The Rev. Josephine Robertson
All Saints, Bellevue
Proper 15C, Isaiah 5:1-7
I was really looking forward to something warm and fuzzy this week. Some really easy to preach good news. So, thanks alot Jesus.
Instead we have the lyric, haunting, and heartbreaking love song between God and the vineyard Israel. And we have Jesus, promising fire and division. In the midst of still more mass shootings, still more revelations of cruelty and evil among our government agencies national and local alike, it all turns into an apocalyptic drone of violence, anger, fear, and hopelessness.
So I did what I always do when I can, I listened to music. In this case, the passage from Isaiah today has been rendered in heartbreaking beauty by none of other than Sinead O’Connor. Yes, she of the Pope ripping and the shaved head. In 2000 she released a dual album called Theology. In it she sings prophets, and psalms. It is raw, and spare and very very good.
In Sinead’s version God sings, achingly straight at God’s own people.
If you had a vineyard
On a fruitful hill
And you fenced it and cleared it
Of all stones you until
You planted it
With the choicest of vine
And you even built a tower
And a press to make wine
And you looked that it would bring forth sweet grapes
And it gave only wild grapes
What would you say
Jerusalem and Judah
You be the judges I pray
Between me and my vineyard
This is what God says
It is the song of someone whose dreams have been dashed, whose hopes have turned to dust and ash. It is the song of someone whose heart has been trampled. What more, God pleads with Israel could I have done? Then why, why when I look for sweetness, do I find only bitterness.
As a gardener, it is a lament I understand. The labor, the love, the hope all poured into what you hope will be a beautiful result and then one day you walk out into your garden and everything has gone wrong. Our lesson today ends rather abruptly, the song goes on.
The song goes on to show us just what it is that God finds so bitter.
Sadness will come
To those who build house to house
And lay field to field ’til there’s room
For none but you to dwell in the land
Oh in the land
And sadness will come
To those who call evil good
And good evil who present
Darkness as light
And light as darkness
Who present as sweetness
Only the things which are bitterness
Punishment in scripture, suffering as justice is always a complicated thing. Is suffering punishment? Or simply the logical result of our twisted actions? It seems to me we bring upon ourselves (and others) a perfectly man made hell, we need no heavenly punishment when our own actions heap up more than enough.
And Isaiah’s song today feels oh so accurate. Living in a place where million dollar houses are crammed in cheek to jowl, where every bit of land is claimed and mortgaged. Where there is less and less room for even t he middle class, never mind the poor, the unhoused. “Not in my neighborhood” we say and move the poor, the homeless, the immigrant on somewhere else out of sight, out of mind.
Sinead, sings in God’s voice:
Oh that my eyes were a fountain of tears
That I might weep for my poor people
I think what we often miss in the midst of condemnation and punishment is that our own disordered behavior brings its own kind of suffering. God weeps for us, watching us isolate ourselves, cut ourselves off from the color and the beauty of all that God has made.
Whether we’ve closed ourselves off with policy, armed guards, gated communities, or simply priced everyone but the “right people” out we become Israel, building house to house and field to field. Bitter where there should have been sweet. Wild and thorny where there should have been abundance.
And God wishes for eyes that could weep; weep for what we become.
I don’t have warm fuzzies this week. I do have a God who weeps over us, who has tenderly cared for us, tended us, watched us grow and hoped for such big things from us.
And who doesn’t give up on us. If God did, Isaiah would have been the last prophet. The voice of God would have gone silent. You and I would not be here.
But God did not give up. Not on that lonely hillside in the midst of shattered dreams.
Not in dusty Palestine at the foot of a Roman cross.
Not on a thousand other hillsides, surrounded by our hardness of heart, our violence, our bitterness and thorns.
And not today or tomorrow, or the next. The love song: God to God’s people goes on forever and we are always invited to join in.