Oct 8th, 2023 “Let the vineyards be fruitful!”
“May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasing to you O God.”
On this Thanksgiving Sunday it is appropriate that our readings all refer to vineyards. We are celebrating and giving thanks for the harvest so the theme of vineyards, vinedressers and grapes fits right in. Our readings this morning pose questions about fruitfulness and the authenticity of our faith.
It is indicative of the importance of wine in the ancient world when we notice over and over again the use of “vineyard” in our scriptures. This was familiar imagery.
The people who heard and read the Hebrew scriptures and then the later Gospels and letters were already familiar with Israel being identified as a vineyard and God as the vinedresser who would graft on a branch. And later of course we hear Jesus use the imagery of a well planned vineyard in today’s Gospel reading.
Have you visited a vineyard? Are you familiar with how grapes are grown and wine is produced?
Living in Belleville we are right next door to Prince Edward County. Prince Edward County has become a major player in wine production in the Province and perhaps in the Country. A number of years ago a few farmers and wine lovers discovered that the County had some fabulous possibilities for winemaking. The soil or in vintner terms - the terroir was perfect for certain varieties of grapes. And so a few hardy souls decided to see what they could grow and what wine they could produce.
One of the earliest was a winery called Long Dog. This winery was situated in the southern area of the county - most of the grape growers and early wineries started in the central section of the County. The people of Long Dog decided to focus entirely on French varieties and focused on Burgundys, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
In a sort of accidental way - or perhaps kismet we met the people who started this winery before it was even open. The winemake/farmer James gave us a tour. We saw the vines, we saw the barns and the barrels and we even had a chance to listen to the wine that was being aged. I discovered that wine “pops” as it is developing. And over the years we enjoyed the fruits of James’ labours. And as the number of wineries exploded in the County we still felt that Long Dog was kind of our secret! Most of the wine tours skip the long trip down to this winery.
Creating a vineyard and a winery is not easy. It takes years for the vines to mature enough to yield enough grapes to actually make wine with.
Work in a vineyard is not easy. The winemakers and the farmers are dependent on so many factors and most of them are out of their control. Weather is the biggest factor, the harvest is dependent on heat, sunshine and rain and frost and at the proper time and in the proper amount. There can be disease that affects the vines and can wipe out a harvest or a vineyard. Vineyards grow from age old roots and require dedicated tending.
All of these things were well known to the people that the Prophet Isaiah, the psalmist and the Gospel writers. Isaiah’s song is a love song - his song of the vineyard is specifically referenced in our Gospel story this morning.
But what we see in these images of the vineyard is not a tranquil pastoral scene of a bountiful harvest, a splendid vintage and peace and community. There is violence here.
In Isaiah the people of Israel are compared to a promising vineyard but despite God’s loving care the vineyard that is Israel has brought forth “wild grapes” no good for eating and definitely not good for making wine. These wild grapes are injustice and distress. God had expected grapes of justice and righteousness. God expected justice but saw bloodshed and expected righteousness but heard a cry.
Isaiah’s love song of the vineyard shows a long suffering God faithful to an unjust and faithless people.
And then we have the parable of the wicked tenants - a parable based on Isaiah’s love song of the vineyard and even more violence. The parable is an allegory. The parable ends with the murder of the owner of the vineyard. An owner who has spent considerable time and effort and money to carefully plan out the vineyard. Who has cleared the land, planted the vines, built the fencing, created a watchtower and even prepared for the expected harvest.
In our Gospel reading God is the landowner, the land of Israel is the vineyard, the members of the Jewish religious establishment are the tenant farmers, the prophets of the Hebrew scriptures (former and latter prophets) are the representatives of God who came to collect what was due, Jesus is the son who finally came to collect and who was killed and the Church is the group invited to work in the vineyard at the end of the parable.
What more could God have done in this vineyard?
Today we can read these scripture passages about the vineyards and see them as a challenge to our faithfulness, not a condemnation of others. The world that God is attempting to shape through the ministry of the Church will not be established by chance or coincidence. It will come when people change how they live.
We need to collaborate with others to ensure a splendid vintage. And we are taking steps at Advent to do just that. We have had a joint worship service with St Paul’s Lutheran Church in Richmond Hill and the rostered clergy and lay people from our Central Toronto Ministry area will meet for a second time later this month to talk about what we can do together to strengthen our ministry. We are ready to work together in the vineyard for we all desire a good harvest. I am working with the Priest from St Matthew the Apostle Anglican Church to see what we can do together to bring our two communities together and Jim Doak and I are part of a Diocese of Toronto (Anglican) conversation on regionalization to encourage partnerships and joint or shared ministry.
As the scriptures tell us that in God’s vineyard the harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few. In our small part of the vineyard we are working with our sisters and brothers to try to change that.
So we need to ask ourselves…….
Are we people who produce wild grapes that are useless garbage or are we going to be the people who produce the fruits of God’s reign?
God owns the vineyard, we are only renters.