Monday, October 6, 2008

God's Vineyard

Pentecost 21
Isaiah 5:1-7
Bror Erickson

[5:1] Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
[2] 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;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.

God planted a vineyard, the imagery is a superb picture of what He had done for Israel, and further, what He has done for his Church. The Church is Israel, Israel was the Church of the Old Testament. By the Church, I mean all those sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd Jesus Christ, the voice of the Gospel, and listen to it. God compares the Church to a vineyard He has planted on a hill, a fertile hill, a hill fertilized with blood. Blood you may know is really one of the best fertilizers, There used to be gutters running from the altar in the temple in Jerusalem, out into the Kidron valley, the blood from all the sacrifices would wash out into that valley, and it made for the choicest of vineyards, and orchards. Even today you can buy blood meal for your plants. But the hill upon which God has planted His vineyard is no longer Mt. Zion, where the temple stood. It is now Golgatha, where the one perfect and final sacrifice of Jesus, was made for all men, and it is the blood that flows from that sacrifice onto the altar here, and where ever the Lord’s Supper is served according to Christ’s institution that fertilizes the vineyard of the church, the branches abiding in the vine of Christ (John 15:5) with the forgiveness of sins. What better fertilizer could there be for us, than the forgiveness of sins in the blood of Christ, that gives us life, and salvation? He has planted this vineyard on a very fertile field indeed.

But the picture turns sour with the grapes. The vineyard does not yield what God would have it yield, instead of choice grapes, suitable for the best of wines, it yields wild grapes, grapes that will no longer abide in Christ, without whom we can do nothing, without whom we bear no good fruit, but wild grapes, unfit for eating, unfit for drinking. I would like to think this picture only deals with Old Testament Israel. I would like to think that. But I see it applying equally to the church today. Warning the would be Christian church of today. And now I include all denominations, and non-denominations that call themselves church, including our own beloved LCMS. All who call themselves Christians for whatever reason. Christendom as it is sometimes called. It is a mess. This vineyard planted on Golgatha, the fertile hill, wet with the blood of Jesus, has been yielding wild, and sour grapes for quite sometime. Theological liberalism, and its cousin legalism have choked out the faithful vines in too many sectors of Christendom, and we battle with it even within our own synod. In too many sectors of Christendom, the forgiveness of sins, the gospel of Jesus, is never proclaimed, or rarely heard, the voice of the shepherd is silent, and the sheep have nothing to listen too. The Sacraments Jesus instituted for the sanctification and nourishment of his sheep are ignored, and dismissed. The gospel has been replaced, with universalism the idea that all will be saved with or without faith in Christ, or works. False hope is offered, hope outside of Christ, hope rooted not in Christ, but in stones, stones of false doctrine, stones called works, and the fruit yielded looks pleasing to the eye, but is sour in God’s mouth. Oh, wild grapes can look to be delicious, shining in the hot sun, they look refreshing blue, red, and purple skins peaking out from the shade of leaves. But oh how awful, disgusting and sour to the taste. Rather than quenching thirst, they send you to find water. Works are the same way. They can look good, but be utterly unpleasing to God’s taste. From the outside there may seem to be no difference, the grapes look alike, the choice and the wild. Some are good for wine, some are unpalatable. A Christian and a non Christian can do the exact same thing, and we are unable to distinguish between them. They may work at the same job, they donate to the same charities, maybe even to the church, yet God can taste the difference and the difference is Christ. Works done outside of Christ, outside his forgiveness, works done to earn God’s favor and grace, works which seek to replace Christ and his cross as the basis for one’s salvation, are insulting to God. Works done by one who seeks nothing for them, because he knows Christ has given all freely, and requires nothing of you, these are he grapes that God desires, and finds sweet to the taste. These works are often done unwittingly, one doesn’t think anything of it. It is just what one does. The mom raising her children, the dad changing a diaper, or taking out the trash. Others may have been given a little thought, yet are done in thankfulness, giving to the church, so that not only you, and your grandchildren, but others too can hear the word of God.
But then there are the grapes that even look disgusting to us, deformed, rotted, raisins on the vine, the product of sin, and heresy. How often do these grow on our own branches, even though we abide in Christ. How often do we look to see our disgusting fruit, and like vines we are helpless to remove them, unable to prune ourselves? I’ve never seen a vine lop itself, that requires a gardener. Do we see this fruit in our lives, fruit that finds its nourishment outside of Christ’s blood, perhaps in the dung of the very fox that eats them? When we have a spat with our spouse, and come to see our own selfishness? Over hear a person talking about you, and realize that they are right, in the foul things they say? Or see that what motivates you to do good is not the love of Christ, but the love of self aggrandizement, and the praise of your peers? Or perhaps simply you want to avoid jail, and punishment? But if the laws were not there, if the consequences were not there you would indulge your selfish desires?
Too many sectors of Christendom ignore Christ all together. They neither preach repentance nor the forgiveness of sins. Too many that would call themselves Christians marginalize the word of God today. They mock His law as being outdated. These sections of the vineyard have been abandoned. I find it curious what motivates people to go to churches that echo society, and mirror it. Churches that show no concern for the word of God. Do they think that because the pastorete, and her light loafered bishop say it is o.k. to have an abortion, to fornicate, to divorce, engage in homosexual activity, that God must have really changed His mind about such things? And if they are why not just stay home and watch MTV, or network news? Do they think that contributing to the churches garage sale, makes up for their shortcomings? Do they think they can buy their way into heaven by supporting a church that calls itself Christian yet ignores Christ? Such teachings do not spring from ground fertilized with the blood of Christ. Satan himself devours the fruits of such teaching. They are awful and despicable. A Christian hears the voice of the shepherd and listens, he may not always follow as well as he should, but he listens and cares. A Christian will not have his sin excused. That is not good enough. He will only have it forgiven in the blood of Christ.

