Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
Anyone who has been around me, for a minute, knows that I love all kinds of music. I said – “I love all kinds of music”! However – at heart – I am “old school”. Whatever the genre of music – I prefer “old school”. I appreciate some of the music of today – but what sets my heart soaring is an rob love ballad with some “legs” on it – from yesterday…normally.
I say – “normally” – because there is “old school” – and there is “old school”. I mean – Luther Vandross is not Charlie Wilson – who is not Curtis Mayfield – who is not Marvin Gaye – who is not Billy Eckstein. There is “old school” – and there is “old school”. This same line of logic can be transferred to “old school” songs.
One of my favorite “old school” duets is Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway’s 1972 rendition of – “Where is the Love”. However – with your permission – I would like to offer you some words to ponder that come from the Black Eyed Peas’ 2003 version – that bears the same title.
What’s wrong with the world, mama
People livin’ like they ain’t got no mamas
I think the whole world addicted to the drama
Only attracted to things that’ll bring you trauma Overseas, yeah, we try to stop terrorism
But we still got terrorists here livin’
In the USA, the big CIA
The Bloods and the Crips and the KKK
But if you only have love for your own race
Then you only leave space to discriminate
And to discriminate only generates hate
And when you hate then you’re bound to get irate, yeah Madness is what you demonstrate
And that’s exactly how anger works and operates
Now, you gotta have love just to set it straight
Take control of your mind and meditate
Let your soul gravitate to the love, y’all, y’all
As I read and prayed over today’s text – and placed these words within the context of the sanctioned murder of an Eric Logan – in South Bend, Indiana – I keep asking “Where is the Love?” As I read and prayed over today’s scripture – and placed these words within the context of the sanctioned murders of our sisters and brothers in India – and the Central African Republic – and the Sudan – and Myanmar – I keep asking – “Where is the Love?” As I read and prayed over this divinely-inspired text – and placed these within the context of the horror-filled reality that – in these “United” States of America – there have been more mass shootings than days in 2019 – I keep asking – “Where is the Love?” Where is the love, church? Where is the love?
We have a word from God today – and it is for all of us! We – the peoples of God – were created for a purpose – and truth is – we are failing miserably – to live into that purpose! We have been created serve – yet many of us will only serve – if we are being served! We have been created to live right and live holy – yet many of us will only cry out when injustice strikes our home – or our family! We have been created to love – yet many of us will only love – with “strings” attached! Where is the love – church?
And – truth is – if we do not turn – maybe I should say “return” to the purpose for which we were created – things are only going to get worse! If we do not return to loving unconditionally…if we do not return to loving without “strings” …if we do not return to loving with our whole heart – our streets will continue to run red – with the blood of our innocents! Where is the love, church? Where is the love?
In my humble opinion – today’s pericope of scripture is one of the most beautifully written – and theologically difficult pieces in the entire bible. I mean – the “Song of the Vineyard” paints a picture that should be worth thousands of words. However – I have – and continue to struggle with the message: because the peoples of God have not lived into the purpose for which they were created – divine judgment is coming. I struggle – not because of the Lord’s judgment – but rather because I am a hope-filled person – and a hope-filled preacher. I struggle – not because of the Lord’s judgment – but rather because I am seeking a word that points towards that – to which I have become accustomed – the love of God! I need to know, church–“Where is the Love?”
In the first part of our lesson – we hear of the prophet Isaiah’s “beloved [who] had a vineyard”. This beloved one has done all that can be done – to prepare this “vineyard” to bear “good” fruit. Isaiah’s “beloved” has planted on a “fertile hill” in a place designed – or purposed to grow. Isaiah’s “beloved” has cleared out any “stones” – or obstacles that might prevent the roots from reaching their nourishment – and in fact has used that which might have been an obstacle to protect that which is designed – or purposed to grow. And last – but far from least – Isaiah’s “beloved” has planted the “choice” – or best vines– expecting the “choice” – or best fruit.
Where is the love? Isaiah’s “beloved” has acted lovingly towards the peoples of God. Isaiah’s “beloved” has loved the peoples of God enough to provide us – I mean “them” with what we – I mean “they” need to most fully live into what we – I mean “they” were created to do…yield good fruit!
The Lord – Isaiah’s “beloved” asks us “what more could have done for my vineyard? I created my people for a specific purpose – and they have failed miserably! I laid the foundation for my people to be blessed – and become a blessing – and they have failed miserably! I have been ‘loving’ – and acted ‘lovingly’ – but my people have produced something that does not glorify me!”
And – here we have a divine judgment…not a punishment – but a judgment. Every thing – every comfort – every convenience the Lord has provided for the peoples of God will be removed. That “hedge of protection” will be removed! That “wall of protection” will be torn down! The good “vine” will no longer be pruned or hoed – allowing weeds to come in and choke the life out of it. The good “vine” that was created by God – for God – will be overrun by the “weed-infested” world! Oh – and by the way – that which you need most to grow – rain – will no longer fall on you!
Allow me a moment of “God-speak”. “You have gone your own way – doing your own thing – thinking that because you bear my name – every thing is every thing! You have not brought peace to the land! You have not brought healing to the peoples of the land! You have not produced something ‘sweet’ for those living in some ‘sour’ times! Well – since you have intentionally decided to “wild out” – I am going to take away all of the things that have protected you – up to this point.”
