God’s Work Our Hands

All Saints Lutheran Church—Oshkosh, WI
August 18, 2013
Isaiah 5:1-7/Luke 12 49-56

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The readings for this morning are a bit harsh. In Luke we hear Jesus uttering words that are difficult for us to take….
Eugene Peterson translates it this way in the Message:
“I’ve come to start a fire on this earth—how I wish it were blazing right now! I’ve come to change everything, turn everything right side up—how I long for it to be finished! Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I’ve come to disrupt and confront!”

These are words that indeed chill us. How can Jesus talk like this? We are not used to hearing such tones from him.
We are not used to having Jesus preach fire and brimstone and basically scare us. We don’t want to see Jesus this way. We like to think of Jesus – as the one who comes into the world as a babe for us — as the one who has unconditional love for us, as the one who gives up everything for us — and he did. We forget that he was…..a rebel, a radical, an outlaw, put to death by the religious establishment. Right now what we get, some might say is a raving lunatic. This lunatic Jesus is telling us that he has come into the world to sow divisiveness, to pit family members against one another, foster confrontation and to start a fire.

This pairs rather nicely with our text from Isaiah this morning as we hear the harsh words of the prophet Isaiah also from The Message:

“I’ll tear down its fence and let it go to ruin.
I’ll knock down the gate and let it be trampled.
I’ll turn it into a patch of weeds, untended,
uncared for–thistles and thorns will take over.”

What is all this about? What is God trying to tell us? Before we look at what God is trying to tell us in the text,
I have a question for you church: Do we live in a harsh world?——

Of course the world we live in is indeed harsh. As the relatively new Area Program Director for ELCA-Global Mission, I have seen and heard about the harsh realities of people all over the world, particularly in Central and West Africa. I have seen hospitals that barely have the equipment or drugs to treat their patients; I have seen children begging on unpaved streets for pennies; I have seen families eager to eat the leftovers from the visitors who have just eaten their fill. I have heard stories of rebel attacks and have had to facilitate a removal of global personnel from a country. And I have heard stories of babies dying because they are infected with Malaria from an itty bitty mosquito bite. —Harsh indeed

This text from Isaiah begins not with hard words it begins as though the prophet is singing a love song…….Yet too quickly this love song turns into a complaint, a lament over what the singer feels is a betrayal.
………………………………………
He fills betrayed because he has done everything.  Tilled the soil; pulled the weeds; planted the very best seeds planted; built a tower so that watchmen can oversee the safety of the property; and set a wine press to make a delicious beverage from the fruit that is produced.

The work done; the effort expended –is commendable and certainly to be proud of, but look what happens. There is a disappointing outcome. The owner gets wild grapes, rancid and smelly rotten grapes some scholars say.
…………………………………………..
A disappointing outcome that’s what I got when I contracted Malaria while I was in West Africa. I traveled there in January of this year to begin my three month stay to learn the culture and try my hand at learning French — parla vous Francis, anyone.

I lived in Yaoundé, Cameroon and I traveled to Senegal, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Liberia. It was on the plane ride back to Cameroon from Ghana that I began to feel sick. I called one of the regional representatives for West Africa and one of the missionaries who was a nurse and described my symptoms. I even used the test kit that I was given upon arrival in Africa and sure enough Malaria.

I had done everything: I had taken my Malaria pills; slathered on tons of mosquito repellant with 80% deet and I mean tons — spray, lotion and toilettes. I slept most nights under a treated Mosquito net. Yet, that did not prevent me from contracting Malaria. I felt like my body had betrayed me.

Yet, when I knew that I had contracted Malaria all I needed to do is take an eight dollar, available in any pharmacy treatment and “presto chango” I was better.

Unlike all the people who have no money for sprays or lotions and no money for nets or treatment. Unlike all the people that live miles and miles away from a pharmacy. Yeah, I was disappointed that I had contracted Malaria, but there was something to be done about it.
………………..
But what is the vineyard owner to do with his stinking, rancid wild grapes? What is to be done with this disappointing outcome the — prophet seems to ask? And then a decision:

“I’ll give orders to the clouds;
Don’t rain on that vineyard, ever!”

Who is this that can order the rain to seize? If it is God speaking in this text there seems to be a commentary on God’s relationship with the people of Judah.  “ Do you get it? The vineyard of God . . . is the country of Israel. All the men and women of Judah are the garden God was so proud of. God looked for a crop of justice and saw them murdering each other. God looked for a harvest of righteousness and heard only the moans of victims.”

You think that perhaps God is a bit upset frustrated? at the end of God’s rope….God has done everything! Wouldn’t you agree? And God expects a different outcome from the people of God.

This text from the prophet Isaiah implies that there is some obligation in being the people of God. And yet the people do not seem to see this. So the only option seems to be to tear down and destroy what was built. We don’t want to think about God feeling this way about the people of Judah or about us. Yet how should God feel? — considering all the oppression, preventable sickness, poverty, hunger, violence, and injustice in our world?

Even Jesus in our gospel this morning sounds a little perturbed. Jesus has done everything he can to get out the message about his mission and he is running out of time and feels the people still don’t get it. He keeps reminding them that he is going away, that he will die. Perhaps he is worried that he will come to an end before his followers catch on to what he is trying to do:
Feed the hungry,
Comfort the bereaved,
Heal the sick, turn an injust system on its head and teach them to do the same.

Will they ever catch on? Will we? I don’t know, what I see is that Jesus uses harsh words to make sure that they– that we–are paying attention and I suppose, that is what the prophet Isaiah is doing also. Using harsh words to shine a light on the glaring injustices that Judah commits. One scholar offers this list: they do not defend the cause of the widow and orphan; they coveted and stored up wealth for themselves; they oppressed the poor; they acquitted the guilty and deprived the innocent of their rights. (workingpreacher.org) Does any of this sound familiar? How are we reflected in these texts?……….

I am sure that none of you …. none of us, forget to defend the cause of the widow and orphan; none of us covet or store up wealth for ourselves; none of us oppress or ignore the poor and none of us hold up laws, or systems that acquit the guilty or deprive the innocent of their rights—do we?

Maybe or maybe not, what I know is that we are simply baptized sinners who live in a harsh world and we sometimes get so caught up in our everyday stuff that we can forget, overlook or dismiss those who need us not to forget, not to ignore, not to overlook. We know that there are people all over this world, even in Wisconsin, who are suffering hunger, poverty, sickness and disease — Especially as we look at the continent of Africa there are folks who are suffering sickness unto death from a disease called malaria. Malaria that, mosquito nets, repellant and an eight dollar prescription can help prevent. There are so many children, infants who have no access to the things that are so easy for us to obtain.                                                                                                                                      .photo (5)

I read:
Being the people of God brings with it obligations ffor faithfulness, faithfulness marked by justice and righteousness. In this regard, Judah falls short. For us in our New Testament language: “If we as the branches are connected with Jesus the vine, fruit will be produced.” (workingpreacher.org)

The question is what will that fruit be? Will we produce fruits of justice? Will we use our hands to do God’s work in the world, will we help see to it that the hungry are fed, that oppression does not go unchecked, that poverty is eradicated, that wars come to an end, and that children do not die from preventable diseases like Malaria?

God loves us, that’s a given — Jesus died on a cross and rose from the dead for us even when we ignore the harsh realities of this world. So what shall we do? I contend that our faithful response to God’s love through Jesus the Christ is to do God’s work with our hands. Don’t you agree?

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