Old Testament: 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!
The Response: 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.
The Epistle: 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 Gospel: 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
In reflecting on Jesus’ words in the gospel reading that we just heard, N.T. Wright comments: “This Lukan passage is high on the list of Things We Would Rather Jesus Hadn’t Said. It’s not gentle, it’s not meek and mild; it’s not even nice. Parents and children at loggerheads, in-laws getting across one another – what can Jesus have had in mind?” (Twelve Months of Sundays, Year C, page 96)
Those in the first-century, Jewish audience who first heard Jesus’ harsh description were apparently much more biblically literate than we are; and so they would have recognized that he was quoting from the book of Micah (7:6). That eighth-century-BCE prophet used those lines about a family deeply divided to describe a moment of crisis in the life of ancient Israel and Judah. And Jesus, as portrayed by Luke, was invoking Micah’s image to describe a crisis in his time as well.
Now “crisis,” in its root, does not mean “emergency.” It means “a moment of decision,” “a time to make a choice.” And the choices that we make can sometimes have consequences that extend far beyond the immediate situation in which they are made.
Years ago, when Judy and I were temporarily empty-nesters, we had some wonderful vacations together, visiting and hiking through some of our magnificent national parks. My favorite was, and still is, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, which straddles the U.S.-Canadian border. The Waterton part is in Alberta; and the Glacier section, in Montana.
Near Logan Pass, there is a point on the Continental Divide at which, depending on exactly where a drop of rain or a flake of snow falls, its long-term future is determined. Falling just a fraction of an inch to the west of that point will take that droplet down a stream, which will flow into a river, which will eventually carry it to the Pacific Ocean. If instead, it falls just slightly to the east, it will end up in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. And if it happens to fall just a tiny fraction of an inch to the north, its destination will be the Arctic Ocean. A difference of less than an inch can result a difference of thousands of miles. Little, even minute, differences in direction can have major consequences.
All of today’s scripture readings have to do with choices: choices about direction that have been made and choices about direction that must be made – and with their long-term consequences.
Last Sunday’s reading from Isaiah focused on the people’s decision to put on an outward show of religious faith, while they neglected the things that God really wants: seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, pleading for the widow. Today’s reading describes the results, the consequences, of their choices: the imminent destruction of the nation to which that neglect had led.
The passage from Hebrews that we heard continues its author’s listing of the members of a sort of biblical “Hall of Heroes,” describing the difficult choices that they made and celebrating the life that God has now given them. The writer then calls on the hearers to make the same kind of choices in the direction of their lives, accepting the temporary suffering that those choices might entail.
And in our gospel reading, Jesus practices some no-holds-barred “truth in advertising,” clearly laying out before his would-be followers the consequences of choosing to follow him. They are going to face opposition. They are going to be criticized and ridiculed and rejected, sometimes even by those who are closest to them because of the direction that they have chosen to travel.
While much of life changes, while the world is constantly in flux, there are some things that remain the same, generation after generation. Among those constants are the strong negative reactions that we are bound to encounter if we decide to live by God’s priorities and values, rather than those of the culture around us.
Instead of beginning, for example, with an assertion of an individual’s right to do whatever we want with whatever we happen to have at the moment, God’s values begin, not with our supposed individual right, but with our common responsibility to use what we have for the good of all. Instead of beginning with an attempt to keep ourselves untouched by the problems of those who are economically disadvantaged, or who lack adequate education, or who suffer from physical or mental illness, God’s values begin with the assertion that we are all members of one family and that we are, in fact, our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Instead of beginning with a detached “feeling sorry” for those who are hungry or homeless or alone, God’s values begin by asking what we can do, and what will we do, to address their needs. Jesus insists that God’s values come first: not those of our country, not those of our culture, not those of our circle of friends.
God’s values, God’s priorities, and our decision to live by them will still be ridiculed by those who cling to values that seem to justify their own narrowly-focused, individualistic, self-centered lives: exactly the kind of lives that the prophets, including the prophet Jesus, so strongly criticized. And we know what happened to them and to him when they dared to speak out.
Robert Frost concludes his famous poem that begins “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” with its most frequently quoted lines:
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
The fundamental choice that we make to live by the values and priorities of God will inevitably put us at odds with the values of many people around us, family and friends, as well as strangers. They put us on a road less traveled by; but we will not be walking that road alone. For it is there that the members of Hebrews’ Hall of Heroes walked. It is there that prophets like Isaiah walked. And it is there that Jesus walked — and continues to walk. And our choice to walk that road with them still makes all the difference.