Spirit & Life

A Cloud of Witnesses

Isaiah 5:1-7 The Song of the Vineyard
Listen while I sing you this song,
  a song of my friend and his vineyard:
My friend had a vineyard
  on a very fertile hill.
He dug the soil and cleared it of stones;
  he planted the finest vines.
He built a tower to guard them,
  dug a pit for treading the grapes.
He waited for the grapes to ripen,
  but every grape was sour.

So now my friend says, “You people who live in Jerusalem and Judah, judge between my vineyard and me. Is there anything I failed to do for it? Then why did it produce sour grapes and not the good grapes I expected?

“Here is what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge around it, break down the wall that protects it, and let wild animals eat it and trample it down. I will let it be overgrown with weeds. I will not trim the vines or hoe the ground; instead, I will let briers and thorns cover it. I will even forbid the clouds to let rain fall on it.”

Israel is the vineyard of the LORD Almighty;
  the people of Judah are the vines he planted.
He expected them to do what was good,
  but instead, they committed murder.
He expected them to do what was right,
  but their victims cried out for justice.

Luke 12:49-56 & Hebrews 11:29-12:2


ENJOY reading the texts, that travel across many generations – the metaphor, Jesus’ passionate teaching and the epistle are worth contemplating as a whole. Together, they are provocative, enlightening and humbling. From ancient times to our modern days, Churches find a defined, orderly, productive community a protected, desirable expression of faith. Known. Controlled. Regulated. Safe.
Is it ‘safe’, though? Is it for the whole people of God? What impenetrable ‘towers’ do we still build to safe guard our desirable expressions? Why does Jesus bring division in ‘families’? How does he unsettle our preconceptions? How did we not see this division coming?
The Breath of the Spirit is wending its way through our Churches, locally, nationally and internationally, disrupting previously impenetrable ‘towers’ and drawing us to review and reconsider our practices. For example, Catholic Second Assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia, Anglican Lambeth Conference, Receptive Ecumenism V Conference, World Council of Churches. As well as celebrating wonderful Christian ministry and mission, there are areas of dissonance, practices needing change, ‘vineyards’ that are wounding, or that are wounded themselves, ‘towers’ not including all God’s people, structures and practices remiss and even unkind at times. On International Day of Indigenous people this week, I am reminded of dialogues at the 2013 WCC that highlighted how disenfranchised, ignored and neglected
indigenous people were across our global faith communities. Yet, in 2022 these conversations and actions are still needed. So then, in every generation, at every moment, God’s unsettling call, Jesus’ passion and the Ruah/breath of the Spirit calls us through love and in peace, to have clear thinking and radical justice making, for the benefit of the whole people of God, and the renewal, reconciliation and even rebuilding, of God’s vineyard. Let us listen to the wisdom of our elders, and hear the dreaming of the next generation, for in both of these, we hear the large cloud of witnesses sharing in our communion today.

As for us, we have this large cloud of witnesses around us.
So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way,
and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly,
and let us run with determination the race that lies before us.
Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus,
on whom our faith depends from beginning to end
Hebrews 12:1-2a.

Creator and Nurturer,
we call to you in these shadowy days.
The warmth of your sun is cooled by our dissonance and unkindness.
The light of your rays is shadowed by our foggy, anxious, confused ways.
The growth in your love is stunted by our inflexibility and hard boundaries.
We have built ‘towers’ to guard and uphold our desires
that have instead, slowed the spread of your passionate, radical discipleship.
We have taken to ourselves that which is not ours to own.
Your vineyard is not as well tended as it could be.
We are so sorry, God of all,
for we have neglected your Way and trampled on shoots of new life.
Our greed, our anxieties, our fear of new things and change
have allowed or adapted with your evolving and everchanging world.
We have not reflected on the natural seasonal cycle
of flourishing life letting-go to death,
so that life may begin in a new season again.
We seek your guidance, your passion, your breath of fresh air,
so that, we, your Churches, prune well
and discard that which is not life-giving in our ways.
Help us to let all that has been pruned
to be turned over and composted,
teaching us what is nourishing
and what we need to leave behind.
May we be willing workers in your vineyard
and with the great cloud of witnesses,
pray that season after season bears fruit and nourishes your world.

© Rev Anne Hewitt 09/08/2022
This reflection & prayer may be shared as long as the original writer is credited.

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Rev Anne Hewitt
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We pay respect to the Elders past, present and emerging across the many Nations of this Country.