[3] And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem
and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
[4] 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?

God calls for self examination. All too often we are tempted to believe it is God who is wrong. That God has not done enough. We think God is being petty, we think he should just relax, chill out, . Why should He be so angry with these things He call sins. No one is complaining but Him, we’re just having a good time. Oh that despicable Old Adam that just wants God to leave us alone. Wouldn’t life be easier then? But think of all God has done for His Vineyard. He has not made our life difficult. He has done everything He could for His beloved vineyard. He tilled it, cast out the stones, dug the vat. He sacrificed His very own Son for this vineyard, for you and I, that we might have life in His blood, find nourishment in the forgiveness of sins. Sometimes, I don’t think the weight of that registers. God gave His own Son for us, God died for us. What more is there to do? What more is there for God to do for us? What more is there for us to do, if He has forgiven our sins? Either He has or He hasn’t. He doesn’t wait for us to do all that we can first, so that He can forgive the rest. It is impossible for us to do that. Without Christ as the source of our lives, without his forgiveness, without being grafted into Him, we can do nothing. He Himself says it. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, He it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 (ESV). He has done it all. Does He not deserve to see the fruit of His labors, the fruit of His forgiveness? Why when He has done all this, all these wonderful works for us, for His church, do those who call themselves Christians, forget to proclaim Christ and Him Crucified? Why do we dwell on the law? Why do we seek to excuse sin, rather than forgive it. Why do we totally ignore his word?
Woe to that vineyard, that church body, that ignores His word, and fails to proclaim the forgiveness of sins, who refuses to water the tender shoots, the infants in its midst with the waters of baptism, who refuse to nourish the vines with the blood of Christ. In such churches there can be no choice grapes. Woe to that vineyard, that church body, that refuses to hear the word of God, who out of pride refuses to be disciplined and pruned in repentance, to examine herself when she goes astray. And this is what we need to be aware of in our own church body, and ever vigilant of. There are times when Church leaders need to be called on the carpet, with the word of God. There are times when the church strays from its mission. There are times and places even in the LCMS, when and where we are so focused on seeing fruit, fruit in terms of numbers and growth, that the leaders and pastors forget to nourish the grapes with the blood of Christ, and the forgiveness of sins. And the grapes turn sour, and rot on the vine. There are times when we are tempted to water down the word of God, or tickle ears with pop psychology, let the people hear what they want to hear rather, than what we need to hear. Such is a time now, I believe. Our synod seems to be straying, to concerned about big numbers to do evangelism and really proclaim the gospel. Instead of relying on gimmicks to boost attendance and numbers. Evangelism isn’t about numbers. Evangelism is about Christ, It is about proclaiming the forgiveness of sins, the evangel, the good news of Christ and him crucified, regardless of whether it is heard or not. Regardless of whether it gains a hundred souls or twenty. Today the church seems to be concerned they might offend, and they try to silence the loudest of voices proclaiming the Gospel, they replace Issues etc, a popular hard hitting radio show proclaiming Christ, with a baptized version of Oprah, woman to woman, a show that died ten years previous because the secular world does pop psychology so much better. Pastors are more concerned with what synod allows, than what the Bible actually teaches. Oh we can point our fingers at others, the PCUSA, United Methodist, the ELCA, fill in you favorite mainline denomination. But if we don’t take the log out of our own eye, if we fail to here God’s call for repentance and self examination, we will go their way soon. We have problems in our synod and they need to be addressed. They can’t be fixed with a superficial program of evangelism, they can’t be fixed with a restructuring of synod. They can only be fixed with a humble return to the word of God. If we refuse to hear the word of God, then God will do what He says in the end of this passage:

