Watch Now

18th Sunday after Pentecost

Where Does Love Go?

Morning Prayer with Sacrament Reserved

 

 My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill                  Isaiah 5:7

 The Heavens show forth the glory of God                            Psalms 19

 

The Invitatory and Psalter           

V.    O Lord, open thou our lip
R.    And our mouths shall show forth your praise.
V.    Glory be to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
R.    As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Alleluia

 

Jubilate Psalm 100[1]

1 Be joyful in the LORD, all you lands; *
serve the LORD with gladness and come before his presence with a song.

2 Know this: The LORD himself is God; he himself has made us; we are his *.
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.

3 Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise; *
give thanks to him and call upon his Name.

4 For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; *
and his faithfulness endures from age to age.</span

 The mercy of the Lord is everlasting. Come let us adore him.

 

Psalms 19

 19:1 The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

19:2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.

19:3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;

19:4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,

19:5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

19:6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.

19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple;

19:8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes;

19:9 the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

19:10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.

19:11 Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

19:12 But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.

19:13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

 The mercy of the Lord is everlasting. Come let us adore him.

  

The Old Testament Lesson:                                                 Isaiah 5:1-7

5:1 Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.

5:2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
5:3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.

5:4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

5:5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.

5:6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

5:7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

 

Hymn: Awake my soul          Philip Doddridge                          Hymnal # 546

Awake, my soul, stretch every nerve,
and press with vigor on;
a heavenly race demands thy zeal,
and an immortal crown.

A cloud of witnesses around
hold thee in full survey;
forget the steps already trod
and onward urge thy way.

‘Tis God’s all-animating voice
that calls thee from on high;
‘tis his own hand presents the prize
to thine aspiring eye.

Then wake, my soul, stretch every nerve,
and press with vigor on;
a heavenly race demands thy zeal,
and an immortal crown.
 

The New Testament Lesson:                                                Philippians 3:4b-14

3:4b If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:

3:5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;

3:6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

3:7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.

3:8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

3:9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.

3:10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,

3:11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

3:12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

3:13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,

3:14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

 The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

 

 Christ is made the sure foundation     John Mason Neale         Hymnal 1982 # 518

Christ is made the sure foundation,
Christ the head and cornerstone,
chosen of the Lord, and precious,
binding all the Church in one;
holy Zion’s help for ever,
and her confidence alone.

All that dedicated city,
dearly loved of God on high,
in exultant jubilation
pours perpetual melody;
God the One in Three adoring
in glad hymns eternally.

To this temple, where we call thee,
come, O Lord of Hosts, today;
with thy wonted loving-kindness
hear thy servants as they pray,
and thy fullest benediction
shed within its walls alway.

Here vouchsafe to all thy servants
what they ask of thee to gain;
what they gain from thee, for ever
with the blesséd to retain,
and hereafter in thy glory
evermore with thee to reign.

  

The Gospel Lesson:                                                        Matthew 21:33-46

21:33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.

21:34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce.

21:35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.

21:36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way.

21:37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

21:38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’

21:39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

21:40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

21:41 They said to him, “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.”

21:42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?

21:43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.

21:44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

21:45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.

21:46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

The Gospel of the Lord. Praise be to you, Lord Christ.

 

Sermon: All Along the Watchtower

“All along the watchtower / Princes kept the view / While all the women came and went / Barefoot servants, too.” So goes the famous, haunting song “All Along the Watchtower,” by Bob Dylan, that reflects on this riveting passage from Matthew, this love-song lament from Isaiah, and on the world-that-is, dubious and sinister, full of menace and thieves, the loss of hope and the failure of dreams. That title was the original title for this sermon, and may yet be when it is revised, since it speaks to the mood of the lessons of the day, so at odds with the glorious autumn weather that has surrounded us this week, and that comes through the windows of this beautiful church as I speak to you this morning.

“‘There must be some kind of way out of here,’ said the joker to the thief,” is how the song actually begins. “There’s too much confusion,” it goes on, “I can’t get no relief.” Be it wicked tenants, marked Pharisees, or wild vines, one can imagine the principles of today’s scriptures singing this, as they find themselves lost in the maze of the disappointments of the Lord. They had become, though they didn’t know it, the lost and wandering children of his creation, yet more examples of just how wrong things can get, and how bad people can be.

