Proper 22, Year A, 2014

What kind of tenant are you?

Do you punch holes in walls and let your dog mess freely on the wall to wall carpet? Or do you do your best to keep your rental property clean and without obvious damage?

The relationship between renter and tenant is a fraught one. I have had more than one friend rent out a house they’ve owned. They have trusted their property to a stranger and if that trust was betrayed by a renter ruining their home or refusing to pay rent on time, the situation got incredibly tense.

Our scripture reading today has Jesus telling the Pharisees that they were tenants who were entrusted with God’s world and they have betrayed that trust.

Jesus uses the metaphor of a vineyard here. In the life of this parable, God has planted a vineyard and entrusted it to tenants. The tenants do a fine job of taking care of the grapes, but when it comes time to give back to the landowner what he is owed, they just keep killing the messenger. They want to keep what belongs to the landowner. Jesus is making a pointed dig at the Pharisees here. The Pharisees are happy to profit from and control God’s people, but they are horrified when the people want to turn to Jesus—God himself. They don’t want to lose their positions of power. They don’t want to share.

So, what kind of tenant are we?

God has given us so much. We are surrounded by beauty. We are relatively safe. We are rich in community and property and money. We have some of the finest facilities of any church in the area.

All of this is on loan to us.

All we have belongs to God. We are on this earth for a few decades, maybe a century if we are really, really lucky and while we are on this earth God expects quite a lot from us. He expects us to tend to these gifts. He expects us to plow and plant and reap in our little corner of the kingdom of God.

You might have guessed by now that today kicks off our stewardship season this fall. We think about stewardship in terms of giving money to the church so we can pay our staff and keep our doors open, but I’d like to expand our vision.

God has given us this beautiful corner of the kingdom. As you are thinking about how can you give of your finances, your time, and your heart, I’d like you to day dream and pray about how God might be calling us to tend our vineyard.

We are so blessed that we have strong, creative, loving, hard working leaders in this church. They lead our vestry, food pantry, scholarship committee, altar guild, stewardship committee, choir, education programs, pastoral care.   Many of these leaders are feeling a call to transition out of leading these areas of ministry, feeling ready to train whoever is going to follow in their footsteps.

This can feel frightening, but this is an incredible opportunity for us to walk out in faith and follow where God leads us.

With change of leadership, comes an opportunity for God to work in new ways. We cannot predict what those ways might be. I imagine when the people of St. Paul’s got the idea to do a food pantry years ago, they could not have anticipated that one day they would serve over a hundred people a month and have an entire suite of the church dedicated to its supplies. I’m sure the very first stewardship committee, never dreamed there would be well over two hundred people in the pews every Sunday here at St. Paul’s. The first choir could not have imagined our fabulous organ or that one day the Episcopal Church would have multiple hymnals from various cultural influences. And even Audi probably could not have predicted that one day treasure time would have dozens of children gathered to hear the word of God.

God is calling several of you to step up to leadership in some of our ongoing ministries. You probably don’t even know it yet. But you are going to lead our ministries into their next decade. And leading those ministries is going to change your life. You will learn more about our community and yourself and about God’s abundance than you can imagine right now.

Of course, our vineyard doesn’t stop at Owensville Rd.

Your vineyard extends to wherever you spend your time: at Meriwether Lewis or Western. At UVA or Martha Jeff Hospital. In an office or cubicle. Your home. God tasks you to tending his grapes there, too. The people around you have been entrusted to you, whether you like them or not. Your patients, your clients, your coworkers, even your boss. Your friends, children and family. Your corner of the kingdom of God is as unique as you are. But your job is the same: to extend the loving, reconciling work of God into the world. We are the peacemakers, we are the justice bringers, we are the healers. We treat people with kindness and respect, we elevate the low and are honest to the powerful.

When I think about what it means to tend our vineyard, I think about Christian Bucks. He got some media attention last winter, so you might remember this story. Christian was a second grader who noticed some kids were left out of games at recess. Now, most kids would have just glanced at them and kept on playing. But Christian really believed everyone should belong. So Christian started what he called a “buddy bench”. If a child is feeling left out, they go sit on the buddy bench. That is the signal to other students that the child wants to play.

Christian looked around his corner of the kingdom of God and realized there were people not fully connected, not fully able to be themselves. Once he realized the problem, he came up with a creative solution and the adults around him empowered him to enact it.

I hope as we think about stewardship this year, as we think about giving back to God what is his, we may have eyes as open and minds as creative as Christian. Stewardship is not dull. Stewardship should not be painful. Stewardship is living into the radical promises God has made for us. Stewardship is participating in the building of God’s kingdom, one bench, one vineyard at a time.