God Beyond the Breaking Point

Rebecca Sheridan
Sunday, August 14, 2022
Isaiah 5:1-7

    When do you know you need a break?  I’ve heard it from many people this summer coming back from vacation:  “I needed that break!”  Many of us have enjoyed traveling more widely and more often as pandemic concerns are easing.  But beyond vacation, perhaps you enjoy a post-lunch nap, or a leisurely walk after coming home from work or after dinner.  When you get into a heated argument with your spouse, you’ve probably learned when you both need to take a break to discuss the issue when you are calmer.  Our kids know how to go calm down in their rooms for a few minutes when they get upset with one another or with a situation.  Mental health experts advise that we monitor how we feel so we take a break (HALT) when we are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired before we do something we regret.  Even God, at the beginning of creation, takes a break on the seventh day to rest and commands us to rest on the sabbath day as well – God created us not only to work, but also to rest.  We all need breaks.
    This week’s scripture passages had me wishing I had taken a break from preaching today – we are going through a set of readings selected by the Revised Common Lectionary committee back in the 1990s, where we rotate through most of the Bible in a three-year cycle.  I didn’t pick these readings, I want to be clear about that.  If there’s one theme that stands out to me in these hard words to hear it is this:  we are broken.  We are not perfect people, in fact, our broken, sinful ways have pushed even God to the breaking point in the words from Isaiah for today.  We need help, all of us, no matter how good we might be feeling today.  All of us, at some point, know what it means to have a truly horrible day, a time when we have been at rock bottom.  We know what it feels like after the death of a spouse, a parent, God-forbid even after the death of our own child.  Some of us have struggled with alcohol, drugs, or other addictions.  Some of us have known what it’s like to wonder where we will live or where our next meal might be coming from.  Others of us know the difficulty of dealing with chronic physical or mental health issues like depression.  We are broken people in need of someone outside of ourselves to help us, to save us.  We need a break – someone to step in and offer healing and restoration to our broken lives.
    Jesus speaks of the pain of division this morning in the gospel.  We have known the painful brokenness of human relationships, exacerbated by the hyper-politicization of this country and the pandemic over the last few years.  Many of us know still the pain of disagreeing with close family over vaccines and masks, who is president, and how we feel about many hot-button issues.  Sometimes we let issues which seem important at the time become more important than our love for one another.  As Christians, Jesus reminds us today that what’s most important is our faith and commitment to him.  When we put our faith in Christ, Jesus is saying that it can’t but be divisive.  We align ourselves to values different than the values of the world, which is as simple as when your kid wants to play soccer and the coach insists on Sunday morning attendance.  Sometimes, it means having to make even more difficult decisions about how we live our lives as people of faith.
When I think of the great cloud of witnesses Hebrew talks about, I think of the list of those in my lifetime who have gone before me who join those famous people in scripture around God’s throne.  Especially when I read the fiery words of Isaiah this morning, I think of my systematic theology professor Vitor Westhelle, who died from cancer in 2018.  Vitor taught many of us pastors in training profoundly about the power of Christ’s death on the cross for our lives today in ways that made so much sense. At his funeral, it was shared that some of his last words with his family were concerning end of life and funeral plans, as his son discussed what the majority felt was the best course of action.  Vitor replied, “I worry about the minority.” Isaiah’s concern is that people who claim to be children of God in good faith have forgotten about the minority, the most broken and oppressed among us who are experiencing pain, violence, and bloodshed.  Jesus goes to the cross for them, the minority.  Jesus goes to the cross for us, so that the majority might see God’s care and concern for all people, regardless of so many ways in which we divide people up into categories of false importance:  male, female, rich, poor, white, nonwhite and so on. The only category that truly matters is our faith in Christ and knowing what Christ has done for us. 
But where is the good news in all of the brokenness we are confronted with in our scripture readings for today?  Thankfully, there is more to God’s message for us in scripture than the snippets we have this morning.  Isaiah begins chapter 5 as a love song to God, in thanksgiving for creating us, God’s people, as the vineyard.  It’s an odd love song, as it quickly breaks down to God’s indictment of how we have been unfaithful, unjust, and disobedient, as we heard also in last week’s reading from Isaiah.  Isaiah is trying to bring us to admit and confess our sins so that we turn back to God, who can restore the relationship despite our brokenness.  The image of God as the vine grower and we as the vineyard comes up quite a bit in scripture.  Most importantly, in our broken state, as we acknowledge that we are bad grapes, we come to Jesus the vine, connected to him as the branches so that we might bear better, good fruit.  God in Christ connects us back to him and nourishes us so that we can be better, so that we have hope, life and salvation in him!  This is really, truly good news!
    Again, our reading from Hebrews assures us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who went before us in faith toward God.  These people who are listed were not perfect, but also broken people – Rahab, Samson, David, and Samuel among others.  Because of their faith in God despite their brokenness they endured all kinds of persecutions.  We can look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who endured the cross for us so that we might join him at the throne of God.  When God got to the breaking point with us because of our sin, God sent Jesus his only begotten Son to be broken on the cross for us, to offer his body, broken, for the healing and salvation of us all.  God brings us back into a good, right relationship with him through Jesus the vine, and promises to nourish us once again so that we bear good fruit, bringing more and more people to that same vine.  In the midst of our brokenness and division, we know wholeness, restoration, and healing because of what Christ has done for us, thanks be to God!  Christ has the last word, and in him, we are made whole.  Amen.