A reading from John: When all hope is gone, sad songs say so much. (Elton John)
So Isaiah picked up his guitar and sang one to the people.
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill,
he dug and cleared it of stones.
He planted the choicest vines, then he worked them all until
he ached from fingers to bones.
He built up a high tower, then he quarried out a vat;
he circled it all with fence.
He poured his blood and muscle, his skill and sweat into that
with passion and hopes immense.
He dreamed long of the wines that would flow sweet from these vines,
but the grapes weren't worth five cents!
Isaiah went on to over-explain, as preachers tend to do, spending the rest of chapter five letting the people know they were sour grapes for God, who had poured so much love and effort into a community of justice and righteousness only to yield cruelty and corruption.
God planted goodness and harvested greed.
God planted peace and harvested violence.
God planted wellbeing for everyone and harvested widespread hunger and suffering.
So God tore down the fence, answered the question about who'll stop the rain, and left his
investment to wither and rot like party plans in 2020.
The sermon was bleak and long and painfully truthful and utterly forgettable, but the song became a classic, a number one hit salvaged and separated from a box office bomb.
It had been part of Israel's playlist and cultural canon for centuries when Jesus whistled the tune.
Both parties recognized it immediately, of course.
The conservatives, the vigilant defenders of law and order and traditional religion, the
stubborn guardians of the temple like their fathers before them—the chief priests knew
The liberals, the champions of the common people, the arrogant, academic wonks who over- regulated everything with their endless stream of restrictive rules—the Pharisees knew
the lyrics too.
Both knew and invoked the national history, though they read it very differently.
Both claimed to be much more faithful to God the Founding Father than the other side.
About the only thing these two polarized parties agreed upon was that Jesus was a threat
They try to trap him, but they fall into his.
Jesus sings Isaiah's standard and then changes the lyrics a bit, updating the story.
Same vineyard, new management.
The harvest is not spoiled, it's suppressed because the tenants aren't doing their job.
The owner sends servant after servant and finally, foolishly, his son.
The ruthless, feckless tenants think they smell an opportunity: This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.
I mean, that's one way to endear yourself to the owner, right?
So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
Now the trap is set.
Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?
Once again, for the second time ever, the chief priests and the Pharisees agree.
He will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to someone else
who will fork over the profits.
Quid pro quo.
Business as usual.
Both parties are trapped in the unimaginative cycle of reward and punishment, violence and
vengeance, get what you deserve.
But the owner, who doesn't get what he deserves, is not bound by their verdict.
How quickly others forget that it's his vineyard, not theirs.
There is more than one prophet on Jesus' playlist.
In the chapters to come, he will sing and live the lyrics of Hosea:
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?...
My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath...
I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely,
for my anger has turned from them...
They shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden;
they shall blossom like the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
As the religious authorities lurked in the shadows and loomed at the door, Jesus looked around the room at the faces that would soon betray and deny and abandon him.
He raised up his wine glass like a watchtower.
This cup is the renewed covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you, and for all
people, for the forgiveness of sins.
Don't ever forget.
Keep drinking this in, and pouring yourselves out, in remembrance of me.
Isaiah's beloved, who poured himself too thoroughly into the vineyard to give it up, is Hosea's God who became mortal, the Holy One in our midst.
He came to heal and love, spilling his blood to become the wine we could not produce.
He came to make the tenants' absurd inheritance idea come true.
He came to redeem the vineyard.
He came to restore the dream.
This cup is the renewed covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you, and for all people, for the forgiveness of sins.
Don't ever forget.
Keeping drinking this in, and pouring yourselves out, in remembrance of me.
Church, we are the vineyard planted to produce Jesus in the world.
We are God's pleasant planting, and God will not be denied a harvest.
That's scary for us grapes, of course, because it means being trampled and transformed.
It means a lot of pain and change becoming what God dreams us to be.
So when we are being squeezed, when we are feeling crushed, when all the life is spilling out of us, rejoice.
We are becoming what we were always intended to be.
God is making us into wine.
God is turning loose our potential, freeing our vintage, unleashing our deliciousness, and moving us from the sad song of Isaiah 5 to the celebation of Isaiah 25:
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow,
of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth.
Feeling the squeeze, Jesus looked around the room once more.
I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.