Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday After Trinity

Sermon preached by Revd Karen Charman for the Seventeenth Sunday After Trinity, Sunday 4th October at St Mary’s Church, Garsington and via Zoom

Click below to listen to an audio recording of the gospel and sermon.

On Friday afternoon, I looked at the Gospel reading set for today, and my heart sank.  It’s not the easiest passage to preach on, and it’s not exactly full of good news, is it?  The parable Jesus tells is a story of violence, murder, and a bloody revenge.  Though we must note that it is not Jesus, but his audience, who predict the vengeance the vineyard owner will take:

“He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’

Jesus isn’t saying that God will avenge his son’s death, with more bloodshed and killing.  Unlike the crowd – and the chief priests and Pharisees – whose image of God is of a vengeful, violent God, who punishes his people for their sins – Jesus knows that God is a God of love.  A God who, in the words of the Collect for today, has made us for himself – has created us for a loving relationship with him.  A God who pours his love into our hearts, and draws us to himself.

We know that God isn’t a vengeful God.  Unlike the vineyard owner in the parable – and the crowd’s expectations of him – God doesn’t track down those responsible for the death of his son, and take their life in payment for their crime.

Nevertheless, as Jesus’ explains after the parable, actions do have consequences.  And although God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,”[1] he isn’t a puppet-master, or over-protective parent, who constantly intervenes to prevent the consequences of our actions.  God will not seek vengeance on the chief priests and Pharisees who plot to have Jesus put to death.  He will forgive their sins.  But, as a consequence of their actions, and, perhaps, their hardness of heart, which prevents them from heeding Jesus’ warning, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from [them] and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”

“A people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”

I wonder, are we those people?

Do we produce the fruits of the kingdom?

Do you produce the fruits of the kingdom?

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we are told that, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control.”[2]  Are these, I wonder, “the fruits of the kingdom,” which Jesus speaks of?  I suspect so.  But, if not, they must surely be similar. 

Love.  Joy.  Peace.  Patience.  Kindness.  Generosity.  Faithfulness.  Gentleness.  Self-control.

Bishop Steven, in a letter sent to everyone in the Diocese on Thursday, states that “Living with COVID-19 will be hard for everyone this winter.”  He encourages us with these words from Paul’s epistle to the Romans, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[3]

Over the next six months – autumn and winter – we must cling to that good news and, when the days seem dark and gloomy, and some of us struggle with our mental health and well-being, I hope we will draw comfort and strength from those words, that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God.

Bishop Steven, in his letter, sets out his own ‘rule of six’:

  1. Six months is the new horizon – he urges us to “focus on Easter, and lean back into the great themes of the church year.”
  2. Six days to work and a Sabbath to rest – he reminds us of the need to “reclaim the gift of one day each week for rest and re-creation,” – though I believe that the pressures COVID-19 place on many of us are such that one day of rest each week should be an absolute minimum, and that many of us will find ourselves in need of additional rest days, or rest periods, over the next six months.
  3. Six people to journey with – Bishop Steven bids us rediscover church as small groups of people, supporting one another.  I hope that – over the next six months – we might do that: groups of six meeting to say Evening Prayer together, perhaps; groups of six meeting to study the Bible together; groups of six meeting together for friendship and companionship …
  4. Bishop Steven’s fourth rule is “Six ways to be salt and light.”  He encourages us to identify six people, or community organisations, we can support – perhaps you might consider Asylum Welcome, who we supported with our Harvest Donations; or the Community Emergency Foodbank; and people you can support pastorally, through regular phone calls, if it’s not safe to visit face-to-face?
  5. Six percent to your church – Bishop Steven encourages us, if our income is stable, to increase our giving to sustain the mission and ministry of our church.  (I suspect many of us already give more than the six percent of our income that Bp Steven advocates, but the principle is the same: can we, perhaps, increase our giving to this church or, perhaps, support the other churches in our Benefice, too?)
  6. And, rule number six, “six people to pray for” – can we each select six people we know, and commit to pray for them regularly, that they might discover the riches of the Christian faith?

A rule of six, Bishop Steven suggests, to “help us to live well in these times.”

You can re-read those rules, and watch a video message from Bishop Steven, on the Diocese website or Facebook page, and I hope that they will indeed help us to live well over the next six months, or more.

However, I believe that, in order to “live well in these times,” we also need to practice and cultivate those fruits of the kingdom … fruits of the Spirit … which Jesus, and, later, Paul, extolled:

Love.  Joy.  Peace.  Patience.  Kindness.  Generosity.  Faithfulness.  Gentleness.  Self-control.

If we produce these fruits … if we nurture and develop these fruits … we will not only live well in these challenging times, but we will lay a cornerstone, a foundation, for God to build his kingdom here … to set this church, this village, this Benefice on fire with love for him – the God who pours his love into our hearts and draws us to himself, so that we might live well in this life, and beyond, until he brings us at last to his heavenly city, where we shall see him face to face, and all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.


[1] Exodus 34.6

[2] Galatians 5.22-23

[3] Romans 8.37-39