Proper 15C (OT20)


337: August 18, 2019

180: August 14, 2016

Voice in the Wilderness: BRYAN ODEEN

Psalmist: Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

Voice in the Wilderness: RENEE ROEDERER


Psalmist: Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

Luke 12:49-56

Initial Thoughts

Bible Study

  • Fire!

    • Gk: “Fire I came to cast down on the earth!”

    • Calls back to Luke 3:16 - Baptism with the fire of the Holy Spirit

    • Fire is also a method of judgment: 3:9, 17; 17:29

    • Fire is a tool of purification and empowerment: Malachi 3:2-3; Isaiah 6:1-8; Acts 2:1-4m

    • Fire is both cleansing and condemning- empowers and destroys - like baptism - dying to the old (destruction) and committing to the new (empowerment)

  • Following the way of Jesus is not a way out of conflict but will lead into conflict

  • Family division

  • Predictions

    • You are good at predicting some things and terrible at being faithful- Now is the time for faithfulness.

    • Jesus is ready for the Kingdom to be grasped

      • The “time” is coming for when it will be up to us (remember Jesus’ last words from the cross- “It is finished” from John)

      • Jesus is anxious to see that we “get it” but unfortunately is repeatedly disappointed

Thoughts and Questions

  • Baptism is a commitment and a choice from death to life. Like Fire, baptism is not something which should be taken lightly or easily dismissed, but is serious and world changing. If the discovery of fire was the greatest technological advancement (for good and evil) then perhaps Baptism is the greatest spiritual advancement (for good or evil?)

  • Conflict can be a blessing. Churches are generally terrible at addressing conflict as it it were unnatural- it isn’t. Healthy churches address conflict head on- unhealthy churches avoid conflict in favor of being “nice” - perhaps this is the Sunday to preach about the joy of conflict.

  • How might churches acknowledge the individual gifts and voices of members while not being held captive by the tyranny of the minority

Isaiah 5:1-7

Initial Thoughts

  • Quick pass through Isaiah. Last week was Isaiah 1. Next week is on to an extended stay in Jeremiah.

  • Isaiah, a man, using masculine pronouns to describe “my beloved.” In Song of Solomon, the vineyard is used as a metaphor for a place for lovers. Is there an LGBT reading of this text?

Bible Study

  • Form suggested by Uniting Church of Australia

    • vv.1-2 = setting: a song of his friend's love for a vineyard [v.1]; his friend's preparation and yet failure of the grapes [v.2] 

    • Vv.3-4 = speaker now changes to Yahweh who in the first person who appeals to the people of Judah and Jerusalem for their verdict. These verses contain two rhetorical questions

      • What else could I have done?

      • Why did it fail?

    • Vv.5-6 = the owner, Yahweh, will take action, remove its protection so the vineyard becomes vulnerable, and further to these actions the owner will destroy it by refusing to care and furthermore, instructs nature not to give rain.

    • V.7 = the prophet's interpretation of vv.1-6, makes it specific to Israel and Judah and names two requirements, justice and righteousness, as essential embodiments of the people of Yahweh. 

  • Song of disappointment. 

    • “There can be little doubt that the main message of Isa. ν 1-7 deals with God's frustrated expectations concerning Judah. The divine frustration is thrice repeated in the passage, twice metaphorically (vv. 2c, 4b) and then more plainly in the final climactic line (v. 7b)” (Gary Roye Williams, Vetus Testamentum ATLAS database)

    • Failed expectations

      • “In Isaiah 5:1-7, however, the tone is judgment. The owner of the vineyard made every possible preparation for a fruitful harvest -- picking a good site, preparing the land, choosing the best plants, arranging for protection and for processing the grapes. But what he got was "wild grapes," or more literally, "stinking things" (verses 2, 4). The portrayal of God here is significant. In particular, what God "expected" or "hoped for" does not happen; in short, God does not guarantee the results.” (Clint McCann, Working Preacher)

    • Metaphor explained: 

      • “In verse 7, the prophet translates the metaphor: the vineyard is the house of Israel and its vines are the people of Judah. The prophet punctuates the metaphor with two puns in Hebrew. First, the sweet wine that God desires was justice (mishpat), but instead, the people produced bloodshed (mishpach). The latter term has caused many interpretive problems and may be related to the Arabic term which means “to spill,” or alternatively, “to spill blood.”2 Given the scope of the metaphor, and assuming the wine produced was red, there could be further play on the imagery of bloodshed in comparison to the dripping of red wine. Second, God also anticipates “righteousness” (tsedeqah) but has instead heard only a “cry” (tse‘aqah). The latter term in this pun recalls the outcry against the violent people of Sodom (Genesis 18:21; 19:13) as well as the cry of the Hebrew people in light of the abuse of their taskmasters (Exodus 3:7-9).” (David Garber, Jr. Working Preacher)

