Monday, 30 October 2017

All Souls: Heavenly prayer

1 Cor 13.8-13

At the heart of this service is an act of prayer, when we read the names of those we have loved who have died and light candles for them, remembering them before God and one another. I hope all the other aspects of the service are helpful too, but I know it’s that central act of prayer which is the focus, the moment that’s most important tonight.

But what is it we’re doing when we pray tonight?
That’s a question that may be difficult to answer, and all our answers would probably be different.

For a start, the people we grieve were all different. A prayer for a much loved parent who died peacefully in extreme old age will be different from a prayer for someone who died before their time, or in tragic circumstances, or with whom we had a troubled relationship.

Grief changes over time, too, and so the prayers that express it change. I hesitate to say that time heals, because sometimes it doesn’t feel like that at all, but the desperate, raw prayer that screams at God in disbelief when we first hear of a sudden death isn’t the same as the prayer we pray once we’ve lived with that reality for months or years. That doesn’t mean our love has changed; it is just that the human body can’t sustain that first, intense level of shock and sadness forever, even if we wanted it to. As we mull over our memories repeatedly, they gradually become part of the warp and weft of our life, familiar, quieter sadnesses.

And, of course, we may understand prayer differently because we have different ideas about God. Some people here may picture an old man with a white beard when they pray. In fact the Bible doesn’t very often describe God like that, but somehow it is the image that seems to have stuck with people.  For some that traditional image may be benign and comforting, for others it may seem forbidding or distant. It usually depends on the messages we received in childhood. Some may see they person of Jesus in their mind’s eyes when they pray. Others may be praying to something far less definitely formed. They may see God as  light, love, peace, mystery. Sometimes when people pray after a death, it is really those they mourn who they’re talking to. Many people carry on holding conversations with those who’ve died for a long time, if not forever. It is perfectly normal. When you’ve been talking to someone every day for decades, it would be odd if you could suddenly stop doing so simply because they’re not physically present. I am sure, too, that there are people here who aren’t really talking to anyone – divine or human – but who still value the time to remember and honour their memories.

What are we doing tonight when we pray? Many things, and most of them we can’t explain. Fortunately, though, no one is going to ask you to, because Christians believe that there’s no exam to pass before we pray, no special technique we need to master, no right or wrong way to do it. It’s just a matter of turning up. Prayer is just us, as we are, being ourselves in the presence of God. We don’t need to understand or articulate it. We just have to turn up.

“That will be heaven”, said the *poem I just read, “to stand like the sunflower turned full face to the sun”. Evangeline Paterson sees heaven as being like a perfect act of prayer, being in God’s presence and “never turning away again”. And in God’s presence everything else is present too. Even the “circling planets hum with an utter joy”, she says. And it seems to me that if “the circling planets” are in on the act, then surely, those we mourn are also there, joining in the song.

Heaven, for Evangeline Paterson, is a perfect act of prayer, when we are one with God, and one with all that God has made, including those we love. So maybe that means that our very momentary and imperfect times of prayer can give us a glimpse of heaven too. Our Bible reading tonight reminded us that heaven is where we finally see as we are see and know as we are known, fully and joyfully. We may not be there yet. We may feel far off, but in prayer, we can get a glimpse of that moment, an echo of that perfect peace and perfect oneness, which will sustains us until we “never turn away again”.

In a moment the choir are going to sing a song from the Iona community to lead us into our act of prayer and remembrance. “Listen Lord; Listen Lord, not to our words but to our prayer” runs the chorus. It is easy to get hung up on words – the words we pray, the words we use to talk about prayer – but these will, at best, always be frustratingly imprecise, never quite saying what we really mean.  What matters, this song remind us, is not the words, but the prayer itself, simply turning up, and trusting that God – whatever we mean by God - has turned up too. The fact that we are here is enough, with our memories, joyful and sorrowful, with our thanks, with our regrets and our fears. This is our prayer. The God who hears what we can’t say, and knows what we can’t express will do the rest.

*Evangeline Paterson's poem can be found in "The heart's time" by Janet Morley, p.156, but a Google search will probably lead you to it as well. 

