Aug. 14, 2022

Prayer of the Day

O God, judge eternal, you love justice and hate oppression, and you call us to share your zeal for truth. Give us courage to take our stand with all victims of bloodshed and greed, and, following your servants and prophets, to look to the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen.

Isaiah 5:1-7

1Let me sing for my beloved
  my love-song concerning his vineyard:
 My beloved had a vineyard
  on a very fertile hill.
2He 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 wild grapes.

3And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
  and people of Judah,
 judge between me
  and my vineyard.
4What more was there to do for my vineyard
  that I have not done in it?
 When I expected it to yield grapes,
  why did it yield wild grapes?

5And 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.
6I will make it a waste;
  it shall not be pruned or hoed,
  and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
 I will also command the clouds
  that they rain no rain upon it.

7For 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;
 righteousness,
  but heard a cry!

Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19

1Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph | like a flock;
  shine forth, you that are enthroned up- | on the cherubim.
2In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, | and Manasseh,
  stir up your strength and | come to help us.
8You have brought a vine | out of Egypt;
  you cast out the nations and | planted it.
9You cleared the | ground for it;
  it took root and | filled the land.
10The mountains were covered | by its shadow
  and the towering cedar trees | by its boughs.
11You stretched out its tendrils | to the sea
  and its branches | to the river. 
12Why have you broken | down its wall,
  so that all who pass by pluck | off its grapes?
13The wild boar of the forest has | ravaged it,
  and the beasts of the field have | grazed upon it.
14Turn now, O | God of hosts,
  look | down from heaven;
15behold and | tend this vine;
  preserve what your right | hand has planted. 
16They burn it with | fire like rubbish;
  at the rebuke of your countenance | let them perish.
17Let your hand be upon the one at | your right hand,
  the one you have made so strong | for yourself.
18And so will we never turn a- | way from you;
  give us life, that we may call up- | on your name.
19Restore us, O Lord| God of hosts;
  let your face shine upon us, and we | shall be saved.

Hebrews 11:29–12:2

29By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. 31By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
32And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—33who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 36Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented—38of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
39Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

12:1Therefore, 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, 2looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our 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.

Luke 12:49-56

[Jesus said:] 49“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53they 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.”
54He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Our passage from Isaiah labels itself a love song, and it surely begins that way: “Let me 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 wild grapes.” 

But then this love song, which is really a sort of parable, similar to the story about sheep that the prophet Nathan tells to convict king David, and similar to the many parables Jesus told, the love song or parable makes a sharp turn. We read, “And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?” 

It turns out that Israel and Judah are the vineyard and God is the vine grower. With this parable, God is declaring judgement, yet it is judgement born of love. In a very clear way, the love song continues even as God through the prophet Isaiah describes the destruction which will come. 

Like the people of Israel and Judah we have been taught often about God’s love and grace—how God chose, cleared, dug, planted, and safeguarded us. “Lucky us,” one scholar wrote, “We are infinitely loved and assured. We are therefore relieved of heavy obligations, duties, and requirements—and are immune to certain ultimate devastations. In no time, we are lounging in the easiest of all the world’s religions, leaning back into the entitlements of grace and an arrogance of heritage. Love was looking for something else.” He concludes that, “God’s love, it turns out, comes with expectations after all.” Three times we read it: God “expected.” 

A vineyard, as those of us so close to the Snake River Wine Country know, is not full of decorative flowers. A vineyard is for farming. The vintner needs and expects fruit, not just any fruit, but fruit that refreshes, feeds, pleases the palates, gladdens the heart, and can be the center of communal celebrations. 

For four lines the vineyard owner speaks, but now it is over. God has gone silent, and the prophet Isaiah must disclose what occurred. What did the people do that was so bad? It comes in the final verse, “He expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry.” The passage descends from the beautiful to the horrible. 

We, reading the text so many years later, do well to take some time and dwell on the two words that weigh so heavy in the text: justice and righteousness. As I have said before from this pulpit, we need to take care when the Bible speaks of justice because it is at once a concept so central to the entire Bible and yet so far from our contemporary understandings of the word. 

There is also no one word in the Bible which easily translates into justice in English. There are three words. The word used in our Isaiah passage today is mishpat, a word which lays claim to the fundamental wholeness of the world, and to what God does when that wholeness is ripped apart, torn by neglect or violence or any violation of right relationship. We might speak here of “rectifying” justice or “restorative” justice. 

