The lectionary texts for the next Sabbath/Sunday celebrations are: Isaiah 5: 1- 7; Psalm 80:1-2,8-19; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56.
Isaiah 5:1-7 is a famous passage, the song of the vineyard. In Hebrew love poetry, the vineyard represents “the beloved. ” This is the first appearance, chronologically, of the vineyard as a symbol of Israel. In verses 1 and 2, the prophet Isaiah speaks as the friend of the bridegroom. In verses 3-6, the prophet assumes the role of the owner of the vineyard. The owner brings charges against his vineyard, reporting, as if in court, that he had done everything necessary to promote growth. The vineyard had failed him, so he announces the punishment. In verse 7, Isaiah speaks as a prophet, indicting Israel on behalf of God.
The prophet expected grapes and the vineyard yielded wild grapes. Who is guilty of failure? The vineyard or the vineyard keeper? The owner of the vineyard announced “GUILTY” upon the vineyard and executes judgment. The land is returned to waste and the clouds are prohibited to rain upon it. The love song has now become a trial in which Isaiah argues the case before an Israelite audience. The indictment is against the people of Israel and Judah. The vineyard is Israel and the “owner” is the Lord of hosts. The Lord expected justice, fair relationships within society, but instead He saw “bloodshed. ” The Lord expected righteousness, loyal relationships with the Lord. Instead our Lord heard “a cry.” What the prophet Isaiah implies here is that the failure of justice and righteousness will lead to disaster for the Lord’s elect people.
Psalm 80: 1-2,8-19 is a communal lament. Such prayers were offered by the community in the context of a national fast after the disaster. The people would cease their normal routine of life and assemble at sanctuaries, offer sacrifices, lament their distress and entreat God to intervene in their behalf. First, God is addressed as “The Shepherd” of Israel and then as “The Vineyard Keeper.” Just think about it: we are the sheep and we are the vineyard and Divine Supervision is available. The sheep and the vineyard need great care, concern and tenderness. Guess what? IT’S OURS!
The Psalm continues a description of God bringing a vine out of Egypt and preparing a vineyard. The vine grew far and wide, covering the mountains and even extended its shoots to the Euphrates River. Now the vine lies trampled and the people lament their state. They even remind God that Israel is God’s creation and His responsibility. After all of that, then the Community vows to offer fidelity and worship as a thankful response. Down through the years, God has revived us and restored us and we must give worshipful thanks!
Hebrews 11:29-12:2 gives a catalogue of Israelite heroes who exemplified faith and an exhortation to follow the example of Jesus, the Supreme exemplar of faith. This list is intended to remind us of the horrific price at which faithfulness has sometimes been purchased. Who cannot learn from the destruction of the Egyptians? The collapse of the walls of Jericho? Who cannot gather comfort from the experience of prostitute Rahab who was spared? This list is intended to remind us about the conditions under which men and women exhibited tenacious faith. What they all had in common, according to today’s text, was their ability to exhibit faith even in the midst of unfulfilled promises. They lived and died with their promises unfulfilled. And yet, in spite of unrealized hopes, they somehow grasped the future as belonging to a faithful God. They did not have a clear hold on the future and yet they lived and died as if the future were already theirs. This is the essence of faith, that which gives substance to our hopes and convinces us of things unseen. How far will Our faith take us? To the parking lot? Around the corner? Or, into the future holding God’s unchanging hand? Let us not forget that “the cloud of witnesses” who have completed the race, are now watching us as we run the same course of faith. We must be faithful because folks on the outside are sitting and watching to see if we practice what we preach while we run this race! My question is this: What ankle weights are we wearing that will keep us from finishing the race? Hatred, jealousy, prejudice, regrets, an unforgiving spirit, hurt feelings?
If we keep our eyes on Jesus, the Faithful Starter and the Faithful Finisher, we will and we can run with endurance and persevere to the end. YES, we will be tempted to forsake the life of faith. YES, we will grow weary from fighting our enemies. YES, we will be injured in the battles. YES, we will be assaulted and hijacked by demons, but genuine faith will supply a source of strength never before encountered and it’s name is “VICTORY!” Jesus kept His eye on the joy set before Him, and we too share in that joy.
In Luke 12:49-56 Jesus teaches about being misunderstood, first to the disciples and then to the multitudes. Then Jesus teaches about signs in verses 54-56.
In the text, Jesus is continuing to challenge His followers to consider the price in following Him. To be a follower of Christ is not as easy as a walk along Belle Isle or a casual stroll through the park. It is difficult, and true commitment to Jesus costs.
The text says that to be a disciple of Jesus might mean being misunderstood even by one’ s own family. All three Synoptic Gospels record the explanation of Jesus regarding the division of families that would occur because of loyalty to Him. Ultimately His ministry would bring, not peace, but division, because some would accept what He was saying and others would reject it. The entire human race is divided over Jesus. Some are saved and some are lost. Some are walking the narrow road to eternal life and others are walking the broad road to eternal death. Are we prepared to count all things but loss for the excellence of Jesus Christ?
The Gospel lesson continues stating that Jesus’ ministry would be like a fire which devours. Jesus longed for the purpose of His ministry to be accomplished. His life and death would be the basis for His judging Israel. That judgment, like fire, would purify the nation. The baptism He spoke of no doubt referred to His death, which He said would be completed. If you really read these verses, you will feel the presence of Gethsemane in the thoughts of Jesus. The cross was ever before His eyes. Jesus came, not with avenging armies and flying banners, but to give his life as a ransom for many. His commitment to the Father brings the tone of distress. In declaring one’s faithful intent to walk the walk of Jesus, we should not be surprised by our distress, we must pay. PLEASE NOTE: The joining of baptism and fire in our text may be a reflection of the preaching of John the Baptist concerning Jesus: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
In verses 54-56, Jesus chastises the crowd for being experts at predicting the weather on the basis of signs, and yet being blind to what is really going on among them. Let me make it real simple: the Messiah was offering the Kingdom, and they were not responding properly to His offer. They did not recognize a visitation from God. When the same thing happened in Luke 19:41-44, Jesus wept. (That’s another sermon!)
What about us? Are we aware of God’s work and purposes? Are we praying in the Spirit and studying the Living Word of God regarding our jobs, our relationships, our families and this world that has been placed in our hands? Or, are we up to date on all the soap operas and gossip out of Hollywood and the White House, yet ignorant of what the Lord of the Universe is up to? We know the answers to these questions.
C. G. A.