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Sunday August 16, 1998 ~ Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost ~ Isaiah 5:1-7

Love Songs

Focus Text: "Let me sing for my beloved, a love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill." [5:1] (NRSV)

"Let me sing now for my well-beloved A song
of my beloved concerning
His vineyard..."
.....[**See notes on v.1]

No one knows heartbreak like the Lord God knows heartbreak! God poured heart and soul into a people who were to bring freedom, justice and goodness to a broken world. Instead, they subjected their own brothers and sisters to oppression and turned their backs on what would bring hope and life to the world.

[Hold up a record, tape or CD] One of my favorite "love songs" is on this tape. It is the Righteous Brothers' version of "Unchained Melody". It was our favorite song when my wife and I were dating. Today's scripture is a love song about an omnipotent, omniscient God who is revealed as having an surprising vulnerability to heartbreak!

And no one has ever recorded that heartbreak like Isaiah recorded it in today's scripture. One Old Testament commentator said of Isaiah's "Love Song", "For exquisite beauty of language and consummate skill in effective communication, this parable is virtually peerless." [** see note below]

Isaiah takes up the role of a minstrel in this passage. His words, "I will sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard..., " are striking. Nowhere else in the Old Testament is such intimate language used of the relationship between a person and God. (Isaiah calls God "my beloved") And the resulting love song is a genuine, honest-to-goodness, "Somebody done somebody wrong song." Elton John in his ,"Sad Songs" and Kenny Rogers with his, "You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me Lucille" don't hold a candle to Isaiah's, "My Beloved had a Vineyard on a Very Fertile Hill!"

If the wandering minstrel of Isaiah 5 could sing his song today, he would most certainly win a Country Music Association Song of the Year award for this offering! There is exceptional depth and power of emotion in this brief passage.

However... before the passage is ended another song will be sung. A hard song. Some of you (who are really old like me) will remember Connie Francis' song, "Who's Sorry Now?" In Isaiah's brief passage it will quickly become clear that the heartbreak of God has not only to do with the rejection of the love offered -- it is also the fact that God knows the terrible consequences that always come to those who abandon their relationship with him. It is like a parent who longs for the return of a runaway child. It is not only the hurt suffered because the child ran away -- it is also the painful fear of what can happen to a child who is loose in the world without the protection of home.

Isaiah takes us through a kind of three act drama in which the action shifts from a cabaret where love songs are sung, to a courtroom where an indictment comes down, and finally to an amazing revelation where the "favorite sons" turn out to be the villains!

Think about it. We are talking about a people God rescued from slavery, led through trial and terror, and established in a land of "Milk and Honey." The Lord God, who could give everything, chose a people who could give nothing and set his "steadfast love" (hsed) upon them. The divine gift of love was a love of pure grace. ["It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you--for you were the fewest of all peoples." Deut.7:7]

As our passage evolves, Isaiah's "beloved" - God the Jilted Lover is revealed as God the Just Lord. The movement is swift and the action decisive. These three acts might be called: 1. The Agony of God, 2. The Action of God, and 3. The Aim of God.

I. The Agony of God

Mothers and Fathers! Can you remember when you first wrapped up that bundle of innocence and joy in the maternity ward and brought your baby home? It was the most incredible day in the world when the possibility of those waiting months became "a living soul!"

God is with you in this joy. It is there in the very beginning of the biblical drama, "...Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." Try to imagine. Do you think God was less filled with joy at the birth of Adam than you were at the birth of your son or daughter?

As the years go by and our children grow and mature, many of us have gone through the anguish of seeing a child make bad decisions and poor choices. How it grieves our hearts to see them wounded by their own actions. The thought may even enter our minds... "Was it worth it? Bringing this child into this world?"

God is with you in this pain. There is not more than the turn of a page or two in the beginning of the bible when the joy of Eden is spoiled. Remember Genesis 6:6, "And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart."

The biblical story from Genesis to Revelation revolves around a loving God reaching out to rebellious children with compassion and love. The response to this compassion and love is a consistent pattern of leaving the comfort and safety of "home with God" for the danger of life without God.

Have you ever said to one of your children, "How many times do I have to warn you?" So also, through the prophets, Israel is warned over and over that life without God leads to devastation and hopelessness. The prospect of such consequences brings agony to the heart of God. Listen to the prophet Hosea speaking for the Lord who struggles with having to give up a defiant child. "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." [Hosea 11:8]

Perhaps the clearest picture of the God's heart is that of Jesus coming to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He stops at the crest of the Mount of Olives, looks across the Kidron Valley, and as Luke reports: "As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, "If you, even you, {Jerusalem} had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes..." [Lk.19:41-42 *See note]

The "Love Songs" of the Lord throughout scripture have so often been sad songs. Songs of God's children going astray, leaving home and visiting injustice upon their brothers and sisters.

