Tenants of the Vineyard

This is my posting for tomorrow, October 2nd.


The selection of Exodus 20: 1 – 4, 7 – 9, and 12 – 20 with Matthew 21: 33 – 46 is an interesting pairing, especially in light of Paul’s comments in Philippians 3: 4 – 14 and what is happening in the world today. We all know that the parable in this Gospel reading was directed towards the Pharisees and the religious establishment of Jesus’ time. It was also Jesus’ attempt to tell his followers that His ministry would end in his crucifixion.

But should this parable also not be directed at the religious establishment, especially at those modern-day Pharisees who insist that they know what the law is and how the law should be enacted and enforced? In that regard, the connection to the Ten Commandments is two-fold.

First, our modern day Pharisees and Sadducees are waging a fight to post the Ten Commandments in various public places. While there does, I believe, need to be an understanding of how these ten statements are a part of our judicial system, does that understanding go so far as require the posting of the Ten Commandments? I think that the argument is more about the object than the meaning. And if that is the case, then the argument to put up posters of the Ten Commandments or 5,000 pound blocks of stone with the Commandments carved into them becomes a violation of the Second Commandment, “you shall have no idols.”

What is interesting is that those who would violate this commandment almost always invoke the commandment about killing “thou shall not kill” when it comes to abortion. It would not be so hypocritical except that many of those opposed to abortion do not mind keeping the death penalty and do not mind supporting the war in Iraq. But does not killing in any form end in the death of a human? How can you stop the killing of one human but allow the killing of another unless it is for political reasons. And political reasons are not the reason that God gave us the Ten Commandments. They were given in order that we could establish relationships with God and with others.

Look at the Ten Commandments again and what do you see? You see rules about one’s relationship with God and one’s relationship with their family and others. And we must also remember Jesus’ own statement, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” It seems to me those today who insist on a rigid, theocratic and legalistic view of religion fail to remember this very statement. It is the modern day Pharisees and Sadducees who seek to kill Jesus in the church, not those seeking to get in.

Even Paul, who acknowledges his own background in the law, acknowledges that Jesus’ presence changes the relationship of the Ten Commandments. He was one to enforce the rules until that day on the road to Damascus; he was the one who willingly sought to force people into a rigid adherence to the law. But he was also the first to understand that Christ was the fulfillment and the embodiment of the law. Paul is the one who takes the first steps of opening the door and bringing everyone in.

We have heard of the pastors who have denied people access to the church because of their sexual orientation. Over 160 years ago, our own United Methodist church split apart over the issue of slavery. Some members of the church felt that those who owned slaves should not be a part of the church so those who did walked out and formed their own church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. For over 100 years, the Methodist Church was divided on the simple issue of human life with neither side on the right. It was not right to own slaves but then it was also not right to say to someone that they could not come into the church because they did own slaves or became the owner of slaves through marriage or inheritance. The United Methodist Church is, I fear, on the verge of another such split with neither side correct. But what I fear that any split that results from a 20th century interpretation of human sexuality will accomplish is the destruction of the United Methodist Church. I do not believe that in 100 years, when new scientific evidence might tell us more about human sexuality, that we will bring back the shattered remnants of the church in union again.

Vineyards often times cannot be repaired after years of disrepair and neglect. We are on the verge of abandoning the vineyard because we don’t like the other people working there. We must remember that we are also tenants of the vineyard, so we should be careful that we do not point our fingers at today’s Pharisees and Sadducees; after all, they only reached those positions because we have allowed them to do so. We have allowed the rules to be made that oppress people; we have allowed people to go hungry, naked and homeless. We have not been very good tenants of the vineyard. (Adapted from “Dinner Reservations” by Roger Lovette, Christian Century, 20 September 2005)

As tenants of the vineyard, we were to take care of the vineyard and let things grow. But by adopting and allowing a rigid view of the world, we do not allow things to grow. And this is the one thing that I do not believe Jesus intended in His ministry. In his story of the ten virgins, some of them were wise but others not so. (Matthew 15: 1 – 13)

In this story, Jesus was telling us that some will make a religion out of Him. They will make a cozy haven, safe from the distractions of the world. But in doing so, these individuals will become dead Christians. It is the others who will be the living Christians, open to change, seeking the new and working to bring the world to the same.

