September 28, 2008

I’m going to talk about politics this morning. But please wait a few minutes if you have the urge to get up and walk out. I’m sure many people watched or listened to the debates Friday night, or read about them Saturday morning. The campaign rhetoric is filled with plans and promises. Those of us who have seen more than a couple of campaigns have probably become a bit jaded. We’ve had the experience of hearing all those promises made, and then seeing too few of them fulfilled in the next four or eight years. Yet there is something about us as a people that still lives in hope, that maybe this time some of those hope-filled promises of a better future might be fulfilled.

Politics is important, and it’s an important issue for people of faith, because it’s the way we work to build a society together. Much of Jesus’ teaching is about the politics of community building, what in Hebrew is called shalom, or the reign of God, or the translation I like best, “the dream of God.” It’s God’s view of what human community should look like, when the hungry are fed, and not just enough to stave off starvation for a few more hours. It’s a community where no one lives in fear of not having enough, and people have confidence and delight enough to make a feast. It’s about not worrying how you’re going to heat your homes this winter – and not just you, but that every person in the community has confidence that he will be warm enough. It’s about knowing that if your child gets sick, that medical care is nearby and affordable. It’s the confidence that comes of living in a world where no one goes to war any more, where everyone has a meaningful job, where the frail elderly are cared for with dignity, where every child can grow up in hope that she can use her gifts to the fullest. Those are Jesus’ politics.

Your bishop and I were privileged to be part of a conversation yesterday with a group of young adults in a campus ministry, who were talking about building a community of their own. Over and over again they said, “we’re so grateful for this space, this building, where we can come together for a meal, know we are welcome any time of the day or night, where there’s a bed or a couch for somebody who needs one.” It reminded me of Robert Frost’s definition of home as “the place where when you go there, they have to take you in.”

God’s dream is of a world like that for all human beings, where everyone is taken in, and those college students were exploring how they can do that, rather than just talk about whether some people can be taken in, but not others.

The parable Jesus tells this morning about the two sons and whether they go to work in the vineyard is another version of God’s dream and how we begin to move toward it. The vine is an old and frequent image for God’s creation and God’s people. It needs tender care – fertilizer, water, care when it’s wounded or sick, protection from wild beasts who will trample it and birds who steal the fruit. Which son gets it right? Not the one who talks a good line, but the one who at the end finally goes and works. It’s not so much what we say but what we do that matters here. And there isn’t any evident deadline – we’re not told how soon the sons made their decision.

Sometimes people change their minds after years and years of saying they won’t go work in the vineyard or in a particular part of it. Your bishop and I have another friend who is the suffragan bishop in western Washington state. She grew up with a father who was a priest and later a bishop, and when she was a fairly young woman she discovered that God was asking her to go work in the vineyard as a priest. The only problem was that it wasn’t yet legal in this church. But she went off to seminary anyway, and was ordained a deacon. She waited several years before she could be ordained a priest. And when she was, her father didn’t come to the service. He didn’t believe women should be priests. He never came to a service where she presided, and he never took communion from her. Many years went by, and about four years ago, she was elected to be a bishop in the diocese of Olympia. I was there. At the end of a long and beautiful service, her father came to the front, took off his own cope, and put it around her shoulders. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I asked her later how he had changed his mind. And she said to me, “he didn’t change his mind, he changed his heart.” Even after 85 years, it’s possible – and it’s possible for any one of us.

The changed heart that gets us working in the vineyard has something to do with remembering our own connections to that vine. When the vine is healthy and flourishing, all of us will be. A changed heart begins to see the interconnections of all of God’s creation. A changed heart knows that when children are starving in Sudan or on the reservations of South Dakota, it affects us right here. A changed heart can see the image of God in a suffering neighbor, and make a connection with Jesus’ suffering on the cross. Maybe it makes sense to think about the cross as a support for the vine – it lifts up the vine to the life-giving light of the sun.

We’re all connected to that vine, and those who are going to be baptized, confirmed, and received here today will make promises about working in vineyard. All the rest of us are going to re-make the same promises. The only question is whether and how we are going to go and work. Whatever gifts we may have, God can put them to use. We don’t all have to be fertilizer, or water, or pruning shears. The vineyard needs people who can build a group of soccer players into a team, valuing the gifts of each. The vineyard needs the carpenter and the plumber to build and rebuild houses that will house the homeless. It needs cooks who will feed hungry children before they go to school. And it needs young adults plotting how to change and heal the world. It needs the grace of dancers who can invite us into non-verbal understandings.

All of it is politics in the sense of Jesus – building a community that is more like God’s dream. The only challenge is changing hearts and minds enough to go to work. Some among us are reluctant to work with purple grapes – we think the vine should only bear white grapes. Some of us don’t want to move dirt or stake up vines, thinking it is beneath us. But that vine ties us all together, and it needs the skills and hearts of all of us to flourish.

We’re going to pray that we may be sent out there to tend the vine. As we go, I would commend a prayer I learned from Alan Jones. Work a miracle in me, O Lord, and change my heart. Work a miracle in me, and change my heart.