Here is the prophet doing what prophets should do: speaking unpalatable truths. Here is Jesus doing what Jesus so often does: speaking unpalatable truths.
The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.
The Lord provides the means for the vineyard to grow good grapes. But it’s a bad harvest of wild grapes and so the vineyard is destroyed. The Lord provides the ingredients for the Kingdom of God. How do you respond? The Lord gives life. How do you respond? It’s up to you.
A gift is only a gift if you accept it as a gift. You have to stretch out your hands to take what is on offer. You have to respond. You have to act. Refusing to accept, refusing to act, amounts to rejecting what’s on offer. We throw the gift back in the donor’s face. We exclude ourselves from the generosity. Jesus talks about people being excluded from the Kingdom. The Lord does not exclude us, but by our standoffishness and refusal to dance to his invitation, we exclude ourselves.
I’ve been here three months now. A quarter of a year. I’m wondering how best we can thrive in the next decade or two. How best can we serve the town? Let us imagine that Our Lord comes here. What does he find?
- He finds that a church built in his honour is locked most of the time.
- If he comes at a time when the building happens to be open might see people who in world terms are reasonably well off. He might wonder how they serve the people of the town who are less well off.
- He might notice that people seem to communicate with smiles that often hide inner sadnesses that they feel unable to speak of.
- He might wonder how we tell each other of our deepest darkest fears, to allow the transformation of ‘the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory’.
- He might notice that the building is a temple to the past.
- If he comes to a PCC meeting, he would hear that much of the energy and interest is with money, and with keeping the building looking as it did in the past.
- He might wonder why all decisions are made by older people for a future that few of them will see.
Let us imagine that Our Lord now looks around Burton.
- He might see a lot of people sitting alone watching a flickering box in the corner of the room.
- He might see people at night around the church injecting fluid into their veins.
- He might see men and women hitting each other.
- He might see children being hit, and still going to school the next day.
- He might see young people’s bodies being exploited for the sexual gratification of those who should know better.
- He might see people knocking on Vicarage doors for food and drink, and sleeping outside in boxes.
Our Lord might look at all this, and look at us here in this building, and think, ‘ah, they come for spiritual refreshment so that they can go out into the world and be my ears, my eyes, my hands, my feet, and my mouth, to heal the sick, to free the captives, to tend the poor, to bind the lame, and to restore creation.’
Or would he? Would he hear moaning and criticism and Chinese whispers? Would he think that we come here simply to keep us happy in the prisons that we have made for ourselves, ‘inclosed in our own fat’? Would he perhaps think that our coming to this church for an hour or so once a week was a hobby like going to the gym, the golf club or the sewing circle?
We have some serious thinking to do about the future. At this time of year we know well enough that the harvest is plentiful only if the ground has been disturbed and seeds have been planted. Leaving things as they are means that soil becomes more and more stale, with the inevitability of death.
I would like to set up a Survive and Thrive group to get going with planning. Not a group that talks, drinks tea, and complains about the Vicar, but a group that gives serious consideration to what this church and church community must do, and how to do it. If you wish to serve on this group, write your name on the sheet at the back of church. I hope that someone might offer to convene this group—it needs to be run by someone other than me.
Vicars come and go, and initiatives and planning for the future have to come from you rather than be imposed by me. I’m embarking on trips to other town churches nearby to see how they do things. Stoke, Wolverhampton and Birmingham are fixed, and Tamworth and Derby are possibilities. If any of you would like to come along, please see me afterwards.
We have been given all these ‘talents’. What shall we do with them? The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom