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What Grows in Your Garden?
August 14, 2022*
By Pastor John Partridge
Isaiah 5:1-7 Luke 12:49-56 Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2
Do any of you do any gardening?
If you attend here at Christ Church, you may know that we have a community garden on the other side of our parking lot. Each Spring, with the help and support of our church trustees, we prepare our garden plots for planting and divide our various plots among those who are interested in using that space. Sometimes, we are blessed to receive donated plants that we similarly divide amongst our gardeners.
But if you’ve spent any time farming, growing vegetables, or flowers, you know that everything doesn’t always go according to plan. Sometimes the free plants that we receive mature into something quite different than the label that arrived with them. And buying your seed from trusted vendors does not always assure immunity from suffering from the same problem. A year or two ago, Patti and I purchased seeds for spaghetti squash and while it was obvious that what grew was from that family of viny plants, those vines produced several different squash-like plants that mostly were not spaghetti squash.
Our gardeners also know that the row closest to the parking lot uses the same space used by the driveway of the house that once stood there. That space is full of rocks and bricks, is almost impossible to rototill or dig, or plant and so we’ve covered it up with plastic and mulch rather than struggle to grow plants in soil that only wants to grow grass and weeds.
But our struggles in our community garden are not unique to us. These kinds of problems have been shared from the time that human beings first began to cultivate crops. And it is our familiarity with these sorts of problems that helps us to understand the illustration that God uses in his words to the nation of Israel in Isaiah 5:1-7.
5:1 I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit.
3 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad?
5 Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.
6 I will make it a wasteland,
neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
not to rain on it.”
7 The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
The owner of the vineyard cleared the land, planted the best grape varieties available, cleared out all the stones, built walls to keep the vines from being trampled, added a watchtower so that a guard could oversee the entire area and, in anticipation of the crop that would one day come, he even carved a winepress out of stone to use at harvest time. The owner of the vineyard worked hard in anticipation of a positive future result. But regardless of his intent, his effort, his care, and his investment, the soil of his vineyard only produced terrible tasting grapes or grapes that were rotten, or moldy, or otherwise unusable.
And so, much like we covered the soil of our old driveway with plastic and mulch, God says that he is giving up on his vineyard. He is going to tear down the walls, the watchtower, and the hedges and abandon the land and let it go wild and be used for local wildlife or not at all. But the frightening part of the story is in hearing that the garden in Isaiah’s story is Israel and Judah. God planted his people with care, effort, and investment but instead of growing a crop of justice and righteousness, harvested only violence, bloodshed, and distress and God says that he isn’t going to continue wasting his resources on bad fruit and poor soil.
But eight hundred years, and a lot of history later, God plants Jesus in that garden to shake things up and put things right. And in Luke 12:49-56, Jesus says this:
49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?
God plants Jesus as the Prince of Peace, but Jesus knows that his arrival will cause dissention and division, quarrels, separation, and violence. People will not agree on who he is, or why he came, or how we ought to worship him. But his coming, and the division that it causes, is a necessary part of repairing the damage to God’s vineyard so that it can grow a crop of justice and righteousness as he intended.
Jesus continues by reminding the people that while they know how to read the signs of the weather, they know that a wind from the desert will bring warm air, and that a wind from the Mediterranean Sea will bring rain, they still pretend that they haven’t seen Jesus’ miracles or heard his teaching. Jesus said things that no one else had said, and did things that no one else had done, and still people pretended that they couldn’t see the signs that God was showing to them.
But what does all that mean to us?
What does God’s vineyard and Jesus’ lecture about reading the signs mean to this church, and this people, in this present time?
In Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2, Paul explains it this way:
29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.
30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.
31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted, and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Paul reminds his churches that God has done all sorts of incredible miracles because of the faith of his people. And not only were there extraordinary miracles, but there were also miracles that happened as a partnership between God and his faithful followers who fought enemies, decided court cases, were thrown into fires, fed to the lions, and all sorts of other things. But there were others who were not rescued but were tortured to death, were beaten, flogged, ridiculed, imprisoned, and put to death in all sorts of terrible and ugly ways. God’s people were sometimes poor and homeless despite their faithfulness.
And regardless of whether God rescued them, or performed miracles for them, or if they were allowed to suffer, none of them, in this life, received the blessings that God had promised because what God has promised is a life that is better than anything imaginable on this earth. One day all of us who have been followers of Jesus Christ and who have been faithful to God will, together with God, be a part of something better. Every day, we are surrounded by those people of faith who came before us and they are watching us and cheering us onward so that we might throw off the sin that trips us up, remain faithful, and run this race with perseverance with our eyes locked only on Jesus.
In Luke’s story, we heard Jesus explain to us that not everyone is going to agree, or even like it, that we have chosen to follow him. Following Jesus is a choice that will cause people to disagree and sever their relationships with us. Following Jesus isn’t going to always bring peace and prosperity, but will sometimes make us unpopular, be tormented and ridiculed, get arrested, beaten, imprisoned, and worse. But through it all, whatever life brings us, we must remain faithful and steadfast, with our eyes only on Jesus, and run our race with perseverance.
Because, at the end of the day, God is still planting a crop of justice and righteousness among his people and the question that God asks us is the same question he was asking the people of Israel in the time of Isaiah.
What’s growing in your garden?
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com . All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.