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 The Lord, the God of gods, has spoken; *
he has called the earth from the rising
of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, *
God reveals himself in glory.
3 Our God will come and will not keep silence; *
before him there is a consuming flame,
and round about him a raging storm.
4 He calls the heavens and the earth from above *
to witness the judgment of his people.
5 “Gather before me my loyal followers, *
those who have made a covenant with me
and sealed it with sacrifice.”
6 Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause; *
for God himself is judge.
7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak:
“O Israel, I will bear witness against you; *
for I am God, your God.
8 I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices; *
your offerings are always before me.
23 Consider this well, you who forget God, *
lest I rend you and there be none to deliver you.
24 Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me; *
but to those who keep in my way
will I show the salvation of God.”
The New Testament: 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. Mike Kreutzer
A few summers ago, Judy, Mark, Micaela, and I were able to spend nearly three weeks in Scotland, England, and Ireland. Our last stop before we returned home was Dublin. One day, we joined a tour group that took us up into Northern Ireland: to a location on the island’s north coast called “The Giant’s Causeway.” It was breathtakingly magnificent; and it was rainy and windy and, even though we were there in the first week of July, really cold! During the long, round-trip bus ride, we had the opportunity to see and reflect on two very special places along the way.
The first was Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. The four of us took a Black Taxi Tour of that part of the city that was central to the time referred to as “the troubles.” It was the period of horrific destruction and suffering and killings, not – as the tour guides emphasize – because of religious differences, but because of the conflict between those who want the six counties of the north to join with the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland, on the one side, and those who adamantly insist on continued British rule, on the other. The heart of the tour came when we got out of the car and walked up to and around both sides of the wall that still divides that part of the city. There we learned about the sufferings and deaths and acts of vengeance that afflicted the people of that city and of many other places that had connections to it. Since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement took effect, the gates in the wall have remained open; but they remain intact, just in case – God forbid – they ever have to be used again.
The second striking location on our journey was the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. While we were traveling from south to north, the tour guide took great delight in challenging us to tell her when we actually came to the border. We were travelling through a part of the island that was rich and green, with lovely rolling hills. And the only indication that there even is a border between the two was a small sign that read simply “Welcome to Northern Ireland.” No fortified checkpoint, no soldiers standing guard, no wall. It’s not surprising that the people who live there so oppose Brexit, which includes at least the possibility of the return of a hard border dividing the land.
Walls, barriers, and the divisions that separate groups of people from one another can cause and have caused horrendous suffering. That is one of the reasons that New Testament scholar and Church of England Bishop, N.T. Wright, has written that today’s gospel 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?”
A key to understanding what Jesus might have been getting at is the realization that this description of inner-family conflicts is not original with him. He is quoting from the book of the prophet Micah. These words are part of Micah’s description of the corruption and divisions that he was witnessing in and around Jerusalem in his time: over 700 years before Jesus made the same observation about his own time. Maybe that is the thinking behind Jesus’ criticism of his contemporaries for failing “to interpret the present time.” It’s not hard to see similar divisions within, what is supposed to be, the one human family in our own time as well. We human beings tend to be consistent, if nothing else.
Physical walls and other barriers are meant, for one reason or another, to separate people from one another, to keep certain groups of people “out”: to keep “them” separate from “us.” But all of those physical barriers are temporary. Some stand for a long time; others only briefly. But eventually they all fall. As Robert Frost famously observed:
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.
But as destructive of human relationships as physical walls can be, it seems that the invisible walls that we construct within our hearts and minds are even more divisive and, often, more long lasting. It is easy for any one of us to compile a list of those interior walls that have separated and continue to separate people from one another. Over history we have constructed them to keep others out based on their race, their nationality, their religion, their culture, their language, their gender, their sexual orientation, their disabilities, their age, and on and on and on.
But what can we do about them? How can we begin to weaken and eventually tear down those invisible walls? How can reaffirm, in our actions as well as in our words, the unity of the one human family in our one God and Father?
The most effective place to start is often simply getting to know the people whom we have placed on the other side of those walls: getting to know them, not as members of some abstract group, but as individuals, as fellow human beings. When we do that, we often find, sometimes to our surprise, that we share much in common with them.
For nearly 81 years, the people of St. Mark’s Church have dared to reach across those invisible walls. We have welcomed into our buildings probably thousands of people who have faced, or are continuing to face, various types of addictions and a wide assortment of other afflictions in their lives. We have taken the initiative to reach across the racial divide in our society and in our greater-Dayton community in developing and deepening our relationship with a sister Episcopal Church. We have tried to lessen or even remove barriers that have separated people from one another on the basis of their culture, their gender, their sexual orientation, their disabilities, their age, and so on. But there obviously is much more work to do.
Where in our community or maybe even within ourselves, do we still see those invisible walls at work, dividing people from one another? And what can we do to eliminate those walls? That is our challenge from God; and it is a challenge rooted in the very nature of God. As Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth has noted (Not in God’s Name, pp. 194-5): “The unity of God asks us to respect the stranger, the alien, because even though he or she is not in our image – their ethnicity, faith or culture is not ours – nonetheless they are in God’s image.”