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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 2, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Pentecost 10 Proper 15C August 18, 2019

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

In our opening reading from the prophet Isaiah, God is lovingly building a vineyard. The vineyard is on a fertile hill. God carefully digs it out, removes the stones, plants it with choice vines, builds a watchtower, and hews out a wine vat. All is ready. God expects the vineyard to produce excellent grapes, but it produces sour grapes. The vineyard is a metaphor for the people of God, in this case, the people of Isaiah’s time two thousand seven hundred years ago.

Unfortunately, the vineyard yields sour grapes. The rich and powerful are buying up more and more land, creating huge farms managed by absentee landowners and literally robbing the peasants of their land and livelihood. But the poor cannot get justice. The rich have only to bribe the judges. Corruption is everywhere and the vulnerable suffer. War with the Assyrian Empire will soon follow. God’s word is not being followed.  The vineyard will be destroyed.

In our reading from Hebrews, we begin with God leading the people out of slavery in Egypt and go down through the list of all the people of faith who lived the kind of lives that inspire us. We can all think of our favorite saints, heroes and heroines of the faith who shine as beacons for us to follow as we move through the challenges of life.

Indeed, we are “surrounded by a great  cloud of witnesses.” as we run this race. Because of their holy example, we can hang in there. We can “cast off every weight and sin that clings so closely and look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter our faith.”  We can see him out there ahead of us, leading us, encouraging us, and, thanks to his grace, we can follow him faithfully and complete the race.

What a wonderful thing—we are not alone. It is a blessing that we have the loving power of this “cloud of witnesses” in our minds and hearts as we meditate on the incredibly difficult and challenging gospel for today. We so love our Lord, who is the Prince of Peace. Why does he say such things as he is saying today?

We have to remember that he is heading toward Jerusalem and he knows exactly what he will be facing there. God is a God of love, mercy and justice, and the leaders of our Lord’s time, both religious and secular, were not loving God with all their mind and heart and soul and strength or their neighbors as themselves. The ministry of Jesus turned the world upside down and threatened their power, so they killed him.

Our Lord is telling us that, before his shalom is fully here, there will be strife and division. For me, the most profound and immediate example of this is our own Civil War. With hindsight, we know that slavery is wrong. We know that one human being cannot and should not presume to own another human being. This is treating a fellow human being as an object to be bought, like a horse or a cow. If we think of our Baptismal Covenant, this is not respecting the dignity of every human being.

Yet back in the 1850’s and 1860’s. you could go into churches and hear sermons on both sides of this question. Respected people took stands on both sides of this issue. The Holy Spirit was “guiding us into all truth,” but oh, what a terrible struggle. This is the best example I can think of of Jesus bringing, not peace, but a sword. We are still working on this issue. And there are many other examples we could cite.

There was a time when women could not vote in this country and we realized that they should be granted this right. There was a time when there were signs in the windows of stores and business that read, “No Irish need apply.” There was a time when we put Japanese people who were American citizens in internment camps.There was a time when we failed to think of making buildings and other places accessible to all people. We humans have an innate tendency to lord it over each other, to exclude each other for certain reasons, whether it be race, gender, class, educational level, and on and on it goes. 

As Archbishop Tutu and Bishop Curry remind us, “God has a big family,” but how difficult it has been for us over the centuries to accept that fact.

Jesus calls us to choose his vision of the world, his shalom, his kingdom, his reign. The values of that kingdom are very far from the values we see in much of the world today, so, yes, we have to make choices. When I’m talking with people, and I’m sure this is true for you as well, many folks will say something like, “Thanksgiving dinner is hard for my family. Some us think one way, and the others think exactly the opposite.” I think that’s what our Lord meant by this gospel passage. 

What are we called to do in this situation? What I would suggest is that we focus on the gospels, that we read responsibly, paying attention to the context, and that we try to absorb as much of the life and ministry and spirit of Jesus as we possibly can, that we pray for his guidance, and ask for grace to follow him.

God does indeed have a big family, and Jesus is calling us to help him build his shalom, and the Spirit is guiding us into all the truth, but it is a difficult birth process. May we remember that he is the Prince of Peace calling us to help build his shalom. May we look for him, the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” who is out in front leading us, and may we run the race with him and for him surrounded by that great cloud of witnesses. Amen.

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