Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Isaiah 5: 1 – 7
The Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard
5Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watch-tower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people of Judah,
judge between me
and my vineyard.
4 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?
5 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.
6 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.
7 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;
but heard a cry!
Hebrews 11: 29 – 12: 2
The Faith of Other Israelite Heroes
29 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. 30By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. 31By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient,* because she had received the spies in peace.
32 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— 33who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 36Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37They 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— 38of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40since God had provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect.
The Example of Jesus
12Therefore, 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, 2looking 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.
Luke 12: 49 – 56
Jesus the Cause of Division
49 ‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53they 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.’
Interpreting the Time
54 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. 55And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”; and it happens. 56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
As I sat asking God what message I should give for Sunday it was pouring with a very cold rain outside. People were arriving at the church hall for an exercise class and remarking on the weather. Someone stood in the foyer and rang her friend, wishing her a happy birthday.
Friendship is an important thing and the Scriptures inform us that A man that has friends must show himself friendly: and (it adds) there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18: 24)
Our readings today seem anything but friendly. But then is that entirely so?
The Old Testament reading is Isaiah’s story of the unfruitful vineyard. God clearly has expected from his covenant with Israel that there would be reciprocal friendship, but Israel has let God down and they now face the consequences.
The reading from the Letter to the Hebrews depicts the famous Hall of Fame – those heroes of the faith who were both faithful and faith-filled, who kept going through thick and thin, even when there appeared to be no tangible reward to their faith. The writer is using these accounts to encourage his Christian readers to persevere in the faith – to look to Jesus whose faithfulness led to a cruel death – and yet who kept going because he knew there would be joy at the end of it all.
While the letter at this point is ostensibly about faith, what it is really doing is giving hope. You can keep on keeping on because if you’re faithful things will work out okay.
In other words you can trust God. That doesn’t mean God is going to fall over himself trying to please you. If that is your expectation it’s not God you’re talking about. It’s something else, but it’s not God. That would probably be idolatry – the manipulation of spiritual forces to achieve your own ends. God almost always says, “I am your friend. You can trust me. Now bear with me. Go through this with me and in the end things will be better than you imagined.”
Trusting that God loves us and has our best in mind, whatever things might look like now, is the essence of friendship with God.
That gives us hope, and as Paul says to the Church in Rome, hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5: 5)
In the Gospel reading it seems that Jesus has come to bring strife and discord between people. He says as much.
But then he says something interesting: 56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
You know how to interpret the weather, but you don’t understand the significance of who I am and what I am doing.
You see there is a challenge to friendship with Jesus. It doesn’t always mean things go our way. And thank God it doesn’t! Our wisdom is limited (we can interpret the weather) but sometimes we miss out on the big picture of what God is up to. We can easily misinterpret God’s actions; but the secret is to remain faithful.
It may be necessary, on occasions, for God to bring anything but peace. Sometimes we will experience God as strife, especially if we have the idea that God should serve our needs.
But if we hold onto hope, if we remain faithful, the picture becomes clearer. We are, using Jesus’ analogy, able to interpret the times.
There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother, and that friend is God.
God wants us always to be growing in faith. God’s greatest wish is that we should be transformed, that our friendship with him should result in our becoming like him. Sometimes that means we have to lose a few rough edges. That is the process we need to persevere through.
When it comes to being God’s friend, we can feel unworthy. Perhaps we should consider Abraham, known as “the friend of God”, who was anything but perfect.
Or David, whom God described as “a man after my own heart” and yet was terribly flawed; so much so that towards the end of his life God prevented him from building the temple because he’s been so bloodthirsty.
Nicky and Pippa Gumbel, leaders of Holy Trinity Brompton and founders of the Alpha Course, were asked recently what Jesus meant to them.
Pippa responded with: Jesus is my Saviour and my friend. He is the source of life. He is the wisdom of God.
Nicky replied with: He is my Saviour and my Lord, but there is a verse in John’s Gospel that says, ‘I have called you friends,’ and I think that is amazing, to be friends with Jesus. That is what life is about.
Both speak of Jesus as their friend.
When we decide to embrace friendship with God, when we decide that being an acquaintance is not good enough; the life of faith becomes exciting, because God loves us too much to leave us as were are.
God is in the transformation business and that means only one thing: being friends with God brings change for the good.
- Israel failed as God’s friend and faced the consequences of its failure
- The heroes of the faith as recorded in Hebrews saw little reciprocity, at least in this life, for their friendship towards God
- Being friends with Jesus, as opposed to a simple acquaintance, can be quite demanding
All these things tend to highlight our lack of worth. But that is exactly why Jesus died; that his worthiness might become ours. The Scripture speaks of the righteousness of God being imputed to us through Christ. It becomes ours. We are not dependant on our own worth. That is what grace is about. It is a free gift. And the wonderful thing is that God doesn’t leave us as we are. His friendship with us transforms us, and for that we can be forever grateful.