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The Vibe

By Scott Guyatt, Connect 100 Coordinator, Community Partnerships at UnitingCare Queensland and Director, Mission Strategy, Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod.

The wonderful 1997 Australian film “The Castle” introduced a new phrase into the lexicon of Australian culture: “the vibe”. 

The story (spoiler alert!) centres on a family about to be forcibly removed from their home to make way for an airport extension. The family fight the resumption of their property, ending up in a court battle testing the loss of the family home against Australian law. Hapless suburban lawyer Dennis Denuto closes his initial argument in the local courtroom with those potentially immortal words:

“In summing up. It’s the constitution. It’s Mabo. It’s justice. It’s the law. It’s the vibe, and, no, that’s it: it’s the vibe. I rest my case.”

The Vibe. It’s a phrase that has stuck ever since. For many, it unconsciously translates something like one writer described as “an all-encompassing feeling, a sweeping emotion, and a certain special quality.”

In Matthew 7, we hear the closing words of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The sermon itself, as presented by Matthew, ranges for three chapters over a host of issues – kicking off with the beatitudes and exploring the place and purpose of the Christian community in the world, reinterpretations of religious law, behaviour, language, love for enemies and the stranger, actions of justice, humility in prayer, holiness, anxiety, attitudes of condemnation and more. It’s the first of five extended sermons that Matthew presents, this time delivered from a hillside in a manner that reminds the reader of Moses’s trip to Mt Sinai.

And it concludes, this sermon, in a manner I want to suggest, is similar to Denuto’s words of wisdom about ‘the vibe’.

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice,” says Jesus, “is like a wise man who built his house on the rock…” (Matt 7:24)

You know the rest of the parable.

Despite being sometimes tempted to think the contrary, I want to suggest that Jesus here isn’t suggesting that we parse every letter of every word he ever spoke as if he were offering some extended legal framework, some legislative document by which every minute detail of our lives would be tested and measured.

It seems to me that instead, there is a clear call to ‘the vibe’; to the kind of idea expressed so simply and so completely by the prophet Micah that what God requires of us is to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

These words that close the Sermon on the Mount call us to lives characterised by peace, justice, mercy, grace, generosity, humility, and compassion, a life centred on Christ, modelled on that lived by Jesus.

These characteristics, not coincidentally, pepper the whole sermon on the Mount – from the Beatitudes to the wise man/foolish man parable and nearly everything in between.

And they pepper the whole story of Jesus, too, appearing again and again not only in how he lived and dealt with those around him but taught and encouraged people to live.

These characteristics, these practices, I think, are the vibe that Jesus calls us to hear and put into practice. These are the rock upon which a faithful life – and the life of a community of faith – can be established. And it’s this putting into practice, Jesus reminds us, that matters most of all. It is these things, I think, that demonstrate our life is based on the rock that is Christ, the Word of God.

These are, in some ways, easy words to offer, an easy list of characteristics to roll out, inviting us to live by. But this life, this Christian life, can come at a cost. It can be hard when we’re in the midst of conflict, when our personal values are challenged, and when we see things differently from those around us – whether theologically, politically or on a moral value basis. In these moments, the ‘vibe’ is much harder to summon; the rock seems further away.

I wonder if, at times, it is easier to revert to other ways – to judgement, to anger, to selfishness, to the seeking of power. The broken part of us, a life built on the shifting sands of worldliness, can be drawn to these approaches, these attitudes and characteristics – often without us even realising.

Could my life, your life, and our shared life be different if we consistently built upon the rock? If we commit together to peace, justice, mercy, grace, generosity, humility, and compassion, a life centred on Christ and modelled on that lived by Jesus himself? 

That’s some vibe.

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