1st Scripture Reading: Isaiah 5: 1-7 & Psalm 80
Isaiah’s prophecy in this reading is both reassuring and heartbreaking. God sings for God’s beloved. The people of Israel, the chosen people, are God’s beloved. But the rest of the reading is a poem of disappointment…”What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?”asks God. “When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?” (God)”expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry.”
It begs the age-old question: why are we, why are people, the way we are? Why do we do terrible things to each other? Given free choice, made in the image of the Divine, why do we continue to make bad choices, choices that are hurtful to each other and to God?
Why does it take us so long to learn that there are consequences to the actions that spring from the choices we make? As President Trump is demonstrating for the world to see, punitive, nasty treatment of another powerful country will certainly result in equally devastating counter measures, and a trade war that threatens to send the world into a spiral of economic meltdown and domestic hardship, attested to by international experts and markets.
We are punished by our own actions. God is not punitive. We are the beloved, with all our warts and our darkness. The negative conditions that seem to be closing in on us are not Divine Intervention – those conditions are what we have created by the choices we make – as my wise mother would say: “We have brought this on ourselves.”
And so, the Amazon jungle burns, the Arctic ice melts, and we continue to choose or to tolerate bully boy leaders who seem to care only about lining their own pockets. Leaders who demonstrate little concern for the poor and disadvantaged of the world, and even less for the survival of this planet which exists only to support and nourish us and all other sentient beings.
I don’t believe we can plead ignorance, people of God. We have been given the freedom to choose between good and evil, and the knowledge of the difference between them. We have been given all we need to lead good and happy lives in harmonious communities. The part of us that rebels against the limitations this knowledge necessarily puts on our behaviour – that part of us – each and every one of us – must be gently reined in and a wholesome discipline applied. Every generation is charged with teaching the children how to do this. We neglect our responsibilities in this area to our peril.
We have not been left rudderless in this area. We are the Beloved of God, and we can be salvaged and healed. There is mercy, and there is grace. But there is also responsibility and an expectation that we can learn from the teachings of our tradition, and from the experiences God leads us thru.
My question this morning to you and to the Church writ large is this: If we do not share the teachings of Jesus the Christ with others, who will?
Hymn #144 MV “Like a Healing Stream”
2nd Scripture reading: Luke 12:49-56
Reflection: “Read the Signs”
I decided not to read or discuss in detail the reading from Hebrews chapter 11 this morning, because the detailed descriptions of the atrocities inflicted on the early Christians is brutal and once again points to that part of humanity’s psyche that chooses to do evil things. And also because I personally do not believe that the way to please God is to suffer the insufferable, in a vain attempt to emulate the terrible suffering of Jesus.
Cease to do evil, learn to do good. Speak truth to power. Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Love one another as Jesus loves us. Forgive and be merciful to those who persecute you, for this is how God loves each of us. Live in Peace. Be joyful in harmonious communities. Celebrate love and kindness. Take responsibility for your actions – make restitution if necessary.
These are the values that govern the Christian life. But we are not there all the time, are we? Jesus points out in this reading that there will be strife even within families over these teachings. There will be struggle as old ways must be abandoned to move us closer to the truth about who and whose we really are. Schisms happened within the early Christian church and many denominational splits still exist. These splits and schisms have disrupted families and broken marriages and destroyed careers. Many non-religious people point to the violence that is attributable to religious fanaticism as the reason why they choose not to align themselves with any organized religion.
The United Church of Canada is going thru a time of massive change, brought on by the changing times. More and more people are choosing not to join a church. There has been a precipitous drop in membership and attendance and therefore in income in the last few decades. Human rights as enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms seemed to directly challenge the Church’s traditional beliefs about homosexuality and women’s rights. Slow to change, our church, along with the other mainstream churches, began to hemorrhage. Far from being seen as a leader in these areas, the church began to look like a dinosaur. Secular society marched ahead with unprecedented social change and left the churches in the dust of antiquated ideas and too rigid mores.
Reading the signs, correctly, if a bit slowly, our United Church of Canada began to take the necessary steps to renew and reinvent itself. We are now ordaining women on par with men, and we have removed all barriers to homosexual persons becoming ministers.
We still struggle with patriarchal and homophobic attitudes, but slowly, and sometimes painfully we are making the necessary changes in our attitudes, our behaviours, and our language. Yes, people of God, the words we choose to use do matter. The exclusivist use of male pronouns and adjectives to represent the Divine is painful to many women. We shape and structure the world around us by the words we use. For generations we have been isolating and punishing the LGBTQ community, and our indigenous neighbours by the use of insulting and denigrating language.
All this must change and is changing – and our church, the United Church is working very hard to meet the challenges that this entails. And Jesus was very right! It is hard work, and it divides us as some cling to the old beliefs that have governed their lives, while for others these changes can’t come fast enough.
But come they will, as surely as the caterpillar becomes the butterfly we are becoming who we are meant to be. We are the beloved – it is time to step up to the plate!
Hymn #606 VU “In Christ there is no East or West”