With God as our Center

In the Parable of the Vineyard, Jesus confronts the Pharisees. With the Temple and the children of Israel as the Vineyard, they had been given one task which was to lead the people in producing the fruits of God, compassion, justice, and righteousness. Instead, out of their fear, they forgot who they were called do serve as the Temple and Torah became their Gods with injustice becoming the fruit of their vine. 
No wonder why Jesus’ presence in the Temple made them so uncomfortable. Their zeal for maintaining the Temple was so strong, they lost sight of who the temple was for and because of this they failed to recognize the incarnate God standing before them. St. Paul in this morning’s passage from Philippians, confesses to once being part of this caste as he states, “ If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 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; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” In this opening statement he offers the church his pedigree of Jewish righteousness and then basically says he willingly gave it up or willingly took the loss for Christ and now considers his past pedigree as rubbish. Why rubbish? Because all of what Paul had attained on his behalf lacked what he now understands to be the cornerstone of righteousness, “faith in Christ Jesus.” This he declares IS the righteousness from God based on faith.”
I believe Matthew included the parable of the Vineyard in his Gospel, not as a means to condemn the Pharisees in perpetuity, but to serve as a constant reminder to the church of how easy it is for our objects of faith to go from being Icons of faith, things which help us see God, to becoming Idols or false Gods. 
So often we forget that it is God, not the objects of our faith, we are called to worship. WE forget as the cornerstone of our lives God is meant to be part of all we do as the church. In times of stress, this message becomes especially important. In smaller congregations, due to the overwhelming responsibility of maintaining old and often times inefficient buildings, their focus often goes inward with the congregation’s mission becoming more about the upkeep of the building than their service to the risen Christ.
In larger congregations, the programs of the congregation become the idols of the church as one program is pitted against the other for the limited pool of resources. How easy it is to forget that no one program makes up the whole of the congregation that it is the interplay of the whole in the context of the prayers of the community which makes us who we are.
St. Paul in his letter to the Romans states,”For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” As Paul calls the individual members to unite through the sharing of their gifts and talents as essential parts of the work of the Body of Christ in the world, so too are all the programs of the church meant to work together towards offering a taste of the heavenly kingdom to the world. 
As St. Peter’s continues to grow in to the program parish it now is, it will be easier to forget that each individual program we offer is part of a greater whole. At times this reality will make us feel a bit disjointed as new members identify more strongly with the various programs through which they entered our community. The key to our cohesiveness is to keep in mind, all of our programs are built on the same foundation, Jesus Christ, and all which we offer radiates from the prayers of this community throughout the week. It is also crucial to keep in mind that all of our programs are a part of how we fulfill of our vision, “To become a community of apostles where each person is growing deeper in relationship with God,our neighbors, our self and the world.”  
In recent years, the Preschool Committee has worked hard to rein-vision the preschool. A great deal of research went into our decision to revamp our program. State norms were taken into consideration, however, the biggest struggle we encountered was how to keep the core values of our program consistent with the preschool’s past while at the same time integrating them more fully with our vision as a congregation. 
Knowing the early learning process is primarily through experience, the preschool committee articulated its mission “to develop confident, compassionate, life-long learners in the atmosphere of God’s love.” Our new mission is more about the learning environment than the academics, it is more about the experience of being loved by God, than the play our children enjoy. Our teachers, as they always have, embody this love. Our recently renovated space tells our families that the preschool is an integral part of our mission. And now, as our children learn through play, concepts of God’s love are integrated into the weekly theme with the message of the weekly chapel service also designed to connect with this theme. 
At the end of the day, we know our children leave as apostles. Sent home filled with the experience of God’s love, they share the songs, the prayers, and the message with their parents.
The one remaining challenge the preschool continues to work through is how to foster a sense of belonging to the greater community of St. Peter’s among the families. Recently, I watched a video produced by an historic church in Virginia, I was moved by the rector who stated that one of the core values of the congregation was the belief that everyone who walks through their doors is a part of their community. This included the visiting tourist, those who attended their concerts as well as the regular members of the worshipping congregation. 
As I listened to the rector’s word’s, I had to ask, where do we fall on this paradigm. What do we need to do to move our preschool parents from seeing themselves as just belonging to the preschool to feeling a part of the greater parish? I also asked, how do we move from labeling ourselves based on the role we choose within the community, to understanding ourselves and each other as simply members of St. Peter’s?
I don’t have the answers to these questions. What I do know is that this is part of the solution to avoiding the pitfall in this morning’s parable. One of the issues the pharisees were blinded to was their belief that they were the Temple and everyone who fell outside their belief system were somehow lesser in the eyes of God. Jesus teaches just the opposite, that no matter who we are, we are equals in the eyes of Gods. St Paul teaches, all of our ministries are part of the body that is St Peter’s by-the-Sea. Together we form an amazing witness of what the Reign of God is here in South County.

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