The worship service was cancelled because the church was without power. The written sermon is below.
New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
5 I will sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2 He dug it and cleared it of stones and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded rotten grapes.
3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield rotten grapes?
5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6 I will make it a wasteland; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his cherished garden; he expected justice but saw bloodshed; righteousness but heard a cry!
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 away. 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 Then 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 its fruits. 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.
Living Psalm 19
The heavens are telling the glory of the Great Spirit; and the firmament proclaims their handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the ends of creation.
The aurora borealis are dancing to the glory of Creator, and the vault of sky truth talks the story of their workmanship.
Time after time speech flows forth, and nightly tells of good teachings.
Our people do not hear, no words or wisdoms are uttered, yet they cover Mother Earth and to the bounds of the universe.
In the firmament Great Spirit has set a tepee for the sun which emerges as a brave from his canopy of celebration, as a warrior runs its path with a grateful heart.
Its ascending is from boundaries of space and the trail home is the destination and nothing is separated from its warmth.
The teachings of Creator are flawless
Refreshing the spirit;
The wisdoms of the Teacher are unquestionable,
Making clear truths;
The rules of the Maker are just
Making the heart sing.
The commands of the Holy One are right
And show us a good path
Our awe of Creator is true
Unending for all time.
More to be cherished than the finest furs even beaver and mink
More delicious than spring’s maple syrup and sap dripping.
As well, your children learn that following the good path is fulfilling.
Who can see their own mistakes and internal wounds?
Wash us clean from wrongs we have done.
Keep your people on guard from disrespectful persons
And don’t allow them to be over us.
Then we will be open handed and free of wrongdoings.
May the words that I speak and the dreams of my heart
Find favour with you, O Creator, my lodge and my liberator.
Reverend Nancy Best Golden Feather Woman
September 25, 2023
Tomorrow, while much of the country celebrates Columbus Day, Maine celebrates Indigenous Persons Day, so it is fitting that we included this Living Psalm written by Reverend Nancy Best Golden Feather Woman.
We would be wise to learn from the Indigenous people that have known this land so long and so well. We would be wise to re-learn the history of this nation. Not how history was written by settlers and colonizers, but the truths of what really happened on these lands. We would be wise to learn, if we do not already know, our own family histories, the histories of where our ancestors lived before they came to North America, how they got here, why they left their mother land. We would be wise to learn about where we were born, who lived there before we did, and to learn the histories of where we now live.
We would be wise to humble ourselves and to learn what our ancestors knew; how to listen to the voiceless, wordless, communications emanating from our Mother Earth. Listen to the earth, the sea, the sky, and all of their inhabitants.
One theme that runs through all three of our scripture passages today is “finding God in unexpected places.” My hope for our present and our future is that we return to our ancestral past. My hope is that we let our bodies remember what they already know. Our bodies expect to find God everywhere. We can re-learn how to feel God all around us, how to connect with and stay connected to all that is God.
On Friday of this past week, I was invited by a colleague to step outdoors and find a teacher with which to spend 20 minutes. Some may find that a bit odd or eccentric but I eagerly approached the assignment. I stepped out of our Fellowship Hall doors, took a breath, looked around, and ventured behind the church expecting to sit with a tree for a while. Instead, my gaze was drawn to a white flower growing beneath the shelter of the oaks.
Here is what I learned in twenty contemplative minutes spent with my friend, the white daisy …
Live your life as a prayer
Be fed from soil and sun
Take no more than necessary to survive
Be who you are, wherever you are
Reach up and reach out
Be a gift to the world
Spending time with this daisy was an incredible, unexpected gift in my day. I share it with you in hopes that you go find your own teacher in the natural world. Step into your yard or go to a park or a woodland trail and be still, listening, looking, touching, smelling, tasting if you are so inclined. And please, let me know what you learn, and who you learn from.
The twenty minutes I spent sitting quietly and paying attention are an example of God and human at their best. In right relationship. It is much of what I heard in the Living Psalm that I chose for us this morning.
What do the prophet Isaiah or the words of Matthew’s gospel have to teach us this day? The same life lessons that were learned thousands of years ago… how can they possibly still be relevant for us today? Perhaps studying these scriptures will enable us to see that we are not really as advanced as we think we are. All of our fancy technology aside, our human nature remains unchanged.
Our Isaiah and Matthew texts both employ parables, simple stories used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, often through a “gotcha” surprise twist, upending what we think we know to be true, through traps laid so that guilty parties will condemn themselves unknowingly while condemning others.
In Isaiah, the scripture about a vineyard yielding rotten grapes is really about the people of Israel and their disappointing, rotten behavior. We can see the faults of the Israelites, always warring and losing sight of God in their midst. In Matthew, our lesson begins with the same parable and then builds on it. We can easily see the hypocrisy of the chief priests and the pharisees, putting themselves above the law that they were meant to keep sacred. We can and do gain insights and learn from the mistakes of our ancestors.
One of my favorite bits of dialogue is from “Desert Hearts” a movie that was set in 1950’s Reno, Nevada. Sitting at a casino bar, the antagonist says something like, “From where I sit you are way out of line.” The protagonist responds deadpan, “Change your seat.”
Which seat are we in? It makes all the difference in how we interpret the parable. Many of us came to live on these lands because our ancestors were no longer welcome in their mother land due to religious persecution or because they could no longer survive due to famine.
When they changed locations, they also changed their seats. They went from persecuted to persecutor. Can we be honest with ourselves and accept that we are not the ones wronged in the parables but that we are the ones perpetrating the wrong?
The parables are always speaking against the dominant culture, to those with power and privilege.
We are fools if we don’t think this applies to us. But the good news? God always forgives. God always allows for redemption. There is hope for us all. Through accountability. Through atonement. Through relationship building.
These parables do not end with condemnation and destruction but with divine mercy. The Israelites are forgiven in Isaiah. The patterns in our scriptures suggest that the temple authorities, too, will be mercifully embraced in the end, invited and empowered to yield good grapes in the future. This is Matthew’s thinly veiled parable of the entire passion narrative, itself is a version of just this kind of inclusive, merciful, dazzling reversal: human beings betray and deny and desert and bear responsibility for the murder of God’s Child — and yet God forgives us, and even gracefully, mind-bogglingly incorporates our attempts to “reject” God into the larger story of divine mercy and redemption! What can we say except “it is amazing in our eyes”? (Matthew Myer Boulton & the saltproject.org)
Our Isiah and Matthew scriptures today remind us of how humans can be at their worst. And also that God is with us in these times. Praise God, for this grace and mercy does not stop with Isaiah’s generation, or Matthew’s generation or any generation. It is for us all.
Even when we are far from God in our thoughts and actions, God is as near to us as our next breath. God does not abandon us. God waits. God hopes. God invites. God encourages. God uses messengers. Sometimes the messengers are humans, those we tend to think of as prophets and sometimes the messengers are more than human, able to communicate with us without words, as the daisy spoke to me on Friday morning.
Join me in the coming days, weeks, months, and years working to make this the just world we want for everyone’s children and grandchildren.
Rev. TJ Mack – October 8, 2023