It had all started well, as these things often do. The Lord God, lover of things that grow and blossom, ripen and mature, had planted, as it were, a vineyard on a hill – up there for sunlight and good drainage. He had removed its stones, tilled it, watered it, planted it with the best of vines, and built a watchtower in the midst from which to protect it and watch it grow.

It didn’t work. The vines did not take, not the ones he wanted, nor the way he planned. The vineyard yielded only wild grapes, from which no good vintage comes. So the Lord trampled that vintage out – showing that, pace the battle hymn, the wrath was with the Lord, not the grapes. He made the ruin of the vineyard worse than it had been when it had been wild. He made it the haunt of crows and jackals, and dry as the moon. Beware the furrow of his brow, as it says elsewhere in the Good Book; beware the furrow of his brow.

The watchtower, let it be remembered, was of little use to the vineyarder. It did nothing against the onslaught of wild grapes, any more than the strongest shield would be much use against the desert heat or the pounding rain. It did not make the good grapes grow. It did not give the wild grapes pause. To reference the song’s metaphors again, the watchtower was about as much use against the joker and the thief as would’ve been a weather balloon or a role of cellophane. It relieved no confusion. It was part of the vineyard’s failure, or of the failure of the vineyarder to do what he had to to make the vintage whole.

This, of course, is what the vineyarder in Isaiah cannot admit or accept, and why the song is given to us as a love-song, a rhythmic yowl of grief and loss from a disappointed lover who also feels let down and betrayed. For that is how the Lord God felt about his chosen people, Israel, almost all the time. He had, he believed, given them everything a people needed to thrive: land, laws, an ethic, leaders, a purpose, milk, honey, fields, livestock, victories, hope, and just the right kind of chastisement when they got it wrong.

Yet they did not thrive. They became just like their neighbors: selfish, skiving, competitive, faithless, hope-less, and wrong about a great many things, cruel to the weak, fawning towards wealth, obsequious towards might, the sort of people who ate sour grapes and with them set their children’s teeth on edge. They rejected his laws – love God & love your neighbor, being the two chief ones – and made his tender, salvific care for them a joke.

So he crushed them, as one might crush a crystal with a stone, sneering as one did it, if also ashamed of oneself – but then he restored their grandchildren to the land, planting (as it were) a second vintage, the one to which Jesus refers, and which the Pharisees, chief priests, and elders embody and all the people living in Jesus’s time represent, a vineyard teeming with good grapes, yet whom the tenants, the stewards, will not yield up unsullied, or at all.

See they got it back. They’d gotten it all back, all that their ancestors had lost – and they’d made it worse than it had been before. “They” are the leaders of Israel at the time of Jesus, for whom he has little but disdain. Why? Because they didn’t know a good grape when the saw it, couldn’t tell a rich vintage from a mean one, and had hung all the law and the prophets out to dry. Why? Because they loved a building – the temple – and the seats of honor they had in it, and the system from which they benefitted, more than they did their people. They had the form of their ancient religion but not its substance, the accoutrements of faithfulness, but not the compassion at its heart, or its piety, or its awe. They saw their people’s faithfulness and repaid it with spectacle and obligation, making those people pay for a religious system and its functionaries that neither met nor understood their needs. These tenants of the Lord’s vineyard would not yield the vintage to the master, though this time it was good. They would not yield it to his servants – the prophets, the messengers, the John the Baptists of the world. They would not yield it even to his son, who spoke with his power and healed with his hands, inspired with his breath, forgave with his tenderness, challenged with his authority. God walked among them in human form and they knew it not, believed it not, acted upon it not, and persecuted those who did.

So this time, the Lord trampled out the vintage of the grapes of wrath themselves, even though it was the last thing he wanted to do. Not this. Not again. Not – but yes. This is what it must be.

“There must be some kind of way out of here,” the song sings, and it’s right. Where is this “here,” though? It is the world – which in Jesus’s time was a world of empires, of hobnailed boots and iron-fisted rule, of systems of patronage and connection we’d associate more with a mafia than a government, or with a corrupt family business that conned its way into mastery of the most powerful nation on earth. These empires had taken over the world and made a hell of its primal heaven, hoarded its wealth for the very few at the top, and consigned the rest of humanity to an existence more miserable than that of the hunters and gatherers of elsewhere, or of old. The empires based on agriculture quickly became empires based on slavery and want, on hierarchy and compulsion, and on religions of pomp and fog, power games and mysticism. None of that was what the Lord wanted for his human creation. Yet no part of those who ran his second attempt at a thriving vineyard in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee could do much to change it, or did, any more than they could govern where the wind blew or how hard the tide came in.

