Thursday, June 6, 2013

Praise Our Consuming Fire

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.  Hebrews 12:28-29 (English Standard Version)

I have been doing some battles with moles in the yard.  The pesky creatures are blind and they dig around just under the ground.  Every now and then they push all the dirt from their tunnels out into these big mounds that the lawn mower doesn't like and they ruin the smooth flow of my verdant green lawn.  Sometimes when cursing these critters I am pulled up short by a random reflection that human beings are not a lot different.  We keep our noses to the ground and stay focused only on our tunnel business.  We get all stressed out by the rocks and roots we run into and stumble around with very little awareness that there is a much larger world filled with light and beauty.

The Apostle Paul felt the coming of the kingdom -- that larger world filled with God's light and inestimable beauty.  He didn't express the coming of this heavenly realm in futuristic terms, but more in language such as: "LOOK!  We are receiving this sacred place NOW and it can't be shaken."  The ONLY response to this event is to worship.  God is our consuming fire who is refining all that's wrong in life; the dross and chaff from the world is being burned up and making it as the Prophet Joel proclaimed:
  " I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.  Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit."  Joel 2:28-29 
 This transformation from moles to a redemptive celebration is happening!  It is where God is steering this boat; the course of it should result in reverence and awe.  St. Ignatius of Loyola believed that we had but one purpose in life and that was to praise God.  "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what are humans that you are mindful of them?  (Psalm 8:3)  Praise is all we can return to such a magnificent God.  Come out of your tunnels and look up.  See!

To you O God, be all power, majesty, and honor.  To you, blessed redeemer. we give all our small pettiness and ask for you to open to us the strong sense of your sacred presence.  Amen.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Vineyards That Are Our Life

Now I will sing to my beloved a song of my beloved concerning my vineyard. My beloved had a vineyard on a high hill in a fertile place. And I made a hedge round it, and dug a trench, and planted a choice vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and dug a place for the wine press in it: and I waited for it to bring forth grapes, and it brought forth thorns.  And now, ye dwellers in Jerusalem, and every man of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What shall I do any more to my vineyard, that I have not done to it? Whereas I expected it to bring forth grapes, but it has brought forth thorns. -- Isaiah 5:1-4
 The Prophet Isaiah here is speaking for God, as though he is God.  God is singing a song to God's beloved -- the humans firstly in Jerusalem, and by our Christian outgrowth to the whole world.  In the second sentence it is the humans (the beloved), who have a vineyard.  However come to find out, the vineyard is not anything the humans have built or planted.  The vineyard is on high fertile ground; the kind that grows tender sweet grapes and the best wine.  God has done all the work to prepare it, protect it, plant it, and prepare for it's future production.  God prepared it all for us, gave it to us, and then waited.  What grew was not the sweet incredible grapes any farmer would expect from such attentive caring, but rather thorns came to occupy the fertile space.  Various translations of בּאשׁים render it - wild grapes or sour grapes; when it got translated to Greek it became thorns.  It is not what anyone would have expected either way.

There is a "rogue" element in the goodness of humankind.  For the most part, human beings are good natured.  I want to believe this.  One needs to believe this to prevent falling into fearful suspicion and deep distrust of everyone who is met.  But, none of us -- no, not one -- is good all the time. It is the rare one of us who grows into a complete virtuous person (i.e. sweet grapes.)  Hence, what is God to do?  God can prepare a place for us in the most fertile of places, give us all the advantages and privilege possible, defend us from all affronts and we still cry about and become ourselves "sour grapes."

Perhaps the key word in the passage is "beloved."  "I will sing to my beloved a song..."  It is difficult to fully imagine being truly God's beloved.  We live day in and out with our failings.  I think most of us know just how scarlet our sins are, and think long and hard about how intractably attached, stuck, and welded to them we are. Oh, that we COULD just let them go and watch them drift away, but here they rest again another day!  We think because of that that there is no way we could be beloved.  Yet, through faith, hope, and love we can catch instants where we taste our own sweetness, or that of someone else who offers us a helping hand, an encouraging word, or a kind act totally independent of our woeful character.  "I will sing to my beloved a song" and I will give them a vineyard in which they can grow and produce sweet wine.  I give you your life.  Grow dang it!

Dear Lord and Protector of my vineyard, help me to grow into the person you most desire me to be   Show me the way to be rain, fertilizer, and sunlight for each of those around me.  For thine is the wine press and the sweetness of us all. In Christ's name.  Amen.