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Pentecost 12, Proper 15C, August 15, 2010

Pentecost 12 Proper 15C RCL August 15, 2010 (2)

Isaiah 5: 1-7
Psalm 80: 1-2, 8-18
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12: 49-56

Dear friends, we are encountering some very challenging lessons this morning. Let’s see whether we can find out how they might speak to us.

Our first lesson, again from the First Isaiah, is a powerful, poetic story about someone who plants a vineyard. It is clear that the planter cares deeply about the vineyard, because he chooses s spot on a fertile hill, digs the soil and clears it of stones, plants it with choice vines, builds a watchtower and even makes a wine vat in anticipation of a good harvest.

But the vineyard does not yield sweet grapes. It yields wild grapes. One translator says that the literal translation would be “stinkers,” the same word used to describe decaying flesh! After all this hard work and care, the vineyard fails. The planter asks the people to judge between him and his vineyard. Anyone hearing this story in that age would have said to the planter, “You have done everything you could possibly have done. You must tear out all the vines and replant.”

But then it becomes clear that the planter is Yahweh, God, and that the people of God, who have just said that the vineyard needs to be destroyed and replanted, are receiving a judgment from God. The people have not created a society based on justice and compassion. They have not lived in righteousness, that is, they have not lived in right relationship with God and with each other. The rich and powerful have grown in wealth and power at the expense of those on the margins. And the leaders have engaged in political power plays and unwise alliances which are going to lead to war and their defeat. They will be conquered by foreign powers.

Does God micromanage history? I do not think so. God has given us humans free will. We have choices, and, when we make choices contrary to God’s vision of a human community marked by respect for all and compassion for those at the margins, our societies fall by their own weight. Please note that God is not angry in this story. God is disappointed in the failure of the people to create the society God called them to make.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is still on his way to Jerusalem. “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled. I have a baptism to be baptized with, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He will die there. Baptism means literally drowning, death. He knows that it is going to be a horrible death. He is such a threat to the powers of both the Roman Empire and the religious establishment that they feel they have to kill him.

The shalom of Christ is not an easy peace. When we make our choice to follow Christ, that choice has consequences which we can not know at the time.

Recently, ten members of the International Assistance Mission, a Christian group which has been bringing medical and dental care to the remote reaches of Afghanistan for many years, were shot. Six Americans, two Afghans, one person from Britain and one from Germany. Dr. Tom Little, an optometrist from Delmar, New York, had served there for thirty years. He and his wife had raised their children in Afghanistan. Dr. Thomas Grams gave up a lucrative dental practice to bring dental care to people in Afghanistan, Nepal, Guatemala, and India. He gave thousands of toothbrushes and bright smiles to kids who had never seen a toothbrush. Glenn Lapp, a nurse from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, had served in Afghanistan since 2008. Cheryl Beckett had worked in Afghanistan for six years helping people with gardening and mother-child health. They were there just to help, not to convert people. As one person said, they were there to treat people with respect and love. That is what the shalom of Christ is all about. Leaders of International Aid Mission said that this tragedy will not mean the end of the work in Afghanistan. The work will go on.

Our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, writes, “Shalom is a vision of the City of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work….Each of us has the potential to be a partner in God’s government, to be a co-creator of a good and whole and peaceful community. Each one of us has been given abundant gifts to do that work. All that’s needed is a vision and a heart. The vision is one that Isaiah spells out—a society of peace and justice. The heart is a work in progress for all of us, sometimes a harder heart, sometimes one softened up enough to feel compassion for those who haven’t yet experienced that vision of shalom.” (A Wing and a Prayer, pp. 33-34.)

We face some challenging questions. How can I help to advance God’s shalom? Which of these choices before me is going to add to Christ’s shalom?

Our Lord was telling us that following him is not easy. It can sometimes put us at odds with those closest to us, even our own families. The Letter to the Hebrews was addressed to new Christians who had made the choice to follow Christ and had suffered many challenges, including persecution. The writer of Hebrews reminds us of all the faithful people who have gone before us and ends with a stirring call to hope and faith, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

There is nothing we have to endure which our Lord has not already endured. He is our Good Shepherd. He goes out in front of us. As an ancient prayer says, “Lord, wherever I go, thou art there.” Lead us and guide us, O Lord.

Amen

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