The Very Rev. Tom Callard – September 27, 2020
You know this year we did not have a big “kickoff Sunday” or “welcome back Sunday”, when the choir starts again and we resume Sunday School and the Forums begin after church and everybody shows up. We usually do that every year, but this year because of Covid 19 things are very different. Today is probably the closest we have to something like that, because we have people here at10:00 and we have live streaming with people watching at home. And it’s great being here. But it’s not the same as when we’re all here together.
I think of all the things we’ve lost because of Covid-19, one that affects many of us is that we don’t all get together like we used to. So you have graduations, and birthday parties, and weddings, and even funerals where not everyone can show up. And of course we miss that we can no longer just show up for small things like going over to someone’s house for coffee or dropping by to see your grandkids or just showing up unexpectedly to see someone and say hi.
Who knew that just showing up was such an important part of life? Well, it turns out that Jesus knew. And part of what we see in the Gospel today, is Jesus talking about the importance of just showing up. In this parable, there is a man who has two sons: the first says he will not show up to the vineyard, but eventually he does. And the second says he will show up to the vineyard, but he doesn’t. So which one, Jesus asks, does the will of God? It’s the one who shows up.
Our presence – just showing up – counts for a lot. Our words, and intentions, our desires, the things we say, are of course all very important. But in the end what counts is being there. It’s being in the vineyard, and not just talking about the vineyard, that makes the difference between these two sons.
So how do we apply this to life during Covid 19 when we know it’s not possible or wise for us to show up at certain places. It could be dangerous for all of us to show up on a Sunday here for a big kickoff celebration like we’ve had in the past. Such gatherings are what spread Covid 19.
And I love that people are here us this morning, but you know you’re all taking a risk. We try and make the risk as small as possible. But it’s not the same as just staying home. You have shown up at church in a time when most people have not. So one question to think about today: does that mean that we are better Christians and those who have stayed home and are watching on their computers? Do we believe that people who did not show up this morning are somehow less faithful and are like the second son in the parable today?
Well, of course not. And I wanted to mention this because I know there are people who would love to be here but who cannot, people who feel in their hearts like they’re missing out on something or failing their Christian duty because they have not made it to the sanctuary for worship.
What I want to suggest is that showing up and actually making it to the vineyard, as Jesus talks about today, is not just a matter of being physically present. And that in order to participate fully in Jesus and the church, you do not have to be in this space. Showing up is more than being here.
I remember when I first started going to church in my 20’s, I had a lot to learn about church. I felt this calling to follow Jesus and to get nearer to him. And I knew I would need to go to church. But I wasn’t sure how it worked. So I asked people. And specifically I would ask – how often do I need to go? I mean is going to church like going to school where you have to attend a certain number of classes in order to get credit? Can I be a Christian if I just go once in a while, or barely going at all like I did with a philosophy class in college, where I still somehow passed with a good grade? Or is being a Christian like learning Spanish where you have go to enough to get a certain level of understanding. I wondered how many times do you have to go to church to become fluent in Jesus?
And people told me – no it’s not really like that. Church is something that exists as an opportunity to facilitate our faith – to make our faith bettter. That was the message I got again and again. It makes it easier for you to follow Jesus and to know Jesus by being part of a community where there are others doing the same thing. And this community is called church.
So if we go back to the earliest times of church, people would gather in homes and share meals. And in the course of their time together they would break bread and would share about their lives. They would let each other know how their lives had been touched and changed by Jesus. And they would give support and receive support. And all that was church. And this was exactly how the first Christians would show up.
So if we look at the Epistle today, Paul is writing to one of these early Christian communities, in Philippi. And you see how Paul describes gathering and giving and receiving and being in conversation with others. Paul uses words like encouragement, consolation, sharing, compassion, sympathy. These are words that reflect church as a place where you get together to talk about more than just weather or sports. It was a place of connection and transformation gathered around Jesus Christ as the center. As the cornerstone.
Church is where you went to move beyond yourself into the greater being. To move beyond this individual, isolated you, into something bigger, where you live, as Paul says, for the interests of others. This is how you showed up. And wherever you do this, this is church.
Of course, we all know from years of going to church that occasionally church has moments like this where you are sharing and caring and there’s real transformation. But we can also come here regularly and never experience any of that. We can come here to this space week after week and sit in our pews and kneel and pray and then go home exactly as we were when we came in. Because we never really show up.
Showing up means giving your heart to it, your life to it, and your soul to it. It means finding the presence of Jesus Christ within others, and the sacrament, and within our own hearts. It means being there to offer care and love for people and in particular for those who are in need. And we can show up in a common building like this, or in people’s homes, or in individual conversations on the streets. And all of that is church.
I think the biggest challenge to seeing that this is church is that we have these obstacles from realizing the presence of Jesus and the Vineyard and the Holy before us. We have all of these things that block us from showing up and being present to God, and if you look within yourselves today you’ll see something there that’s stopping you from fully giving and receiving the holiness of this moment and the holiness of what we do.
In a way, this is a parable today about facing obstacles, and we see the first son is in this struggle and he has these unnamed barriers that at first keep him from getting to the vineyard. We don’t know what they are. They’re not named or laid out for us. But for some reason he says no, he will not show up to the vineyard.
Maybe the first son is facing a pandemic. Maybe he’s tired of watching church on the Internet and has decided that it’s not for him. Maybe he’s concerned about the world and the state of things and has decided that he would rather stay at home and kind of give up. Maybe, like so many, the older son has found that he’s lost his vision of the vineyard and no longer remembers why he used to believe in God, why he found the Vineyard good, and why anyone would go at all.
That’s the state in which life exists for so many people.
But this parable shows us how easily these obstacles he faces, whatever they are, are overcome. Because what does the first son do to get to the vineyard? What does he go through to get to God? What complicated path does he take to move toward heaven and the good things that Jesus has prepared for him? He just shows up. You just need to decide to show up, and there you are. Here or there, there you are. At church or at home or at work or on the street, you make that decision to show up to God, and there you are.
Because this is our kickoff Sunday or our Fresh Start Sunday, whatever you want to call it, and because this is the first day of the rest of our life, we are invited to decide today to make this decision that we will show up, wherever we are, whatever obstacles we face, we can show up to God. We can decide that we will work in the vineyard, which may be our house, or our Facebook community, or our phone tree, or our family, or our actual work, or anyplace wherever we are in the course of the day. That we, like Paul, will live with love and the presence of Jesus in our lives.
Often we do not realize that these gifts are not just automatically received by us, but that we have to choose to be present to them, like the sons in the parable, and we have to choose to show up. It is we, and not God, who choose to show up or to stay, to be happy or to be miserable, to be content about life, or to be caught up in the daily struggle of existence. The choice is ours.
Today, just as every day, Jesus says – choose me. I am the better path. I am the thing your heart seeks. I am what will make you complete. And I am what you and the world need. Choose me.