What More Could I Do?

photo 1 (2)Pentecost 17A What More Could I Do?

Isaiah 5:1-7

Matthew 21:33-46

Every generation has its love songs.

I’m told by our confirmation class that if you’re in love today,

you might want to listen to

“Love Story” by Taylor Swift or

“Stay With Me” by Sam Smith.

In the 1950’s Buddy Holly sang about “Peggy Sue.”

In the 1970’s the Jackson 5 sang, “I’ll be There!”

Mariah Carey sang “Emotions” to those of us coming of age in the 1990’s.

Of course not all love songs have lyrics like Shakespeare…

Apologies to country music fans,

but check out these lyrics from Brad Paisley:

I’d like to see you out in the moonlight,

I’d like to kiss you way back in the sticks,

I’d like to walk you through a field of wildflowers, 
and I’d like to check you for ticks.

 

Now that’s true love!

Music has always been a way to express emotions,

and especially love for one another.

When Isaiah wants to express the feeling between God and God’s people,

Isaiah turns to a love song.

Isaiah begins,

“Let me sing for my beloved,

my love song concerning his vineyard.”

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures,

the word “vineyard” is code for the ‘people of Israel.’

The prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures speak for God.

So this is a love song God sings to God’s people.

But alas, it is not Taylor Swift…

The song God sings is a song of unrequited love.

It’s a song of love that disappoints.

It’s a song of love that is not returned.

According to Isaiah,

God had hopes and dreams for his people.

God envisioned them as special.

He had a purpose in mind for them.

Just as a gardener begins planning long before a seed is even placed in the ground,

God began planning for his people Israel.

He carefully prepared a place for them.

Anticipating their coming, he tenderly cultivated the soil.

(We might call it ‘nesting!’)

He removed the rocks- any obstacles which would get in the way of their growth.

He built a watchtower to protect them.

Everything was ready,

and like a family expecting a child,

God then waited.

And waited.

And waited.

God waited expectantly, hopefully, joyfully for the growth to come.

It’s a beautiful image…

and one that isn’t found in most other world religions.

In most religions of the world, the creator is remote…

somewhere far off…

transcendent…

unreachable, unmovable, immutable.

On the other hand, the Old Testament shows us [i]

  • a lonely God who walks in the garden of Eden searching for Adam and Eve
  • an angry God who tries to kill Moses at one point
  • a God who expresses impatience and jealousy.

Here once again, Isaiah shows us a God who is personal and intimate.

  • a God with hopes and dreams for creation;
  • a God in love with his people;
  • a God who plants his vineyard, and waits for the grapes.

Grapes do grow in God’s vineyard…

but they turn out to be wild grapes.

Some scholars say a better translation would be ‘rotten grapes,’

sour grapes,

grapes which are useless for making wine or for anything else.

A disappointed God looks at this useless fruit and asks, “What happened?”

“What more could I have done?” God asks.

It’s the cry of a parent who has raised a child in a loving home,

and then sees that child make terrible choices on their own.

“What more could I have done?” the parent often asks herself.

“What more could I do?” God asks.

God had expectations, hopes and dreams for his people.

Isaiah says

“he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
righteousness,
but heard a cry!”

God’s plans were that the people would be a people of justice and righteousness.

Earlier in Isaiah we hear what happens in the vineyard instead.

There is corruption in Jerusalem.

The poor are exploited.

They are worshipping idols.

The land is being destroyed.

This is not God’s plan!

God’s plan is that his people will

“act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God,”

as Micah says.

In one of the most poignant passages of the Bible,

God painfully discovers that his beloved community,

his beloved people do not do what he had hoped.

And of course, neither do we.

The poor are still exploited.

We still worship other things more than God.

Our land is still being destroyed.

What more could I do? God asks.

Well God does something more.

God chooses to come to earth himself.

To show us himself what the beloved community could be like.

But alas, like the wicked tenants in the parable from the gospel reading,

once again, we thought we could do it better on our own;

we threw him out of the vineyard and killed him

and thought that would be the end of it.

“What more could I do?” God asks.

Well God raises him and brings him back to the vineyard again,

still believing that there are grapes – good grapes — to be had.

“What more could I do?” God asks.

Over and over again, Jesus is raised again.

Over and over again, God comes back to our earth,

giving us hope that one day we will live out the beloved community

of justice and righteousness that God had planned for us.

This weekend, the Confirmation class on retreat has been hearing about some of these faith stories             – stories of people that God has sent to show us his intentions for us.

“What more could I do?” God asks.

So God sent Imaculee Ilibigiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide

to show that forgiveness is possible in the beloved community.

“What more could I do?” God asks.

So God sent James Foley, the American reporter who was killed by ISIS

to show that the stories of the poor and the oppressed must be told,

sometimes at great cost.

“What more could I do?” God asks.

So God sends our Confirmands, each of them:

Phil and Erin,

Addison and Alicia,

Russell, Katie, Sydney, Jenna, Amanda, Owen, and Sam…

God sent them into this world,

with plans for them,

that they can show the world

what a community of justice and righteousness can be.

“What more could I do?” God asks

as he sings a love song to his people.

Amen.

[i] James Burns in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4

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