Thursday, October 12, 2017

Sunday, October 08, 2017

The Rev. Peter M. Carey Sermon on the “Love Song of Isaiah 5” ~ 8 October 2017

Sermon preached at St. Mary's Church, Cathedral Road, Philadelphia
The Rev. Peter M. Carey, Rector
8 October 2017

The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Sermon on the “Love Song of Isaiah 5”
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Philadelphia
8 October 2017

The poem begins as a pleasant “love-song” but builds in a crescendo of intensity,  finally leaving the listener with a message of divine justice and divine judgment.  

The prophet Isaiah describes the situation of God, the farmer, who is cultivating and planting a vineyard as his righteous people in the world.  However, the people had strayed, and become wild, stinking, worthless grapes, not the cultivated grapes that a vineyard owner would expect. In the 8th Century B.C.E, the reign of King Uzziah had brought wealth and prosperity to the wealthy and powerful in Judah.   In its historical context, this song is aimed at those oppressive leaders who benefited from this time of prosperity on the backs of the poor.  However, this poem has resonance for us as well, as we contemplate the ways that God has provided gifts for us, that we are called upon to care for, cultivate, and produce “good grapes” that God expects.
The audience of Judah is told of the beloved farmer who had a vineyard  on a fertile hill that is prepared by the beloved farmer, the work of digging, of clearing, of planting, of building, and hewing.   This intense work with the “fertile” ground would lead any good farmer to think that the vineyard would yield good fruit, and the farmer expects this result.

John Calvin, in his commentary on Isaiah stated, “The incessant care and watchfulness of God in dressing his vine are asserted by the Prophet, as if he had said, that God has neglected nothing that could be expected from the best and most careful householder.”  He expects it to yield good fruit.

The ground was fertile, and the farmer did excellent work.  No mention of animals that have attacked the crop.  They just don’t grow.

Why did these excellent, choice vines yield stinking, worthless grapes?  The audience and the reader is left wondering why, indeed did such a loving, careful, and diligent farmer have a vineyard with such stinking, worthless, and wild grapes.

Verses five and six switch to the words spoken by God; by the farmer - the judge(!).  This language of the removal of protection, which will bring about destruction of the vineyard by the hands of outsiders would be understood in the 8th century Jerusalem context as referring to the military invasions and destruction that would soon befall Judah, but also has a universal message.  How well have we cared for our vineyards?

Here the vineyard will be made a waste by neglect.  Just in case the audience and reader had not understood the point, verse seven makes explicit the referents in this allegory:  “the judgment is upon you!” -- the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the people of Judah. Where the Lord expected holy justice, what grew was bloodshed; where the Lord expected righteousness, what grew was oppression and exploitation.  

Isaiah takes his audience through a journey of seven verses from a “love song,” to a description of loving planting, to a judicial defense for growing worthless crops, and finally to the message of judgment for Judah and Jerusalem for their stinking and worthless grapes/behavior.  

In musical terms, the prophecy is made in a crescendo, beginning softly and calmly and gradually grows in volume, precision, and violence until the audience and reader are left with the awesome and frightening message of judgment.
A main take-away for us, is the same message that is made for the people of Israel.  We are asked to to see that we are the vineyard, and have some responsibility for the type of fruit that comes to life.  Here, we are led to repentance and also to greater action in order to care for the cultivated grapes, to secure the boundaries, and to offer our work in order to care for and steward God’s garden.

We will all be judged, and we are given the opportunity by God to judge ourselves before the hedge is removed.    Just as the vineyard was the people of Judah, the vineyard is us as well.  We are called to respond with justice to the bloodshed that we see in this vineyard, so that God will respond with compassionate action..  We are called to hear the cries of distress and respond with righteousness, so that God will hear and respond to our own outcries with God’s righteousness.  Isaiah 5:1-7 was a prophecy and a call to action in the 8th century B.C.E. to Judah, and it is a prophecy and a call to action for us today.  

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Sad, tired and angry: A prayer in the face of gun violence, The Rev. James Martin, SJ

One of my parishioners shared this prayer with me today, and I wanted to pass it along.  I think that Father Martin expresses some of what we all are feeling.



Sad, tired and angry: A prayer in the face of gun violence
-The Rev. James Martin, SJ | America, the Jesuit Review

Almighty God,
I come before you,
once again,
after another shooting.
I am sad, God.
So I ask you
to receive into your loving care the souls of those who were killed,
to care for those who were wounded or hurt in any way,
to console the family members and friends of those who died or were wounded,
to strengthen the hands of the rescue workers, medical professionals and caregivers
I pray too for the shooter, as I must as a Christian.
All this makes me inexpressibly sad, God.
But I know that the sadness I feel is your sadness.
It is the same sadness your son expressed
when he wept over the death of
his friend Lazarus. 
I am tired, God.
I’m tired of the unwillingness to see this as an important issue.
I’m tired of those in power who work to prevent any real change.
I’m tired of those who say that gun violence can’t be reduced.
 All this makes me tired.
But I know that the tiredness I feel is your tiredness.
It’s the same tiredness that Jesus felt after his own struggles against injustice
that led him to fall asleep on the boat with his disciples.
  I am angry, God.
I’m angry at the seeming powerlessness of our community to prevent this.
I’m angry at the selfish financial interests who block change.
I’m angry that these shootings happen at all.
But I know that this anger is your anger.
It’s the same anger Jesus felt when he overturned the tables in the Temple,
angry that anyone would be taken advantage of in any way.
Help me see in these emotions your own desire for change.
Help me see in these feelings your moving me to act.
Help me see in these reactions your pushing me to do something.
Because I know this is the way you move people to action.
And I know that you desire action.
For Jesus did not stand by while people were being hurt.
He plunged into their lives. 
So help me to answer these questions:
How can I help?
How can I fight against gun violence?
How can I urge my political leaders to enact change?
How can I help people understand that this is
an issue about life?
I am sad over the loss of life,
tired of excuses for the loss of life,
and angry that we are paralyzed by the loss of life. 
Turn my sadness into compassion.
Turn my tiredness into advocacy.
Turn my paralysis into the freedom to act.
Help me
to be compassionate,
to advocate
and to act,
as your son did,
Almighty God.

HolySpaceThursdays ~ Shrine Mont, Orkney Springs, VA ~ The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia

One of my favorite places!  The Spirit is strong there!