Sunday 8 October - Pentecost 18 - Eucharist - Clephane Hume

Exodus 20 1-4,7-9,12-20 ; Philippians 3 4-14  ; Matthew 21 33-46 

Now that we have left creationtide behind us, we are beginning to get well into autumn and towards the season of remembrance. And Christmas Cards for Good Causes are already on display in the church… But we need some intermediate thoughts.

We continue with the story of Moses – he comes down from Mt Sinai and addresses the crowds, relaying the message from God. The Ten Commandments. It’s pretty impressive how, as a code for behaviour, they stand the test of time. Respect towards others, no stealing or coveting, and above all give attention to God – no false images.

I noted that the reading omitted the verses that make further reference as to how to behave on the Sabbath. Are we avoiding a challenge? Six days shalt thou labour, but the seventh is a day when work is put aside and time is devoted to the Lord. Which could be taken to mean going to church. It obviously does for you and me.

Tell that to our consumer society! I remember a minister wearily saying that nowadays people worship at St Gyles, rather than St Giles. Gone too, for the most part, are multigenerational Sunday lunches. Though I suppose outings to shopping centres do at least provide family contact.

How do the people of the USA feel about ‘thou shalt not kill’, in the wake of the terrible massacre in Las Vegas? It’s difficult to comprehend how anyone could work out and undertake such a grim plan of action. But I know, from having working with mentally ill offenders, that people can hide their beliefs and intentions very successfully. However, I do find it difficult to see that increased use of guns for personal security can lead to anything other than further disasters. Constitutional rights or not. But I acknowledge that I have a historically British view of such things.

Paul’s words to the Philippians bear a message of persistence, based on his own experience. There are many people in today’s world who suffer loss, and remain impressively steadfast in their faith. For us, in the relative security of our own lives, it’s challenging enough keeping attention on the disaster ridden countries around the world – Mexico, Yemen, the Caribbean, Bangladesh and the Rohinga people, while giving thought to needs closer to home. Those communities certainly are sharing in suffering. And their resolve to rebuild in the face of adversity is impressive.

Moving to the gospel. The stone that the builders rejected has become the capstone, or cornerstone. I have to confess that I was very relieved to learn the name that we are giving to our new church centre. Some of the alternatives didn’t appeal one bit! The modern translation of the gospel - the capstone, doesn’t have the same attraction for me either. But happily we don’t sing that.

Cornerstone – I can never hear that word without going back to my anecdotage and the 1970s and the community of volunteers who ran the late night coffee house downstairs as an ecumenical outreach project of the Council of West End Churches. (Now City Centre Churches Together.)

Those were the days when the pubs shut early and there were fewer sources of entertainment. We welcomed a wide social mix of customers and although it was hard work at times, it was also a lot of fun. And ongoing friendship. We are still a community, albeit a dwindling one.

So for me, despite the stresses and strains of developing the new cornerstone centre, the name will always, for me, be a symbol of positive action and outreach. I realise that members of CDEL (our development company) might not feel like that at times when there are glitches. So I say to you - press on, there is an exciting future out there!

But I'm jumping ahead. The story of the vineyard requires a bit more interpretation. It’s one of a series in the context of Jesus’ journey towardsJerusalem, at which time he had been subject to numerous challenges by people who did not accept his authority.

In that era, absentee landlords were quite common. The tenants who rented the business presumably did quite well for themselves, though we aren’t actually told that. I assume that success motivated them towards their ambitions of acquiring the place. And after doing away with the servants, they could reason that as the owner had only one son, it would be easy enough to kill him too and take over. Possibly a scenario that Jesus’ audience were familiar with, but not the point of his story.

This is one of a series of parables, told on Jesus’ way toJerusalemand recorded by Matthew and Mark. Examples of people questioning Jesus’ authority. Are we the tenants? Will the non believers be destroyed and God’s people become prominent. Is Jesus the son who is killed?

Yes, is the answer to the latter question, but the rejected stone symbolises Jesus, who will rise again to rebuild the kingdom. The message is clear, that it is Christ who is our corner stone. And that is reinforced by today’s hymns.

Not for nothing did the founders of the original coffee house choose that name. A literal and spiritual statement. Attributed, I believe, to our former curate, then known as Canon Pat, provost of the cathedral, later Bishop Patrick Rodger. And if that’s a fake piece of history, someone please tell me. But it’s a nice legacy.

These gospel verses are a reminder that some unexpected people will get into the kingdom of heaven – not those with pharasaical complacency. And are we going to be smashed to pieces if we reject the message of the gospel? That’s a scary thought, and one that is sometimes unfairly used against the victims of disasters.

It’s all too easy to criticise others – there is a lot of that about these days. But on what basis can we claim to be any potentially better than those who we feel are not doing a good and proper job? I think the Primates meeting may have had to grapple with that this past week. Condemning others is, I often think, a way of ensuring that our own failings and inadequacies are less evident. Knocking so called celebrities off their pedestals – possibly because they have not observed the Ten Commandments - is a risky business.

In the face of difficulties and the realities of commercialism, we go back to the beginning, and the Authorised Version - Love the Lord thy God – him only shalt thou serve.

Maybe we could invent some new commandments for 21st century consideration?

Perhaps - thou shalt not devise scams?  The magazine editors might welcome some suggestions!