02 October 2011

Living by the two great commandments

‘There was a landlord who planted a vineyard’

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 2 October 2011,
the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity.

9.30 a.m., Holy Communion (The Eucharist), Kenure Church, Rush, Co Dublin.

Exodus 20: 1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Psalm 19; Philippians 3; 4b-14; Matthew 21: 33-46.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The Ten Commandments are posted, in Victorian style, on two panels on each side of the East Window, behind the altar here in Kenure Church.

And the way they are displayed in so many churches in this Victorian fashion often helps to confirm a view that is current today: that the Ten Commandments are a Victorian approach to morality and ethical behaviour – not at all suited to today’s thinking and values.

So often, we think of the Ten Commandments as Victorian and in terms of “Thou Shalt Not …” “Thou shalt kill …” “Thou shalt not steal …” and so on.

But so often, we forget the social construction of the Ten Commandments. Not one of them is about me on my own; all of them are about how I, how we, relate to God and relate to each other. The first four are foundational principles setting out our communal relationship with God, and the next six are about how we relate to one another.

Simply following the commandments is never going to make us free. Such an attitude forgets that the commandments are primarily about relationship and not about personal freedom.

The commandments are about our relationship with God and our relationships with one another – a point brought out clearly in our Gospel reading this morning.

And I hope to discuss that further in my sermons later this morning in Holmpatrick and Balbriggan, when I also look at our Gospel reading and the parable of the wicked workers in the vineyard.

‘There was a landlord who planted a vineyard’ ... grapes ripening on the vine in the Hedgehog in Lichfield a few weeks ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

It is a parable that warns us about the consequences of stealing from God and of rejecting or mistreating God’s messengers.

We are supposed to care for the vineyard on behalf of the owner, and we are supposed to welcome God’s agents, even God’s Son, no matter what guises they come among us … particularly when they are strangers … so that God can reap God’s harvest.

We are called not to be “religious” but to be “fruitful.”

And that can be summed up in the two great commandments, which Christ sets out in the next chapter of this Gospel: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind … This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (see Matthew 22: 37-40).

The Pharisees and the Sadducees thought they were upholding the Law and the Prophets. But this is it … and this is the point of the Ten Commandments and the point of this morning’s Gospel reading: Love God, love your neighbours.


who in generous mercy sent the Holy Spirit
upon your Church in the burning fire of your love:
Grant that your people may be fervent
in the fellowship of the gospel;
that, always abiding in you,
they may be found steadfast in faith and active in service;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Eternal God,
we have received these tokens of your promise.
May we who have been nourished with holy things
live as faithful heirs of your promised kingdom.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This sermon was preached on Sunday 2 October 2011, at the Eucharist in Kenure Church, Rush, Co Dublin.

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