Isaiah 5:1-7 (16th Sunday after Pentecost—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
October 2, 2011
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text this morning is our Old Testament lesson appointed for the day, Isaiah 5:1-7:
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!
This summer I tried a container garden for the first time. I bought various sizes of self-watering containers and planted the seeds and the seedlings. The lettuce did alright. The peas bombed. The tomatoes struggled. The carrots tanked. I did get some nice cucumbers and one whole broccoli crown. So what happened? The containers were the right sizes for the plants they held. I bought good soil for the pots and kept them watered. What more was there to do for my container garden that I had not done for it? When I looked for fruit, why didn’t I get very much produce?
That was the Lord’s very question in our text today. God’s people of Israel are compared to a vineyard. Isaiah wrote, “Let me sing for my beloved (the Lord) 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.” What loving and tender care God expended on His vineyard! The Lord did everything possible to make the growing of good grapes easy, just like I did everything I could to make the growing of my container vegetables easy. But neither I, nor the Lord, got what we expected from our labors.
In choosing Israel to be His people from whom God would bring forth the promised Savior of the world, the Lord did a gracious thing. God chose. God showered abundant blessings—His Word, His prophets. God clearly made known His ways of justice and mercy. The choice of Israel was a matter of pure grace on the part of a merciful God. Yet what was the result of God’s choice? “He looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.” Wild grapes are literally “stinking or worthless things.” Israel was chosen and blessed by God through His wondrous grace, but despite God’s blessings, Israel was stinking and worthless, fit only to be thrown out.
And so what does God do to His vineyard? “I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its walls, and it shall be tramped 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.” Down come the vineyard’s fences and protective walls. An end comes to the weeding and caring for the soil and the plants, indicated by the Lord stopping the rain from falling. The vineyard is allowed to be overgrown with briars and thorns. It is allowed to wither away and to be walked over like any other piece of un-prepared ground.
A vineyard that is no good isn’t worth keeping around. After every last possible thing was done by the Lord to enable that vineyard of Israel to produce good, healthy, abundant fruit, Israel decided to go its own way. Rather than produce the sweet, juicy fruits of trust, obedience, right worship, honor, thanksgiving, and love Israel grew the stinking rotten fruit of self-indulgence, disobedience, worship of false gods, dishonor, thanklessness, and hatred. What was left for the Lord to do except to scrap it? The Northern Kingdom of Israel was exiled to Assyria. The Southern Kingdom of Judah was taken captive to Babylonia. Israel’s and Judah’s unfaithfulness and unfruitfulness met with God’s judgment against them.
In this Old Testament parable there is a very clear message for us today. We are not the people of Israel or Judah, yet the message of God through His prophet Isaiah needs very much to be heard in the new Israel which is the Church. You and I as members of the one, holy, Christian and apostolic Church are a vineyard of the Lord’s planting as well. We were planted in this vineyard through the waters of Holy Baptism. In this rich Sacrament, God gave us saving trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. God gave us forgiveness of sins and rescued us from the power of death and the devil. God gave us eternal salvation. In Baptism, God chose us to be His redeemed people, His children, heirs of the riches of His grace and mercy.
In Baptism, the Lord planted you and me in the vineyard of His Church. Consider what care and nurture the Lord has given to us and to His whole Church. First of all, it was the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus, who enabled us to be a part of the Church. Without Jesus Christ, the Church is meaningless, or to use the words of our text, “stinking and worthless.” Without Christ, there is no forgiveness of sins. Without Christ there is no eternal life. Without Christ there is no good fruit and so we would have to face God’s wrath and punishment unchecked. As Hebrews 10:31 says so plainly, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Sin and God’s holiness don’t mix. Therefore, sinners and the holy God don’t mix. But the holy God loved us sinners so much that He couldn’t stand to have us die in our sins and be lost forever. As we heard last Sunday from Ezekiel, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declare the Lord Yahweh.” (Ezk. 18:32)
The death of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sins. By faith and trust in Christ as our only Savior from sin and death, we now mix with God as His children and heirs of salvation. In Baptism, God has saved us and planted us in His Church among the other people of God saved by grace alone through faith in Jesus alone. So what is it that we do as the vineyard of the Lord’s Church? Bear fruit!
What kind of fruit are we to produce? Through the work of the Holy Spirit by the power of the Gospel the Lord brings forth in our lives fruit worthy of repentance: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23) We grow this fruit because the Holy Spirit keeps us connected to the true Vine, Jesus Christ. Jesus said in John 15, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
As we step back and take an honest look at our lives in the vineyard of the Lord’s Church we each need to ask ourselves, “Does the fruit of my service match the generosity of God’s nature?” If it does not, with the help of the Holy Spirit we must purge the wild fruit from our lives, that which is stinking and worthless. We each desire, by the working of God the Holy Spirit, to be a fruit-filled garden in which the Lord takes great delight. Does how we live, how we talk, how we act, how we think reflect the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives? Does what we do in the Kingdom, for the sake of the Kingdom, bring glory to God and help to other people? Does the amount of dollars and cents that I place in the offering plate really reflect how thankful I am to the Lord for His grace and love to me? Does the amount of time I put in helping those in need, whether it’s mowing the neighbor’s lawn, bringing someone a meal, visiting someone who is sick or down, or even volunteering for work here at this congregation, really reflect how thankful I am to the Lord for all that He had given to me—food, clothes, home, family, forgiveness, life, salvation? If it doesn’t, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we must purge the wild fruit.
The Holy Spirit working through the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ transforms us so that we are able to leave behind the ways and attitudes of stinking, worthless fruit. As this Gospel transforms us, God calls us to greater service and fruit production. We serve the Lord as He enables us in proportion to His gifts to us. It ought not be in the vineyard of the Church that a handful of people end up doing much of the work and the fruit production. God wants all of us whom He has chosen in Baptism, redeemed and saved by Jesus’ blood, to actively serve in the Church. God empowers us through the Gospel to be good fruit producers, people who are not content to fill our time with things that do not encourage us or anyone else in the faith.
Our Beloved has a vineyard. It is you and me—the Lord’s Church. He has done everything for your forgiveness and eternal life by giving up Jesus into death on a cross. The Lord constantly cares for and nurtures you in this Christian faith through Word and Sacrament. The Holy Spirit works through that Gospel to enable you to grow good, healthy, spiritual fruit in your lives. In the power of the Holy Spirit, continue to produce bushels and bushels of HIS fruit in this church and in this community. God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.