"What More Can Be Done?”
a sermon based on Isaiah 5: 1-7
What Lynn Borke just read for us (Isaiah, Chapter 5, verses 20-24) sounds a bit threatening, didn’t it? Three times the prophet says “woe!”
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil…
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes…
Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine… who acquit the
guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of their right!
Isaiah gets pretty angry in Chapter 5. He lets the ruling classes know that their time is about up! “Their root,” he says, “is rotten, and their blossom will go up like dust; for they have rejected the Law of the Lord of hosts; they have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.”
In the middle of this CoronaVirus pandemic, you probably don’t need to hear any more bad news, like Isaiah’s warning to the leading families of Judea. (Right?) But with all that’s going on in this election year, the turmoil in the streets about racial justice and policing, the protest marches and removal of monuments… The prophet Isaiah’s critique of his society seems to me to be very relevant to today’s newsmakers.
However, before I get into any of that in my sermon, I want you to know that Isaiah begins Chapter 5 with a love song! (!) Yes, Chapter 5 begins with these words: “Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.”
Did you notice the three-fold iteration of love? “My beloved… my love song… my beloved.” Such an emphasis on love (three times “be-loved”!) is remarkable in a single verse of scripture. (!) The relationship that Isaiah feels for Judah & Israel (his homeland) -- the People of God, the “Chosen” People, God’s “Covenant” Community -- and the love of the Holy One about whom he sings, should color this text with tenderness.
I can image that Isaiah gained a listening audience when he said he was going to sing a “love” song.
The prophet assumes the role of a folk singer with a ballad. With the three-fold underscoring of “love” and “beloved” in the first verse, the people probably thought it was truly going to be a love song.
But midway through, it becomes a lament, like someone singing the “blues.” And after that… Isaiah offers an explanation and a denunciation! I imagine the same way that the beloved Vineyard disappointed the Lord, Isaiah’s “love song” disappointed his listeners!
Back in 1985, when I first preached on this text, I was downstate (in Dowagiac) and I had a large grape-growing farm family in my church. They contracted their annual harvest to Welch’s Grape Juice, so we’ve probably had some of their fruit-juice in our communion services here in Alpena.
I knew that a grape-growing family would feel deeply the “relevance” of the metaphor that Isaiah used in Chapter 5: the Vineyard of the Lord. So, I wanted to capture some of the love & tenderness that the prophet intended so as not to come across quite as “preachy” or “threat-ening” as the concluding text (that Lynn read for us) might otherwise be.
Since Isaiah called it a “love song”, I figured it needed to be put to music and sung. (!) So, I wrote the “Vineyard Love Song” (which you’ll find reproduced on the reverse side of your worship bulletin). The lyrics are taken directly from Isaiah, Chapter 5, verses 1-7.
Chorus: Let me sing a love song about a vineyard fine.
High on a fertile hillside, it’s all mine!
Judge, what should I do, for now that the harvest’s through:
the hill has all run wild with sour vines!
Verse 1) That hill has the finest soil, rich black dirt to dig in.
Cleared of all its stones, used to build a wall.
Only the best of vines were planted on the inside.
So, I don’t see how the sour grapes got in.
Verse 2) Right in the middle square, I built a high watchtower.
Dug a solid vat for to press the wine.
Tended and trimmed the branches. I didn’t take no chances!
But somewhere under summer’s sun, it all went bad!
Verse 3) O children of God, you great men of Judea:
Judge, I pray you: judge between the grapes and me.
What more was there to do than has been done for you?
So, why, instead of great fat grapes is your fruit so poor?
Second Chorus) Let me sing a love song to the Vineyard of the Lord
For we’re His pleasant planting, with good in store.
He comes to harvest justice, but all He finds is war,
And instead of righteousness, He reaps a sword!
Verse 4) I tell you what I’ll do to you, my beloved Vineyard:
I’ll pull up your hedge and urge the sheep to graze.
Your tower and your wall, I will make them fall.
And I’ll use the broken stones to pave my way.
Verse 5) No more shall the ground be hoed; let thorns take you over.
Branches pruned no more, let the briars grow!
Well-water I have brought, and rain-fall I have caught,
Shall no mor