I miss movies.
Oh not seeing them; over the past year I have seen plenty. We all have.
I miss going to movies.
Watching them together and discussing them after.
CoVID -19 has made movie watching a private experience.
and that is a shame.
Because some movies should be discussed.
The last movie I saw that triggered intense discussions among my friends was the movie Doubt.
Based on the hit Broadway play, it takes place in a Catholic parish and school in the early 60s.
Sister Aloysius, the principal of the parish school
hears a sermon one day by the new associate priest, Father Flynn, on the subject of doubt.
This is the 1960s.
Things are changing in the world and in church, but not with Sister.
Her certainty remains rock solid.
And to hear this young priest entertain the idea of doubt disturbs her.
She begins to look for a reason for his doubts.
She soon decides that it is a relationship Father Flynn is having with the only African American boy in the school. She claims it is inappropriate. He denies it.
She persists, rock – solid in her conviction that Father Flynn is an abuser.
Again and again she accuses him.
She destroys his reputation in the parish,
Sows division between him and the other sisters,
And informs him that she has gone to the sisters in the last parish he was in
and received confirmation of his inappropriate behavior there.
Her certainty causes him to surrender.
He agrees to be reassigned. Sister Aloysius it would seem, has won.
After my friends and I saw Doubt, we talked about many aspects of the movie.
But who we talked about most was Sister Aloysius.
For My friends all knew sisters like Aloysius.
I did not go to Catholic schools,
but that does not mean I have not met people like her. We all have.
People who not only know,
but know that they know.
People who do not doubt.
They are solid in their certainty and brutal in their defense of it.
And if we should seek to correct or challenge their possession of the Truth,
we are then subject to their correction, criticism and sometimes, condemnation.
We meet such people in places like work or school;
We certainly deal with them during this election year
in families they are everywhere.
And Jesus met such people in today’s Gospel;
They were the high priests and elders of the people of Israel
They interpreted God’s law,
they guided the people,
tended to their spiritual needs
With the certainty that comes from God alone.
Thus it was completely natural for them to listen intently
the day Jesus began to tell a story about a vineyard. For they knew their bible.
And they certainly remembered that story - about a vineyard,
Which was tended and protected by its owner,
but while that owner had given the vineyard everything it needed,
all it produced was sour grapes.
Thus the owner destroyed vineyard.
They would remember that story,
because the one telling it was the prophet Isaiah
The vineyard was the people of Judah
And the owner was God
God had given them everything they needed,
and what was their response?
Injustice and violence
they had produced sour fruit
Thus Isaiah ‘s story of the vineyard was a prediction
that God would destroy Judah because of its injustice.
Something that everyone knew had happened
at the hands of the kingdom of Babylon
hundreds of years before.
Jesus began to recount this familiar story . . . and then he changes it;
He introduces tenants
who are chosen by the owner to care for the vineyard
But instead of caring for it, they seek to possess it.
They reject the owner’s messengers,
They kill the owners’ son
“What will the owner do to these tenants?” Jesus asks the chief priests a
“Why, he will destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to someone else.” They answer. WONDERING why Jesus would have asked such a question.
They soon had their answer.
For according to Jesus’ version of the story of the vineyard,
they were those tenants,
The owner was God
The abused messengers were the prophets,
and the one murdered would be God’s Son, who would be given the vineyard, which was God’s kingdom,
after it had been taken from those leaders who had sought to possess it.
We do not know how the chief priests and elders understood this story.
But from the way it is told we know how the first Christians did.
They used it as a protest against their religious leaders,
For they were certain they knew God’s ways better than the Rabbis did.
We also know how Christians throughout history have understood it;
They used it against the Jewish people
For they were certain that they were now God’s chosen people.
It has been used again and again by reformers
whenever the fight had been between people who suffer injustice,
and leaders, secular as well as sacred,
whose certainty resulted in that injustice.
And undoubtedly it will be used this Sunday in some places
to continue that fight and to call for reform.
God knows we need it; in our church, nation and world.
I at first thought to preach from this perspective.
But then I remembered the end of the movie Doubt.
Where, after succeeding in getting Father Flynn transferred.
Sister Aloysius sits in the garden outside her convent, and confesses to a younger sister,
“I have such doubts!”
IT is a shocking admission – what does it mean?
Was Aloysius wrong; did Father Flynn not deserve to be transferred?
Was it all a figment of her imagination?
Not only was Aloysius not sure, neither were we.
ANd of course that was the movies’ point.
Which caused me to change what I was going to preach.
For I realized that whenever we tell this story,
we tell from the point of view of the vineyard which experienced violence in Isaiah’s day, oppression in Jesus’ day and injustice ever since.
However when Isaiah tells the story he tells it from the point of view of the owner
Who gives the vineyard everything it needs, who builds it up, protects it, loves it and asks of it only that it respond, producing not grapes but acts of justice and mercy.
When Jesus tells the story he also tells it from the point of view of the owner
Who gives the vineyard everything it needs, who builds it up, protects it and loves it, and even sees to it that it has one who will care for it, the rejected son, Jesus.
Thus when we tell this story we must tell it the same way. From the point of view of the owner: God,
For when we do that we see something we might want to forget.
That Doubt is not always wrong;
And in fact it can also be the one thing that keeps us right;
For it makes room for the fact that we are not the owner; God is, and that all of us,
And not just our leaders, elected ordained or otherwise, are those tenants.
Given everything we need by God,
not to visit more violence and injustice on each other,
But to see that justice be done
Both for those who chafe under the certainty of others that they are right.
as well as those who suffer because we are certain we are right
That can happen on a national level; I hope it does.
But it can certainly happen here in our parish.
and it does when we begin to see this place not as our little vineyard,
but a place where God is at work
and a thus a place where we care for and welcome each other,
build up and empower each other,
and share with each other with the sacred responsibility that Christ gives us all, to produce the only fruits Christ is interested in, fruits of love and justice.
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