  • John Wesley Sermon 107

    • According to Wesley Study Bible notes on this passage, “This verse… was a favorite of John Wesley. He referred to this verse fourteen times in his preaching between 1748 and 1788, and it was the text and central focus of Sermon 107, written in 1787. In his earlier uses of this verse Wesley wrote of the nation as the recipient of God’s care and blessing only to have God’s grace returned by corruption, violence, and exploitation (“wild grapes”) What is unusual about Sermon 107 is that Wesley now applies this parable of bitter disappointment to his own Methodist movement. He speaks of the great promise he saw in the people called Methodists and understood this promise as an abundance of God’s care and grace, but its last section is  a bitter lament reflecting Wesley’s own disappointments in the state of the Methodist movement. He accuses the Methodists of returning God’s care with harvest of wild grapes: ingratitude, lack of discipline, self-advancement, and lack of attention to the poor.” (page 819-820, notes on Isaiah 5:1-7 in The Wesley Study Bible, published by Abindgon Press)

    • For Wesley, the antidote to wild grapes is community: 

      • “Was not another cause of it your despising that excellent help, union with a Christian society? Have you not read, "How can one be warm alone?" and, "Woe be unto him that is alone when he falleth?" But you have companions enough. Perhaps more than enough; more than are helpful to your soul. But have you enough that are athirst for God, and that labour to make you so? Have you companions enough that watch over your soul, as they that must give account; and that freely and faithfully warn you, if you take any false step, or are in danger of doing so? I fear you have few of these companions, or else you would bring forth better fruit!” (Sermon 107)

Thoughts and Questions

  • In times of disappointment and failure the questions God asks are poignant, and relatable

    • What else could I have done?

    • Why did it fail?

    • These are questions people ask of themselves often. These questions can be useful for analyzing a situation/system, but they can also lead to dwelling in the past and unjustly ‘beating oneself up.’

  • Another example of God being disappointed. If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, how can God be disappointed? If all things go according to God’s will, how can God be disappointed? This may not be the crux of the story, but it is an important time to chip away at the traditional view of omnipotence that is a troubling - and well-entrenched - concept.

  • This is a powerful piece, but read the rest of the chapter to get the details of what is wrong. 

“The details of the oppressive conditions are evident as chapter 5 unfolds -- joining "house to house" and adding "field to field" (verse 8), thus displacing poor farmers from their land (and only source of livelihood), and resulting in both homelessness and hunger (verse 13). Excess, greed, and conspicuous consumption (see also verses 11-12, 22) are apparently supported by corruption and manipulation of the legal system (verse 23). The deplorable situation results, according to Isaiah 5, from the rejection of God's "instruction" and "word" (verse 24; see 1:10 and last week's essay). Although the poor are directly victimized, everyone eventually stands to lose (verse 15) when justice and righteousness (see verse 16) are not enacted and embodied.” (Clint McCann, Working Preacher)

Hebrews 11:29 - 12:2

Initial Thoughts

  • Wonderful imagery of running a race - an organized distance run. The surge of energy from the great crowd gathered often pushes people to Personal Bests.

Bible Study

  • Continuation of last week’s sermon, but comes in the middle of a longer rhetorical piece. It feels like a conclusion, but is just an intro to the next piece, which the lectionary omits. 

    • Last week we ended at 11:16.

    • The “by faith” repetition starts at v 17, By faith Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses…

    • V. 26 is a little problematic as it declares that Moses was “suffering for Christ.” I don’t think many Jewish people would agree with that statement.

    • V. 29 comes in part way through the Moses section. 

    • Next week we skip ahead to 12:18, which is a new thought in the sermon.

  • Heroes of faith

    • Passover

      • Faith = Crossed the Red Sea

      • Egyptians drowned

    • Jericho’s walls

      • Faith = Marched around the city for seven days

      • Walls fell

    • Rahab

      • Faith = Welcome the spies in peace

      • Spared from punishment

    • Litany

      • Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephtha, David, Samuel, Prophets.

