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Confronting Injustice

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“Confronting Injustice” by C. David McKirachan
“Get Back!” by Frank Ramirez

Confronting Injustice
by C. David McKirachan
Matthew 21:33-46

This parable is interesting. It’s a layout of a phenomenon of some of the socio-economic dynamics around absentee landlords, the payment of rent, and …. anybody awake? The preceding statement is true. But all of that is scenery, stage setting for a gut punch delivered to the church leaders, the cultural poo baa’s, and the rulers of the nation that surrounded Jesus.

Consider the context: He’d just ridden the foal of an ass into Jerusalem, crowds proclaiming him king. He trashed the temple, throwing out the money people (always unwise to dump the rich ones), calling the established church leaders thieves. Now, he’s teaching in the temple, sitting in the seat of prophets and rabbis, telling parables that deliver thinly veiled accusations and warnings of God’s unwillingness to put up with their leadership. This isn’t an interesting parable, it’s a manifesto. There is no way he could get away with this.

One of my sons had a hard time with his gym teacher. He considered her a fascist. She considered him a challenge to her authority and was threatening to give him a failing grade in physical education, which would keep him from graduating. My problem was, I agreed with both of them. He was a challenge to her authority, because in her insecurity, anyone who dared to bring up options to her lesson plan terrified her, which led to the creative response of lashing out in counterproductive ways. She became a fascist. Yep. And, my son was a pain in the butt. He was smart and creative and thus periodically, in his impatience for anything that looked like authority, he’d punch buttons to make any decent person want to throw bricks.

So, I climbed into my seat of wisdom and spoke. My advice to him went something like, ‘When facing something or someone who can tear your face off, consider options that won’t invite them to do just that.’

If Jesus had heard my advice, he would have laughed and sent engraved invitations to all the lions and tigers and bears that surrounded him to hit him with their best shot.  I guess that’s what these parables are.

Too often we seek to preach interesting sermons, avoiding the repercussions that await if we let the Holy Spirit drag us into areas that confront our communities. Prophets are supposed to do that. If we don’t, how are we going to get reviled, and persecuted, and have all manner of evil spoken against us falsely on our Lord’s account? How are we going to be blessed? As Bonnie Raitt sings, ‘’Let’s give ‘em something to talk about.” But if we do that, we’ll offend the money people. (We already covered that.) And that’s right.  Confronting injustice can get us in trouble.

But we aren’t here to coddle. Comforting folks is part of our job. Jesus’ compassion was famous. But his power to confront demons did not rise from a willingness to stick to comforting and healing. He knew that God’s truth needed to be told with his own life, his own actions, and his own words. When people call themselves Christian and refuse to confront the roots of poverty and oppression, when they are willing to lie to be popular, when they put on shows of righteousness, condemning others, they need to be informed that their behavior is not Christian. It’s time to tell the truth. That’s what prophets are for. And fulfilling that job description is why we get into the pulpit, or on camera. That’s how we fulfill our vows of ordination.

So, I guess this is an interesting parable. The other part of this is that God is a good landlord. That was a nice set up. All they had to do was pay the rent. When people got anxious, I always offered, ‘The Lord will provide.’ At less stressful moments I’d add, ‘The Lord will provide, but it might not be what we have on our Christmas list. It might be an invitation to grow.’ They liked the first one better.

So, in the case of my son and the gym teacher… I got him to admit to her he’d been kinda’ out of line in class. She taught him to play badminton. He graduated. See? Miracles do happen.

* * *

Get Back!
by Frank Ramirez
Isaiah 5:1-7

Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. (Isaiah 5:1)

As we can see from this passage from Isaiah, the garden can be a mythical place. Two of the rivers that flowed into the Garden of Eden, according to Genesis, didn’t exist, part of the way of explaining you can’t get there from here. The Song of Songs describes the perfect love as a garden. Jesus spoke of fruit-bearing trees, vines and branches, and fruitful orchards as places of fertility and peace. Revelation ends with a New Jerusalem that has its own green spaces, healing trees, and life.

A popular song from the 60’s expressed the longing to get back to the Garden of Eden: “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” That line is about a place and time that can’t be recreated either. It’s about that 60’s phenomenon known as Woodstock.

The Woodstock Rock Festival, which took place from August 15 through August 18 was advertised as “3 days of Peace and Music.” Its advertisers expected it to be huge, but no one realized it was also going to be monumental.

Planners originally thought perhaps 50,000 people would show up at Yasgur’s Farm in upstate New York. Tickets cost eighteen dollars in advance and twenty-four dollars at the gate which doesn’t sound like much for a festival which included many of the major acts of the day, but in today’s money those tickets would have sold for 130 and 170 dollars.

As it turned out, more than 400,000 people showed up. It was impossible to collect admission. Performers included Richie Havens, Tim Hardin, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Country Joe McDonald, John Sebastian, Canned Heat, Mountain, the Grateful Dead, Credence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, the Who, Sly and the Family Stone, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker, Ten Years After, the Band, Blood Sweat & Tears, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na, and Jimi Hendrix, among many others.

Never mind what actually happened, might have happened, or never happened. The festival became the kind of legend that everyone claimed to have attended. It also became the kind of event that can’t be recreated, though every festival, including later festivals held at Woodstock, yearned to recreate the magic.

Oddly enough, that iconic song with the refrain, “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden,” commemorating the Woodstock festival was written by someone who didn’t attend.

The song was written by Joni Mitchell, a singer songwriter famous for songs like “Both Sides Now,” “Ladies of the Canyon,” and “Big Yellow Taxi.” Mitchell would have been there, but her manager told her it was a waste of her time and she’d be better off appearing that weekend on “The Dick Cavett Show”. So instead of taking part she watched news reports about the festival in her hotel room.

Her song was about encountering “a child of God, he was walking along the road.” She asked where he was going, and he told about traveling to Yasgur’s farm to the music festival where he hoped “to set my soul free.” The singer sang, “And I dreamed I saw the bombers riding shotgun in the sky, turning into butterflies above our nation.”

The chorus stated “We are stardust. We are golden, million-yearold pollen, and we’ve got to get ourselves back in the garden.” The garden in question, the Garden of Eden, is a symbol of perfection, the longing for a return to a perfect place that existed once upon a time in the past.

The song “Woodstock” has been performed by many groups and has become an official song, so to speak, that was never commissioned.

Today’s passage from Isaiah the prophet also paints a picture of a perfect garden. The singer longs for perfect grapevines and does all the work necessary to prepare the land for a wonderful crop and later a great vintage. But something goes very, very wrong.


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StoryShare, October 4, 2020 issue.

Copyright 2020 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to the StoryShare service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons, in worship and classroom settings, in brief devotions, in radio spots, and as newsletter fillers. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to permissions@csspub.com or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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