Damariscotta Baptist Church
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

03/04/18 Sermon - God Smells the Stinky Grapes

“God Smells the Stinky Grapes”

Isaiah 5:1-7

The introduction to the book of Isaiah is being brought to a close with chapter 5. Isaiah’s themes for the introduction have gone back and forth from hope to judgement. Chapter 4 ended with hope and chapter 5 returns back to judgment. Isaiah takes his role as prophet seriously and reminds the Israelites that how they choose to live their lives has a profound effect on the consequences around them. He also reminds them that due to the choices they have been making the only way hope is going to be experienced is through the fire.

Chapter 5 is easily divided into three sections:

  1. A graphic illustration of a vineyard, which we will look over this morning

  2. The explanation of this illustration

  3. The conclusion, the enemy nations are on their way

Today we are looking at yet another illustration, which Isaiah is using to bring his point across to a nation that has obviously stopped connecting to that which God cares most. In Chapter 1 we read about an abandoned body and a lean-to, and in Chapters 3 & 4 we read an illustration of a beautiful and haughty woman. Now, Isaiah is using an illustration that the Judean audience would immediately relate to, that of a vineyard. It’s like talking about lobstering to those in Bristol and New Harbor. The locals would be nodding their heads as Isaiah described his illustration. Just like in setting up a lobstering business, setting up a vineyard takes years. First, the owner of the vineyard would have to find some property that was fertile and good for planting grapes. Then he would have to set out to clear away all of the rocks. It turns out, that the Judean hillside is full of rocks. It would have taken the better part of a year to complete this task. Then one would have to invest money in the best vines one could afford and carefully set them out in the newly cleared off plot of land.

During the second year, the vineyard owner would have to use the rocks that were cleared off, to build a watchtower and walls to protect the fledgling vines so they would have time to grow without being attacked by four legged and two legged animals. Finally, in the third year the fruit of the vines would be ready to harvest. In Isaiah’s illustration, the listeners must have anticipated right along with him that after such well prepared work, there should be a yield of lucious grapes. But Isaiah claims that bad fruit was harvested, not just bad tasting fruit, but the Hebrew word used here should be better translated as, fruit that gives out a rancid odor, and was poisonous.

At this point, Isaiah, turns to the audience and asks them what should be done. He asks them to judge between the owner of the vineyard, who has done everything possible to yield excellent fruit, yet the rancid fruit that appears.

What more could the owner have done?

Then Isaiah describes the response of the owner of the vineyard. He is done protecting rancid fruit, he decides to tear down all the barriers and let the attackers have at it. He will tear down the wall and allow the plants to be trampled. He is not going to spend time pruning them or cultivating them, but will just allow the thorns and brambles to come in and take over. Left to him, he will make sure that the plants not even receive water.

Now, up to verse 6, you can imagine those listening are probably in 100% agreement. Makes sense. Get rid of those plants as soon as you can. They are useless, so don’t waste anything of worth on them.

However, much like when Nathan the prophet told the story of the man who had everything and took the sheep from the man who only had one sheep, David’s response was how wretched a man,

the religious leaders who were listening to Isaiah too would have been shocked to hear in the next verse, that the vineyard being spoken of was the house of Israel and the vines were the people of Judah. Isaiah begins telling them what those bitter grapes really represent with a general statement, in verse 7.

Verse 7 contains two wordplays in Hebrew, that are not apparent in the English translation. The Israelite would have heard words that would have sounded alike at the end of each phrase, but would have had been words that would have also given a vivid imagery.

The first wordplay is with the words Justice & Bloodshed.

The sweet wine God desired was justice or (mishpat)

The Israelites produced bloodshed (mishpach) with these choice of words there is also an imagery of red and red.

The second wordplay is with the words Righteousness & cries of distress. God desires righteousness (tsedeqah) and what He received was cries (tse’aqah), and this word for cries would have taken the Israelite back to the image of the outcries the Hebrews gave against the violence they received in Sodom and while in exile in Egypt.

Where are the Isaiah’s today?

The prophets of God, who are speaking puns that will make people comprehend the severity of what we are doing? Part of the problem today is we have lost our roots. Those puns worked for Isaiah, because 99.9% of the religious leaders he was talking to, had the same Jewish background, knew the Torah inside and out and understood the meaning. Today, the majority of those who even attend a worship service are not familiar with God’s Word and His expectations.

That being said, the message God is trying to get across through Isaiah in this passage, still needs to be stated today, and regardless of one’s religious background needs to be understood. The types of injustices Judah was being accused of are prevalent today. They did not defend the cause of the widow and orphan,(1:23) they coveted and stored up wealth for themselves, (1:29) they oppressed the poor (3:14-15), further on in this chapter we will read that they acquitted the guilty and deprived the innocent of their rights (5:23).

Are we using our privilege to produce the sweet wine of justice in our society?

I am excited to say that there are those in our own town who are. We had our annual fundraiser yesterday for Stepping Stone Housing, and raised over $18,000. Thank you to those of you who sponsored Emily and I to help make that amount possible.

That money comes from the privileged and goes directly to housing, the homeless, the poor, and the oppressed.  On the 4th Tuesday of the month I volunteer to help out at the Tuesday Help Desk at the Food Pantry. We began at 9:30am assisting the homeless and didn’t leave until after 12:30pm, when the eighth person walked out the door, with me, to join me for lunch at my house.  We have a community of people who are listening, not only to God, but to the cries of the oppressed. God is using members of our churches and community to promote justice and equity. Our Deacons receive requests and respond, unhesitantly with the monies we collect each first Sunday of the month, to reach out to those who are homeless, poor and oppressed. Today you will find a small basket on your table where we are going to have you place your offering to the Deacon’s Fund. Please continue to give generously. The money gives hope to people in need.

The irony of Isaiah’s message today is that although he was speaking to the privileged of his day, seeking justice for all people that God created, the only reason there was a discrepancy among the people, was because of what society had produced, not God. In fact, when you read through the Old Testament, you will discover that God put in regulations that provided for those who were poor or exploited by the rich, with a year of Jubilee, so every 50 years the poor received their land and belongings back. Today as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are reminded that regardless of our status here on earth, God smells the stinky grapes, not one of us can enter the Kingdom of God, without admitting our sinfulness and accepting the blood of Jesus as the payment for that sin. In God’s eyes, we are all the same. Sinners in need of grace. This grace is demonstrated in the bread and the juice. May we come to the Lord’s table today, recognizing our need for forgiveness and asking for eyes like Jesus to see those in need around us and courage to reach out and do something.

Lord’s Supper