Sunday, 29 October 2017

All Saints

Matthew 5.1-12, 1 John 3.1-3 & Revelation 7.9-17
Audio Version here

This month marks 15 years since I was licensed as a Reader in Rochester Cathedral by the then Bishop Michael. That means some of you have probably been listening to me 'spout' from here for around 16 years as I needed some ‘guinea pigs’ to practice on the year before. Thank you. 
It’s an incredible privilege that you allow me an attempt most months at showing why words from this library of writings brought together to form the Holy Bible still offers relevance, guidance and inextinguishable hope for every one of us. I am more certain of that than when I first started even if I’m not always able to convey it to you.

Because all the sermons preached here go on the website we know that they are read by many that don’t hear them first hand. If you think any preaching at Seal is good I’d urge you to offer them to friends and family as it’s a very gentle way to literally spread the Word.
The best sermons have a gripping beginning and a thought provoking end and as many people think the two should be as close together as possible I’m going to crack on with today’s offering!

Have you ever done a self-portrait? I think I did one in my youth, but as some of us get a little older we’d probably rather not, all that time staring at ourselves and focussing on what we really look like in every small detail can be a bit too much. Time will tell whether the current generation of young people always taking ‘selfies’ on their mobile devices will have the same enthusiasm as they get to a more mature age?

We live in an age of audits, inspections and reports. School audits, accountancy audits, medical audits, IT audits, security audits and many more, usually not of our choosing but imposed by the regulatory authority or professional body. But how many of us ever stop to do a self-audit?

As we hear the words from the early part of Jesus ‘Sermon on the Mount’ do we recognise ourselves among those he names as blessed? The poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted?

My guess is that for most of us a self-audit would produce the answer ‘sometimes, and that we are still working on much of this with mixed results.’

Compare that with what we think of when someone mentions saints and all things saintly. Heavenly images may abound of perfect people doing incredible things because of their love of God. We may think of famous saints, in recent memory maybe Teresa of Calcutta for her work with the poor particularly in India or maybe ancient saints such as Francis of Assisi founder of the Franciscan Order and famous for his love of animals and stewardship of the natural environment. How could we ever compare?

But consider our own patron saints for this church, Peter who denied knowing Christ and Paul who, as Saul of Tarsus persecuted the church before his conversion on the road to Damascus.

Well at least it’s clear that we don’t have to be perfect to become a saint, in fact perhaps it’s not so much about becoming famous, special or even believing that we are particularly holy and more about being people who keep trying to be more Christ like despite setbacks, disappointments and struggles to cling on to our faith.

The beatitudes that we heard from Jesus might not fully paint a portrait of us but every aspect can be found fully in Christ and in that sense Jesus offers us a self-portrait, one that he wants us to keep striving towards.

We can find saints for virtually every aspect of life and each has a story explaining why. St Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost items very popular with men looking for their car keys, St Francis Caraciollo the patron saint of chefs, another Italian of course, Lidwina for ice skaters, St Yves for lawyers and Isisdore of Seville for computer programmers. It seems like there is a saint associated with every aspect of life but I wasn’t going to fall for it when I heard that there was a great cry for a new patron saint for coffee drinkers, St Arbucks! Whilst we may never be famous in the way of some saints it is clear that every vocation, every walk of life offers a potential route to sainthood. We don’t have to look for something special, only to find Christ in all we do including our daily work, study and relationships.
An easily accessible way to explore this could be by watching a series currently on BBC4 called ‘The Retreat’. At various abbeys the monks are shown not only in prayer and worship but they also emphasis that everything they do becomes an extension of this. If you like sitting on the sofa watching other people work then this is for you.  It’s surprisingly compulsive and relaxing to watch them working in silence at baking, sweeping, iconography, carpentry, gardening and many necessary and routine tasks which because of the way in which they are approached are offered as prayer.

I’ve heard many people say that they feel close to God when gardening or exploring the natural world and this appreciation itself can become prayer and praise which grows into a desire to preserve and protect our world for fellow human beings now and in the future.
Once we don’t associate saints with impossibly perfect people we are able to recognise the saintly aspects of those who have gone before us. Sometimes lives are so busy and full that it’s hard to keep aiming to be more Christ like.

My own mother raising 5 children, one of which was severely disabled, must have had great time pressures but I recall growing up knowing that I was loved and wanted in a way that makes the words in our Revelation reading real to me ‘ See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God. An enduring memory of mine is the prayer card she had wedged into one of the kitchen cupboards, laminated of course so it could be wiped clean occasionally amid the chaos.

