We will make a string of Whys to express the tension between the world we see around us, and the Kingdom of God, not yet fully revealed.
You will need:
- strips of paper (brights) (pastels)
- a hole punch
- glue sticks
- string or yarn for hanging (jute twine looks great)
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Cut the paper into strips about 20cm x 3cm (the width of A4 x 1”), enough for a few each. Punch a hole at each end of the strips and cut the string to fit your room so that you can hang the prayers like like bunting when you have finished.
In life we often have to deal with things that are not as they should be. Motherhood is great as an ideal, but the day-to-day drudgery of reality is not quite the same. Many a teacher says (mostly in jest) that their job would be perfect were it not for the kids! Yet we keep going despite the reality that does not match what we know is true at a deeper level.
We hold the truths in tension with the not-quite-there-yet of the world we live in. These are the Whys.
Fold each strip into quarters long ways, then glue the middle two sections together so that the paper forms a Y-shape. The punched holes should be at the tops of the arms.
Write on one side a trouble of our present reality – a personal tragedy, a national disaster, an injustice. Turn the Y over, and on the other side write a quality of God. God is just. God loves sinners. Jesus forgives the unforgivable. God knows and cares.
If these two seem contradictory, that is OK. We do not have to try to cram God into our human understandings, or our concepts of what is fair. God does not have to do things the way I would have done them. It is OK to have unanswered questions.
Thread the Ys onto the string and hang the bunting with a prayer to the God who is beyond our understanding, but good and wise and loving all the same.
This is not a comforting part of the Bible. These passages don’t get onto inspirational posters and facebook memes. This is hard. But so is life, sometimes.
Isaiah starts with a pretty story about a vineyard, and the people of Judah would have understood that he meant them. God had planted them in the land like a farmer plants a vineyard. How lovely. The farmer tended the vines, protected them and provided for them. How sweet.
But then – BAM – where were the grapes? All of this care and attention was supposed to produce fruit. God had chosen them to be his people so that they could show others what it meant to worship the One True God, to be a light to the nations. It hadn’t worked.
First Israel and then Judah had adopted the darkness of the nations around them, instead of being a distinctive light. Since the vineyard was as full of weeds as the fields around, what was the point of a wall? If they wanted to be the same as their neighbours, God would let them.
For the Jewish hearers, this would be a terrible threat. Surely God wouldn’t really do that? Surely there will be a last-minute reprieve? Surely God will work some miraculous rescue?
Nope. Not this time.
This time the unthinkable happened.
Judah was over-run by the Babylonians and carted off onto captivity. There, ‘By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.’ (Ps 137:1)
Our second reading has the same metaphor of a vineyard, but from a very different perspective. The people look back at their destruction and ask ‘Why?’ It’s a good question. It’s a very real question. It’s often the first question on our lips when the unthinkable happens. Why?
I’m not going to trot out some easy platitudes here. I won’t pretend I have the answers to difficult questions. The Babylonian exile was a dreadful thing. Real people died. Fathers and husbands and brothers were killed. Women and girls were carried off as loot. It was a bad, bad thing. Why did God let it happen? Why does it still happen?
In the news this week a French priest was murdered during morning mass. Why? Every day we read of shootings, bombings, disasters and tragedies. There are many more we never hear of. Why? Why does the Lord I believe in, the all-powerful all-loving Lord, why does he allow these atrocities? Why doesn’t he simply stop them?
I don’t know.
If you meet someone why says they have all the answers to questions like these, run. Run the other way. There are no quick and easy answers.
There were no quick and easy answers for the hundreds of blind beggars whose sight Jesus didn’t restore, for all the lame who were still lame after Jesus passed by, for all the desperate sisters whose brothers were never raised to life. Why did not God act?
I do not understand. But my not understanding does not make God any less all-powerful, all-loving, gracious and compassionate. It just means that he is bigger than my mind, and I’m OK with that.
God never said he would rescue us from trouble. Just the opposite, Jesus promised it. ‘In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.’ (Jn 16:33) Jesus did not offer pat answers, nor did he ignore trouble. He directed troubled folks to himself and offered to walk with them through the valley of the shadow of death.
Here is a blog post I wrote on a Sad Face Day
We live in the between times. God’s kingdom is now and not-yet. We pray, ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth’, and yet we see it is not so in many places. We need to have a foot in both camps. Neither so focussed on God’s kingdom that we forget about the real lives that real people live in this real world; nor yet so engrossed in the here-and-now that we fail to lift our eyes to the eternal reality behind the world we can see.
Good, wise and loving Lord,
I confess that sometimes I do not understand why.
It looks so unfair to my eyes.
I want to scream and shake my fist.
‘Why did you let that happen? Didn’t you know? Didn’t you care?’
There is so much in the world that is wrong and it is overwhelming.
But then I see so much that is right too.
I see a reflection of your love
in the parent who is utterly drained, but reads to his child anyway;
in the wrinkled gaze of an old man with the wife of his youth;
in the supporting arm of one who lays aside their troubles to bear the troubles of a friend.
All is not lost. All is not dark. All is not evil.
We live in a world of dappled shade and light.
Help me as I stand with a foot in each.
Isaiah 5:1-7 New International Version – UK
I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
my loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit.
‘Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad?
Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.
I will make it a wasteland,
neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
not to rain on it.’
The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19 New International Version – UK (NIVUK)
For the director of music. To the tune of ‘The Lilies of the Covenant’. Of Asaph. A psalm.
Hear us, Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim,
shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Awaken your might;
come and save us.
You transplanted a vine from Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it,
and it took root and filled the land.
The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches.
Its branches reached as far as the Sea,
its shoots as far as the River.
Why have you broken down its walls
so that all who pass by pick its grapes?
Boars from the forest ravage it,
and insects from the fields feed on it.
Return to us, God Almighty!
Look down from heaven and see!
Watch over this vine,
the root your right hand has planted,
the son you have raised up for yourself.
Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire;
at your rebuke your people perish.
Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand,
the son of man you have raised up for yourself.
Then we will not turn away from you;
revive us, and we will call on your name.
Restore us, Lord God Almighty;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.
New International Version – UK
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.