This week our Sanctuary First scripture readings invite us to listen in on some difficult conversations that prophets and poets have had with God. Knowing this to be the case means we also can have confidence to ask God our difficult and searching questions. Why is it that bad things happen to good people? Why do we have evil in the world? Why is it that some people seem to have all the wealth and privilege while others seem to struggle all their life?
However we also need to be aware that God through prophets and poets asks of us some difficult and searching questions. Why are you holding on to all this stuff that’s pulling you down? Why do you ignore the plight of those who are being treated unjustly? Why do you watch movies and read books that create heroes out of evil characters? Why do you passively stand by and let bad things happen to good people? Why do you watch soaps that promote lying and deception? To what purpose are you filling your mind with these story lines? Do you not get like what you look at?
Too often we pretend we didn’t hear God’s questions. However the questions remain, and at some point we will find ourselves having to make a reply to the Almighty and to ourselves.
The prophet Isaiah is also a poet and a singer. In Isaiah Chapter 5 he draws his audience’s attention to the fact that God feels disappointed and cheated. He describes God as the owner of a vineyard who planted the best vines and cared for them only to discover the vines didn’t produce good fruit. The power of these conversations is that they take place around metaphors and illustrations that speak into the reality of human experience. Poets and prophets today use metaphors and analogies that speak into our culture.
We all need to pay more attention to the prophets and poets of our time. The Jeremiahs and Isaiahs of today. We need to recognise that they may not always be found in the places we would expect them to be. Jeremiah pointed to the false prophets who he saw as the insiders — those who had boxed God into their systems and strategies and theologies. We need to be careful to listen to the correct voices. We need to look for the voices that draw us into conversations with the Almighty and not into systems and strategies and, dare I say it, theologies.
Take for instance Stormzy. He is the most recent mainstream rapper who is using his art to speak to a whole generation about the grace and love of God. Have a listen to this clip from the Glastonbury Festival:
Look what he does in the middle of his set, he says now we’re going to take you to church. And within seconds he had hundreds of thousands singing praise to God. U2 of a past generation did the same thing leading a whole generation to have a conversation with the Almighty. We do not know the effect these experiences have but introducing people to goodness, grace and praise, can’t be a bad thing.
So let’s get back to the biblical poet and prophet and singer Isaiah. In Isaiah 5 he is sharing the content of his song. In his song he hears God saying, My people are like a Vineyard that I planted, God was looking for a great crop of grapes. Instead of seeing good things that would make God proud. He sees lying, injustice, murdering and cheating. God went looking for a harvest of righteousness and instead he got moans and groans from victims who had been treated badly.
This discussion now ends up with us. We are in this God conversation. What if our lives were God’s Vineyard? What kind of crop is he getting from us? This passage reminds us that God holds us all accountable. He challenges the rich and the powerful and he reminds us it’s a conversation. We can’t stay silent for ever.
Very Rev Albert Bogle