It may be familiar to you. Many simply know it as the ‘Kitchen Prayer’.
The first part of it goes…

Lord of all pots and pans and things
Since I’ve not time to be
A saint by doing lovely things or
Watching late with Thee
Or dreaming in the dawn light or
Storming Heaven’s gates
Make me a saint by getting meals and
Washing up the plates.

Although I must have Martha’s hands,
I have a Mary mind
And when I black the boots and shoes,
Thy sandals Lord I find.
I think of how they trod the earth,
What time I scrub the floor
Accept this meditation Lord,
I haven’t time for more.

It’s light hearted but reminds us that God is Lord of all things even the most routine and mundane and that we can engage with him and offer prayer in a multitude of situations.

We often recite together that we believe in ‘the communion of saints’ and we come together in this way when we say ‘Our Father’. Rowan Williams explains that this communion becomes visible as we express who are and make it real through words and actions. Through baptism and being invited to eat with Jesus. Just as, in his earthly life, Jesus expressed his promise to create a new people of God by sharing meals with unlikely people, just as, after the resurrection, he shares food with his disciples as he re-calls them to their task, so it is with the whole Church. We are in the Church because we have been invited, not because we have earned our place.

It’s a reminder that God doesn’t expect the impossible of us, all we have to do is accept his unconditional loving invitation.

John’s letter reassures us of God’s love as his children. The part where he says that ‘ the world doesn’t know us…’ is because the concept of knowing is about being in relationship, fellowship and communion and those who choose to reject this also will struggle to understand this.

Christ gives us guidance to start living know a life that relates to that we might hope for in eternity. In our Revelation reading the author offers a glimpse of what heaven might look like and even if we consider ourselves open minded and inclusive this will be even more so.

It for us to reflect this back into our current lives as far as we are able and show this through our relationships particularly where we encounter other faiths and cultures. 
We hear of worship and praise in this vision of heaven and I feel we have come full circle as we each consider how we can make this part of everything we do.
If we take away only one message today it should be a message of love and hope for all suffering, struggling, mourning, in fear and pain that if we cling onto our faith we can be certain that we will not be let down and that one day God ‘will wipe away every tear.’

Kevin Bright 
29th October 2017

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Trinity 19: The Emperor's coin

Things were hotting up in the Temple in Jerusalem, where today’s Gospel reading is set. Over the last few Sundays we’ve read successive instalments of a long argument Jesus had been having with the religious authorities there.  Jesus had told a string of parables in which they were obviously the villains, not the heroes, as they might have expected. “You show deference to no one” they say – well, he certainly wasn’t showing any deference to them!

It’s not surprising that they want to regain the upper hand, to put Jesus in his place. After all, who is he? Just a carpenter from Nazareth. But the crowds seemed to love him, and that made him dangerous. These religious professionals weren’t necessarily bad people.  They were worried for their nation, for their families, for themselves. It didn’t pay to stir up trouble when you were ruled by Rome, and they wanted to close down this particular troublemaker before he brought disaster on them all. So they cooked up rather an unlikely alliance to stop him.

The Pharisees, religious purists, teamed up with the Herodians, supporters of King Herod, the puppet king of Israel, who was kept in power by Rome, and they came to Jesus with a killer question, which would put him in an impossible position. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor, or not?” If he said yes, he’d fall foul of the nationalists who wanted independence from Rome. If he said no he’d be in trouble with the Romans. One or other of these groups would get him into hot water, whatever he said. He couldn’t win.

Jesus’ response, though, was simply to ask for a coin, the kind of coin they would have paid that Roman tax with. And they produced one, with no trouble at all.

Now at this point, many Bible commentators will tell you that they shouldn’t have had this coin with them in the Temple anyway, and that by getting them to produce it, Jesus has tricked them into condemning themselves. I’ve said it myself in the past. Roman coins had pictures of the Emperor on them, and Jews were forbidden to make graven images. The Emperor was supposedly divine, too, which made it even worse. This is why Jesus calls them hypocrites, this argument says, pretending to be so holy while they have brought this blasphemous coin into the sacred precincts of the Temple. 

