whether I am…

How would we answer the question ‘where’s the harvest?’

A the moment, I don’t know how to answer that question were a visitor to ask me.

This is something which weighs heavily on me and perhaps on some of you as well.

As most of you I think know, our Parish Communion service is in decline, we are losing on average three people every year from regular attendance at that service which is only 30. If this continues, in a short 10 years no-one will be attending at all!

Are we going to see the end of Christian worship in Itchen Valley on our watch – in our generation?

Archbishop John Sentamu says that we must ‘evangelise or fossilise’

So we are trying new things, our new Valley Worship next Sunday is an attempt to attract a new generation of younger adults into more regular worship, we hope it will work, but it may not…

Its not going to attract everyone but it is aimed at those who don’t attend at the moment. We need your encouragement, as we try to innovate. We hugely appreciate those of you who attend the All Age Worship to support us even when its out of your comfort zone.

But ultimately there is no substitute for the hard slog of talking to people about Jesus and if it is only Amanda, Gerry and I who do this then the church will not survive…

I think when we think of evangelism when we think about telling people about Jesus, we tend to look at the floor. We assume that this will involve us starting from scratch, trying to bully people for whom life is just rosy that they really need to come to church when they don’t want to….

But its not like that at all. We see from this parable that actually the Lord has done the hard work in the hearts already of anyone he expects us to bring to know him.

He has already built the vineyard, sown the seed, the circumstances are right for a bountiful harvest. All we have to do is to tend the fruit and gather it in.

And that means no more for us than getting to know our neighbours and trying to meet them at their place of need.

I wonder whether we are as good about this as we used to be. Stories of Fiona Parry knowing everyone in Couch Green, for example, continue to abound. Of course many of you are so good at welcoming new people that is just fantastic. And only on Thursday one of you pointed out a couple that I should go and see who I don’t know but who have lived here for years.

But perhaps as well we need to be more deliberate about meeting groups of people who could be the future, the young mums and dads, as well as the retired; those who fit our social profile and those who do not.

That was the great thing about the Who Cares survey meeting people whom I am embarrassed to admit, I had never even seen before, even though I have been here for five years.

But finding that place of need in the community and then giving some time to meeting that need is the way to go. Its a good starting point for bringing them into a relationship with Jesus. Maybe its helping with children in some way; maybe its visiting the lonely; maybe running a course, like the parenting course, its so easy…it just takes a bit of time

We would love to have someone doing that….please do step forward if that would interest you.

Look we don’t have to solve anyone’s problems for them but what a lot of people want is someone to accompany them as they struggle their way through life.

But always it will involve praying that we will be asked questions and being ready to answer them ‘why are you helping me?’ ‘Why are you doing this for me?’ Its all in 1 Peter 3:16, we need to be ready ‘to give an answer for the hope that we have in our lives’.

From time to time, God will send one or two of his servants to check on the produce, on the harvest. They might be visitors, lay people or ordained, bishops or former missionaries, who knows? People just passing through.

But they will ask us, you and me as the landowner’s servants asked the tenants ‘where’s the harvest?’

How are we going to respond to those servants? Can we show a bountiful harvest? Can we show lots of people, or actually anyone at all, whom we have brought into our church family?

Or are we going to seek to keep the produce of the vineyard: the relationship with God that we have which makes a difference to us; are we going to keep it all for ourselves?

Are we making the effort, are we crossing the road, as it were, to get to know those on the other side of the community, that part of the community which does not join us in worship; do they know that we would welcome them; do they actually know us at all? Will we be ready for the question when it comes: ‘where’s the harvest?’

 

Amen

 

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