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The grapes of indifference

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sermon for the second Sunday of Advent (Mattins)
Is the God that we see in the pages of the Old Testament really the same as the God that we see in the New Testament?
To say that they aren’t the same is to fall into the heresy of Marcionism. Marcion sees very little in common between the wrathful “God of the Old Testament” and the loving “God of the New Testament.” To help us out, he seeks to persuade us that we should jettison all those bits of Scripture that don’t really fit with how God really is. After all, Psalms 58 and 109 are far too savage to be part of the message of love, aren’t they? There’s that nasty bit at the end of Psalm 139 and another nasty bit at the end of the Venite. Why don’t we just cut them out?
We see a God who builds a vineyard and, because He doesn’t get what He wants, He throws a tantrum and destroys it.
Doesn’t He?
We ought to be sympathetic to Richard Dawkins and Stephen Fry when all they can see is a vengeful and capricious deity throwing thunderbolts at whosoever will not obey in the tiniest detail. Indeed, the fact that “bad things happen to good people” is a barrier to many people to come to know God and has even caused people to lose their faith.
As we hear Isaiah pronounce the words of God Himself, we are presented with God reasoning with us. We hear Him say to us, “O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard.” God is asking us to make a judgement. Indeed, Our Lord Jesus does say, “the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.”
So, then, let us take up the legal case with Our Lord.
We have someone who plants a vineyard in order to produce lovely grapes in the same way that we might want to have a good vegetable garden, or lovely flowers. He invests a lot in the cultivation of this vineyard, gives it everything it needs, spending so much money, time and energy so that it will be the best of the best. Nothing is spared. What happens? All the grapes it produces is sour. Does the man not have the right to knock it all down?
Of course he does.
He has the right, but why would he do so? Does the sourness of the grapes really offend him that much? That would have to be truly bad fruit for the man to destroy the vineyard.
What fruit would cause God to destroy His vineyard? What would cause Him to lop branches off the vine and graft in new ones?
We know what fruit God wants us to bear.  St Paul tells us very clearly, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance.” That’s what God wants to flourish.
What fruit does God not want us to bear? Again, St Paul tells us, “Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.”
Look at this fruit. Would you want murder to continue? Would you want to allow strife to flourish? Hatred? Would you really want these to continue any more than you had to? If you had a vineyard that bore only this fruit, would you really want to keep it growing to produce more?
We cannot blame God for being passionate about what is truly Good. If He were so indifferent to the suffering of people from the fruits of Evil, we would not believe Him to be a God of Love. We talk of the wrath of God as something to be feared. As we stand in front of the Killing Fields in which so many people have been killed through the tyranny of other men, we realise that the wrath of God is something to be welcomed to destroy Evil completely.
Part of the problem is that, when it comes to crime and punishment, we human beings always seem to understand judgement in a legal sense, but yet there is a deeper way of thinking that goes beyond the courtroom.
With God, justice is not just about saying what is wrong; it is about putting it right completely and fully. It is about not tolerating the smallest atom of evil so that the love and goodness of God may be made complete in His Creation.
Perhaps there is something greater to be feared than the wrath of God. The god of Marcion is indifferent to the suffering of human beings. Any god that Richard Dawkins and Stephen Fry would want is one that makes everything nice and thus prevent human beings from ever really know Who  God is from what He is not.
The God we see written in every page of Holy Scripture is the same One True God. He stretches through the Old Testament and into the New. His presence confounds our understanding and reasoning, but yet He still allows us to understand and reason.
In both Testaments, we see God’s investment in us. God Himself is prepared to struggle alongside human beings. God Himself is prepared to demonstrate that we are worth reasoning with. God Himself considers our sense of justice to be valuable even if it is imperfect. God Himself waters the Vine with His own blood. That is the investment that He makes to help us bear good fruit. Is it worth it? Well, what fruit do we bear?

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