Caring for All in Our Charge

Caring for All in Our Charge
Luke 20:9-19
Rev. Dr. Christy Newton
13 November 2016

Luke 20:9-19
      He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants, and went to another country for a long time. 10When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants in order that they might give him his share of the produce of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11Next he sent another slave; that one also they beat and insulted and sent away empty-handed.  12And he sent yet a third; this one also they wounded and threw out.
      “13Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’
      “14But when the tenants saw him, they discussed it among themselves and said, ‘This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
      When they heard this, they said, “Heaven forbid!”
      17But he looked at them and said, “What then does this text mean:  ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.’?*  18Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
      19When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.

     It took me a while to name it.  The feelings I was having for several days last week felt strangely familiar, but I couldn’t quite place them.  Intense grief.  A tightening of my chest.  Shortness of breath.  Just short of a panic attack.  A mixture of rage and fear. 
     I read all the post-election “kum-by-yah” things that more conservative people were sharing, encouraging me to put these hard feelings aside:  “We must come together, without the anger.”  “It’s all over now, and it’s time to unify.”  “Ah, come on, it’s not that bad.” “He never really meant the things he said. . . .” “Just move on.” “Try to understand the other side.” “Be a good loser.”  “Get up, shake it off; time to put our differences aside, reconcile, and work together.” 
     And I will say this, I hope the time will come when those things might be possible.  But right now, that familiar feeling I’ve been wrestling with, I realize, is way too similar to my feelings following the Pulse Nightclub shooting.  The mass murder in the church in Charleston, South Carolina.  The senseless brutality of Sandy Hook. . . .
The feelings I’ve been wrestling with are the feelings of grief and rage that accompany experiences of utter devastation and the incomprehensible destruction and violence against vulnerable, at-risk people in our communities—including many in our community right here.  And right now, it is too soon to let that go.  I need to feel the grief fully in order to know how and which way to move from here. . . .  Griefàspiritual teacher
     But I also want to share with you that a couple of weeks ago my family spent a week in Sequoia National Park with many of the largest and oldest trees in the world.  And there is nothing like spending time with the biggest trees in the world to put things in perspective…  Trees that are thousands of years old. . . .  And as frustrated, fearful, enraged, and grief-stricken as I feel right now, I know that this particular election result is in no way the final word.  We live in a democratic nation, and while sometimes a person I like doesn't win or someone I actually fear does win, the reality is that there will always be another election.  And there are plenty of opportunities—and plenty of ways—for me and for us to intervene in the world in the name of love, justice, and the common good.  We talked about this a couple of weeks ago.  In the words of MLK, Jr.: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  Right now the arc might be straying in another direction.  So, regardless of who holds political power, it is up to us to pull that arc back down. . . .
     Because as I let my grief and anger work deeply on me, I know that I am strong.  That our community is strong.  That we are not alone.  That our God stands with us—always and forever—on the side of compassion and generosity and justice.  This is what I wrote to you before the election.  And I believe it.
     The election was never about 1 person or 2 people, or their parties of affiliation.  The election, like the work of the church, was about—continues to be about—how we engage the work of building up, mending, restoring, and reconciling a world that is hopeful, inclusive, gracious, kind.  And God’s steadfast and unfailing love—we all know—is bigger than any election.  And it demands that we extend that Love to any and all we meet. 

     But this work—and this expectation—does not please the Pharisees in our scripture story this morning.  This work—and this expectation—does not please the bullies of the world.  The Pharisees are mad about Jesus’ teaching this morning because Jesus is laying this failed expectation at their feet.  They have not engaged in the work of building up, mending, restoring, and reconciling a world that is hopeful, inclusive, gracious, kind; they have not extended God’s steadfast and unfailing Love to all they meet.  Instead, as God’s appointed caretakers, and public servants, the Pharisees—like the tenants in the story—have abused the vulnerable people in their charge—all the people that come asking for a share of God’s abundance.  And no matter who comes, these “caretakers” look out only for themselves.  They refuse to see the needs and well-being of others.  They would rather kill and destroy and throw people out than offer a portion of their blessings.
     And we see this.  Not just in this story.  But today.  This is where some of the election grief comes from.  Immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers are being thrown out.  People of color, people with disabilities, and people who have experienced sexual assault are being thrown out.  Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and anyone who worships differently than them are being thrown out.  Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual people are being thrown out.  Indigenous communities and their fight for their land and their well-being are being thrown out.  
Where will it stop?  And more specifically, where will we draw the line?
     We are entering into a frightening new era for vulnerable people in America.  And as the church, we must stand openly and boldly in the face of bigotry and continue the work for justice—and continue to care for all of God’s beloved ones.  We don’t get to pick and choose who is worthy of our love and support.  God has appointed us as caretakers, and we must care for all those in our charge.

          To make this as plain as I can:  The church—the moral stronghold of our community—has work to do.  And that work that hasn’t changed.  We have to fight for the spiritual, physical, emotional, economic, and social well-being of every member of our community—no matter who they voted for, no matter what their political motivations are.  We do this by working for justice and caring for one another.
Remember, Luke keeps telling us:  Jesus brings no peaceful complicity with the status quo.  He boldly names the injustices that deny some people their humanity in order to privilege others.  And he is willing to cause division and discomfort in order to advocate for the common good—especially for those who no one else is willing to stand up for!  He is willing to push us hard toward the justice the world needs in order to help us grow in faith and love and grace. 
He challenges us to cross well-established boundaries.  Boundaries that may feel really difficult to cross.  He invites us to travel with him into new confrontations.  To expect resistance.  And to respond with loving defiance and uncompromising welcome.  How many of you remember what German pastor Martin Niemoller said in 1930s Germany?
First they came for the Communists.  And I did not speak out.
Because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Socialists.  And I did not speak out. 
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists.  And I did not speak out. 
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews.  And I did not speak out. 
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me.  And there was no one left.  To speak out for me.

All of us, my friends, are all of them.  Because all of them are actually us.  We must use our privilege to make places for others.  To provide safe space.  To speak up and act in the face of injustice.  To stick up for the vulnerable.  To challenge bigots and bullies.  To refuse to let hate speech become normalized.  To live into our calling to be people of faith not fear. 
We are called to welcome the foreigner into our vineyard and to share our blessings with her.  For she is one of God’s beloved children.  Let it be so.  Amen.  

“Our good Lord answered to all the questions and doubts that I might make, saying full comfortably: I may make all thing well, I can make all thing well, I will make all thing well, and I shall make all thing well. . . .  All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”           ―Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love 


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