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God's Story, Your Story and Our Story Through the Eyes of the Gospel Writers:

Warm Relationships and Their Significance for Being Best Neighbors In The Public Square--Practice Critical Awareness: a Reflection on Isaiah 5:1-7 and Matthew 21:33-46

Partnering With God. Connecting With One Another. That’s our

Generosity/Stewardship theme for the 2021 Campaign. As you read in the letter you received this week from the Generosity Service Team, developing critical thinking about partnering with God in God’s mission and connecting with one another as a church family in that mission is imperative. But we need to imagine something very different for being church than we have in the past.

Critical thinking produces critical awareness about what’s going on in society, our cities, neighborhoods, and own lives. In a Huffington Post article published October 3, 2016, the story is told of a possible discovery of an original painting by the Renaissance artist Raphael in an estate in Scotland.

…The painting, credited as a copy for years to a minor artist named Innocenzo Fancucci da Imola, had been valued at $26 in 1899 (about $2,600 in today's prices). The painting caught the eye of art expert Dr. Benor Grosvenor during the filming of a BBC television series while he was looking at other artwork. “I thought, crikey, it looks like a Raphael,” Grosvenor told reporters. That fact would bring the value of the painting up to an estimated $26 million. The piece has not had sufficient time to complete the vigorous process of consultations and expert viewings to completely verify its identity, but in the eyes of Grosvenor, it's only a matter of time. “All the evidence seems to point in the right direction,” he says, adding that the discovery might even be of national significance: “It would be Scotland's only publicly owned Raphael.” It would appear to be quite the turnaround for a painting that has been disregarded and treated as virtually worthless for hundreds of years.[1]

In August 2019, the National Gallery in London began to cast doubt on the painting as really being a Raphael, but still, a mystery exists. The National Gallery has postulated that it is a painting done by a student of Raphael. The practice of critical thinking to gain awareness continues.

Developing and practicing critical thinking and critical awareness is the way we give a reality check to the messages and expectations we receive. So much of the public square discussion is divisive, polarizing and shaming. A caring dialogue about two very different interpretations about the news must occur for true awareness on such issues as racial equity, education, climate change, health care, gender equality and immigration to transpire.

Hope informs the way we think. Hope is “a feeling of expectation and desire.”[2]

The way we think impacts our ability to have warm relationships and greater awareness. In this regard, Brene Brown writes, “Hope is… a…cognitive process…Hope happens when we have the ability to set realistic goals, when we are able to figure out how to achieve those goals and we believe in ourselves.”[3] Hope for a better way of living is the message of the Bible.

Isaiah 5:1-7 and Matthew 21:33-46 confirm that living lives with justice and righteousness characterize God’s hope for humans and their experience together as tenants of God’s creation.

God gives humanity hope that life can be different than it is. How? By loving God and loving others. Hope moves us from despair into wellness. Hope establishes and confirms God’s presence in our lives and strengthens us to believe for the long haul. Hope leads us to trust God for what we need to be saved and for what reason. Hope leads us away from being wicked tenants of God’s creation. Hope moves us to believe in the Son of the Landowner. Critical thinking about what is going on around us with others, even if we disagree, develops an awareness that helps us navigate with and for the sake of others and the common good of humanity.[4]

Critical thinking with others, despite our various positions on racial equity, education, climate change, health care, gender equality and immigration, creates awareness that truth is the synthesis of two different interpretations of the news. The landowner, both in the Isaiah and Matthew texts, is absentee, but still takes care of the land through the tenants who are aware of the difference between injustice and justice as well as unrighteousness and righteousness. Hope trusts that God knows best for how to care for the vineyard. Caring for the vineyard by the just and righteous standards of the absentee landowner is what is best for the common good.

When warm relationships characterize the interactions between people who disagree, hope has an opportunity to be actualized. Brene Brown in The Gifts Of Imperfection writes, “Whether we’re overcoming adversity, surviving trauma, or dealing with stress and anxiety, having a sense of purpose, meaning, and perspective in our lives allows us to develop understanding and move forward.”[5] Hypocrisy poses as justice and righteousness, but is rotten to the core.

Bank your hope on God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. On this World Communion Sunday remember hope is a verb. Hope is way of thinking. Critical thinking brings awareness that every human has worth and is created in the image of God. Warm relationships care more about the dialogue partner than the issue being discussed, although the issue is important. Imagine partnering with God and connecting with one another to work toward and hope for a fully invested, loving community who serve and worship and love together. Imagine being church this way. It produces the fruits of the kingdom.

[1]Ethan Adams,; source: “Painting Valued at $26 Turns Out to Be a Raphael Masterpiece Worth $26 Million.” Huffington Post, 10-03-16. [2]The Concise Oxford Dictionary, Tenth Edition (New York City, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 684. [3]Brene Brown, The Gifts Of Imperfection (Center City, Minnesota: Hazeldon Publishing, 2010), 65. [4]In the two paragraphs of textual analysis above, I have benefited from the thinking of Anathea E. Portier-Young, Pamela J. Scalise, Whitney Bodman and Shawnthea Monroe in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, Cynthia L. Rigby and Carolyn J. Sharp, editors, Connections, Year A, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 353-356, 356-358, 367-369 and 369-371. [5]Brene Brown, The Gifts Of Imperfection, 74.

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