When we freeze the word of God, when we make it impossible to grow, we only kill ourselves. Freezing the word of God, literally carving it in stone, we can justify hatred, ignorance and oppression. But if we put the word of God into our heart, we bring life to the word; if we bring Jesus into our hearts as our savior, we bring life to ourselves. In freezing the word, we put up barriers, we separate humanity from each other and we separate ourselves from God. That is not what the ministry of Jesus is about; that is not what we should be doing. (Adapted from http://www.bruderhof.com/articles/bl/PetrifiedReligion.htm)

What we need to be doing is opening the doors and letting people in, not shutting them out. We need to be fulfilling the Gospel, not ignoring it. Roger Lovette writes about a new Christian who saw the notice in the church bulletin about the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. This individual’s questions were “About this supper thing, am I invited and how much does it cost?” How shall we answer this individual? As tenants of God’s vineyard, shall we hold to our interpretation of the law or shall we rely on the fulfillment of the law in Christ?

4 thoughts on “Tenants of the Vineyard

  1. It’s completely fair not to have the Ten Commandments posted at courthouses. Given commandments like “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not bear false witness”, we wouldn’t want to make it a hostile working environment for lawyers.

  2. First, as a lawyer, I can see John knows very little about the law or lawyers. Lawyers do occasionaly steal, just like other groups, but I guarantee that stealing from your clients will get you disbarred. Also, I have found that it is lawyers excessive honesty that makes people think they are dishonest. A statement made by a lawyer must be true. Thus to the layman most lawyers statements seem to be hedged with words, like if, unless or maybe because the statement must be true in all circumstances, even if conditions change. We don’t have the luxury of making statements that might be proved false by later changes in condition. For most lawyers [but not all] their word is their bond. If a lawyer tells me they will do something, I don’t need them to put it in writing. I know they’ll do it.
    Now, as to posting the Ten Commandments. I can see your point about the “holier than you” aspect of this. We need to “post” the commandments internally in ourselves and our children and then we wouldnt need to post them in courthouses or schools.
    I was distrubed by your comments about homosexuality. You said something like advances in genetic research will change our minds or something like that. I’m presuming you mean that you think [hope] that this research will show that homosexual tendencies are inborn. I response I would say it doesn’t matter if it is shown to be genetic. All of us are genetically predisposed to sin, just different sins. Some research has seemed to show that alcoholism and violent behavior are genetic. Are drunks and wife-beaters [like homosexuals] going to be allowed to say “I’m not blame, God made me like this ? I think not. Otherwise you are saying that where a sinful condition is caused by a genetic deforminty that people afflicted with it cannot change their behavior, even with the power of the Holy Spirit behind them which leads to peace and self-control. If homosexuality turns out to have a gentic cause, it would not be sin to have a homosexual, or alcoholic or violent gene makeup. But it would be sin to act on those urges. We can’t let people who engage in sinful behavior whether it be homosexuality, alcoholism or violence join the church. When you join you agree to move on to perfection by stopping, with the help of the Holy spirit, your past sinful behavior.

  3. Part of me says that I should remove Ivan’s comment because he did not leave his identity. But it is what he believes and I will honor his thoughts. But it is interesting that he does not leave an identity so that we can see who he is. Too many people in the church often attack others and hide behind the wall of “righteousness”. Jesus attacked the hypocrites and did so in the open for all to hear and see.

    First, I think that John’s comments were meant to be taken with the tongue firmly planted in the cheek. We are aware that lawyers are supposed to be honest. But then, we are all supposed to be honest in our lives. That is one of the basic precepts of the Ten Commandments.

    It is not the use of words that force lawyers to be honest; it is the consequences of what they say and do. I have always thought the nature of legal jargon was to insure that all eventualities were covered.

    What I fear is happening is that we are going to throw out individuals just because they are homosexual, not because they are sinners. If we sin, we have no argument for sinning. But do we ban someone from the church simply because of who they are? There is a difference. Remember that people of the church used the Bible to justify slavery by saying that those who were slaves were not the same as their owners. The church found itself having to do a lot of explaining on that topic.
    The church killed people in the name of the Bible and the Bible’s inerrancy because they dared to suggest that the earth was not the center of the solar system. Yet, the evidence before us suggests otherwise.
    I am not saying that we should ignore sin; I am saying that before we cast someone out of the house of God, we better be very sure that we are doing the right thing.

  4. Pingback: Carrying the load « Thoughts From The Heart On The Left

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