Righteousness, in our country today, typically signifies individual morality. The Hebrew word usually designates the fulfillment of one’s obligations to others. The everyday phrase “do right by somebody” captures this sense of the word. 

And so, we can conclude that the members of the vineyard did not do right by anybody. Nor did they seek wholeness and right relationships with one another, their neighbors, or God. 

So then what? Is there any hope to come from this horrible ending of a beautiful vineyard now destroyed? In fact there is hope. However, it will not be found in these seven verses, but through the imagery of the vineyard carried forward in scripture. 

The theme of a “new song” of the vineyard is first sounded in Isaiah Chapter 27. God announces God’s own intent to keep the vineyard night and day against all enemies, “I have no wrath. If it gives me thorns and briers, I will march to battle against it. I will burn it up. Or else let it cling to me for protection, let it make peace with me…In days to come Jacob shall take root, Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots, and fill the whole world with fruit.”

John’s gospel, Chapter 15 develops a Christ-centered interpretation of the vineyard. It explores the source of Israel’s true fruit. It lies in complete dependence of the branches on the vine. God, the Father, is thus glorified by the righteous fruit that the followers of Jesus Christ produce. And what undergirds every adaptation of the vineyard metaphor, the dominant witness encompassing it all, is that God is making all things new.

Listen to the words again of our Psalm, which is always a response to our first reading, “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.”

In the musical adaptation of the famed book The Secret Garden, my second favorite song is simply, “Wick.” Orphan Mary Lennox has gone to live with her grumpy uncle in England after her parents died of cholera in India. At her uncle’s estate, Mary discovers a secret abandoned garden and makes friends with Dicken, who teacher her about gardening through the song:

“When a thing is wick, it has a life about it.

Maybe not a life like you and me.

But somewhere there’s a secret streak of green inside it.

Now, come and let me show you what I mean.

When a thing is wick, it has a light around it.

Maybe not a light that you can see.

But hiding down below a spark’s asleep inside it,

Waiting for the right time to be seen.”

Mary and Dicken move around the garden, doing their work. At the end of the song, Mary finally joins in the singing, 

“When a thing is wick,

And someone cares about it,

And comes to work each day, like you and me,

Will it grow?” she asks. And Dicken assures her, “It will.”

Will the followers of Jesus Christ living in 2022 pursue justice and righteousness? Will we tend the vineyard? The end of the parable is left open. Will we seek wholeness, care for the neglected, lift up those God shows preferential treatment for again and again—the widow, the orphan, the foreigner and whoever they might be today? Will we do right by our neighbors? The invitation is open. I trust that there is plenty of wick in the vineyard of the reign of God. 

What’s more, we trust and follow a God who is always making things new, including on this day, when we gather around a meal of bread and wine. Together we feast on the fruit of the vine, Christ’s love poured out for us, his body given for us. We are nourished in faith and love as we hear the promises of mercy of new life. We cannot help but respond to such love with fruit of justice and righteousness.

May the psalmist’s words become our prayer, 

18And so will we never turn away from you;
  give us life, that we may call upon your name.
19Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
  let your face shine upon us.” Amen.

Prayers of Intercession

Trusting in God’s extraordinary love, let us come near to the Holy One in prayer.

Arise, O God, and sustain your church. We pray for all who dedicate their lives to serving your people. Renew our commitment to our siblings in faith around the globe, and bless the work of our ecumenical and interfaith partners (especially). Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Arise, O God, and sustain your creation. We pray for all places affected by natural disasters (especially). Transform the devastation of floods and fires into fertile ground for new life and growth. Fill heaven and earth with your life-giving Spirit. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Arise, O God, and sustain the nations. We pray for all elected officials. Kindle in them a desire to administer your justice. Strengthen their resolve to defend those who are vulnerable and to stand publicly against all forms of oppression. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Arise, O God, and sustain those who are oppressed. We pray for people harmed by racist discrimination, ableist discrimination, and all people discriminated against based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. Rescue us from all systems that degrade our fellow human beings. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Arise, O God, and sustain this assembly. We pray for this community, celebrating with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep (concerns may be named). In our joy and in our tears, be near us. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, we remember the saints (especially Maximilian Kolbe and Kaj Munk) who have gone before us. May we run with perseverance the race set before us until we find our rest in you. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Receive the prayers of your children, merciful God, and hold us forever in your steadfast love; through Jesus Christ, our holy Wisdom.

Amen.

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