No More Sour Grapes

Sermon based on Is. 5:1-7 for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear pleasant planting of the Lord: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it?” asks the Lord of hosts. What more could He have done?

First of all, He places His vineyard on a very fertile hill. It’s placed in the richest of soil, in an elevated and protected place. Then He dug it, doing the work of tilling the rich soil. He cleared it of stones, removing anything that might negatively affect growth. He planted it with choice vines – nothing but the best quality cultivated vines that are known to produce the best grapes. He built a watchtower in the midst of it so that His servants could look out for animals or thieves coming to steal the grapes or damage the vines. He built a stone wall around the vineyard to protect it; a hedge to shelter it. He hewed out a wine vat in anticipation of a good harvest, hollowing out a rock that would serve as a winepress.

What more could the Lord have done? He did everything to build up the vineyard, to provide for the vineyard, and to protect the vineyard. He anticipates a great harvest of grapes so that He can produce a fantastic vintage, like a 2005 Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée La Reine des Bois.

But, “He looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.” The vineyard produced stinking, worthless, rotten grapes; grapes that were no good for any kind of wine, much less a good wine. The vineyard produced grapes that could not be eaten or even used in jams or desserts by adding tons of sugar. The grapes were completely worthless.

“And now, O inhabitants of [Saskatchewan], and men of [Melville], judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?”

Therefore God Almighty, the Lord of Hosts says, “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; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.”

The vineyard is not producing what it was built to produce. Since there is nothing more that He can do for His vineyard that He has not already done, He will destroy it. He will remove the shelter of the hedge so that animals will come in and destroy the vines. He will break down the wall so that the vines will get trampled. He will no longer take care of the vineyard through pruning or hoeing. He will allow briers and thorns to take over the rich soil and will command the clouds not to rain on the land. He will put an end to the vineyard and destroy it completely.

God is not merely talking about vines and grapes in this parable of His vineyard, but He is speaking about you, His pleasant planting. You are the vines in his vineyard, and He is looking for you to yield the fruit of faith.

What more is there that the Lord of hosts could do for you? He has placed you amidst His Word and His people. He has watered you, washing you’re your sins through baptism. He has removed things from your life that are harmful to your salvation. He has built a wall around you to protect you, the wall of His Law which guides you for your own protection. This wall of His Law is there to keep you from living like the godless world, which would lead you away from God. He has placed a watchtower and those who have watched out for you and warned you of false teachers and dangers to your soul. He has pruned you, trimming off what is harmful, rebuking and convicting you of your sins. He has tilled around you, breaking down the hardness of your heart to receive the forgiveness of your sins. He has nourished you with His Son’s body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins and the strengthening of your faith. What more is there that He could do for you?

The original recipients of this parable of the vineyard did not heed the warning. Israel turned away from the Lord, provoking Him to jealousy. Instead of receiving the gifts God was giving them, the Israelites turned to seek the favour of other gods. Instead of following God’s Law which He put as a wall around them to protect them, the Israelites were unfaithful to God’s Word and did as they pleased. Instead of listening to the prophets sent by God to speak His Word, they followed their itching ears and sought prophets who would say what they wanted to hear. They themselves brought in briers and thorns – those who did not believe as they did – and the Word of God was choked among them (Mt. 13:7). God punished them and the kingdom of Israel ceased to exist as the Northern Kingdom was annexed with the population exiled to various parts of Assyria.

This vineyard parable remains a warning for us, that we would not despise the gifts God gives to us. It warns us not to long for those things that are harmful for our salvation or resent God for taking them away. We are warned not to resent the wall of His Law that He has placed around us to keep us from wandering from Him. The parable warns us not to be surrounded by briers and thorns at God’s altar – those who do not believe what we believe yet because they are related to us or are friends with us we allow them to sneak up to receive the body and blood of our Lord to their own judgment. We are warned not to resent it when God sends someone to warn us of false teachings to which we cling because we prefer them to the truth. We are warned not to resent it when God trims our attitudes through trials, or softens our hard hearts with tribulations.

These warnings remain for us, but notice who is acting in all the verbs throughout the vineyard parable: it is God. God does the planting, the digging, the pruning, the hoeing. God even says it is He who commands the rain. God does everything, thus He asks, “What more could I have done?”

Everything He has done for you is for your benefit. His Law is to protect you like a wall and to guide you as to how you should live. Yet He sent His only Son to die for your sins because you cannot follow God’s Law perfectly. Your sins were nailed to the cross and your sins forgiven in your baptism. God continues to nourish you with His Son’s body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. God does everything to keep you in His vineyard, the Church, so that He will produce faith in you, which is the fruit that God is seeking.

We should not seek to produce fruit from ourselves. We are sinful, so what fruit can we produce? The only fruit we can produce is sin. But when God produces fruit in us, it is good fruit. It is God who works faith in our hearts to trust His promises. So stop hanging on to your own fruit – your sins – those worthless, stinking, sour grapes that are good for nothing. Why would you cling to your sins, when God wants to take them from you and forgive you? God has done everything for you to take away your sour grapes and forgive you all your sins, producing the good fruit of faith.

So remain in the Church, the vineyard of the Lord of hosts. Remain here, where He guides you with His Law. Remain here where He forgives you all your sins. Remain here where He nourishes you through His Supper and gives you everlasting life. It is here that the Lord of hosts does everything for you, so that He can ask you, “What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it?” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

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