Track 1: My Beloved Had a Vineyard
Many times in the scriptures we see God using a vineyard as a metaphor for Israel. We have an example in today’s reading from Isaiah:
I will 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;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded rotten grapes. (Isaiah 5:1-2)
God has provided so much love and caee to his vineyard. The psalmist wrote:
You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.
The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches;
it sent out its branches to the sea
and its shoots to the River.
Why then have you broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit? (Psalm:8-12)
Again, from Isaiah:
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry! (Isaiah 5:7)
Israel had failed to produce the fruit that God required. What about us? Has God cared for us as well? Has he nurtured us? Has he provided all we need to grow and produce fruit for his kingdom on Earth?
When Israel failed, God provided a new approach to tending his vineyard:
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
He has done this through his Son Jesus. At the beginning of his earthly ministry. when preaching in his home town of Nazareth, Jesus quoted this scripture:
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. (Isaiah 61:1-3)
God would remove from his people the weight of their sin and plant the living Word within their heart. He would then water them by the power of his Holy Spirit.
What was true for Israel and is also true for us, the ingrafted branches of Israel. Not all of Israel received its nurturing. In the prelude to the Gospel of John we read:
Jesus was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:10-13)
We need God’s forgiveness through the blood of his Son. We need his Word. It is a seed for our growth. And we need to be watered the the Holy Spirit to become children of God. Are we allowing ourselves to be nurtured by God?
In Hebrews we read:
Ground that drinks up the rain falling on it repeatedly and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is cultivated receives a blessing from God. But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and on the verge of being cursed; its end is to be burned over. (Hebrews 6:?-8)
Track 2: I Came to Bring Fire
Through the Prophet Jeremiah God said:
Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? (Jeremiah 23:29)
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus said:
I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! (Luke 12:49-50)
Little, it seems, has changed. The Word of God brings fire. This should not be a surprise. John the Baptist said:
I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I, and I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11)
How does this fire that Jesus brings manifest itself? Jesus asked:
Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:51-53)
Does this not seem like a strange thing coming from the Prince of Peace? I am reminded of the poem of William Alexander Percy, now published as a hymn:
They cast their nets in Galilee
Just off the hills of brown
Such happy simple fisherfolk
Before the Lord came down
Contented peaceful fishermen
Before they ever knew
The peace of God That fill’d their hearts
Brimful and broke them too.
Young John who trimmed the flapping sail,
Homeless, in Patmos died.
Peter, who hauled the teeming net,
Head-down was crucified.
The peace of God, it is no peace,
But strife closed in the sod,
Yet, brothers, pray for but one thing–
The marvelous peace of God.
Are we sugarcoating the Gospel to offend as fewest people as possible to get the the message out? Offense is the message! This was the message God gave Jeremiah:
Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back– those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal. Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:23-29)
We do not need a watered down word from God. In Hebrews we read:
The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. (Hebrews 4:12-13)
The Christian faith is an endurance run. We are going to receive opposition. We have to expect a cross to bear. We need the word of God to perfect our faith. Jesus bore his cross for our sakes, disregarding shame and torment. Again, from Hebrews:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12d:1-2)