II. The Action of God

A dramatic shift takes place as the second act begins. Visitors to the cabaret become jurors in a case where Almighty God is the prosecutor. The Jilted Lover is revealed as the Just Lord! The listeners are caught off guard as they are pressed into jury duty.

Some years ago, a high school young people's group in our church held a fundraising dinner. It was billed as a "Hunger Feast." Tickets were $5.00 each and the proceeds were to go toward the fight against world hunger. (It was 1976, so figure $5.00!) As the sixty or seventy people arrived for the dinner they were assigned seats at tables according to the color of the tickets the guests brought. The "blue" table table, seating five people was served first. They received a piece of chicken, a cup of rice, peas and a cup of tea. (There was some grumbling about the menu.)

These people were the "lucky" ones! Those remaining were in for a shock. The next two tables of about 8 people each received a half cup of rice, a tablespoon of peas and a half cup of tea. Nevertheless, they were still counted among the "lucky ones!" (You can see where this is going - right?) The next entree was a teaspoon of rice, no peas and a cup of water. Finally, at the last table, some received a quarter cup of water and the remaining "guests" received nothing. Several young people spoke about world hunger and how the evening's "Hunger Feast" represented the various degrees of hunger and poverty in the world.

I can tell you the majority of the people were not happy campers! A few got the point and supported the young people and their "Feast". One couple was very touched and contributed $100.00 to the project. Another couple left the "Feast" and the church. The Church Council was tied up for three months discussing the ethics and method of the project. The Youth Group was commended for its enthusiasm and intent, but cautioned that "the end does not justify the means." The youth director was called on the carpet and told by the council president, "It just wasn't right that some people didn't get anything to eat!" (He got water!) The youth director's response was, "I agree sir. And it also is not right that thousands of children will face tomorrow and the rest of their tomorrows until they die without anything to eat!"

Can you imagine Isaiah's listeners having a similar sense of being "had" when the love song turned into a trial? "Hey, we thought this was going to be a song!" Instead, it is a trial. The jury must "judge" between the owner and the vineyard. "What more could I have done?" the owner says, "Why did my vineyard not produce grapes instead of worthless fruit?"

Now the jury is dismissed. This will be a directed verdict. "This is what I am going to do!" The owner pronounces sentence and four "I wills" follow. The vineyard will be turned into a barren place where nothing grows. Then, the last "I will" brings a chill to the listeners. There will be no more complaining or whining as the hearers discover a startling reality!

"I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it!"

Do you see who is speaking here? WHO is it that can command the clouds not to rain! This calls to mind the terrified response of the disciples when Jesus calmed the storm, "Who then is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?" Of course only God can command the rain. The song is over, the jury is dismissed and the sentence is pronounced! The promise of the vineyard will become the tragedy of a barren wasteland.

III. The Aim of God

Isaiah now delivers the most dreadful news of all. Follow once again the progression of this prophet's message to his listeners.

+ "Come listen to my love song I want to sing for my beloved."
+ "Gotcha! You are now the jury. Hear the case of the vineyard owner."
+ "You are dismissed -- the directed verdict is guilty! The vineyard will be destroyed!"

But that's not all... hear this:

+ "You are the vineyard!!"

The vineyard is God's people. The fruit is justice. The wild fruit is the cry of those who are oppressed by their own people. The tragedy of this story is that this cry is like the cry that rose up to the ears of God when the people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt. The Lord heard the cries, took pity, planted the people in a land of "milk and honey" and expected the people would live in justice and righteousness. God's aim for the vineyard is God's aim for the people of Israel. Namely that the people should produce the fruit of justice and righteousness.

Here's the point of the sad "love songs" of the prophets. The people did to their own what had been done to them. And the worst part of it all is... they don't "get it."

This is not an easy message to hear if we examine our own lives in relationship to this love song of the vineyard. Yet, it is a necessary message. There is a New Testament counterpart in Jesus' discussion of the vine and the branches in John 15 where it is the barren branches that are eliminated. From the very beginning of scripture's drama until our own day, the aim of God has been the same. Namely that we should live fruitful lives that produce and reproduce the love and grace, care and compassion we have received.

[Apply It]

1. Can you sense Isaiah's strong warning that our relationship with God can turn into a religion about God?

2. Deep down honest... do you take God for granted?

3. If Isaiah were to sing a song about you and God, what kind of a song would it be?

Notes on The Text

v.1 Geoffrey W. Grogan: Kings College, London. The language itself is musical -- portrays a strolling minstrel bringing a song before an audience. The lyrical quality and sound of the language makes it quite possible that this passage was sung as a folk tune.

