Finding God in a Vineyard

Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church

Theme Background

This is sort of my life thesis statement.  I constantly find God in vineyards.  There is a beauty to how vineyards are laid out, how the rows of vines roll up and down hills.  I also love how vineyards change throughout the year.  Right now they are a riot of green growth with tiny clusters of immature grapes.  It is not surprising to me that when the prophet Isaiah was fishing around for metaphors for God’s blessings to the people of Israel he used a vineyard.  According to Isaiah God’s relationship to God’s people is one of a lover.  God sings a ballad to them, loves them, and, then gives them the gift of a vineyard, fully mature and ready to go.  We are in a position to understand and appreciate that gift a little bit.  The next time you are sitting in a vineyard, complete with wine making facility, just image that the owner walked up to you and said, “Here you go, it’s all yours.”  Wow!  That’s how much God loves the people of Israel, they are handed a vineyard complete with a wine production facility.  There is no cost, and they do nothing to deserve it.  It sort of just lands in their laps.  All God seems to want in return is for them to be faithful, and to bless others.

It doesn’t happen.  In just the next verse of Isaiah 5 we hear what happens.  God expects justice, but, instead, finds bloodshed.  God expects the people who have been so richly blessed to bless others.  They do not.  They pile up more and more, and they “join house to house . . .  field to field until there is room for no one but you.”   The image that Isaiah uses for this travesty is “junk grapes.”  I think we could translate that part of the reading, “I planted Pinot Noir, but showed up at harvest to find them replaced with Concords!”   My blood is boiling just thinking about it!

The people who were listening to Jesus in the Gospel lesson today almost certainly were hearing a reflection of this Isaiah text.  Again God has gifted the people with a vineyard free of charge.  Both stories start with amazing blessing.  We are a blessed people.  But again God has some very simple and realistic expectations.  In this case the owner sends to the vineyard for a share of the harvest.  For a long time my interpretation of this parable left me totally outside of the story.  Here’s how it went.  God (the creator) made a vineyard and gave it to God’s people (the people of Israel).  God expects a return on this investment, but the people (read that the Jewish People) are not faithful.  God sends the prophets, but they are not listened to.  Finally God sends God’s only Son (Jesus) who is likewise despised and ultimately killed.  End of story.  But where do I fit in?

I am extremely blessed by God.  I have more than I need.  I live in a huge house, I am even blessed enough to enjoy a glass of wine every now and then (a totally unnecessary extravagance)!  What happens when I hear Jesus story and reflect it through the lens of Isaiah 5?  Now it hits home.  Am I helping those who do not have a home to find one?  Am I sharing my food with the hungry?  Am I being faithful in my giving to the church and of returning a blessing to God for all that God has given to me?  When I turn the story around and concentrate on the amazing blessings I have received (a complete vineyard, all ready to go) then the question comes “and what are you doing with all of that?”

We will have the chance to go walking in a vineyard on this day, and if people are able to do so to do some work.  One thing I have learned hanging out in vineyards is that they are a tremendous amount of hard physical labor.   Lisa Neal, the co-owner and vineyard manager of Coeur de Terre Vineyards once told me that they touch every single vine in their estate 12 or 13 times every year.  More than once a month they are out trimming back the vines, adjusting the trellis, topping off the canopy, taking off smaller shoots.  We may have been given a vineyard, but there is a lot of work to be done.

This might inspire some people to stop drinking wine, so that they might be able to bless others instead.  I don’t think that is what God would have us do.  Jesus enjoys feasts and drinking wine in the Gospels.  He also cares for the sick and the poor.  We are called to do both.  We are to celebrate life AND help those who are in need.  That is a faithful life.

Quotes for the Week

“We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana as of a miracle.  But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes.  Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards and which incorporates itself with the grapes, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”    Benjamin Franklin

“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all of our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.”

And . . .

“I am not bound for any public place, but for the ground of my own where I have planted vines and orchard trees, and in the heat of the day climbed up into the healing shadow of the woods.”                 Wendell Berry

Men are like fine wine.  They all start out like grapes, and it’s our job to stomp on them and keep them in the dark until they mature into something you’d want to have dinner with.                 Female Author Unknown

1st Lesson Isaiah 5:1-7 (The Message)

1-2 I’ll sing a ballad to the one I love,
a love ballad about his vineyard:
The one I love had a vineyard,
a fine, well-placed vineyard.
He hoed the soil and pulled the weeds,
and planted the very best vines.
He built a lookout, built a winepress,
a vineyard to be proud of.
He looked for a vintage yield of grapes,
but for all his pains he got junk grapes.

3-4 “Now listen to what I’m telling you,
you who live in Jerusalem and Judah.
What do you think is going on
between me and my vineyard?
Can you think of anything I could have done
to my vineyard that I didn’t do?
When I expected good grapes,
why did I get bitter grapes?

5-6 “Well now, let me tell you
what I’ll do to my vineyard:
I’ll tear down its fence
and let it go to ruin.
I’ll knock down the gate
and let it be trampled.
I’ll turn it into a patch of weeds, untended, uncared for—
thistles and thorns will take over.
I’ll give orders to the clouds:
‘Don’t rain on that vineyard, ever!’”

Do you get it? The vineyard of God-of-the-Angel-Armies
is the country of Israel.
All the men and women of Judah
are the garden he was so proud of.
He looked for a crop of justice
and saw them murdering each other.
He looked for a harvest of righteousness
and heard only the moans of victims.

Gospel Lesson Luke 20:9-19 (The Message)

9-12 Jesus told another story to the people: “A man planted a vineyard. He handed it over to farmhands and went off on a trip. He was gone a long time. In time he sent a servant back to the farmhands to collect the profits, but they beat him up and sent him off empty-handed. He decided to try again and sent another servant. That one they beat black-and-blue, and sent him off empty-handed. He tried a third time. They worked that servant over from head to foot and dumped him in the street.

13 “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘I know what I’ll do: I’ll send my beloved son. They’re bound to respect my son.’

14-15 “But when the farmhands saw him coming, they quickly put their heads together. ‘This is our chance—this is the heir! Let’s kill him and have it all to ourselves.’ They killed him and threw him over the fence.

15-16 “What do you think the owner of the vineyard will do? Right. He’ll come and clean house. Then he’ll assign the care of the vineyard to others.”

Those who were listening said, “Oh, no! He’d never do that!”

17-18 But Jesus didn’t back down. “Why, then, do you think this was written:

That stone the masons threw out—
It’s now the cornerstone!?

“Anyone falling over that stone will break every bone in his body; if the stone falls on anyone, it will be a total smashup.”

19 The religion scholars and high priests wanted to lynch him on the spot, but they were intimidated by public opinion. They knew the story was about them.


Questions for the Week

Where do you experience God’s blessings?

Is there a kind of physical work that gives you great pleasure?  What is it?

What are our responsibilities to the poorest and most vulnerable of God’s people?

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