Scripture for Sunday, 8 October:
Exodus 20.1-4,7-9,12-20 (the ten commandments); Psalm 19.7-14; Philippians 3.4b-14; Matthew 21.33-46 (the parable of vineyard tenants who kill the owner’s son).
One way of looking at the Ten Commandments is as a call for respect: respect for God, and respect for one another, something Jesus captured in his summary of the Law and prophets. To respect others as we respect ourselves is a major step towards the gospel commandment to love one another as we love ourselves. Life is not meant to be about competing against other people with different gifts, talents, backgrounds and cultures; it is about measuring up against the level of our own capabilities, respecting what we’ve been given.
Self-respect has a part to play in guiding this: while avoiding hubris, we need to have a sense of who we are in order to become what we can be, something that the Apostle Paul expressed in writing to the Philippians. Our potential then has to be realised in the framework of our community of faith, the body of Christ.
There is a pragmatic middle ground to be sought (and hopefully found!) in the life of the church, between the extreme of introspective preoccupation with its flaws on one hand, and the other extreme of possessive self-righteousness on the other. As individuals, we can lose self-respect, bemoan our deficiencies, and forget that, flawed as we are, we are still beloved of God and prospective instruments of God’s purpose, God’s will. This can also happen within the church. We can get so caught up pointing out what needs to be fixed, what is not working right, and what needs to change that we can forget the very reason we exist in the first place. Focus on mission is vital.
This week, concluding the meeting of Anglican primates, Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit reminded his peers that there are larger problems facing the world than internal divisions and debates.
“The main thing for the Church is to be a witness and to go out there and not focus too much on narrow, probably internal differences. Sometimes they can be amplified to the extent to which we forget that we are in a mission field. … The spirit here [at the primates’ meeting] was ‘what are the weighty issues that are facing the world?’ … We can’t allow ourselves not to listen to what is happening in the world around us.”
For example, at least half the provinces in the Anglican Communion are affected by threats to food security
We can get so caught up with the church as an institution that we can forget that it has a function, which is our purpose, to be a living organism breathing in the inspiration of the Spirit and breathing out the work of care, justice and peace. To lose sight of this is to lose respect for the church’s role as the body of Christ
Above all, the parable of the vineyard tenants ought to caution us against presuming ownership of the church. None of us has an exclusive or complete understanding of God’s vision for the Church; we depend upon mutual cooperation to be effective. The church, the body of Christ, is a complex, living organism, with many diverse elements, which together reflect the image of God in which we are wonderfully created. The apostle Paul emphasises that the relationship that he and the church have with Christ is not something static, but an ongoing journey.
The church has to learn to evolve to apply itself in the context of its day – each new day – to the basic gospel principles of peace through justice, and care and nurture of its members, so that they may in turn care for and nurture the world around.
As members of the church, we are, collectively, temporary custodians of something entrusted to us. Christ’s church, created as a living entity, is a gift to its people, who are entrusted with its care as temporary custodians – humble, respectful tenants in God’s vineyard.
And the vineyard is meant to produce fruit: compassion, justice and peace.