Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

Proper 15 (20) Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
15 August, 2010 Vanderbilt Divinity Library

Proper 15C / Ordinary 20C / Pentecost 12
15 August, 2010

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Isaiah speaks of the reality of the present. It is a prophetic voice, and the voice of the prophet is the voice that reveals and illuminates the reality of the moment. It is a voice devoid of deception; a voice devoid of political spin and a voice devoid of delusion and self-interest. It’s probably the only prophetic voice we’re going to hear this week as we lead up to an election, therefore. And it’s just worth, before you turn the telly back on and listen to the drivel, read again that first reading, so that you tune in, to hear what a prophet sounds like and then listen to the voice that is being spoken of as we listen to the news and all those adverts in the coming week. It’s a different voice.

Isaiah speaks of “what is” and seeks to illuminate the reality of the present in relation to the reality of God. And so he speaks in terms of a love song, for a love song is the reality of the Divine Word.

A fertile vineyard, planted with choice vines, is to become a wasteland.
Isaiah’s prophetic song sounds like a voice of judgement and punishment; however, we hear in the song where the judgement is to be found in reality: ‘inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard’. The judgement is not with God, the judgement is with the people. And if we look at the reality of God in the song we find that God has done all that can be done – everything is freely given: ‘What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?’ All has been given. And in making waste the vineyard, only the natural order of the vineyard, the environment for the vines, is withheld. The boundary, the defences, the tending and the rains are removed. The vintage was trampled down - but unlike the lyrics of ‘Mine Eyes have Seen The Glory’, it wasn’t he that did it. We know only that “it shall be trampled down.”

This passionate love song illuminates the relational dynamic between Creator, Creation and Creature – between Divinity, the world and Humanity. It is a dynamic that mirrors the movement of Love, the making of love, a dynamic that seeks to create an honouring response, and a dynamic that expects to yield good fruits.

In the second reading, we have another dynamic, the dynamic of faith that Paul describes in terms of the race that is set before us. The race he speaks of is a movement toward perfection, and so too a movement into the life Divine, a movement into wholeness. But it is a wholeness that is not for the faithful alone, for Paul sees that ‘God had provided something better’, something that the great cloud of witnesses did not receive, ‘so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect’. It’s really good to pause and contemplate some of these texts, because they go against so much of what we’ve already taught. I used to think that the great cloud of witnesses, the saints, the holy ones, had all gone before us and were already there, the race was finished – not so, sees Paul. They would not, not apart from us, be made perfect - the wholeness, the perfection Paul sees is inclusive of all; it is a movement toward oneness in and with the Divine.

To appreciate such a movement of life toward perfection, we have to understand ‘faith’ as a determined, committed and intentional movement – like a race - conscious, focused, active and directed. A race to complete the Divine love song that was first sung at our baptism. The gospel, quite bluntly brings this love song, the Divine passion of life, into reality.

‘Chris was too nice reading the gospel. This is quite blunt – ‘You hypocrites!’ You can almost see the tension, the frustration, the disappointment in the voice of Jesus. It is not a soft and cuddly Hollywood version of love with country and western backing vocals; rather it has all the energy, the passion and the power of creation.

Households being divided is a challenging concept for those holding on to a primitive understanding of family, for in a primitive world order, and in the animal kingdom, family’s look after themselves. However, living in the light of the Gospel – ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ – we are asked to undertake a new challenge, to enter a new race. The divisions spoken of in the gospel are in the context of the primary parent/child relations that are determinate of ‘family’;
father against son and son against father,
mother against daughter and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

Jesus is bluntly asking us to break the dynamic of parent-child, to break family ties and go beyond the clan of ‘looking after our own.’ We are being asked to grow up and more fully engage the Great Commandment; to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbour as yourselves.

If we go back to Paul’s analogy of the race, a family ‘looking after its own’ forms a circle; it’s a circle of love and of nurturing. What is now being asked is that the circle be opened up so that we can stand together on the race track– father against son in the race, mother against daughter in the race, daughter-in-law and mother-in-law competing in that race, side by side, looking together at the race that is set before them – looking to the path ahead that follows the songline of Divine Love.

We are called to stand alongside all, to reject the heresy of “Family First” and in faith, to put God first. The race that is set before us is the human race, so let us run it with perseverance, side by side with each and every other, before a great cloud of witnesses who can only finish that same race when we come together as one.

Let us run it with perseverance the race that is set before us, for it is the race that is set before each and everyone.

Peter Humphris<