This week’s Narrative Lectionary passage gives us two passages from Isaiah. The first is the love song of the vineyard yielding bad fruit in chapter five. The second is from chapter eleven, a passage we often hear during Advent, where a shoot grows from the stump of Jesse.
Commentary at Working Preacher is here. A podcast on the Narrative that I enjoy is here. Dr. Amy Robertson and Dr. Robert Williamson lead the discussion NL;DR. Check it out. Are there other Narrative resources that you use and that help your sermon prep? Please share them in the comments.
Following the Hosea passage, where God rickrolls Israel with how God will never give them up, never gonna let them down, etc, Isaiah is a good continuation of the theme.
God’s love song about the vineyard doesn’t always feel like a love song, with all the trampling and desolation. Yet, it is a love song, much like Hosea. God reminds us, again and again, that divine intention for us is abundance, wholeness, enjoyment.
The owner of the vineyard puts love and care and back-breaking labor into this vineyard. Digging and clearing a field, investing in choice vines and the infrastructure needed to make wine are all signs of the owner’s love and of his hope for a future of prosperity. And this isn’t just a garden of pretty flowers. This is a vineyard that will bear fruit—so that people can eat, so people can drink. It isn’t just for the benefit of the gardener. It is for the benefit of the community.
Those of you who garden and farm know that the harvest is too much to only benefit one person.
An abundant harvest benefits others.
Well-tended vineyards and gardens are illustrations of abundance, of how you live when your cup is runneth-ing over. The owner of the vineyard has done everything that can be done to assure that this vineyard will be a blessing.
But, as evidenced by the wild bitter grapes, there is clearly only so much that the owner can do to affect the harvest. What else, he asks, was there for him to do for the vineyard that he had not already done?
Somehow the vineyard doesn’t produce the good grapes it should. There is no abundant harvest.
This doesn’t make any sense. Good champagne grape vines just can’t decide to disobey the gardener and grow into wild bitter grapes. And why would they? When they could be champagne?
But of course this story isn’t about grapes. It is about us.
God “looked for justice but saw bloodshed. He listened for righteousness but heard a cry of oppression,” in verse seven. God wanted justice and righteousness, and we offer a harvest of bloodshed and oppression. We live for ourselves instead of sharing a harvest of justice with the world.
When we get to the story of the stump, we’ve been standing in chapter five’s trampled field, with vines dead on the ground. It’s easy to lose hope when desolation is what you see all around you.
God won’t leave us to our desolation.
A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse, and a branch from its roots.
Jesse is the father of King David. And Isaiah tells the people that even now, when the kingdom is divided and destroyed—nothing but the stumps of a clear cut forest as far as you can see and nobody from David’s family sits on a throne—a time will come when life will come out of the ruins.
A shoot out of a stump is not a mighty image. It is small and fragile and tenuous. Hope is like that.
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.
God’s love song has many verses. We don’t have to sing them all at one time. We just get to sing the verse God has given us to sing
Christ the King (Reign of Christ) Sunday is still a week away, and Advent will follow. For many people, it is stewardship season.
Where is the text taking you? What verse of God’s love song are the congregations you serve singing these days? What work do they need to do to be good grapes? Do they see desolation and stumps all around them as they remember what the church used to be, back in the days? How can we point them to the promise of Isaiah eleven today? Are we looking for resurrection?
Please share links to your own commentaries, liturgies in the comments. Do you have ideas for Time with the Children? Sermon illustrations?
Marci Glass is the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church and lives with her husband and sons in Boise, Idaho. She is a graduate of Trinity University and Columbia Theological Seminary. She serves on the boards of the Clergy Advocacy Board of Planned Parenthood, Covenant Network of Presbyterians, and the Mission Agency of the Presbyterian Church USA. Marci blogs at Glass Overflowing and is among the contributors to the RevGals book, There’s a Woman in the Pulpit (SkyLight Paths).
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