Broken hearts, stumps, forgiveness, and fruit (10/22/17)

Read Isaiah 5:1-7, 11:1-5

There are many ways to break a heart. Some have experienced the pain of a broken relationship – a romance broken off, or a marriage dissolved. Love spurned, or unfaithfulness, and now the heart broken into a thousand pieces. Others may have felt the broken heart of a parent. I once visited with a parent whose adult child was drinking, heavily. His addiction led to lying and stealing. The parents took him to treatment twice, bailed him out of jail a couple of times. But the drinking returned. Now he was in the hospital and the doctors told the parents he might not make it.
These feelings of the jilted lover and the terrified parent are the broken hearts that happen when we watch the people we love make decisions that we know will destroy a relationship of trust.
This morning we look at Isaiah.
Our passage in Isaiah chapter five is written in the form of a love song. It begins with a beautiful picture of a lover who planted a lush vineyard, fully expecting that it would produce sweet wine that would bring joy to the world.
But then we discover that this is actually the tragic love song of a broken heart. It is a song about a jilted lover who finds that his lover is cheating on him. God is the lover who planted a vineyard, and the vineyard is the people of Israel who were supposed to produce good fruit.
But all God finds is the sour fruit of injustice and violence against the poor and needy. It is the heartbreak of a Father’s love for children who have betrayed him and disregarded all of his instructions.
The message of the prophets is the voice of God that looks at the world and grieves over centuries of hatred and violence between nations, races and religions. It is the voice of God that watches as war lords in Africa and corporate executives in the United States choose money and power over justice for starving children.
So, what does God do?
Well, our reading tells us one thing that God sometimes does – verse 5 of chapter 5 in our reading from Isaiah. “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.” These words are about God removing the walls of protection, and allowing the people to suffer the consequences of their choices.
The ancient Kingdom of Israel, in this reading from Isaiah, is a nation shattered by injustice and leaders living self-indulgent lives. And by the end of these opening chapters of Isaiah, Israel is destroyed by the Assyrian Empire. The beautiful vineyard is reduced to a stump.
God watches, tears streaming down his face, as the consequences of his beloved’s choices rip them apart. Too many parents, and too many jilted lovers know the pain that God feels when this happens.
At this point you’re probably thinking, “Wow, Pastor John, this is a real downer sermon.”
Aren’t we all about God’s grace, so we don’t talk about icky things like sin and judgment?
So, here’s my big question:
How do we reconcile the message about God’s unconditional love with this other message of God removing the protective boundaries and turning us over to our own bad choices?
Here’s where we wrestle with the tension between Law and Gospel. This was a central teaching for the Lutheran reformation 500 years ago, and is how Lutherans understand the Bible still today. It is a way to interpret scripture and life. The key word in this phrase is AND. The ongoing creative activity of God is Law AND Gospel.
God’s law is good. It exists to provide health, safety, life and security. But God’s law is also conditional. It’s completely dependent upon us to choose to follow it. If we dishonor our parents, cheat, steal, lie about others or speak ill of others; If we refuse to help others, the consequences are that we destroy the fabric of community.
The Gospel, on the other hand, is the good news of God’s unconditional love for us. The Gospel declares that God loves us so much, that, even while we are sinners and lawbreakers, Christ died for us.
And that is what saves us.
Lutherans see the gospel as God’s final word regarding our relationship with God. We are declared righteous, which means we stand before God completely forgiven and accepted, in Jesus. It’s not our goodness or our obedience to God’s law that makes us right with God, it is Jesus. And we are invited to abide in him, to live in him, to receive him, in his Word and in our Worship – to bask in his love for us. That’s grace; that’s the gospel good news.
But the gospel does not void the Law. Rather, Lutherans see the Law, not as a way to earn God’s love, but as a way to serve neighbor. Our understanding of God’s Law is always with an eye toward loving and serving our neighbor. The Apostle Paul says it well in Romans chapter 13: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
You see, sometimes I think there can be a dark side of always preaching Gospel and Grace, if we’re not careful.
Many times, we hear the message of God’s grace and God’s unconditional love, and the preacher says something like, “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, or what you do, God will always love you.” And that‘s true, but in our self-absorbed hearts we can think, “Sweet! I can do whatever I want!”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this do-whatever-I-want mentality “cheap Grace.” Grace is free, but it is not cheap. Grace is costly. It cost Jesus everything. Grace sets us free from the judgment of sin – sin can no longer disqualify us from our inheritance in God’s eternal kingdom – but this freedom is not an excuse for self-indulgence. This freedom is given to us so that we can love and serve our neighbors.
The nation of Israel, in the time of the prophet Isaiah – especially their leadership – got stuck in self-indulgence and turned a deaf ear to God’s Law to love and serve their neighbor. And the result was that the vineyard, the nation of Israel, was destroyed – reduced to a stump.
This is why we must turn to the second part of our text for today. Isaiah says in chapter 11, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”
This is Jesus. This is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This is the one who says, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Abide in me and you will bear much fruit.”
Jesus doesn’t call us to bear fruit so that we can earn his love. No, he loves us already. His love, his forgiveness, his mercy, has been given to us on the cross and affirmed in the waters of our baptism, where Jesus says, “You are mine.” We will hear these words in the baptism of Mason Allen this morning: “Mason, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” These words tell us that, being baptized, we belong to Jesus and we are called to participate in his mission in the world for the sake of our neighbor.
Baptized into Jesus, this is our identity AND our calling.
Let us pray: Let the vineyards by fruitful, Lord. And fill to the brim our cup of blessing. Thank you for Mason’s baptism today, and thank you for our own baptisms. Grant that our participation in your calling for us may bring an abundant harvest for your kingdom. Amen


About pastorjohnwaseca

ELCA Lutheran Pastor
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