an emerging, missional Christian community in the Scranton, PA area:
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Monday, August 20, 2007

when life gives you wild grapes...

On friday night we had our first gathering at the manse! It was wonderful. During worship we had an incredible discussion of the scripture passages for the night, scriptures that I was to preach on this Sunday. The conversation of the group helped immensely as I wrote my sermon on Saturday. Thank you, PeaceMeal, for your insights and faithfulness. Many in our group have the opportunity to preach in other settings - we talked about sharing our sermons on the blog. So here it is... Peace!

The Rev. Demery Bader-Saye
Homily for Grace Church, Allentown
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Isaiah 5:1-7; Luke 12:49-56

God knows something about dashed expectations, about dreams unrealized. Our first lesson, from the prophet Isaiah unfolds in the form of a song – a song of hope, sadness, longing, questions. Isaiah’s song takes us to a vineyard – it is a parable of our God, a rugged, determined grape farmer. He has found a choice piece of land on a hill – fertile. He has cleared away every stone with his own two hands and planted choice vines with those same hands. And again, on his own he has put up a watchtower and dug out a wine vat. Everything is ready. Everything is in place for an excellent harvest – for the best ‘crop’ of grapes. He anticipates it. He expects it to yield big, heavy, juicy, sweet grapes. But it yields only wild grapes.
Wild grapes – tough but not so sweet.

Wild grapes – more resistant to pests and disease and to weather. But wild grapes – not so profitable, not so pure, not so fine wine-worthy. Only good for foxes, deer, bears and for the grubby hands of little children climbing trees (see the poem Wild Grapes by Robert Frost, 1920).

What more – said the farmer – what more I have done for the vineyard? And why – why, when I expected it to yield grapes, when I did everything right, when I planned and worked and gave to it days and days of my life - why did it yield wild grapes? I give up. I will tear down the hedge that protect it, break down the wall – let it be overgrown with briers and thorns – command the rain not to fall. My pleasant planting has brought me nothing but pain. And, if – as the scripture says – the pleasant planting was the people of Israel – then God did have reason to feel upset, to be disappointed. For God had been working for generations to cultivate a relationship with this beloved, this chosen people, the ancestors of Abraham and Sarah – the people of Israel – a relationship meant to bless the world, to show the world what it looks like to be faithful and live rightly alongside our creator. But most of the time they did not live up to the covenant; they – much like the rest of us – seemed continually to run wild – worshipping false gods, choosing again and again a path that took them away from God’s love – away from the law God had given them.

Fast forward thousands of years to our gospel lesson where we hear in the telling of Luke the evangelist – the same sentiment – still in the mouth of God, this time God incarnate, God in flesh, Jesus the Christ. He is talking to his disciples and to a crowd of thousands. “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I am under a tremendous stress – until what is going to happen will finally happen. Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division... generation to generation it will happen – households will be divided one against another. You can predict the weather, so why can’t you people read the signs of the times?” He knew what horror was in store for him in the unfolding days of his young life – and he was preaching and teaching in the very presence of those who would hassle him for healing people on the Sabbath day, who would grill him on questions of scripture and theology, who would ultimately betray, abandon, torture and kill him. Yes, he is under a bit of stress – as even he will admit. Is he ready to torch it all? To conquer and divide households – tearing families apart - even mothers and daughters? fathers and sons?

Perhaps. Or perhaps the fire he speaks of is not a fire of destruction – but the fire of passion, of Pentecost. And perhaps the peace he wants to upend is the peace that keeps so many of them – so many thousands of people in that crowd – so many of us - nodding and smiling as they listen to his message – only to return to their cozy homes, to their impervious family units, unchanged. No matter how we read it, the disappointment is clear. Somehow – even though Jesus knew that this was exactly how it would go – his frustration is evident – because still surely he hoped, he prayed that he could change the world without having to be crucified first.

But that’s the incredible thing about our God. Our God knows what it is to feel disappointment – to give everything for your dream, toward your goal – only to have it go in exactly the opposite way from how what you planned... to try and grow a vineyard – to plant a lovely planting and have it go wild, to send your son as a gift to the world, only to have him destroyed by it.

The power of the story, the gift of the story of scripture, is that God knows that disappointment over and again and never gives up. The story of our faith shows us how to name that disappointment, that hurt, that sorrow, to grieve the loss of what we hoped it would be – and to move forward anyway – to make another way, to forge a new path, to take the reality that is and work it into the plan. And God’s plan – from Genesis to Revelation, from Isaiah to Luke, from the grape farmer to the carpenter from Nazareth – is simple. It is to love us. To bring us - wild grapes, thorns, briers, Pharisees, cynics, people-pleasers and cowards alike - into his vineyard. To feed us with good food – wheat grown from the best soil – with the body of his son – and quench our thirst with good drink – with sweet, pure grapes from the vineyard of his kingdom, the rich, dark blood of his only son, who gave himself as a sacrifice, who hung on the hard wood of the cross which kindled the fire of Pentecost (see Acts 2).

Pentecost – the day when the story of God’s most radical plan, most stunning effort at getting our attention, spread around the world – a story about a savior who never gives up, of a God who has even battled and conquered death, of a God who will try and try again to win our love.

In very simple terms, our scriptures today are about holding on and letting go. But as anyone who has lived for any amount of time knows – there is nothing simple when it comes to dashed expectations. There is nothing easy about holding on to the broad strokes of a dream but letting go of our detailed vision of what how, exactly, that dream, and the path to that dream, has to look... especially when the world around us is chaos – when the wars our country is fighting spin more and more out of control, when the lives of astronauts are once again on the line, when the murder rate in New Orleans is at an all-time high since Hurricane Katrina - not to mention the struggles we face in our own lives. There is nothing uncomplicated about holding on to hope no matter how disappointed, how tired, how lonely, how frustrated and stressed out we may be.

Some of us may simply have to be in that place where today’s scriptures leave us – a place of exhaustion and on the brink of giving up, but next to our mournful farmer God, wiped out on that beautiful, fertile soil with weeds and thorns in our clenched hands. But some of us may be in a place where we are ready to get up, get our bearings and take a few steps forward, ready to hear what comes next, to turn the pages of scripture and history to see what it looks like when God tries again, how the story goes for the grape-farming Lord of Israel and for the carpenter, God’s Son, our savior, Jesus Christ. Wherever we are in the process of holding on and letting go, we are not alone. Thanks be to God.

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