A Body Divided 8-15-10

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener" -John 15:1

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

I.                   A Message of Judgment, of Comfort, of Hope

Isaiah – prophet of judgment, comfort, and hope

The writer of Isaiah is expansive in his choice of topics. 

“He uses everything and everybody as material for his work, which is the remaking of the mess we have made of our lives.  ‘Symphony’ is the term many find useful to capture the fusion of simplicity and complexity in the book of Isaiah.  The major thrust is clearly God’s work of salvation: ‘The Salvation Symphony’ (the name Isaiah means ‘God Saves’).  The prominent themes repeated and developed throughout this vast symphonic work are judgment, comfort, and hope.”[1]

Isaiah is divided into three sections, I, II, and III that follow just those topics.  Our passage in Isaiah is found in chapter 5, which is part of Isaiah I that mostly focuses on God’s judgment, though there is comfort and hope in all of it.  It is a ballad, a love song, a sad love song – God’s lament for all the hard work he put into his people, and here they are bad grapes, wild grapes.

 God invested so much work and love into humanity, and still we rebel.  So, Isaiah 5 and Psalm 80 speak of a vineyard that did not produce the good fruits that God expected.  These passages are pronouncements of judgment.  They are fact, and inescapable.  We have failed God.  This ought to make us grieve, for it certainly makes God grieve.

II.               A Body Divided

If you were hoping to hear Jesus say something touching, something comforting, today’s scripture from Luke will be a great disappointment.  Most of the liturgy I find and read emphasizes Christian unity.  It is something to celebrate – the move towards a more ecumenical faith where different denominations and creeds learn to worship together, to work together, and to glorify God together.  The very sad truth is that Jesus is right.  Even after receiving God’s saving love in the form of Jesus Christ, those who received it were not all united, but instead were divided.  That story of division among Christians is a 2010 year old history.

The sad history of world Christianity: One long story of division after division

From the Apostolic Age to Constantine the Great
          The crisis of the early church in the Christian Faith (stay or stray from Jewish traditions?)
          The Creeds (The Apostle’s Creed, the Marcion Heresy, and The Nicene Creed and Constantine)
The Eastern Church and the Western Church
From the Age of Constantine to the Age of the Reformation
The Road to Reformation
          Martin Luther, John Calvin, Zwingli, Bullinger, John Knox.
Presbyterian America
          Who has the Right to Preach (Old Side/New Side)
          Revolution and Constitutions
          Reforming America: Old School and New School (slavery)
          More recent splits – women’s ordination, sexuality,
          the appropriate relationship with other religions and denominations.

Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian , Catholic, Baptist non-denominational – every part of the Christian church has been touched by the human inclination to diversity and difference that so often lead to division.  We long to be made whole, to be restored, but we know that this is not something we can achieve on our own.

III.           Division and Perseverance – Comfort?

So, where we do find some comfort in our Scriptures?  It is in Hebrews where we are reminded that the early church had its share of frustrations as well – and that then, just as today, we struggled with our limits.  We are given a list of heroes of the faith, individuals who faced difficulties, persecution.  Basically, they experienced the same struggle of living in the world and wrestling with what it means to be faithful.  The writer of Hebrews is encouraging the early church – offering comfort in the form of people we look up to, who also struggled.

We are given a list of heroes of the faith – individuals who showed great faith and furthered the kingdom of God through their efforts.  The thing is, not all of them found happy endings to their efforts.  Some of them did, but others faced persecution, violence, and even death – and this did not diminish the importance of their faithfulness.  

Walter Brueggemann speaks of these ‘saints’ of the past who are “unafraid of suffering, and they stay present in love and mercy where there is dying and illness and violence … faith is the willingness to trust our lives and our future to God even when God does not appear to be as reliable as other, more immediate supports.  Faith is readiness to risk life on the promises of God without holding back.”  He also speaks of the ‘intergenerational mystery’ of the church.  “How their lives count depends on our lives.  How well they did is determined by how well we do.  The letter to the Hebrews is written to people in the early church when faith was risky and dangerous.  The letter is written to say to the listening congregation, ‘Everything is up to you.’”[2]

All the saints that came before us, the great cloud of witnesses, are waiting at the finish line, cheering us on after they passed the baton off to us.  This is comforting because we are not alone.  We are part of a faith that has been seeking to be faithful for a very long time.

IV.            A Body Divided brings Hope

The truth is, we are still a body divided.  How does that honor and glorify God?  Where is the hope in the message that Jesus comes to bring division not peace?  Hebrews says to us, “what we do matters, not just to us, but to those who have gone before us and are now watching us as we run the same race …  They’re not going to leave us to run this race alone.”[3]

If you look at scripture, you will see evidence of the sacraments everywhere.  Water, so important for baptism is a staple of OT stories.  But also, the bread and the wine of the Lord’s Supper run throughout the canon.  The gospel of John is probably the book filled with the most sacramental images.  He is the gospel that gives us the I am statements.  “I am the true vine.”  “I am the bread of life.”

Today, our references to the Lord ’s Table are slightly more veiled, but perhaps all the more striking as a result.  Jesus says that he comes not to bring peace but division.

We Wild Grapes, Bad Grapes – spilled the blood of our Lord Jesus, which is where we wild grapes finally find forgiveness, healing, and wholeness.  Psalm 80 and Isaiah 5 speak of a God who puts a ton of work into his vineyard, who cares for the plants and the fruit they bear.  God invests in us and tends to us as we run the race that the writer speaks of in Hebrews.

I am the Bread of Life

Wild Grapes

Though the Body of Christ has been divided and divided, I do not, in the end, find this to be a fact that leaves us hopeless.  Even Christ’s body divided on the cross could not stop the power of resurrection, and the promise of new life.  Perhaps there is a way in which all the divisions among us throughout the body of Christ, is the raw material – the bread dough – that God kneads yeast into that we may rise again into the bread, the body of Christ and feed the saints who will follow us in the faith.

Kneading the body of Christ

In the end, it is not our faithfulness that is the good news in this story.  It is God’s faithfulness and ability to work with us, even in our wildness and dividedness that is the good news.  It is the good news of God’s faithfulness that allows us to continue to strive forward in our divisions in perseverance.  Praise be to God for God’s faithfulness!

God of our judgment, help us to feel our wildness and grieve our inability to produce and be anything but bad grapes.  Yet, you call us to you and you comfort us in the reminder of others who struggled and did not see the end of their race, and yet still believed in the value of running that race.  God of hope, call us forth to be your body, divided and broken up for the world.  As we persevere and continue on the journey of discipleship, may our dividedness bring blessing to your world.  May we be poured out for others as a reminder of the blood you shed to forgive our sins.  For who you are and all that you did, our God of judgment, comfort and hope, we praise you.  Amen.

[1] Eugene Peterson, The Message, “Intro to Isaiah.” 

[2] Walter Brueggemann, Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers.

[3] Kate Huey, Weekly Seeds.


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