13th Sunday after Pentecost 2016

Sermon Title: 13th Sunday after Pentecost 2016
Date: 14th August 2016
Preacher: Rev’d Susanne Chambers
Lectionary Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80, Hebrews 11:29 -12.2, Luke 12:49-59

Our first reading today from Isaiah is often called the ‘Song of the Vineyard’ it’s an unusual poem in that when you read it, you don’t know who the beloved is at first. The beloved turns out to be the vineyard owner who turns out to be God. And the vineyard is Israel and Judah.

And although God, the vineyard owner has been so careful in clearing the land, choosing the best vines, making sure it’s safe with a watchtower and waiting years for the vines to produce grapes, the vines produced inedible grapes.

So God was both angry and grieved that this has happened when so much care went into the long process of producing good fruit and just wants to wreck the whole vineyard!

Isaiah is suggesting that the desired outcome from God’s point of view was that the relationship between God and Israel and Judah would produce good outcomes like justice and peace.  Instead as it says in the last verse “he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” verse 7

This image of God as the vineyard owner is a beautiful picture of God’s care of God’s people.  How much he loved and then was so grieved when we didn’t love back.

You heard the choir sing psalm 80 which picks up this theme of the vineyard and pleads with God to give them another chance! “Turn again, we implore, look down from heaven and see. Visit this vine and protect it, the vine your right hand has planted.” Verse3

Why? So that …

“We shall never forsake you again: give us life that we may call upon your name.  God of hosts, bring us back: let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.” Verse 4

We hear the same message time and again.  God is a God who cares and we keep turning away and then turning back…that’s part of our journey in growing in our knowledge and relationship with God.

The author of the Hebrews is wanting the readers to hang in there on their journey or in other words, to run with perseverance the race that is set before them. He gives a number of examples who ‘by faith’ or ‘through faith’ stayed with what they believed was God’s will, even if it meant suffering.

‘God’s will needs to be constantly tested because we can so easily think that what we want is our God’s will and not vice versa!’[i] And this can become quite destructive if our faith is not directed towards the God of compassion who will not compromise love or discount some people as of lesser worth.

All the heroes of the faith listed in our reading, we may find a bit daunting and wonder how on earth can I enter the race with such a cloud of witnesses!

The examples he gave were to inspire ongoing faithfulness. But don’t be daunted!

Each of those mentioned were not perfect. As Rev’d Dr Janet Hunt reminds us, e.g. “Gideon, for instance, was an altogether reluctant warrior. He was not confident in his own ability and he asked for proof that it was even the Lord talking to him at all. (Judges 6-8)

Barak refused to go to battle without Deborah at his side… (Judges 4)

Samson, for all of his superhuman strength, does not come off as all that bright and as his story comes to a close, he dies making his point. (Judges 16)

Jephthah, though described as a mighty warrior, essentially traded the life of his only child, his daughter, for a military victory. (Judges 11)

David was, of course, the ‘ideal king’ for the nation of Israel, but for all of his remarkable gifts, he committed adultery and arranged for the death of Bathsheba’s husband. (2 Samuel 11:1-12:25)

Samuel, for all of his faithfulness, failed to convince the people that being ruled by a king would surely be their downfall. (1 Samuel 8:10-22)

And as for Rahab who is mentioned even before this litany of other “heroes of the faith?” For all the good she did, she was still remembered as a prostitute.”[ii]

So take courage. You and I are in good company as we run the race. And it’s not about winning. It’s about finishing the race…this journey with God we are on!

I watched the Matilda’s against Brazil yesterday in the soccer and it ended in penalty shoot outs… it got up to 6 shoot outs and then Brazil saved a goal.  It was devastating for the Aussie team and particularly for the one who missed the goal.  Winners and losers. It’s not all about that but our world and we participate in this, want winners and don’t want losers…in fact, coming second can seem like a failure.

It took me years to know this in my life. Being second born and finding that a number of ‘seconds’ happened in my life, made me feel for many years, not so good about myself.

So it’s quite a journey we are on as we understand ourselves to be in a continuing process of growth and development; at each stage of which we are in the company of God.

And this is building on the relationship of love from the beloved, the vineyard owner.

So when we come to a difficult passage like the one from Luke today, I hope we can see that Jesus doesn’t want ‘peace at all costs.’ Certainly he did come to bring peace. The song of the angels at his birth suggested that his mission was peace (Luke2:14). He made reconciliation and peace the centre of his preaching and teaching. He rode a donkey of peace into Jerusalem, not a war horse. But there is a cost as we know as men killed this peaceful man…but a man who tried to bring people back to a God of love and compassion who cares for each and every one of us and for each and everyone one of us to ‘know’ this and to treat others the same.

So these words from Luke on Jesus’ lips are the effects of his teaching.

We are very much influenced by the world and culture we live in. We try to keep up with expectations.  We cover up any family problems or secrets and pretend to the world outside that all is well.  And as individuals, we can still live with not being truly who we were meant to be, because we still hear the voice of ‘no, you can’t do that’, no, you are not good enough’ etc, from mother or father, who may have been dead 30years and still we are paralysed into finding our own voice and live our lives fully.

This is the journey of faith.  This is the journey of self-discovery of knowing we do have a cloud of witnesses who have stuffed up like us, like our mums and dads or whoever, and yet…and yet, we keep on ..trying to break through the weights that hold us back so that we can run together and finish the race.

That’s liberation.  That’s freedom.

That’s Jesus’ message of love and peace.

Not easy.  Nothing Jesus said or says to us today is easy, but it is life giving.

God the vineyard owner who has created us and all of creation, continues to tend us, love us, work in us, even if it means showing up some of our unhealthy branches, so that we will bear good fruit not just for ourselves but for a better world.

The Lord be with you.