Before I move on – I have got to get this point out – right now. Some of us – (not all but some) – are in some “weedy” – “thorny” – beaten down – dry circumstances – right now – because we purposely decided to live a life for which we were not created! We decided to attack those whom we love – and those we do not even know. We decided to hurt and harm those whom we love – and those we do not even know. We decided to seek our own “nourishment” …we decided to seek out our own “beloved” …we decided to tap into our own life source. Where is the love? Sometimes – sometimes – I believe the Lord loves us enough to let us bump our collective and individual head – in the hope that we will return to the one who covered us…who protected us…who loved us – in the beginning! I promise to come back to this “sometimey” moment – in a moment.
But – it is also important to note that – somewhere along the line…somewhere in this process – the choice vine – that was planted in the choice soil – that was cleared so that the roots might take root and produce the best – has in fact – produced a crop that is “wild”. This “choice” vine – which has been created to produce something sweet – has in fact – produced something that is sour – or bitter – and seedless – or with seeds too small to create anything good – in the future.
And – I would dare say – that too many of today’s peoples of God – fit the bill of the grapes in our love song. Too many of us – who profess a belief in “Jehovah Shalom” – do not truly live as a people who want to live peacefully! All we have to do is look at what is happening around the world – directly or indirectly – because of our manipulations – and we will taste some sour – bitter fruit! Whether we speak of the rioting and fighting in Palestine – or the genocide occurring in Africa – or the talk of invading Iran – we have produced some sour – bitter fruit! Oh, peoples of God – where is the love? We have been created to bring peace – and live peacefully! Yet – too often – instead of offering peace we offer war…instead of calm we offer strife…instead of reconciliation we offer conflict! Come on now – we have been created to be peacemakers – yet some of us would rather fight than switch!
And – for those who may be thinking – that stuff is happening in faraway lands – and to people I do not know – allow me to bring it a little closer to home. We have been created to be agents of healing! Our “beloved” is “Jehovah Rapha” – who designed us to bind that which has been broken! Our “beloved” is “Jehovah Rapha” – the Lord our healer – who created us to heal the hurts of our wounded! Yet – as we have more and more instances of vigilante justice being meted out to it seems “just-us” – the wounds of our world are festering and deepening!
Where is the love – “saints”? Maybe – just maybe we can put aside the “race card” – when we truly become a “color-blind” society! Contrary to what some social commentators may claim – we are not living in a “post-racial” world…in fact – our “post racial” is still “most racial”! With the gerrymandering of districts to ensure certain groups remain the majority – a healing is needed! With the direct – and intentional attack on all Americans to exercise their right to vote – a healing is needed! And – with “stand your ground” being used to not keep some of “us” around – a healing is needed! Where is the love church…where is the love?
No – we have been created for a purpose – and we are told that our failure to live into this divine purpose is the reason for the Lord removing our protection. Because we have not lived into the purpose for which were created – the Lord has allowed us to end up in a “rocky”– “weedy” – “thorny” – “dry” existence. And – while we do not hear a word of hope in this passage of scripture – if we just take a moment to look back – we might find some divine “love”.
The peoples of God – and her leaders have failed miserably – time after time – after time. Yet – even in the face of all this failure – the Lord has been faithful. Adam and Eve failed – yet God was faithful allowing them to produce a people! Noah failed – yet God was faithful allowing him to continue a people! Abraham failed – yet God was faithful allowing him to become the father of three major religions! Isaac failed – yet God was faithful protecting him and his wife Rebecca! Jacob failed – yet God was faithful making him the “father” of the chosen peoples of God! Moses failed – yet God was faithful – allowing him to lead the people of God out of bondage! David failed – yet God was faithful – allowing his line to lead directly to the Messiah!
Yes “saints” the Lord was – and is always faithful! I’m about to sit down – but before I do – someone here needs to know that God is faithful! Make no mistake – we are not here by accident – or our own design! The Lord woke us up this morning – because we are loved! The Lord brought us into this place – because we are loved! The Lord looked down on us “sour grapes” – and decided to give us one more day – to become just – and live justly!
Someone – here today – needs to know that you were awakened today to live into your divine purpose! And – when we return to our purpose…when we return to the love and precepts of God…when we return to living righteous – just – and holy lives – then we will be able to claim that living rightly with the Lord – is “…sweeter also than honey – and drippings of the honey comb”!
Allow me to go “old school” for moment! I tried the world – and found out that God loves me more! I ran in all the wrong places – and all the wrong faces – and found that God loves me more! I don’t know about you – but being in right relationship with my God is “sweeter than honey…than the drippings of the honeycomb”!
But – it gets better church! Where is the love? When we respond rightly to God’s love – we will go “old school” again – telling everyone – and anyone “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed are those who take refuge in Him”! I’m talking about testifying to how we once were “sour” – but once we tasted the love of God – a change took place in our lives!
Someone – here today – needs to go “old school” – “tast[ing] and see[ing] that the Lord is good”! Someone – here today – needs to know your “sour” life – your “sour” song – your “sour” testimony will change – once you accept the undeserved love of God in your life!
Won’t you try God today? “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good”!
About the Preacher
Reverend David Anthony Gilmore is an ordained elder of The United Methodist Church. Currently, Reverend Gilmore is appointed to the cabinet of the New York Conference as the Director of Church Development and Revitalization. In this role, he is responsible for planting new churches; identifying, equipping and empowering emerging leaders (clergy and laity); supporting and nurturing the creation of new ministries; offering one-on-one consultations with churches; and, providing consultations and recommendations for churches seeking to become vibrant.