“There must be some kind of way out of here.” Indeed. But the religio-political authorities of Jesus’s time and the generations immediately following couldn’t help people find it, and made sure that no-one else could help them find it either. So the owner of the vineyard, the new one with the watchtower in it, sent his son to get them to do so. They’d ignored or mistreated his servants, his prophets. Surely they’d not do that to his son. But they did – “Let’s kill him,” they said, “and then the vineyard will be ours.”

One might wonder how good this wine was that people would be willing to kill for it. One might even sympathize with the resentment of those who work for wages and have to watch the wine they make fill others’ mouths, and the wealth its sale generates fill others’ pockets. But what they have in mind is well beyond the pale, more in line with the organized crime-state that ruled them than the Lord who said “Love thy neighbor” and whom they purported to serve. It is no wonder, then, that Jesus already knew that the Jewish authorities of his time, and the Roman authorities of his time, would conspire to snuff him out, and the Lord’s word with him, once they figured out what he was saying, what he was doing, and what it meant for them all.

“They will respect my son,” the vineyard owner said. He sounded like he was convinced, was sure that they would. When they did not, he raged, and eventually the world they’d killed his son to preserve for themselves was swept away.

That world is what we know as Second Temple Judaism, which was what those who returned from exile in Babylon created in their ancient homeland. It was centered on the new temple. It was a mighty and glorious thing, but it’s gone, just as Jesus said it would be. All that remains of it today as the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, in Jerusalem. The temple and the religion centered on it were from the beginning a system whose leaders stuck close to the rulers of the day, and worked best when the people were ruled by righteous kings. They were typically not ruled by righteous kings, however. Over time, this led the system to become more of a burden to people than a blessing. Dreams of a messiah, a savior-king, to replace it all abounded, showing by their sheer numbers just how rotten the system was, and how inadequate it was to people’s actual needs. Jesus was by no means the first, the last, or the only one to emerge from 2nd Temple religiosity claiming that the kingdom of God was at hand, and that everyone should repent and return to the Lord.

What he had that was different was what people didn’t necessarily recognize until he was gone: authority, and a new idea: the kingdom of God was not of this world, and could not be. It was the kingdom of heaven, and this world but a reflection of it and a place of sojourn toward it. It was, this kingdom, the way out – and that way out meant building up treasures in heaven, not on earth, and being as wise as snakes but as innocent as doves while on that earth, preaching peace, healing hurts, mending hearts, and tending souls. It meant making people’s lives as good as they could be no matter who ruled them or where they were. It meant that God would not be present among them as the absence, the nothingness in the temple’s Holy of Holies, but as one of them, to live and die as one of them, to reconcile them – us – to the one who made us in his image and would restore us to it forever.

This kingdom was, Jesus told them and tried to show them, as did Peter, Paul, and the other apostles, a kingdom of faith, not of power – a realm of grace, not of command. It could not sit easily with earthly rule, and would just as soon have done without it entirely, leaving leadership to those who understood that what it means to lead is to serve, to put others’ needs before one’s own, to do good and to distribute. By its faith it would not hoard wealth, but used it for the good of all. In its grace it would not hoard power for itself, but hold power to account for how well it served. What would count in it was not status but mercy, not position but compassion, not force but truth.

It was not the kind of thing that one person, one system, one institution, one tradition, or one hierarchy would control or even define. It was something larger, more profound, and in some ways more world-altering than anything that had come before. It turned out to be larger than any one of the religions succeeding it could contain, since the range of insights into what God it, what infinite compassion and mercy are, what divinity can be and do, are as irreducibly complex and they are fully expressive of all our longings and desires, hopes and fears as human beings. The challenge given to us, and the desire forged within us, is to love God with all our hearts, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, to exist in wonder at the starry heavens above us and the moral law within us, to use Kant’s famous phrase. As Jeremiah and late Isaiah have it, that law is a covenant written in our hearts, woven into our very flesh and dreams. When we are at one with it, we are at one with an infinite God who humbled himself to walk among us, though not all received him or recognized that he had done so. When we are at one with it, we are at one with an infinite God who spoke to the prophets, though not all of us recognize his words in those of each prophet. When we are at one with it, we are at one with a God honored in the world’s three most prominent monotheistic religions: modern Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – yet cannot but be mindful of how little they overlap, and how often their adherents have treated each other badly.