[5] 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.
[6] 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.
[7] For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice,
but behold, bloodshed;
for righteousness,
but behold, an outcry! Isaiah 5:1-7 (ESV)

Yet if we here the voice of our shepherd, and remain in Him, He will forgive our sins, and till the soil, and we in the forgiveness of sins, will bear the grapes he desires, and drink the wine of those grapes for all eternity. All is not lost. I hold out hope for our church body. Some call me na├»ve. I don’t know maybe I am. But I believe the Holy Spirit can work miracles even today. I believe He can call us to repentance. And I am not the only one who looks on the Missouri Synod with hope. This last week I spent at a district pastors conference. Sometimes those can be refreshing. I met with many men, faithful pastors, and we listened to good solid lectures. Perhaps the best was the last one. Wilhelm Weber, from South Africa, gave it. He spoke about missions. But he also spoke about the strength and meaning of our synod to world Lutheranism. He spoke about how, our brothers in Sweden and Finland are facing persecution, for opposing women’s ordination, and abortions. How Bishop Obare of Kenya, has been kicked out of the Lutheran World Federation, for standing on the word of God, opposing the sanctions of homosexual activity, universalism, etc within that body. And how these men find encouragement and support in Synod. How our seminaries offer such great hope training these men to be teachers to others, and pastors. We are the envy of confessional churches around the world for our seminaries with what he says have to be the best confessional faculties one could provide. Oh, and there are strong solid men there. He spoke about how our publishing house, Concordia, supplies all these churches with the word of God and the blood of Christ in printed form. And how these books they give, and sell contribute to an explosion of faith in the darkest parts of Africa. Where men leave there families for years to study so they can return and be faithful pastors to their little villages. No, should we stand on the word of God, repent of our sins, and remain in Christ, then the walls of this vineyard will be torn down, but rebuilt wider and wider, then God will see choice grapes and be pleased, grapes that can only be the fruit of Christ, and His forgiveness.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

1 comment:

Es ist das Heil said...

Great one!
Thanks Bror!

"I am a branch in Thee, the Vine,
And hence the comfort borrow
That Thou wilt surely keep me Thine
Thro' fear and pain and sorrow;
And when I die, I die to Thee,
Thy precious death hath
won for me The life that never endeth." Amen

Hymn 594 "41 Hymnal" Verse 3