This is the message that I am presenting at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen at Grace UMC in Newburgh, NY, this Saturday, August 17th, and at Sunday Vespers in the Garden at Grace UMC. I am using primarily the reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 5: 1 – 7) for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost but also make reference to the readings from Hebrews (Hebrews 11: 29 – 12: 2) and Luke (Luke 12: 49 – 56).
The doors to Grannie Annie’s Kitchen open at 8 and all are welcome to come and be a part of the Saturday morning community. Vespers in the Garden at Grace begin at 7 on Fridays and Sundays and all are welcome to be a part of this worship service.
When I first read the passage from Isaiah I thought of a couple of things. First, I thought about all those who have proclaimed that America is the new Israel, how this land is the new Promised Land.
Even today, there are those who see the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom taking place here in the United States and that the American people, or at least some of them, are the inheritors of the title of God’s chosen ones.
Of course, that sort of runs against Christ speaking of the opportunity for all to know God and it also means that we, the people, need to take the words of God spoken through Isaiah very, very carefully. Isaiah tells the people of Israel two thousand years ago that their choices to go away from God, to ignore their own people through violence, repression, and economic inequality are not the ways of God’s people.
The primary themes of the Bible, our relationship with God and our relationship with the other people who live on this planet, are the same today as they were two thousand years ago. And yet today, it seems as if we have not learned a thing.
There is still violence, repression, and economic inequality today and it seems to be getting worse, not better. There has to be an alternative that we have not considered, an alternative that brings out the best of the human condition, not the worst.
But what or where is that alternative? That is part of my second thought in reading this passage from Isaiah plus the words on faith that the writer of the Book of Hebrews wrote.
Some people will say that there is no God, no Yahweh, no Jehovah, no Allah, no supreme being by any other name. There are argument is that no god would ever allow such destruction, such violence, such indifference to the human plight to ever exist.
But stop and think about that for a moment.
If you say that there is no God or supreme being and you do not offer an alternative for what you believe, then you are essentially offering little to justify your own existence. For me, at least, to deny the existence of God is to deny one own existence and remove all hope from your life and to say that there is nothing in this world for you.
Those who offer this thought say that you have to go it alone, it is by whatever means you can think of that you will succeed. You put walls up around you so that no one can bother you. But what happens is that you limit your vision of the future and you have put yourself in a prison of your own making, a prison from which you cannot be released. And what kind of life is that?
If we understand that humans were created in the image of God, then you also understand that God gave us the ability to think and create as well as destroy. Anger, violence, war, and destruction come from the same source as love and creativity and to limit one is to surely limit the other. Anger, violence, war and destruction come from man, and to paraphrase President John Kennedy, problems created by man can be solved by man. And I do think that we have spent far too much time on the destruction aspect of our lives and too little time on our creativity.
But creativity requires vision, it requires hope and when your life is limited and without hope, such creativity is not possible to find.
The one thing that God offered the people of Israel, the one thing that God offers to each one of us today is hope, the promise that there is a worth to this life and a goal at the end.
That hope is found in Jesus Christ. In sending Jesus Christ to be among us, God said that there was hope, there was a chance for a better life. This is the theme of the book of Hebrews, that there is a hope present in our lives. Now, the writer of Hebrews didn’t say that this was going to be an easy life or that one might find the resolution of hope in their earthly life. But he also pointed out how many people followed through on that hope so that we might have that opportunity today.
On more than one occasion Jesus pointed out that following Him was not an easy path as well. And we know that each day on that three year journey from the River Jordan to Jerusalem, the number of people who followed Jesus became less and less as the reality of the journey became apparent.
I know that many people today don’t want to follow Christ; it is jut too hard to do so, it requires too much from them. They want a world where everything is given to them without question and without effort; they don’t want to have to return the effort.
In the Gospel reading for this weekend, Jesus points out that His coming would even bring division among families and friends. A Lutheran colleague offered the following words,
“Similar words (from Matthew’s Gospel) began a section of a recent newsletter from LCMS Missionaries Brad and Genevieve Ermeling. They wrote: “These words of Jesus often strike us as harsh truths that many of us in Christian homes have never had to face.” (“A Warning Label of the Package of Christianity”)
We are often asked to do things that run counter to tradition and practice, things that speak of a new vision of the world and not simply a continuation of the present one. This will cause conflicts, both within families and within society.