These religions are not the same – not internally, and not with one another. The ways they speak about and pray to God are not the same. But they all name one God at their heart, and recognize that there can only be one God. It is more likely than not that the God-Who-Is is realized in each of them partially, yet I suspect in none of them revealed fully. Our window onto God shines through the person, deeds, acts, and messages of Jesus Christ, Joshua bin Joseph, Yeshua of Nazareth, who sought to recall his people to God’s two great commandments, no matter what, and paid for it with his life. Though the leaders of his day did not respect him as God’s son, we do, or say we do – and if we do, we do as he asked. We live lives worthy of a love that brought the world into being, entered into it, lived and died to redeem it, and promised to make it whole through all who desire that it be so. “They will respect my son,” thought the vineyard owner in the parable. He was wrong – for the moment. He was right, if you take the long view – so long as we do the respecting, since now it is up to us. May we fulfill our faith and make good his faith in us in all that we say, in all that we do, and in all that we are. Amen.

 

A Statement of Faith, A Song of God’s Love (1 John 4:7-11)

Beloved, let us love one another, *
for love is of God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, *
for God is Love.
In this the love of God was revealed among us, *
that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us *
and sent his Son that sins might be forgiven.
Beloved, since God loved us so much, *
we ought also to love one another.
For if we love one another, God abides in us, *
and God’s love will be perfected in us.
 

A Collect for 18th Pentecost (Proper 22)

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to
hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire
or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy,
forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid,
and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy
to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus
Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the
Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A Collect for the Renewal of Life

O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the
night and turns the shadow of death into the morning: Drive
far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your
law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having
done your will with cheerfulness during the day, we may,
when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Collect for a Need or Intention

God of mercy and healing,
you who hear the cries of those in need,
receive these petitions of your people
that all who are troubled
may know peace, comfort, and courage.
Life-giving God,
heal our lives,
that we may acknowledge your wonderful deeds
and offer you thanks from generation to generation
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

A Prayer after St. Alphonsus

O Jesus, you are present to us in the blessed sacrament. We love you above all things, and desire to receive you into our souls. Since we cannot at this time share your sacrament, let your spirit dwell within our hearts. Let us welcome you as one already with us, making us one body and one spirit, never to be parted from you. Amen.

 

Closing Hymn:  Fight the good fight      John Samuel Bewley Monsell         Hymnal #552

Fight the good fight with all thy might,
Christ is thy strength and Christ thy right;
lay hold on life, and it shall be
thy joy and crown eternally.

Run the straight race through God’s good grace,
lift up thine eyes and seek his face;
life with its way before us lies,
Christ is the path and Christ the prize.

Cast care aside, lean on thy Guide;
his boundless mercy will provide;
trust, and thy trusting soul shall prove
Christ is its life and Christ its love.

Faint not nor fear, his arms are near;
he changeth not, and thou art dear;
only believe, and thou shalt see
that Christ is all in all to thee.

(John Samuel Bewley Monsell (1811-1875))

 

Blessing

The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

 

Hymn: Spirit of the Living God    Daniel Iverson, alt.

Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.

 

 

About Episcopal Worship and this Service

We give thanks this morning for our reader, Creamilda Yoda, for our organist and music director, Beresford Coker; and for our video compiler and editor, Gabriel Wilkins.

 

Resources (available for free online)

These resources contain the prayers and worship services used in The Episcopal Church and by Episcopalians in their daily devotions.

This source shows the readings assigned for use in Sunday worship and for daily office use for each day of the year, with links to online biblical texts.

The Revised Common Lectionary and Daily Office, https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/

Links to church websites – National, Diocesan and our church’s website.

The Episcopal Church: www.episcopalchurch.org

Episcopal News Service: www.episcopalnewsservice.org

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington: www.edow.org

St. Mark’s, Fairland: www.stmarks-silverspring.org

 

A Prayer in Times of Sickness and Contagion

Heavenly Father, giver of life and health, source of all wisdom and peace: Comfort and relieve your servants who suffer from sickness or fear, give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs, and let your grace be with all those who work to protect us from contagion and disease. May we be strengthened against any weakness, sickness, fear, and doubt, and place our confidence in your loving care through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

[1] Or Venite, Psalm 95