        • Faith = “Conquered kingdoms, brought about justice, realized promises, shut the mouths of lions, put out raging fires, escaped from the edge of the sword, found strength in weakness, were mighty in war, and routed foreign armies,”

      • Women received the dead back by resurrection (Elijah and the widow 1 Kings 17:22-23)

      • Tortured and refused release “This may recall the Maccabean brothers who died as martyrs in 2 Macabees 7 (Common English Study Bible, notes on 11:35b)

      • Cut in two “The list continues, referring now to individuals who God did not save from hardship and death. A Jewish tradition held that Isaiah died by being sawed in two.” (Common English Study Bible, notes on 11:36-38)

      • “The events depicted here may be found in the Maccabean writings… The general point is clear, however, and prepares the way for the reference to Jesus in Heb. 12:2; faithfulness consists not only of triumphal behavior in battle and conquest but also of the faithful endurance of persecution.” (Beverly Gaventa, Texts for Preaching, Year C, p. 475)

    • “What none of these heroes of faith received was reconciliation with God that has now been provided through Christ. Now that Christ’s saving death is complete, both those who lived and had faith in the past and those who live and have faith now can be finally perfected, or cleansed of their sins.” (Common English Study Bible, notes on 11:39-40)

  • The race laid out in front of us…

    • “All the necessary elements of a race are included: the spectators, possible encumbrances, the trials involved in running a marathon, the lead runner, and the finish line” (Beverly Gaventa, Texts for Preaching, Year C, p. 475)

    • “The great cloud of witnesses works on two levels. First, taking ‘witnesses’ in its simplest sense, these are onlookers, presumably those invoked in chapter 11 who serve largely as spectators of the race. They stand along the route to encourage the efforts of the runners. Second, however, the ‘witnesses’ are those approved by God… In other words, this ‘cloud of witnesses’ is not an indifferent gang of spectators who turn out on a pretty day to see who might win the race. On the contrary, this particular group of observers is anything but neutral; having already won God’s commendation, they line the roadway to encourage those to follow.”

  • The Hebrews Parabola

    • Thomas Long proposes that Hebrews uses the imagery of a parabola over and over in this sermon, Jesus starts with God, descends with humans, rises back to God. Thus, a primary message of the sermon is that we are invited to do the same, and rise up with Jesus back to God.

    • This passage is another example of this, listing this huge litany of heroes that descended from God, joined in the chain of faith, but than are ALL ALSO claimed by Christ.

    • “So that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect” is an astounding claim

      • “The congregation could surely see how we need them. These biblical ancestors are, after all, the heroes of our faith… the congregation could also stretch their minds to see who even these faithful people of old needed Jesus. They were worshiping in temporary tents with repeated sacrifices… What was staggering to the imagination was the claim that these faithful of old somehow need us, that apart “from us” they cannot be made perfect...What he is saying is that the high-priestly ministry of Jesus Christ establishes a great unbroken cord of faith that stretches from the beginning of human history all the way into the heavenly sanctuary in the City of God, where the cord has been securely fastened and anchored by Jesus. The ‘parabola of salvation’ now turns out to be not just the pathway traveled by the Son, not just something Jesus forms, but a chain of faithful people holding onto the cord and to each other.”(Thomas Long, Interpretation: Hebrews)

Thoughts and Questions

  • Two prominent teachings about faith lead us into difficulties. The first teaching says, “Do nothing and expect God to do everything.” Faith should never be an excuse for not making decisions, not taking action, or not working hard. God told Noah about a flood, and Noah built an ark. God told Abraham he would give him a land, and Abraham traveled to it… God gives us the power of the Holy Spirit and expects us to take action. Another teaching that can lead us in the wrong direction says that if it seems God does not answer a person’s prayers, it is because that person does not have enough faith… If a person prays to be healed or prays for a better job, and God does not heal or give a job, do not tell the person, ‘it is because your faith is weak.’ God knows everything, but you do not know why God says ‘yes’ to some prayers and ‘no’ to others.” (Africa Study Bible notes on Hebrews 11 and Faith, p. 1833)

  • Who is your Great Cloud of Witnesses? At your church, are the patriarchs and matriarchs who made the Church what it is today? What are the stories of trials, pitfalls, overcoming? Many church histories are simply lists of building additions and pastorates. Is there a deeper, more exciting, more inspiring history that is there for you to mine? If you are a church start, does the idea of being the foundation for generations to come excite you?

  • What is your race? What were the obstacles, the achievements? Where are you in the race? Do you see a finish line? Are you just getting started? Who are the witnesses that have encouraged you? Who is your lead runner?

Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Miserlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Bryan Odeen for our closing music.