There is a question in translation as to whether the song is Isaiah's song or God's song which Isaiah sings on behalf of God. Compare translations:

{NRSV: "Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard..."} and the {NASB: "Let me sing now for my well-beloved A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard..."} In the first instance it would be Isaiah who is heart broken for his "beloved". While in the second case it is God who is heart broken and Isaiah the Minstrel who presents the song of heartbreak. Our message is based on the latter case which we believe would more accurately reflect the dynamic of the text.

v.3 There is a dramatic shift to a courtroom scene where sentence is pronounced and finally a direct indictment of those who are the vineyard. It is the vineyard image that holds the whole song, story or parable together. "Judge" between me and my vineyard. "Judge" = "shaphat" -- lit: "Judge = vindicate or pronounce sentence"

v.4 It is interesting to speculate on Jesus' (the Gospel of John's) use of Jesus as "vine" and disciples as "branches" in light of the O.T. identification of Israel with the vineyard. In our text, God plants choice vines... yet the grapes are "wild" -- "worthless" or lit. "poison berries" or "wild grapes" {"be-ushiym"} Jesus is the "incarnational vine" that can not produce anything but the fruit the Owner is looking for... "You will bear fruit..."

*Note re: Lk.19:41 The word Luke uses for weep here ("klaio") means to sob or wail aloud; whereas ("dakruo") is to cry or weep silently.

Alternate Sermon Ideas

The Greatest Power in the World - Hebrews 11:29-12:2

Begin by asking your listeners to think of what they believe is the greatest power in the world.There is:

+ Physical Power: Like the power of the hydrogen bomb
+ Economic Power: Like the power of a billion dollars
+ Political Power: Like the power to cut through red tape

But what is the greatest power in the world? It is none of these things. It is the power of faith. List all the things faith did in this passage: Crossed through the Red Sea, Felled the walls of Jericho, Escaped death, Defeated death, Endured persecution and death.

Why is faith so powerful. "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of hosts." [Zech.4:6] Faith is a gift of the Spirit of God which is greater than might or power. (The Hebrew words "chayil" and "koach" point to every possible kind of power or strength... military, economic etc. as above)

How is faith perfected? (1) Faith is encouraged by the witnesses who have gone before us. (2) Faith is pioneered and perfected by Jesus.

Concerning Business as Usual - Luke 12:49-56

This text is one of the more disturbing ones for people who grew up with "Gentle Jesus meek and mild." and who cut their "memory work" teeth on, "Blessed are the meek..."

The first thing you will want to do is to lift up the context of the passage: "....the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile toward him and to cross-examine him about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say. [Luke 11:53-54] Jesus had gained tremendous popularity with the "common" folk and the conflict and ultimate struggle with the religious establishment had been engaged.

The next step is to point out the commitments which will be required of followers of Christ. Verses 49-56 in Luke 12 are a part of a lengthy statement to disciples in the context of the difficulty that surrounds them. Discipleship will mean that their lives will not be "business as usual". In our passage, this comes in three particular ways:
+(vv.49-50) Jesus came to bring "Fire" (purification and judgement) and his "baptism" (eventual crucifixion / passion) would bring this to fulfillment.
+ (vv.51-53) Jesus asks for a commitment to follow ... this commitment would bring about division.
+ (vv.54-56) Jesus' ministry brings people to a time where responsibility and opportunity must be seized. "You need to know when it is time to choose / decide / follow."

Prayers and Readings

Call To Worship (Based on Psalm 80)

L: Hear us O Lord, we call upon Your name today,
P: Shine your light upon us and give us Your grace!
L: Give us life, O Lord, as we reach out to You.
P: Let Your face shine upon us O lord God of hosts!
L: Help us to never turn away from You,
P: That we may rejoice in Your salvation! Amen!

A Unison Prayer of Invocation

O Lord of life and giver of every good gift. Apart from your leading we have no direction. Without your grace, we have no strength. Wanting your love, we have not hope. Open our hearts to the touch of your hand we pray and grant us the joy of your face shining upon us. O God, be in our midst this hour and let the renewing power of your Holy Spirit call us to new and glorious living! Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!

A Prayer of Dedication

Where there is life, O God, you have given it. Where there is joy, you are the source. Where there is hope, you are the author. Where there is love you are the fountain. Where there is giving you are the giver. O God, even as we bring our gifts, may we see that these offerings are of your hand. We thank you O Divine Redeemer that even in our giving you are loving us! Amen.

A Prayer of Confession

As we stand before you O Lord, our hearts unfold in the sunshine of your love. How difficult it is sometimes, to see how far short we fall of your design for our lives. You have given so much to us -- invested so much in us. We confess that we can not reach out unless you reach through us, nor give except you give through us. We offer our imperfect lives and wayward hearts to the transforming power of your love. Free us, O God, from the bondage of self and let the miracle of your love be expressed through these broken hearts. For Jesus' sake we pray. Amen.