It’s a neat argument. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold water. There’s no evidence that you couldn’t bring Roman money into the Temple. You just weren’t allowed to use it to pay the Temple tax, which funded the maintenance and ministry of the Temple. That tax had to be paid in coins called Tyrian Shekels. That’s why there were money changers in the Temple, so that you could change the money you normally used into as much of the Temple currency as you would need. Those Tyrian Shekels were minted in the city of Tyre, as the name suggests. But here’s the thing. Tyre was a pagan, Phonecian city, and Tyrian Shekels also had images on them, just like those Roman coins. In fact they had the head of the Phonecian God Melqat on them, who was also known as Baal. Large swathes of the Old Testament are devoted to proclaiming Baal to be a very bad thing indeed. Why were these Tyrian Shekels acceptable in the Temple, then? The answer turns out to be rather prosaic. Tyrian Shekels had a reputation for being pure silver, not adulterated with other metals as some were. The religious authorities, it seemed, really weren’t bothered about what was on the coins, so long as they were worth what they said they were.

So this “blasphemous coin” interpretation of the story really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny at all. And that makes me wonder why it has been so popular, why people keep unquestioningly repeating it. It seems like it’s one of those things that we want to be true, even though it isn’t. And I wonder why that is. My suspicion is that we want to feel that Jesus is being really clever here, that he’s outwitted the Pharisees and Herodians. They’ve tried to trap him, but they’re the ones who’ve ended up with egg on their faces. My guess is that deep down, we like that. We like the idea that “our man” has pulled a fast on one them. They wanted to regain the upper hand, but with this trick with the coin, he’s come out on top – and that means we who follow him are on top too.

But if that’s not what’s happening, then what is? It’s true that the Pharisees and the Herodians go away amazed, but what is it that has amazed them?

To understand that I think we need to look more carefully at the answer he gives them, an answer which, frankly, is pretty baffling.
“Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s”.  What does it mean? What is Jesus saying? Firstly, perhaps, he’s reminding his questioners – and us – that we all  have to live in the world as it is.  There isn’t an opt out mechanism. People have tried to separate themselves from the grubby complexities of life throughout human history. They’ve withdrawn to the desert, formed utopian communities, refused to participate in government, and shunned those who’ve disagreed with them. It’s not just religious people who’ve done this. Political purists can be every bit as exclusive as religious ones.

But all these separatist ideological experiments tend to run into the same difficulties in the end. It’s all very well to draw a line in the sand, to say “this far and no further” but where should we draw it, and how firmly. Radical groups always split – and often keep splitting – over the issue of how pure is pure, how separate is separate, how different do we have to be. Even the famously peaceable, simple-living Amish have split many times, over things like whether they should use electricity or wear clothes with zips in them. It may seem strange to us to fall out over these things, but they’ve come to matter to the Amish. They want to draw a line between themselves and the rest of the world, but they all draw it somewhere different.

“Give to the emperor what is the emperor’s” says Jesus. “However much you might want to have nothing to do with Rome,” says Jesus, “ that’s not an option. Rome is part of your reality, for good and ill, part of the world God has set you in. Pretending it isn’t won’t change anything.”

But then Jesus goes on. As well as telling us to “give the Emperor what is the Emperor’s”, he also tells us to “Give to God what is God’s” . That’s the sting in the tail. Because what is God’s? To put it simply everything is God’s. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” say Psalm 24. Ultimately, wherever our human loyalties and investments are, God’s claim on us goes beyond them and takes priority over them. And that means that, whether we like it or not, there will almost certainly come a time when the demands of the world around us and the demands of our faith will come into conflict, and there will be no easy, painless way out of that conflict. Jesus knows this, but he’s seems not to be afraid of it, and that, I think, is what really amazes these Pharisees and Herodians.

I don’t think they’re amazed because Jesus’ response is clever. I think they are amazed because it isn’t. He isn’t trying to make them look stupid, or win some sort of word game with them. He isn’t trying to wriggle off the hook they are dangling in front of him. If he was, this provocative answer was a strange way of doing it.  In fact, within a couple of days of this encounter he’ll be arrested and crucified. His ministry was always going to end like that, and he knew it. His commitment to least and the lowest in his society was bound to lead to a head-on collision with the Roman and Jewish authorities, the people who  had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and clinging onto their power. They were never going to tolerate the challenge he confronted them with.

