Aug 18, 2019

“What More Could I Do?” - Isaiah 5:1-7

“What More Could I Do?” - Isaiah 5:1-7

            “What more could I do?”  I’ll bet all of us have heard these words.  Perhaps as two doctors discuss a patient who died on the operating table.  One doctor might remorsefully ask, “What more could I do?”

            Or we might hear a family member speak of a child whose life is being destroyed by drugs or alcohol.  She might say, “I’ve bailed him out of jail over and over again.  I've taken care of his kids and bought them groceries.  I’ve paid the light bill.  I've even paid the rent to make sure they didn't end up on the streets.  What more could I do?”

            Or we might hear a wife speaking about how hard she worked to save a marriage.  She might say, “I’ve forgiven him over and over again.  I just knew he was cheating on me.  I knew he was lying to me, but I wanted to make it work.  So I forgave him.”  It’s then you might hear her ask with a broken heart, “What more could I do?”

            Or we might hear these words spoken by a boy who has done everything possible to make new friends at school.  “I’ve tried being nice to them.  I’ve tried being friendly.  I’ve tried to take an interest in what they’re interested in.  But nothing seems to work.  They still ignore me.  They still give me the cold shoulder.  What more could I do?”

            Often these words are spoken by people who are genuinely seeking answers.  “Is there a treatment we haven't tried yet?  Is there a resource?  Is there a doctor?  Is there a rehab?  Is there a marriage counselor?  Is there a book I could read or a video I could watch to get some answers?  Is there something that I can do that hasn't been tried yet?  What more could we do?  What more could I do?”

            It turns out that the prophet Isaiah is speaking these very words to the people of Israel.  “What more could I do?”  And Isaiah is not asking for himself.  No, he’s asking on behalf of someone who means the world to him.  A someone who should mean the world to us as well. 

            Let us pray.  Dear God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

            A festival is going on.  It’s been going on for nearly a week.  It’s the Feast of Tabernacles.  People are going all out to celebrate.  There’s lots of singing and dancing.  Lots of eating and drinking.  Lots of partying.  And who knows, maybe even lots of fireworks.

            Right now the stage is empty.  The people wait for someone with enough nerve to step up to the mike and belt out a happy song.  That’s when the prophet Isaiah pushes his way through the crowd and boldly steps up on the stage.  The room falls silent.  All eyes are focused on him.  And all ears are tuned in to hear what he is going to sing about.

            Isaiah announces that his song is dedicated to someone very dear to him.  His beloved.  Someone he loves with all his heart and soul and strength and mind.  The audience wonders who that could possibly be.

            He begins by setting the stage with some background information.  He tells them that this song is a love song about his beloved’s vineyard.  The people close their eyes, and all of them know exactly what a beautiful vineyard looks like.  That’s when Isaiah begins to sing.

            “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.”

            The people have no trouble imagining the love and care and nurture the vineyard owner is providing.  He is incredibly patient.  He provides plenty of water.  Plenty of sunshine.  He tends to every need.  He makes sure all is protected and kept safe.  He does everything in his power to make sure the vines thrive and bear good fruit. 

But despite all of his hard work, the unexpected happens.  When those vines bear fruit, it turns out to not be good fruit.  No, it’s bad fruit.  Bitter.  No good at all.  Rotten to the core.  Bad to the bone.  That’s when that question we talked about earlier is asked.  “What more could I do?”

            And then just like that, the love song turns into a courtroom drama where a verdict is demanded.  The lawyer argues, “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?  I expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild ones.”

            The verdict seems like a no-brainer.  It’s obvious who’s guilty.  Without question, the vineyard owner seems to be wise and caring.  He seems to know what he’s doing.  Does everything by the book.  Dots all the “i’s” and crosses all the “t’s.”  They all find themselves thinking the very same thing.  The owner definitely did all he could.  There’s nothing else he could’ve done.  He just caught a bad break.  That’s all.

            But before they can deliver their verdict, Isaiah jumps right into what the sentence will be.  With great sadness he utters these words.  “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.  I will make it a waste.  It shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns.  And I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.”

            With those last words, it dawns on all of them who the real speaker is.  It’s not Isaiah.  Isaiah may be powerful, but he’s not in charge of the rain.  No, it must be God who is passing the judgment.  God who is declaring that the vines have brought it on themselves.  So the owner is left with only one option.  The owner is closing down the shop.

            And the crowd cheers him on as he tears down the walls and the watchtower.  As he yanks out the wine vat.  They don’t blame him one little bit when he stops tending to the land.  As he stops protecting and watching over it.  As he gives them what they want and leaves them to their own devices.  As that owner packs up and moves on.

            “Good,” the people find themselves thinking in unison.  “Good for him.  He’s giving them precisely what they deserve.  Why, that’s exactly what I would have done in his place.” 

But that’s when Isaiah drops the big bombshell.  Just listen to his shocking words.  “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel.  And the people of Judah are his pleasant planting.  God expected justice, but saw bloodshed.  Expected righteousness, but heard a cry!”

            You see, without realizing it the people had pronounced their own sentence.  Truly, God had done so very much with them and for them.  God loved them, cared for them, nurtured them, and protected them.  Did all that could be done to ensure that they would bring forth the very finest fruit.  God even taught and modeled what good fruit looks like.  It turns out that it looks like justice and righteousness.  But instead they had produced buckets full of the bad.  Buckets full of bloodshed and misery.  But God had kept right on loving them and being patient with them.  But as we all know, being loving and patient doesn’t come easy. 

I’m reminded of a story.  Once upon a time there was a teacher who was helping one of her kindergarten students put on his boots.  He had asked for help, and she soon saw why he had asked.  It took great pulling and pushing to get them on his feet.  By the time the second boot was on, she had worked up quite a sweat.

That’s why she almost whimpered in pain when she heard these words.  “Teacher, they’re on the wrong feet."  She looked, and sure enough, they were.  And it wasn’t much easier pulling the boots off then it was putting them on.  But somehow she managed to keep her cool as they worked together to take them off and then put them back on.  This time, thankfully, they ended up on the right feet.  “Hallelujah,” she cried.

That’s when she heard these awful words.  "Oh, these aren’t my boots."  She bit her tongue to keep from screaming, "Why didn’t you say so sooner?"  She took a deep breath and once again struggled to get them off.  That’s when he explained.  "They’re my brother’s boots.  My mom made me wear them."  She didn’t know if she should laugh or cry as she mustered up the grace to wrestle the boots on his feet once again.  As she did she heaved a sigh of relief.  Then she asked, "Now, where are your mittens?"  She was almost knocked over with his answer.  “Oh, I stuffed them in the toes of my boots so I wouldn’t lose them."

Thankfully, God is extremely good at being loving and patient.  At being forgiving, too.  God doesn’t want to destroy anything of creation.  And God doesn’t want us to fend for ourselves.  No, for some reason God wants to enjoy a relationship with us.  So God keeps right on creating and recreating.  Right up to this very day, because God isn’t finished yet.   

            In many ways and more, God is like that teacher.  God is patient.  God is understanding.  God is love.  God watches over us.  And God is delighted when we produce good fruit.  And by example, God shows us what good fruit looks like.  And in the Bible God clearly tells us what good fruit is like.  Guess what?  It turns out there’s all types of good fruit.  Love.  Joy.  Peace.  Patience.  Kindness.  Generosity.  Faithfulness.  Gentleness.  And self-control.  Precious gifts that are handed to us in Christ Jesus by a loving God.  So, truly, truly, thanks be to God.  Amen.