Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;
Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (Isaiah 5:1–7, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of the birds for mirth, one is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.” Dorothy Francis Guerney
Well it doesn’t exactly work that way does it? There’s chiggers, poison ivy, and snakes. Gardening isn’t always easy either. Weeds take over, knees get sore, thorns prick your fingers, and your back gives out from leaning over. The garden actually shows you two things. God’s wonderful creation and the corruptive nature of sin.
The text from Isaiah 5 is about a vineyard, it’s not a garden, but the qualities are similar. This particular garden that God describes is well designed, well cared for, and loved. But something is wrong. What should be a wonderful place to visit is actually corrupt. Instead of wonderful plump grapes for making good wine, the vineyard only has sour, wild grapes. The garden is full of weeds. The gardener didn’t get what was rightfully expected. Maybe you’ve planted something that didn’t turn out, something so awful you pulled it up by the roots. That’s what God is going to do to his vineyard.
And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
This garden is raised to the ground, desolate, abandoned. Makes you think twice about being closer to God in a garden, doesn’t it?
Jesus tells a similar story in the Gospel for today (Matthew 21:33-46). A man planted a vineyard and rented it out. But when he sent his servants to collect the rent the tenants mistreated them and sent them packing. When the son was sent they killed him. What an awful turn of events. What horrible, unrighteous tenants. The owner must be fuming mad. Justice must be done! Everyone recognizes what must be done.
“He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons” (Matthew 21:41, ESV)
The vineyard owner was looking for good things from the vineyard. He got nothing but weeds. He even lost his son in the bargain.
Of course you know that the parables aren’t about gardens and vineyards at all. They are about people. The people of Israel were God’s “pleasant planting”. He loved them, cared for them and protected them. He planted them to do good things in the world, especially to bring justice and righteousness. But they only produced wild, sour grapes; bloodshed, violence, and selfishness.
Today we are God’s “pleasant planting”. Baptism waters us into God’s vineyard. He plants us in the church so that there can be good fruit, plump juicy grapes, for delicious wine. God does all the work. After all it is his garden, his church. He plants us through Holy Baptism. He feeds us through his Word, read and preached, and his Holy Supper. Everything necessary for the vineyard to produces good fruit. The “pleasant planting” of the church is centered in Jesus Christ Crucified, Cross centered, Christ focused. Jesus, the beloved Son of God, who lived, died, and rose again for the forgiveness of all people. Jesus is, after all, the one who said,
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:1, 5, ESV)
When are we “nearest to God’s heart?” When we are where God has placed us, producing good fruit among our neighbors, doing what God has planted us to do. And when we are receiving from him the gifts that he lovingly gives for the vineyard to grow and prosper.
But even we here, in God’s vineyard, have a problems don’t we. We see it all around us, and, when we dare to look in ourselves, in us. Sour grapes! Instead of kind words, we speak harshly. Instead of loving those in need, we ignore them. Instead of happily serving, we begrudge the time we spend here. Sunday mornings are too early, or run too close to dinner. The Gardener should be angry. We deserve to be plowed under and made a desolate plot of land. But God doesn’t give up. In fact, he sends his very Son, Jesus, to die for our sins. And he keeps sending us the nourishment we need. Jesus’ body and blood to nourish us, the Word poured into our ears, to convict us of our sin and turn us to him for forgiveness, leading us to repentance for the sour grapes. He gives us Pastors who preach and teach according to God’s Word.
The “pleasant planting” is all about God’s love for the world. Jesus says that if we love him we will keep his commandments. Remember how Luther taught them, how you learned them in Confirmation class. Every explanation that he wrote had two parts, dos and don’ts. To keep the commandments we do the dos and don’t the don’ts. Love you neighbor as yourself. Producing good grapes, bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8). And in light of our failure to do just that, it’s about the proclamation that God has taken care of our sin. “God so loved the world…” And remember it’s not the bearing fruit that causes us to grow, but God’s gracious gifts. We are forgiven, so we bear fruit. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.