This reading from Zephaniah 1:7,12-18 is terrifying.
It begins with a command from God demanding silence. This phrase lets us put this text in context. This command is used when something is taking place in the Temple. In ancient Israel, the Temple was where heaven and earth meet. It’s where God truly is. By demanding our silence, the prophet Zephaniah tells us that these words are spoken in the place where God is present and where God is being worshipped. These words take place as people gather to pray and celebrate God. The people are participating in rituals, telling stories, and experiencing God. As we will discover, the people expect to be blessed when they worship God. Instead, they are challenged and undone.
We don’t worship in the Temple but but we do worship in our church. Within these eight walls, we pray, sing, and experience Jesus’ presence in a holy community. We gather here on Sunday morning because this is where Jesus promises to be. In the stories we share and in the rituals we participate in, we experience a vision of what God’s community of welcome, love, and hope actually looks like. We are living and expressing what God’s reality truly is. Our rituals are both ancient and new. They are designed to help us experience the presence of God. We are invited guests, brought here to find comfort and joy at God’s table.
But imagine Jesus speaking these words to you. What do you hear? What do you feel? The metaphors in the passage are centered around vines, vineyards, and wine. God, in the verses around this passage, is the tender of a vineyard, making fine wines and drinks. This drink is designed to be life-giving to all who consume it. In this metaphor, God’s people are not drinking the wine God created. Rather, the people are the wine itself. God stored us, tending us carefully, and waiting for us to mature. Yet the wine grew complacent in dealing with God and each other. The wine sought out its own comfort at the expense of others. The wine went bad. And so, in the presence of the God, the wine is destroyed. The people trusted their strength as a nation and a culture so that is the first thing God takes. They did not see God living in their community, so God takes their sight. They did not live lives believing that God will do both good and harm. They didn’t believe that God keeps God’s promises. The people just lived, assuming they were good people, and that’s all they need.
When we are in God’s house, we expect God to brings comfort and joy. But this text doesn’t do that. This is not a text meant for other people. It’s a text spoken to the people God claims as God’s own. It’s a text meant for us. Prophets bring us words that are harsh. Their words challenge us and terrify us. They can turn us defensive but they are here to change us into the people God wants us to be. Zephaniah wants to know, when it comes to daily life, do we live as if the vision of welcome, love, and hope that God proclaims is what we strive to be or do we pretend that our point of view, expectations, and perspective is the only thing God actually wants?
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 24th Sunday after Pentecost, 11/19/2017.