8.12.2010

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15), Year C

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56



Do you have a vision for personal success and achievement that pulls you forward? Maybe you are a goal-setter? A list maker. A caster of vision.

Perhaps you have studied a self-help books - Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, The Purpose Driven Life, A New Earth.

Both of us have lived in spots of time where we were pretty driven to measure life (explicitly OUR life) against a very material ruler - the right job, the right clothes, the right house, the right friends, the right restaurants, the right vodka. And really, those self-help books had some pretty handy tools for getting us to where we wanted to be - good solid guidance.

But over the past few years we had to examine our defined destination. We can't really blame the guidance system for getting us exactly where we wanted to go. But where we were going wasn't really making the universe a better place (even if it was a divine place to be us!).

As we read through the passages for this week, we felt a little tension between expectation and resulting judgment. And that got us thinking - is it possible that our expectations lead us astray? I mean, I suppose we could use those same self-help books for other goals, right? For improving the environment, achieving global peace, eliminating poverty and hunger? Could we use those books very specifically for seeking the Kingdom of God?

The passage from Isaiah is a prophecy of God's judgment of Israel. We were caught by the language of expectancy - God's expectation for Israel - "When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes." It's hard to be disappointed without an expectation. And once we have an expectation, it seems pretty easy to be disappointed. The prophet tells us that where God expected to see justice, instead there was bloodshed; where God expected righteousness, there were cries. [Geek break: Read the language in a good study bible. There is actually a pretty brilliant play on words in Hebrew for those interested - mishpat (justice) and mispach (bloodshed) - tsedaqah (righteousness) and tse' aqah (cry of the oppressed). These writers really worked on this stuff! And we miss some of it in translation.]

The Psalmist is responding to God's judgment with some indignation. Why would God make it possible for others to destroy God's own chosen people? The petition is for restoration - for a return to favor that will save the people of Israel.

Go back to that good study bible and read ALL of Luke 12 as a single unit - and then move into Luke 13. Jesus really gets his preach on in this chapter. He's really working this gathered crowd. Beginning with a teaching on discipleship, he continues to warn against needless worry, moves on to encouraging watchfulness and then frames his own ministry as one of judgement and division. He ends all of this by calling for repentance. Preach it. In the selection for this week, after telling people about how he has been brought to divide, he goes on to say something very interesting. "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, 'It is going to rain'; and so it happens...You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?" Wow. You've got the ability - why are you misusing it so? Damning, isn't it?

And then, if we finish with the passage from Hebrews, we are encouraged to lay aside every weight that clings to us and to run the race before us with perseverance. Now after reading Isaiah and Luke, we read this with eyes that draw us back to our expectations. Is it possible that our own expectations are the very thing that weighs us down?

Victor Hugo has a great line in Les Miserables where he says sin is like gravity-it is the thing that holds us down. It seems like we could add Misdirected Expectations to that list. Of course if what we have written here is true, it puts a lot of emphasis on discernment, doesn't it? And discernment, while usually a step in the average self-help book, doesn't get a lot of emphasis because it is not the sexy and exciting part of the success formula. And the interesting thing we have learned in our own lives is that discernment of direction may be the most important part of the process.

How do you discern where you are going? What helps you discern your expectations for yourself? How do the communities you are a part of (family, work, church, etc) discern corporate expectations?

This prayer of Thomas Merton never seems to wear out.....

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this, You will lead me by the right road.
Though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me. And you will never leave me to face my struggles alone.


© matt & laura norvell 2010 www.settingourstones.org
we want to share this with you and hope you'll share with the world;
we simply ask that you let people know where you found these words.
May Grace & Peace be with you

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