[Jesus said:] 33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress 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 Jesus, “The owner 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 dominion of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of it. 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 the people regarded him as a prophet.
Please pray with me this morning, church:
God of Love,
Open our hearts this morning.
Break them open and begin to heal us.
Make us instruments of your peace.
Instruments of your love.
Instruments of your justice.
Make us bold to begin helping
To heal and repair our fractured world.
I know we have a good number of folks not on Facebook…and quite honestly, good for you…I’m…close to being done with it…I think…but it’s one way that we as a faith community connect, so I hang around…
Anyway, I know a number of you aren’t on Facebook, so if you’ll just indulge me for a minute. Facebook does this thing, where they show you a digest of every status you posted and, like, your interactions with folks each day, going back, like, however long you’ve been on Facebook. It’s a really interesting snapshot into who you are…the type of person you were…it’s interesting to be able to visibly trace your progression from who you used to be to who you are now…
Anyway, this past week I was reminded that it was 4 years ago that I began my call here at New Hope.
In some ways, it feels like it was barely 4 weeks ago…
In a lot of other ways, it feels 14…or 40 years…
We’ve been through a lot in 4 years…as a church, as a people, as a country, as a city… Just to remind you, as if you could forget…elections, wildfires, hurricanes, World Series championships (although as a Rangers fan, can I just offer my own little asterisk on that so-called “Championship”)…a global pandemic, economic and racial inequality, struggles and fights for justice…
It’s been a lot…
When I talk with my friends and mentors who are older than me, who have been serving in the parish for longer than I have, and a number of whom are retired…the refrain always comes up, “Man…it’s a tough time to be a pastor. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a more difficult time to be the pastor of a congregation.” Most of the retired pastors say something like, “Well, I’m just glad I’m retired… I wouldn’t want to be a pastor in a time like this…”
And what they mean is that, between everything I just mentioned, amid everything that’s going on, somehow we’ve drifted farther apart from one another, rather than being drawn in closer together. Even in the moments that naturally serve to unite us and draw us together—sports victories, disasters, and crises, opportunities to help—even those, seem to be more fleeting than usual. And it isn’t long before we’ve gone back to our various camps. Shouting at one another from across a canyon that we can’t even see the other side of.
Somehow it’s become more preferable for us to cut one another out from relationships, rather than seeking to engage in meaningful dialogue over our disagreements.
Somehow it’s become more preferable to us to shout down, beat up, and kill the ones who are sent to us, even the vineyard owner’s own son, rather than tend the vineyard God has given us to take care of…rather than do the difficult work needed.
Back to Isaiah: God expected justice, but saw bloodshed. God expected righteousness, but heard a cry.
Today, October 4, is the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi.
And we’re commemorating this in a few different ways this morning.
Francis was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone to wealthy parents. And he lived a very wealthy lifestyle. Francis wanted for nothing. His parents lavished love and gifts on him and his siblings. Francis’ life was charmed. But Francis grew disillusioned with this lifestyle and with wealthy people in general, including his parents. He started doing odd things like giving poor beggars every bit of gold in his pockets, begging for alms to give to the sick, selling all of his father’s cloth to give the proceeds to churches in need of repair.
Francis eventually renounced his father and his family and his inheritance, and became a penitent, living the life of a beggar, giving whatever money he was given to the sick, to the lepers, and to the restoration of churches.
It’s said that one of Francis’ conversions came in a small chapel in San Damiano where he heard the crucified Christ plead with him, “Francis…go and repair my house.”
At the time, Francis interpreted this to mean the chapel in which he was standing, but as his life would bear out, Francis was being called to a deeper kind of reparation…a more holistic and encompassing view of the repairs needed. As the prophet Isaiah calls it, “A repairer of the breach.”
A bridge across a canyon.
If you haven’t been to my office, you wouldn’t know this, but across the room from my desk, on the opposite wall, I have a bunch of icons hanging. They’re arranged around a cross and they’re a helpful focal point for me in my workspace. There are a couple of icons of Christ, one of the Trinity, one of Wisdom and her daughters, Mary and Child…and one of the icons on my wall is of St. Francis. It was given to me by a very good friend and mentor at my ordination. He said it seemed like the icon fit me.
The icon shows St. Francis, with a dilapidated fresco of Christ in the background, with the words, “Francis…go and repair my house.”
I love this icon.
I don’t consider myself to be Francis. By any stretch.
But in my best ideas about myself…I do hear echoes of Christ’s call to Francis…as my own—“Repair my house.”
Repair my church.
Repair what has been ripped down.
Build up what has been torn asunder.
Repair the breach.
Heal what has been tattered.
Build bridges amidst these canyons.
It’s what I try and do. Every day.
Every bit of my ministry.
We’ve never been more divided. It’s an incredibly big ask.
And yet, this is our call, church.
This is what following Jesus means. This is what it is to call oneself a Christian.
To reject divisiveness. To condemn ideologies that drive us apart. To speak out against all the evil, the demonic, and the anti-Christ messages and rhetoric that drive us even further apart.
It’s not to bury our heads in the sand and pretend as if these things don’t exist. They do exist, and it is our call as disciples of Jesus Christ to do everything we can to work to overcome them.
We typically honor St. Francis in our churches with pet blessings and things like that because Francis has come to be associated with his care for nature and the natural world. But in his life, Francis was much more demonstrative in his work with the poor. The outcast, the sick, those with leprosy, the ones who couldn’t put food on the table…the ostracized and the marginalized.
I suppose those folks don’t make for very cute Sunday School lessons……but what if they did…?
What if, like, Francis, we gathered around us the poor, the hurting, the food and housing insecure, the ones who have been told there isn’t a place for them in church because of who they are or who they love? What if we sought to bind up the broken, bring together those who have been cast aside, and the ones who the world doesn’t think very much of?
Might we just start to build those bridges across these canyons?
I think…I think, we just might find…that as we do the work of drawing those together…that we might also be drawn together ourselves.
We know how to do this. Actually, here at New Hope, there are times where we can be really good at it. Our week to host Family Promise starts today. A sign up went out earlier this week to sign up to bring hot meals to the Day Center. It was full in less than 4 hours.
We heard that Armstrong Elementary needed headphones for their students who were learning on campus. In one afternoon, we had a plan together for how we were going to supply the headphones they needed and ask you to help us offset the cost.
We didn’t do these things. The staff didn’t do them.
You did, church. You did.
You know what to do.
This past Wednesday, in Confirmation, we started talking about Lutheran history and we started in on the Reformation. And we talked about things we saw that needed changing or fixing, like Luther saw with the church. And friends, if you think our young people aren’t seeing what’s going on…if you think our young ones don’t see and hear the division and vitriol and ugliness…you’re dead wrong.
We talked about what needs to be fixed and reformed. And we talked about their ideas about how to do that. And I think they’re pretty spot on.
“How would you go about solving this problem of deep divisions?” I asked.
“No really…if it were you, what would you tell people as you tried to solve this problem?”
“Like…just be nice,” someone said.
“Actually act like Jesus tells us,” said another.
“Don’t be an idiot,” someone else said.
Don’t be an idiot, church.
Live like Jesus is calling you to live.
Reject these ways of division.
Don’t lean into them…actively work against them.
Bridge these canyons.
Repair God’s world.
I want to leave you with a traditional Franciscan Benediction. We’ve actually used this Benediction before in worship, but…
Receive this Benediction:
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers,
half-truths, and superficial relationships
so that you may seek truth and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice,
oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you may tirelessly hope and work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in this world,
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.
In the name of the Father, the Son, ☩ and the Holy Spirit.