But in that division is a sign of things to come. Two thousand years ago, there were those who could not see the signs. Trapped behind the walls of indifference and self-centeredness they could not see what was happening. They could not see the future.
And today, there are those who have built the same sort of walls, who feel that they are safe within those walls, safe from the problems of the world. There are those who have built walls of selfishness and greed, who place their own needs above everyone else, who are not willing to be a part of this world. Each of these individuals, trapped in a prison of their own making, cannot see the future.
But there was also those who saw what Jesus was doing and heard what He was saying, who understood that there was hope, there was a promise in the future. They understood that to follow Him was not an easy thing to do but that in doing so the results would be better, not just for themselves but for everyone. (Keep in mind that the earlier church, the church that Rome prosecuted, opened its doors, its hearts, its mind, its soul to all the people and not just the limited number of early believers.)
They understood that in Jesus there was a future, open and unbounded.
When I was growing up, I saw many a person who profess to believe in Christ but whose actions belied that belief. I saw people who engaged in many acts of selfishness and greed, whose actions and attitudes were devoted to their own self-promotion and self-aggrandizement. And yet, on Sunday, they would stand before God and the people and proclaim their belief in Christ and state how Christ had brought them from the prison of sin and death.
Something inside me said that was wrong. I saw a world of oppression and violence, of greed and inequality, and a church that was blind to the vision that Christ offered. And I knew others then who felt that way and I know many today who feel that way as well. They have left the organized church because they felt that there was no place for them and they have left God because they could not see how God would allow that to happen.
I might have done that as well and left the church, Jesus, and God far behind. But I do not want to imagine what might have happened.
But there were people who showed me that God’s love for each one of us was unlimited and that it overcame what other men might say and do. I was given an opportunity, as we all are, to find Christ, perhaps in a way that I had never thought.
I also knew that John Wesley saw the same church and the same people some two hundred years before. And I knew that he chose not to walk away but rather do something about a church that was indifferent to the world. He chose, as a follower of Christ, to reach out to the world, to the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the oppressed.
I was given the same opportunity and I have tried to do the same, through my words, my thoughts, and my deeds.
Christ said He came to this world to bring hope to the oppressed, that He came to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and build homes for the homeless. And He called upon us, each one of us, to continue that mission. Followers of Christ are called to make disciples of the people of this world and that means showing them through not only word but action what that means.
You may say that you will go it alone and that is the only way that you can survive. But that traps in you in slavery to sin as sure as anything else you do.
You may feel that Christ is for you and you alone and you have no obligation to share that faith with others. But if you do not share your faith by your thoughts, your words, your deeds, and/or your actions, how will others come to Christ. Can you truly be a follower of Christ when you do not do what you have been asked to do?
The point Wesleyan Christians have made consistently is that we cannot overcome sin, but that Christ can. If we are growing in holiness by working out our salvation, the Holy Spirit does, in fact, have the power to overcome sin. It is a long journey for many, but it is not impossible for God.
Kevin Watson recently wrote, concerning the fullness of the Gospel,
The gospel proclaims that Jesus was the Son of God, he was crucified, died, and raised again on the third day. Jesus faced the very worse that sin and death could do. He entered fully into the reality of death. And he conquered sin, even the grave! (from John Meunier – “He Breaks The Power of Canceled Sin”
The only power to escape that slavery is found in Christ. We cannot overcome sin but Christ can. In one of his hymns, Charles Wesley wrote of the power that Jesus has to cancel sin and set the prisoner free. It is by the Grace of God that we have this opportunity but it is the work of God in our lives that moves us onward to perfection and completion. (adapted from Allan Bevere “Grace Is a Gift From God, Grace Is a Work of God”)
We live in an interesting and challenging world, a world that often times offers little hope or promise for the future. We have been told that the option is that we have no option.
Perhaps that is true. If we do nothing today, then there are no options and there is no future. But God came to us in the form of Jesus Christ and offered an option, a choice, an opportunity for a future of freedom. Yes, it is not an easy option and sometimes what we have right now seems so much better. But a life of slavery to sin and death has no escape and that is hardly the best option.
We are offered the chance today, through God’s Grace and Love, to find our future through Christ. The choice is yours, what option shall you take?