18 August 2019
It’s not a comfortable week, this week, but it is a significant one. This week we really have an opportunity to be confronted with the powerful implications of living a Gospel-centred life in the real world. The essential challenge this week has to do with seeing the world truly – seeing the signs, as Jesus put it – and refusing to ‘prophesy lies’ or pretend everything’s alright when injustice is being done. Being a “whistle-blower” on the world’s brokenness is never fun, and it won’t win us any popularity contests, but it is the cross-bearing work of God’s reign – if we have the courage to choose to do it.
May your worship this week inspire you to see clearly and live with ruthless clarity and honesty.
Isaiah 5:1-7: A metaphorical prophecy of judgement against Israel and Judah, pictured as God’s vineyard, for their lack of justice.
OR Jeremiah 23:23-29: A prophecy against false prophets who make up lies in God’s name, compared to God’s true word which burns like fire and smashes rock like a hammer.
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19: A Psalm of repentance for abandoning God, and praying for God to once again tend and protect God’s people as a vineyard that is well cared for.
OR Psalm 82: This Psalm, picturing a ‘council of the gods’, has God speaking judgement over the gods of nations who oppress the poor and allow injustice to continue unchecked.
Hebrews 11:29-12:2: A reminder of the “great cloud of witnesses” – people of faith who suffered for their message and stayed committed to God through great trial and heartache – who surround us. They encourage us to stay firm, and follow Christ – the one who endured the cross – faithfully.
Luke 12:49-56: Jesus grieves his coming suffering, recognising the conflict that will arise over his message, and challenging people to discern the true nature of the time they live in, in the same way that they interpret the weather.
REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
The Gospel reading this week is a difficult one, a deeply uncomfortable one, but a very significant one. The key is in Jesus’ call to discern the times, which in the Gospel refers to the growing frustration with Rome’s rule over Israel, and the inevitable destruction that would result if the people choose to try and resist Rome (which is, of course, exactly what happened). The division that Jesus speaks about flows from our responses to the times we live in, whether we will do the work of discernment or not, and whether we will choose the way of God’s Reign – the way of the cross – or not. When justice is ignored, and the poor and vulnerable are oppressed, God is angered, and, as indicated in both Isaiah’s prophecy and Psalm 82, judgement is prophesied. The image of the well-tended vineyard that is allowed to be destroyed for failing to produce good fruit is a powerful metaphor for this judgement. In the face of such injustice, there will always be those who refuse to do the work of discerning the times that Jesus called for, and who will prophecy what is untrue (as in Jeremiah), comfortable and expedient. However, there will also always be those who will repent, as in Psalm 80, and who will embrace the sacrifice and rejection that comes from speaking the truth, confronting injustice and working for a more compassionate, peaceful world. Unfortunately, there will always be division between truth speakers and truth deniers, between defenders of justice and defenders of the status quo. This is the cross we are called to carry.
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: The Gospel call of justice is bringing division to our world and even to the Church, as Jesus predicted it would. In the face of economic struggle, there are those who are eager to ‘prophesy’ prosperity, without the need to change the underlying systemic flaws that bring about inequality and injustice. Those who insist on pointing this out, are rejected and scoffed at. In the face of climate change, there are those who are eager to ‘prophesy’ that there is no problem, and that the world is to be destroyed by God anyway. But, those who insist on challenging oil companies, energy companies and government, those who insist on calling attention to the danger of our consumption, are scoffed at, questioned or ignored. There are many voices in our world that want to ‘prophesy’ lies – to ignore the signs of injustice, poverty, excessive consumption, and health care and education failure. And those who insist on proclaiming the Gospel message of repentance, justice and simplicity will need to embrace the cross, for they will not avoid it in the divisive responses that result. The big challenge we face is whether we are willing to embrace the suffering of living out the Gospel message that we preach, while also embracing the suffering of the mocking, accusations and rejection that will come from those who refuse to live differently or to acknowledge the brokenness of our economic, political, healthcare, education, immigration, security and justice systems.
LOCAL APPLICATION: Every Christ-following community and individual is faced, daily, with a choice. We can choose to adopt an ‘escapist’ faith, ignoring the pain of the world while waiting for heavenly bliss after we die, or we can do the work of listening, watching and understanding our societies and neighbourhoods, and the times in which we live. We can prophecy what is easy, comfortable and expedient for us – what requires little sacrifice and work, what makes us feel good, but changes little – or we can draw attention to the signs of injustice among us, we can call out corruption and exploitation, and we can hold ourselves and our leaders accountable to care for the marginalised and vulnerable. Ultimately, if we take the latter course, we will face the suffering of getting involved, for we will have to actually do something about the issues we expose. We will also, inevitably, face the aggression and threats of those who are invested in the status quo. We will find ourselves upsetting the peace, and being labelled “divisive”, “rabble-rousers” and other names. The question is whether we have the conviction and courage to follow the great cloud of witnesses in service of God’s reign, or not. This is a choice we will face every single day.
The Song Of The Vineyard