Monday, August 16, 2010

The Garden

I remember the very first garden I ever planted. I was probably 10-12 years old and the whole potato patch was my responsibility. I had to plow it, rake it, plant the potato eyes, hoe the weeds, and then dig up the produce just before school started. Oh yes, I also was responsible for bagging and marketing my produce.

Remember, I said was about 12 years old. Can you imagine what that garden looked like when it came time to dig the potatoes? Let me tell you I could barely make out the rows. In fact the vines had died down enough that most times I couldn’t find where to start digging.

Dad wouldn’t let me walk away from it though. I had to dig, pick up, clean the dirt off, put them into the baskets and then lug them to the basement storage room. How I wanted to quit, to just walk away from the whole thing. The weeds were too tall. It was too hot. The ground was too hard. I used every excuse I could think of. It was like Dad was deaf. Mom wasn’t sympathetic to my plight either. So I kept digging, without very much enthusiasm.

I had neglected my project to play in the creek or the barn or play hide and seek with my sisters. And so the weeds grew and my work at the end was way more difficult that it would have been if I had just done my job every week like Dad instructed me to.

The scripture readings from the Prophet Isaiah and the Psalms are about someone who had a garden, a vineyard. They tell about an owner who did everything as they were supposed to and still the harvest was terrible. It didn’t sound like the grapes even made good vinegar. So what did the owner do? He tore down the fence and let it grow up into brambles and thorns. He even asked the rain not to fall on it so that even if it wanted to it wasn’t going to live and produce even one grape.

As we hear this passage read we begin to understand that the owner is God and he’s talking about his chosen people, Israel. We hear this reading and we think, “I’m glad that wasn’t me.” What if we substitute Walnut or the United States in place of Israel or Judah? It brings it almost too close to home for us.

We can do the same thing with the reading from the Psalms. Read it and put Walnut or the United States in place of Israel and Iowa or New York or California in place of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh. It sounds a little too personal now.

This doesn’t sound anything like what we came here to listen to this morning. None of us came here this morning to be told that God doesn’t like what we’ve been doing with our lives, our blessings, or the grace he gave us.

Wait! We’re not finished yet. In the gospel reading Luke tells us that Jesus said that he came to cast fire on the earth and he wished it was started now. That doesn’t sound like the Jesus we normally hear preached on most Sundays. What happened to Jesus is love? What happened to the Jesus who healed the lepers, the blind, and who cast out our demons? Where did he go?

Jesus is talking about creating division in our lives, Father against son, mother against daughter, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law, 3 against 2, and 2 against 3. That sounds like a whole lot of trouble that we don’t want to get in the middle of. But that’s what Jesus says he came for. What happened to peace?

He was stressed and maybe that was it. Or maybe he was just tired. Maybe he’d just had enough of humanity and he let us have it with both barrels. I don’t know.

Jesus did say that he came to change everything, to put everything rightside up. If we do the same thing with this passage that we did with the other two and read it like Jesus is talking directly to us can we really, with all honesty, think that we aren’t at fault.

We can’t possibly read and hear the news and think that everything’s okay with the state of the world. Can we? We can’t put all the blame on President Obama or the Al Qaida or the Taliban or BP, can we?

You’re right, someone is to blame. If we think we’re not at fault I would have to disagree. As Jesus said we can look at the sky or Weather Bug and can pretty well tell what the weather is going to be like today or tomorrow and may the day after. But we seem to shut our eyes to the state of the world. We make jokes about global warming, oil spills; we don’t seem to notice how many single parent families there are or how many dysfunctional people there are living in our communities. We shake our heads at the deaths caused by people who are driving drunk. How could they do that? Why didn’t someone do something?

Friends, this world hasn’t changed significantly from Jesus’ day. People are still doing cruel things to other people. There is discrimination on many levels. There are so many folks who don’t have enough food or shelter or warm clothes. There are still people who kept from meaningful employment because they don’t meet the right social criteria. They’re not the right color or sex or age.

This all sounds pretty much like doom and gloom. So what’s the good news? Is there any good news? The answer’s yes.

The author of Hebrews is still talking about faith and gives some examples from the Hebrew Bible. He uses Israel crossing the Red Sea, walking around the walls of Jericho, and Rahab. By their acts of faith they were blessed.

But not everyone who had faith received what God promised them. Their faith wasn’t complete. But friends, that’s not a bad thing. God combines their faith with our faith and makes one complete faith.

What that means is that all those who have preceded us are watching and cheering for us to complete what they started. So if we aren’t already working at what God has called us to do we are told to get going right now. Get rid of the excess baggage and start working and don’t quit. There is no early retirement.

How, you might ask, are we to do any good at all? It’s simple. We are told to keep our eyes on Jesus. Study how he did it and do the same thing. He never lost sight of his goal. He was focused on the prize.

The good news, my friends, is that God created us, he is right beside us, and he’s not going to abandon us. And our friends who have gone on ahead are cheering for us to keep going.

The passage Jesus referred to when he was talking about the house divided was from Micah 7. If you go there and read the whole chapter to the end you will find that the prophet ended by saying, “Where is the god who can compare with you—wiping the slate clean of guilt, turning a blind eye, a deaf ear, to the past sins of your purged and precious people? You don't nurse your anger and don't stay angry long, for mercy is your specialty. That's what you love most. And compassion is on its way to us. You'll stamp out our wrongdoing. You'll sink our sins to the bottom of the ocean. You'll stay true to your word to Father Jacob and continue the compassion you showed Grandfather Abraham—everything you promised our ancestors from a long time ago. Micah 7:18-20

That’s the good news. Even though God is displeased with our actions he doesn’t stay angry forever. He is merciful and forgiving, especially since He sent his Son to die for us. God keeps his promises even those he made long ago.

Thanks be to God for his amazing grace and love. Amen.

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