Family Feud

Based on Isaiah 5:1-7 and Luke 12:49-57

All of us have been given the gift of our five senses: touch, taste, hearing, sight and smell. We also are gifted with the sensing organs that are associated with each of these five senses and it is these organs that send information to the brain to help us understand and perceive the world around us. If for some reason we lose one of our senses, the other four increase and help compensate for our loss.

I was watching a documentary the other day about how a blind person is taught to use these other senses to take care of themselves, become independent, live a full life, and “see the world in another way.”  They showed a young mother teaching her child how to use a walking cane. Her mother praised her every time she would conquer a task.

What I learned from this demonstration, however, was that the mother always said, “Use the cane, honey – figure out what it is seeing for you.” As they came to an intersection, the child tapped her cane in front of her and the cane “saw” a change in the sidewalk. A few more taps and the child was able to take the step needed to cross the street. So as her other senses accompanied the walking cane they enabled her to know what the cane was seeing.

My purpose in telling you all of this is to heighten your senses to what both Isaiah and Luke’s message is telling us this morning.

The fifth chapter of Isaiah begins with the prophet saying: Let me sing for my beloved my love-song, concerning his vineyard. Isaiah’s beloved is God and he uses the metaphor of a vineyard to describe God’s love and intent for God’s people.

God selected a fertile hill to place the vineyard and he prepared the soil to produce the best crop. He then tended to it always keeping watch over it. But as the grapes grew, he began to notice that they were not yielding the beautiful and sumptuous grapes that were planned by God – instead wild grapes grew in their place.

God responds by saying, “Now those that live in Jerusalem and Judah will judge me and my vineyard.”  In other words, God promised the Israelites a full and abundant life, a land flowing with milk and honey where God would be there, and they would be God’s people. Well it didn’t happen that way. Instead the same people that made their 40-year journey across the desert soon began to break down, pick up old habits, worship false gods. They lost sight of all they heard and learned while in the desert.

And this is where Isaiah starts to break down too. Isaiah tells us that because of God’s disappointment the plan is to make the vineyard a waste, break down the walls, never tend to it again, the clouds will stop sending rain, and the vineyard will be overgrown with briars and thorns.

But God does not desert the Israelites and God does not desert us. The scripture is filled with times that God forgives and embraces those that turn away – as you read the stories of the Bible, God was a constant in the lives of the Hebrew people. But God doesn’t stop there and in John 3:16 in the New Testament, we hear that “God so loved the world, that God gave God’s only son to us, so that anyone who decides to follow his word, will have eternal life.” That is quite a promise.

And so this morning we find ourselves in the Gospel of Luke.  The writer of Luke is a consummate story teller, and the first lines we read in Chapter One tell us that he is writing to his friend Theophilis. The writer tells him that he wants to give an orderly account of the life of Jesus and has researched the stories from eyewitnesses and servants of the Lord.

So he begins with the birth story and tries to chronicle the major and some minor events of Jesus’ ministry to all those he encountered.  We find the story we read today in Chapter 12:49-56, which is a bit more than halfway through the life of Jesus.

Jesus is focused on his disciples and much of Chapter 12 is spoken for their hearing. If you read the whole chapter you begin to wonder why it is so difficult for them to hear what Jesus is trying to say, but as our little lesson about the five senses tells us  – the ears, eyes, touch, taste and smell need the sensory organs to function the way they are supposed to.

Jesus is frustrated.  We learn that he has been warning the disciples about the Pharisees, who are now closely following Jesus, but for dastardly reasons. He lovingly assures them of God’s love by telling them that sparrows, usually sold for two cents, are never forgotten by God. Jesus takes the time to assure them that God even knows the count of hairs on their head;he talks about God’s forgiveness, and not to worry about what they are to say in the synagogues because the Holy Spirit will tell them what to say. I count on the Holy Spirit every time I prepare a sermon.

Now I believe that Jesus is a great motivational speaker and as he is so eloquently telling them all these things, someone in the crowd speaks out and says, “Teacher, can you tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”

By only reading this one Chapter of the Gospel of Luke, we see that Jesus has taken many routes of conversation with both his disciples and his followers. He has talked about God’s love for God’s people; he talked about the kingdom, he performed miracles, healed the sick, cast out demons, and used every parable he could think of to let them see and hear what it truly means to be a follower of Jesus; to truly understand the message. And think about it: they were given the chance to see Jesus face to face and hear the good news from the designer of the message himself.

