Isaiah 5:1-7 – Pentecost 17 / LWML Sunday
You plant a vineyard; what do you expect? You expect to harvest grapes; and not just grapes, but good grapes.
Around this vineyard you dig hedges, and you build a wall. You also make sure that your vineyard has everything it needs in terms of nutrients and water. What do you expect? You expect to harvest grapes, and not just grapes, but good grapes.
After all, vineyards have only one purpose: to yield grapes, and not just grapes, but good grapes.
Vineyards are not to be picturesque; they are not to be colorful; they are definitely not to have an abundance of animals roaming around them. Vineyards have one purpose and one purpose only: to produce grapes, and not just grapes, but good grapes.
If a vineyard does not produce good grapes, then there is really no other purpose it can fulfill; no other value it can provide. A vineyard that does not produce good grapes is a waste, it is using resources that could better be used elsewhere; it is above all else, not doing what it was designed to do.
What to do with such a vineyard? Abandon it? Destroy it?
Such is the vineyard in our reading. This vineyard has been planted, it has been provided for, and yet it is not yielding good grapes. What to do? The answer is clear: tear down the things that protect the vineyard, take away that which provides for the vineyard, and walk away.
The vineyard in our reading is of course no vineyard at all; it is the people of Israel; the people that God had called to be His own, the people that God had specifically given His Word and His promises to; the people who had received all of the nutrients and blessings and special treatment that should have resulted in a lifetime of faithful service to God.
And yet, when God goes to the vineyard and looks for good grapes, for faithfulness from His people, He finds none.
What to do with this vineyard of the people of Israel now?
Be careful how you respond; first look around the vineyard of the world today. What do you see?
Our reading from Isaiah may have sounded familiar to you after all, for it is a part of the Good Friday Liturgy.
If you perhaps do not recall the Good Friday liturgy, where the Lord laments coming to His vineyard seeking good grapes, only to find bad, perhaps you recall the confession of sins you made just a little bit ago: I a poor miserable sinner confess unto you all my iniquities with which I have ever offended you.
That does not sound like producing good grapes at all.
And what should God do with you who do not produce good grapes?
The confession continues: and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.
Sounds a lot like God walking away from His vineyard, never to return.
You could point to the words of St. Paul in Romans: the good you want to do, you do not do; whereas the evil you do not want to do, you do. Yet that does not hold the promise of any good grapes coming now or ever.
And so the words of Isaiah are spoken to you: God has most certainly provided you with a variety of Third Article gifts so that you might produce good grapes: He has given you His Church where you hear His Word and receive the life giving body and blood of Jesus. He has provided you with His Word to guide you along the path to eternal life. He has provided a variety of resources in print and on the radio and internet so that you might be constantly reminded of God’s grace and mercy. He has sent His Holy Spirit to keep you in the Christian faith.
And yet, when the Lord of the Harvest comes to look at His vineyard that is the world today, what does He find?
Where are the good grapes? Where are the acts of love and kindness toward a neighbor? Where is the diligent study of the Word? Where is the keeping of the Commandments in thought, word and deed?
What does the Lord of the vineyard do, when He sees that His vineyard has yielded only bad grapes in acts of evil, acts of greed, acts of hatred, acts of selfishness?
To read the words of Isaiah, there is no much hope from the prophet. The hedges are torn down, the wall is demolished, the direct care and attention is removed; there is little hope for this vineyard.
And indeed, when Adam and Eve sin in the Garden of Eden, and when they are cast out, it does indeed appear to be a time of very little hope; just as there seems to be little hope when we stand before God and confess that we have sinned in thought, word and deed.
And yet, notice what is absent in our reading from Isaiah.
The hedges are torn up; the wall is demolished; the perfect conditions are removed; and yet what remains?
Everything that contributed to the perfect conditions is gone due to the unfaithfulness of the vineyard, yet the vines are not uprooted, nor are they cut down.
Absolutely. The vines that bear fruit, even though it is unrighteous fruit, remain. They are not destroyed. There is another chance.
Why would the Lord allow the vineyard to remain? Why not plow it up, destroying the vineyard entirely, and starting over?
In the time of Isaiah, and in our own time, that is the question. The vineyard is now quite wild, trampled down, largely a mess beyond all comprehension.
And yet what grows up in the middle of the vineyard?
There is a new vine that has sprouted forth; a vine unlike all of the other vines; a vine that is separate and unique from all the other vines.
It is the vine of Jesus, who sprouts up in the middle of the trampled down and unprotected vineyard. And this vine of Jesus is a vine that only produces good fruits; for this vine is the true vine that gives life to those who attach themselves to it.
And this vine of Jesus produces the fruits of forgiveness of sins and of love toward friend and foe; it is a vine that feeds those who attach themselves to it the life giving body and blood of Jesus; a vine which oozes out the saving waters of Holy Baptism; a vine that reaches out to the world with the saving message of the Gospel of Christ crucified.
This is the vine that you and I now find ourselves attached to. This is the vine that we cling to in a world that is overrun with vines that bear bad fruit and evil deeds. This is the vine that the Lord of the harvest looks upon and smiles for from this vine He finds grapes, and not just grapes, but good grapes.
What are those good grapes?
Those grapes show themselves in the quilts tied for missions, in the offerings given to spread the Gospel, in the acts of kindness shown toward a neighbor, in being faithful spouses and faithful children, in the study of the Word, in the coming to worship and receiving the gifts prepared for you, in the taking that Word and sharing it with those who we encounter each day.
And when the Lord comes on the Day of Judgment, among those who attach themselves to the true vine that is Christ Jesus, He will find grapes, and not just grapes, but good grapes, not because the grapes did anything on their own, but because those grapes found themselves attached to the one true vine that is Christ Jesus our Lord.