A Reading from the Book of Isaiah (5:1-7)
Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!
Psalm (80:1-2, 8-18)
1 Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock; *
shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.
2 In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, *
stir up your strength and come to help us.
8 You have brought a vine out of Egypt; *
you cast out the nations and planted it.
9 You prepared the ground for it; *
it took root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered by its shadow *
and the towering cedar trees by its boughs.
11 You stretched out its tendrils to the Sea *
and its branches to the River.
12 Why have you broken down its wall, *
so that all who pass by pluck off its grapes?
13 The wild boar of the forest has ravaged it, *
and the beasts of the field have grazed upon it.
14 Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven;
behold and tend this vine; *
preserve what your right hand has planted.
15 They burn it with fire like rubbish; *
at the rebuke of your countenance let them perish.
16 Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, *
the son of man you have made so strong for yourself.
17 And so will we never turn away from you; *
give us life, that we may call upon your Name.
18 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
A Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews (11:29-12:2)
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace. And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (12:49-56)
Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: 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.” He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Each of today’s readings is about a crisis – no. not about what we often describe as “a crisis.” In common usage, we tend to use that term for any sort of emergency. But in its root, the word “crisis” means a moment to make a choice, a time of decision. And the decisions that these readings describe set the course for the rest of people’s lives, and sometimes for the community’s life for years to come.
By the time that Isaiah presented the people of Judah and Jerusalem with his “Song of the Vineyard” in our first reading, they had already made their choice. They had chosen to disregard the way of life to which the Lord was calling them, and now the prophet was spelling out for them the implications of their decision. God’s vineyard, “the house of Israel,” would be destroyed.
The unknown author of the Letter to the Hebrews, presents us with a whole string of people who faced crises, times of decisions, in their lives. And, at least in the writer’s view, all of them had chosen wisely, providing the readers and hearers of the letter with multiple, positive examples.
And in our gospel reading, when Jesus had already made his critical choice and was making his fateful journey toward Jerusalem, he repeatedly called on his followers to make their own choices about whether to follow him or not. He refused to paint any unrealistic, rosy picture for those who decided to become his disciples. He practiced truth in advertising, describing for them some of the difficult and even painful results that their discipleship might bring. Citing an image from the prophet Micah (7:6), he noted that choosing the values of the kingdom of God over the commonly accepted values of one’s society might cause divisions even within families.
When I was thinking about these readings and about critical choices in life, I thought about one of the many, very special places that Judy and I were able to visit during our “empty nest” years. This particular spot is located in Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, which spans the Canadian-U.S. border: the Waterton side lying in Alberta, and the Glacier part in Montana.
There is a site at a place called Logan Pass that marks a unique point on the Continental Divide. It sits at the very crest of the Rocky Mountains. Raindrops or snowflakes falling just to one side of that point will flow into streams, then creeks, then rivers, eventually making their way south and east to the Gulf of Mexico. Other drops or flakes, falling just a few feet or even a few inches away, will join streams, creeks and rivers that will take them west and into the Pacific Ocean. And, on the third side of that point, still other drops and flakes will carry them into streams, creeks and rivers that will carry them north to the Arctic Ocean. Tiny differences in where those drops of water begin, in some cases just a matter of inches, determine the places where they will end up: thousands of miles apart.
Like those drops of water, our decisions in life, which may seem small to begin with, can make huge differences in where we find ourselves much later in life. Specifically, a decision to accept what Jesus has taught and to base our lives on that teaching, can set us on a path that we cannot have seen at the outset, leading us to places far different from the ones where we would have been had we decided differently.
If we accept Jesus’ teaching about the world belonging to God and being entrusted to us by God to serve the needs of all, for example, that decision can lead us to spending a significant amount of the money that we have in order to help relatives, neighbors or even complete strangers who are in need. If we decide that God has, in fact, given us our time, the years of our lives, as well as our energy and abilities in order for us to do God’s work in the world, that choice can lead us to dedicate our time and energy in serving those in need of our community instead of just sitting back, taking it easy, and doing whatever we might feel like doing in life. And if we buy into Jesus’ vision of the reign of God, not as anybody’s private possession, but as a reality that encompasses all people and that necessitates a recognition of our common bonds, that decision can lead us into taking our place within our wider community and society, working to make the world a better place for all. These decisions, which can seem simple at first, can end up having long-term and initially unseen ramifications.
But there is at least one important difference between us and those raindrops falling on that peak in northern Montana; and that is the fact that we have ongoing choices to make on our journeys. A drop of rain, falling in one of those three different sides of the single peak, will inevitably flow toward that side’s destination. It has no choice; but we do — often many choices.
Even though our decision to live as a follower of Jesus sets us on a particular path in life, we still have to decide, over and over again, whether we are going to remain on that path. And our choice again becomes critical each time that we face a situation in which the values of the gospel conflict with the accepted values of the dominant culture.
That is the reason why it is so important for us, time and time again, to come back to the teaching of Jesus, hearing it in new ways, and reminding ourselves of the path that we have chosen and of why we have chosen it. And that is why it is so important – with the help of God – to renew our commitment to that path, with all the implications that our critical decision brings with it so that, as our reading from Hebrews puts it, we may “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”