I’m reminded of Daphne Galizia, the Maltese journalist who was blown up this week, apparently because of her long and lonely struggle to expose corruption in Malta. I don’t know what motivated and sustained her in that, but I think the courage that Jesus shows here as he walks straight into the jaws of death comes from his deep awareness that, indeed, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” That includes him, as it does all of us. We are held in God’s hands. We are ultimately safe, whatever the world does to us. Jesus knew that and he trusted it, and that meant that when the demands of love came up against the demands of the authorities in his world, he was able to keep his feet on the path he knew was right.  

So, I don’t think this is a story about a coin trick that turns the tables on some cunning opponents. I don’t think it gives us clever answers to the dilemmas we face as we negotiate our way through the complexities of life.  I don’t think it’s a story about cleverness at all. I think it’s a story about courage. , the courage that comes from knowing deep down in our hearts that we belong to God, that we bear his image, that we’re named, known and loved by him. If we can grasp that, no power on earth can ultimately destroy us.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Trinity 17 : God's vineyard

‘Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard.”

The people who first heard the prophet Isaiah’s words probably thought they knew what they were in for. It was the classic way to begin a romantic folk song, and it sounded as if it was going to be a good one, a tale of romance, of passion, of good wine and sweet juicy grapes. The vineyard isn’t just a vineyard here. It is a symbol of a relationship.

It started off well. He had a ‘vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watch-tower in the midst of it and hewed out a wine vat in it.’ This was a vineyard that had everything going for it; a good position and a caring, hard-working owner who didn’t stint on the preparations. There was nothing hasty or slapdash about what he did. He planted the best vines. He protected his vineyard.

But despite all the careful preparation, all the love that had been poured into this vineyard, all the hope of its owner, everything went wrong.

‘I expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes’  It reminds me a bit of the English folk song ‘The water is wide’ - ‘I leaned my back up against a tree/ thinking it was a trusty oak/ but first it bent and then it broke/ and so did my false love to me.’ Different plant; same sense of bitter disappointment.

In Isaiah’s prophecy things go very rapidly downhill. There is nothing for it but to leave the vineyard to decay. The walls are broken down. It’s overrun by weeds. Even the rain won’t fall on it; it will soon become a desert.

By this stage, Isaiah’s hearers are probably starting to get the message. This isn’t some folk ballad about a human love story that’s gone wrong. It is a picture of God’s love affair with his people Israel. They are the vine. He’d planted them in a rich and productive land after their long slavery in Egypt. He’d given them everything they needed to thrive and bear good fruit, but they’d refused to live in the way he’d shown them. ‘He expected justice, but he saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!’

Isaiah was writing just as calamity was falling on Jerusalem. The Babylonian armies were breaking down its walls. Like the vineyard in the prophecy it would soon be overrun, and left to rot and ruin.  ‘Why is this happening?’ said the people. ‘Here’s your answer,’ says Isaiah. God had done his bit, but they’d never really lived as citizens of his kingdom, never really lived out the life he called them to, a life of justice and peace. The nation had brought this disaster on itself.

Six hundred years later, Jesus launched into a story about a vineyard. He was standing in the Temple talking to the chief priests and elders. They’d have been very familiar with the imagery. Israel was often pictured as a vine or a vineyard in the Hebrew Scriptures – we heard it in today’s Psalm too.  They would have known Isaiah’s prophecy well – he was the most popular prophet at this time. They may have quoted the passage we heard to people themselves as a terrible warning.  ‘Look what happens when people ignore God’s rules’ they might have said, wagging their fingers at the sinners around them, the tax collectors and prostitutes, those who were down on their luck, beyond the pale, condemned by respectable society.

So when they hear Jesus talking about vines and vineyards, they wouldn’t have been surprised, but they would have been suspicious. Where is he going with this story? They have good reason to worry. A few days earlier Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey, acclaimed by the crowds, in a demonstration that had put the wind up the settled elites. To make matters worse, he had just told this crowd of religious professionals that tax- collectors and prostitutes would enter the Kingdom of Heaven before they did. And as this story unfolds , it gradually dawns on them that they aren’t the heroes in it; they are the villains, the ones who withhold the vineyard’s produce from its rightful owner. Unlike Isaiah’s vineyard, this one is fruitful, but the refuse to give the landlord his property. He sends his messengers – the prophets – to try to set them straight, but they won’t listen, and even stone them. Finally, says the story, he sends his son, but him they kill.

