Many Verses of God’s Love Song

A sermon preached at Southminster in Boise, Idaho on November 22, 2015

Isaiah 5:1-7 and Isaiah 11:1-5


I’d like to apologize for reading from the Prophets right before Thanksgiving.

I thought about abandoning Isaiah in favor of something light and easy, like Leviticus or Judges.

But these stories from Isaiah wouldn’t let me go. This morning, I invite you to rest in the discomfort these texts bring and together seek the Good News where it may be found.

“Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning my vineyard.”

We begin today with a love song in chapter 5. It is easy to forget this is a love song by the time you get to the end, with all of the trampling, devouring, and desolation. This oracle of doom takes place in a love song.

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 really just doesn’t make sense.  Good champagne grapevines 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.

“For the vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting.”

This story is about us.

We, who have been created in love, and put on this earth to be an abundant harvest of good things for the world, choose, instead to be bad grapes.

Much like the grapes in the story, it doesn’t make sense. Why don’t we, as humans created in love by God, live our lives as blessings to the world?   Love’s labor is lost when we don’t.

Before this story was about you and I, this story was being told about Israel. And God’s expectation, for all of the care and provision he had given Israel, was for Israel, God’s pleasant planting, to share the abundance of the harvest. A harvest of justice and righteousness. These two words function together in the Hebrew scriptures to remind us of a “society in which the rights of all, including the most marginalized, are respected. This is God’s reasonable expectation, given the divine provision.” ( Anna Case-Winters Feasting on the Word Year C, Vol 3 (WJK, 2010), p 344.)

But this love song has gone terribly awry. Justice and righteousness were not what the people experienced. “He looked for justice but saw bloodshed. He listened for righteousness but heard a cry of oppression,” is another translation of verse 7. “Isaiah’s words…picture what happens when a people refuse the care and nurture lavished on them—or accept it, but keep it only to themselves.” (Stacy Simpson Duke, Feasting on the Word Year C, Vol 3 (WJK, 2010), p 344.)

Isaiah is telling Israel that the people can continue to live for themselves, instead of pursuing justice and righteousness, but if they do, God will leave them to it.

I worry about that tendency of ours. To desire and want security for ourselves, but to refuse to help others obtain it. Even though none of the people who attacked Paris were Syrian refugees, many American governors, including our own, are now trying to keep refugees from being resettled. These refugees are fleeing the people we’re accusing them of helping. These refugees are risking death on the ocean because they see no hope at home. The harvest in the world does not grow abundantly toward peace when we practice a harvest of exclusion and fear.

Listen again to the middle verse of our love song.
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;

Israel, who had been carted off into exile by this point in their history, had seen Isaiah’s words come true. They knew what it meant to live through the devastation described.

The love song of God is long and has many verses.

The vineyard is trampled. Desolated. Torn down. As far as you can see, there are stumps, and dead branches, and nothing that seems like it will lead to life.


And then we get the passage from Isaiah 11.

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.

Because God’s love song has many verses.

We heard a refrain of the song last week from Hosea.

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.

I’m a little worked up about the Syrian refugees because I have been to Syria. And when I was there I met people who welcomed me into their homes, and showed me hospitality and kindness. I’ve seen the beautiful cities and Roman ruins that the terrorists have destroyed. I’ve walked the streets of cities that are now just rubble.

What does it take to bring up our compassion and let our fear subside?

A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse, and a branch from its roots.

We often hear this passage in light of Jesus, who claims Jesse in his family tree. And today in the liturgical calendar, we mark Christ the King Sunday, the last day of our church year as Advent will begin a new year next week.

As you think about Christ as king, as Lord of our lives, think about what this image says about his Lordship. It is not a giant, behemoth, robot that comes out of the stump of Jesse. It is a tender shoot, a fragile sign of life and beauty.

A shoot growing out of a stump is a reminder of the tenacity of the beauty of life. Life will win.Fear and selfish concern will not.

God’s love song to us has many verses, and it keeps being told throughout the particularities of the trials and struggles in which we find our lives.

The constant refrain of God is for us to turn back to God, to be a good vineyard, with a good harvest, to live abundantly as we are called to do.

It is intermixed with those verses of our desolation and trampling, because God will not save us, in the short term, from the consequences of our selfishness. If we build a world where fear wins and love loses, we will live in clear cut fields of dead stumps.


Young green tree seedling grow from the old stump.

A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse, and a branch from its roots.

Here’s a video from Paris, taken a day after the attacks. A reporter is speaking with a father and his young son.

When the despair of the world is all around us, when stumps litter the landscape and the chorus of the love song seems to have fallen silent, remember a shoot will come out of the stump of Jesse.

A shoot, a young plant, a new branch, may not seem like much against the destruction around us. But it is life. And it is hope. Like the flowers and the candles, hope is there to protect us. And it is that which we should shelter in our hearts and souls, and with our time and talents.

“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”.



3 thoughts on “Many Verses of God’s Love Song

  1. Pingback: A New Hope | Glass Overflowing

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