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Sermon October 30, 2016

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1277

October 30, 2016 John 15:1-11

Dr. Ed Pettus Isaiah 5:1-7

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)



“The Vineyard”



  • Singing the Blues


Normally when the Bible speaks of songs to sing, it is a song of praise, sometimes expressed as a new song. But there are other songs like lament songs and then there is this one in Isaiah 5 that could be heard as a blues song (also a lament). In this case, God sings the blues over his vineyard.


Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.


Seems to begin okay, but as we know, things go downhill quick from this point on. The song reflects the pain of a God who deeply loves his vineyard, yet it will not produce quality grapes.


  • Hopes and Dreams


The song is filled with hope and hard work.


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.


This is the highest quality work and finest vines available. Nothing but the best, spared no expense, everything is properly prepared. Those of you who grow vegetables or grow anything from seed will know the hopes and dreams that come from the work to get a good yield. There are not too many things more satisfying than that perfect tomato or flower. There is also nothing more frustrating than to find that all the work done and all the preparations made bring poor results.

In the song, God expects the best grapes. But the wine vat is of no use because the grapes are sour, worthless for wine or for anything else. All that work, all that planning, all that effort is brought to nothing.


  • When Things Don’t Go as Hoped


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?


When things don't turn out as we hoped, we wonder why. What could we have done differently? Was there something wrong with the method, the materials, or was it something else? God sings his frustration, what else could I do? The Bible is filled with the love God gave to his people, delivering them from bondage, leading them in the wilderness, giving them a land, and yet God gets back rebellion and sin. It is the creation to flood story all over again. And like the flood, God will have to start over.



  • Starting Over


The next part of the song is about starting over. The judgment of the vineyard owner may seem harsh to our reading, just wipe it out and start all over.


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.


Just plow it under! Maybe when Isaiah brought this word to the people, they agreed with the song about the vineyard, having also had crops that go bad or situations in life that did not work out. How many times have we had the same thoughts when something went wrong. Just start over fresh. New document. New lump of clay. New idea. Israel hears this perhaps unaware at the moment that they themselves are the vineyard. They are the ones who have disappointed God with their sin and disobedience.


  • Looking for One Thing – Getting Another


If this blues song has a refrain, it is the threefold expression of looking for one thing but getting another. The second half of verses 2, 4, and 7, would be the refrain.


vs. 2b, he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.

4b, When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

7b, he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!


The metaphor of grapes is used to demonstrated the complete and utter failure of God's people to be God's people. They did not follow commandment. They did not practice the faith. They did not honor God by doing justice and loving righteousness. God expected sweet and got sour, expected right and got wrong, expected love but got hatred.


  • In God We Trust



For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting;


Verse 7 reveals the identity of the metaphor of the vineyard. It is Israel who has turned out the opposite of what was expected of them. Israel was expected to do things right, to do justice. God created them, called them, God delivered them, led them, loved them, and God expected obedience, faithfulness, justice, and righteousness. But that is not what God received. Instead, he got bad grapes, in bloodshed and an outcry. In the original Hebrew verse 7 is a play on words. The contrasting poles of justice and injustice, righteousness and unrighteousness are demonstrated in one letter difference between the Hebrew words. A Jewish translation in English says it this way,

He hoped for justice, but behold, injustice;
For equity, but behold, iniquity!


It demonstrates that justice and righteousness can sometimes appear to be practiced, but in reality what is done is just the opposite. Kind of like political promises! Think about buying grapes in the grocery store. The grapes can look really good and promising for sweetness, but when you get them home they can be the opposite of what you expected. I guess that's why the vineyard metaphor fits so well here. (It's also why you might be tempted to eat a grape in the store before buying!)


These terms of justice and righteousness are in reference to social relationships and doing right by one another. It is what God had expected of his people in response to the steadfast love God had expressed to them. In the New Testament we know that as love God and love one another, which are, of course, thoughts Jesus quotes from the Old Testament. God expected a people who treated each other by following His commandments. He expected leaders who sought the well being of all people and especially those who were disadvantaged. But what he got were corrupt leaders and people out to take advantage of others. What he got were sour grapes.



This is what God expected of Israel, the nation he chose as his own. But God is also the creator of all nations and it may be argued that God expects justice and righteousness of every nation and especially of a nation like ours that began with the basic principles of biblical faith and understanding. We might wonder what God might do in the current state of leadership. Are we producing the sour grapes, the injustice and iniquity that may warrant judgment? We still cling to a national motto that says, “In God We Trust”. We still find in on currency, license plates, and police vehicles, but what of that trust as a nation? Does God look for trust and find the opposite? We might say that some still trust, Christians still trust God, but there are so many ways, as a nation, where trust is misplaced and God is ignored and even opposed.

What we know in the end is that Jesus is the true vine. The vineyard of Israel failed to produce a good fruit, but Jesus has yielded the fruit of love, obedience, sacrifice, forgiveness, and so much more. In this we trust and in response we seek to be a people who treat one another with justice and righteousness. If the nation has failed to produce good grapes, it is up to us to continue to produce the finest grapes and we can only do that by the power of Jesus Christ the true vine. It is only by abiding in Jesus that we are able to bear fruit, for apart from Jesus we are no different than the vineyard of Isaiah 5. The prophet Micah expresses what is expected of us in his famous words in Micah 6:8, He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” This is how we produce the finest of grapes, doing the right thing at the right time in the right way. Trusting in the God who has delivered us in Jesus Christ. Perhaps, just perhaps, the vineyard of the church can still redeem the vineyard of a nation. Amen.