I call my grandmother, “Nana.”
Nana is not a Virginian.
Like many Virginians, Nana’s people once upon a time left the Old World, crossing an ocean in tiny wooden ships. Her people ended up in the North, in New England. En route to the New World, another New Englander wrote a sermon where he put the colonial project in terms of mission and vocation. He wrote that Massachusetts would be the new Zion, a “city on a hill.” He sought a Christian society rooted in Scripture. A kind of prophet himself, John Winthrop believed the Puritan theocracy would bring about a “Golden Age” for the nations of the World. He believed that if the Puritan settlers followed the law of God in everything they did, then the God of Israel would be among them. Winthrop believed that the civic and the ecclesiastical should be one and the same. Winthrop quoted Micah, saying, “we must do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.”
Nana married a Kentucky-boy, whose people, along with thousands of others, had conquered the Indian wilderness, cleared the land, planted crops, and continued to push the American vineyard West.
The Puritans and pioneers laid the groundwork for a mighty vineyard. With the millions who followed them, they planted themselves in every corner, built a fence from sea to sea, and put up a tall Red, White and Blue watch-tower. Of course, the vineyard is large, but the fruit of the kingdom has not always been grown. We know that the
forced labor of millions of African slaves,
the conquest of ancient native peoples,
and the deaths of six-hundred-thousand persons in War Between the States
cannot have been what Jesus would have us do.
The Lord expected justice, but saw bloodshed; he expected righteousness, but heard a cry!
But, lest we judge our forebears by modern standards, how are we doing in the American vineyard?
Are we producing the fruit of the Kingdom of God?
The parallel between today’s Scripture readings and our ongoing history is stirring to me. Where do we—as the people and Church of present history—fit into the Prophesy and the Parable?
I see in today’s readings a powerful lesson about the way we build our own lives in the spiritual wilderness of the World. I see a call to leave the Old Ways of the World behind, to pass through the waters of new birth, to create a New World in Jesus Christ.
Luckily, unlike Winthrop’s people, we don’t need to establish a strict theocracy which self-destructs after generations of wondering who’s “in” and who’s “out.” Luckily, unlike the Pioneers, we don’t need to establish a frontier line at the end of a Kentucky rifle. But we do need to embark on that ship of promise, that ark of salvation, which is the true Church, and we need to go out there, trying to grow that fruit of the kingdom.
Like Paul, let’s “press on toward the goal, for the prize of that heavenly call in Christ Jesus.” We stand within a vineyard that we didn’t plant; but it’s ours to tend. This is why we’re here today, and why we’re going out there tomorrow. Some will go to their workplace tomorrow, and build the kingdom there. Others will do it at home.
Others will go to Church Hill next month, along with our neighbors from Beth Ahabah, and we’ll build a house for somebody. Others will go back to Rwanda–a nation famed for its plantations of tea–and they will help undo the damage done by members and bishops of our own Anglican Church in that horrible bloodshed only five years ago. Some will add more stones to the bridge we’re building between our people and the Sioux Indians of Bear Creek South Dakota—a people who only a century ago were rounded up and massacred by the guardians from our national Watchtower.
And some will keep on tending the parish vineyard, staying inside the fence, doing God’s work here at home, praying for the continued unity, grace and strength of St. James’s Episcopal Church. Because doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God is way the godly vineyard worker works. Rejoicing together, delighting in one another, and making others’ conditions our own… these are the fruits of the kingdom.