Why do they kill him? How can they behave this way? Well, perhaps there is a clue in the way that landlord and tenants describe this final attempt to claim that grape harvest. Look at how the story describes this final man who is sent to them. ‘Finally’ it says, ‘he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.”’

To the vineyard owner, this man is a son, a person whose birth he greeted with joy, who he’d seen grow up, who he’d nurtured and loved, who he had hopes and dreams for. His heart is tied to him. He’s proud and happy when things go well for him, weeps when he is hurt. That is what it is like to have a son.

But the tenants don’t see him as the landlord’s son, even though they know he is. They see him solely as the heir – that’s the word they use for him. Heir. That’s a word that’s simply about inheritance, money, what is coming to you. He’s not a person to them, he’s just an obstacle between them and the land they want for themselves. Calling him the “heir” dehumanises him - treats him as no more than an  economic unit. They have to dehumanise him in order to kill him. To them he is no one’s son, no one’s brother, no one’s husband or friend; they deny him his personhood, so that they can get rid of him as they might a piece of rubbish.  

That’s the way these chief priests and elders will treat Jesus – he will be crucified within the week. He can see it’s going to happen because it’s also the way he has seen them treat others, making rules which exclude and demonise people without, as he says elsewhere, “lifting a finger to help them”. They have pushed away those who they judged to be unworthy, the poor, the disabled, widows, orphans, those whose lives have taken a wrong turning. They have behaved as if God’s kingdom is theirs to control, as if they’re the ones who can say who is in and who is out of God’s favour. They have put themselves at the centre, secure within the borders of their self-defined world. In the end, though, as Jesus starkly warns, this will backfire. Their greed and self-protectiveness will bring disaster not just on them, but on those around them too.

The world is not their oyster. It is God’s kingdom. It is not theirs to own and to rule, to declare who can come in and who must stay out. It is God’s. No wonder they start to feel so uncomfortable.  

But perhaps it should make us uncomfortable too. We don’t have to be a first century chief priests to feel like we are – or ought to be – the centre of our universes, to behave as if we’re entitled to treat others as less than human, less worthy of attention and care. We all do it some of the time. 

At its extreme, it produces the sense of entitlement which enables people to massacre others, to take away their lives, as we saw in Las Vegas earlier this week. But in smaller ways, at work, at home, in our communities and in our churches, we can all turn into little empire builders, jealously protecting our turf, clinging onto what we think is ours,  elbowing aside anyone who is inconvenient to us. We don’t usually do it out of calculated wickedness, but because we feel insecure. If we don’t look out for number one, who will? But in doing so we reveal our underlying suspicion that we’re really on our own in the world. We may claim to believe that God loves us, that he’s there for us, but do we live like it? If we did, we wouldn’t need to scrabble for a place in the pecking order of the world, because we’d know we already have the safest place possible, a place in the heart of God. We wouldn’t need to dehumanise others or push them down in order to push ourselves up. We wouldn’t need to cling to possessions, because we’d know that we were securely possessed by God, held in his hands. We’d know, like St Paul that Christ Jesus had “made us his own”.

Jesus’ parable is, like most of his parables, is, at its heart, about the kingdom of God, about what it means to live as God’s people. God’s kingdom will be given, says Jesus, to those who produce its fruits, the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. That doesn’t mean it’s some sort of heavenly reward in the distant hereafter for good behaviour now. The point he is making is that the Kingdom of God comes into being as we live it, where we live it. Like the vine he likens it to, God’s kingdom grows organically, naturally. As we love others, a new bud of that Kingdom vine pushes out from the wood. As we act with integrity, a leaf unfurls. As we build community in the places we are the fruit of the kingdom ripens, bringing joy and refreshment to all around. But we can only enjoy that kingdom, only fully participate in it, when we realise whose kingdom it is, whose vineyard, whose vine. It’s not ours. We don’t make it with our anxious labour. We can’t possess it or control it. We don’t have to patrol its borders or protect it by our unremitting vigilance. It is God’s Kingdom, God’s vine, God’s vineyard. He lovingly grows it in our midst, if we will let him, generously gives it to us so that we can generously share its abundance with all who want its life.