So when we reach Chapter 12, verse 49 we find Jesus using a different tactic: maybe this will get through to them … and us.  Now I am a very visual person so I picture Jesus sitting among his friends after a long day of preaching. Perhaps they are talking about the day, and the disciples are asking him questions. Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly what took place so I will assume that one the disciples asked him a question that “sparked” this reply.

Jesus speaks: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” Perhaps that caught their attention.

It is good to know that the fire reference in this passage does not mean destruction or some cataclysmic event. Fire is often used in scripture to descriptively surround an event. Fire illustrated God’s active presence in the telling of the story of God giving Moses the ten commandments on Mt. Sinai. In the book of Jeremiah God says, “Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. Is not my word like fire?” The Holy Spirit appeared to the disciples on Pentecost and tongues of fire hovered over their heads. In this text, Jesus is speaking about a fire that will burn our resistance away. That will change us forever.

Jesus wants both people and creation to flourish – he wants no one to feel oppressed. Jesus is intense and passionate about his message: he is longing for God’s kingdom to break through all that is holding it back. It is like a dam that is ready to burst its seams. He is saying: “The kingdom of God is right here ready to burst forth and yet, there are so many obstacles in the way of basking in its goodness.” Can you feel Jesus’ frustration? He is not talking like a cutlery salesman that is trying to sell them the best knives and forks in the world; or the many products we see on TV commercials that promise to “give us our life back.” No, Jesus is talking about greater things than anything on earth can provide.

Jesus then goes on to talk about families dividing because of him. He says five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. Fathers against sons; mothers against daughters. Jesus is referring to the strife taking place among Jewish families where one or two members are following Jesus and the rest of the family is not.

Remember, Jesus is teaching and preaching to those who go to the synagogue and hear the Rabbi speak to them about the laws of God, about sacrifice for atonement, purification, and dietary restrictions. The Rabbi tells them that they are daughters and sons of Abraham, and that they were chosen by God.  Jesus is expanding on that story and focusing on knowing him, worshiping God, and loving their neighbor as they love themselves.

Multiple generations have followed their beloved tradition, and now some households are in chaos. Jesus’ purpose was not to cause a rift among the Jewish families, but those that held fast to the Hebrew teachings could not believe what their family members were saying to them. While this story took place and was written over 2000 years ago, we all know these divisions still take place among us today. Maybe not for the same reasons, but difficult nevertheless.

So as I bring us all back to today, we must look at the words we just heard and ask ourselves: what is the message of the Gospel today – to us; to you and me?

First, let us decide whether the message of Isaiah and the gospel of Luke are speaking to you and me.  If so how?  Are we hearing a positive message or a negative one? Why?

Do we hear and understand the messages of hope, love, forgiveness, and God’s love? Do we know – truly know – that the messages are for all people, yes even us!

Are we standing in the crowd with the others, hanging on to every word spoken by Jesus and yearn to be his disciple?

Every time we read scripture, we should have questions like these. Questioning is good. Reading is good. Seeing and hearing to a new understanding is good.

Friends, JC and I are here to help you in your journey.  We are both passionate about you becoming all that God intended you to be. The leaders of our church, the Session and Deacons are here for you. We are always looking for ways to address the spiritual and emotional needs of our congregation.

Friends, in the year 2019, we can relate to the people of the first century, probably in more ways than we know. We focus on unity and reconciliation and yet we see division. We yearn for a simpler, more meaningful life, and yet we are bogged down with the messages of 24 hour news cycles, Wall Street ads, politics, selfies and so many other things that tell us what we should eat, what we should wear, what we should drive, where we should live, and who we should be.

In preparing for this sermon, I researched the text. A favorite commentator of mine wrote about the meaning of these passages in this way.  He said:

We’ve heard the sadness in the Isaiah text and can imagine what God is saying to us. Look around my creation. Survey your own communities. What more could I have done to resource, sustain, equip and care for you in order that you might be a light to the nations, might show forth my character of compassion and generosity, participate in my gift of shalom? And what have you done? What have you left undone?

Friends, perhaps the time of choosing is upon us. What will we risk? What words will we speak or refrain from saying? Where will our loyalty be and how will that loyalty be made manifest in the world? Which side of the divide of wealth, opportunity, prosperity or safety will we stand? These are not theoretical questions. Not now. Not ever. Lives are at stake. 

I believe it is time to use – really use all our senses.

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