“For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant planting; and He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the fifth chapter of the prophet Isaiah. Dear friends in Christ, a gardener had a sweet corn patch. He cleared the land, he removed the tree roots, the sticks, stone, and debris. He sweetened the ground with manure, he tested constantly to make sure the PH balance was just right. He placed into that black earth the best sweet corn seeds that money could buy, seeds that consistently produced results of both quality and quantity. Then he went to work defending that sweet-corn patch. He put up a fence to keep out the raccoons, rabbits, and deer, exerting every effort to keep His crop safe.
As his corn grew, big and beautiful, the gardener began to prepare for the harvest. So confident was he of a wonderful harvest, that the gardener purchased a shed to store the corn, he built a stand to sell it on Highway 39. The weather was perfect that summer; the right amount of rain and plenty of sun. The bugs didn’t attack his plants, and they grew and grew, developing large ears of ripe corn. The gardener waited patiently for his sweet corn patch to mature, and at exactly the right time, he began to pick. As was tradition, the first ear of corn was for the gardener, and that evening he sunk his teeth into its rich kernels…and promptly spit them out. This corn was the worst he had ever tasted, worse than going down the road and biting into an ear of field corn! This patch of sweet corn, which had held such promise, for which he had done everything that could’ve been expected, had betrayed him. He looked for a bountiful harvest, and instead received corn that was quite literally worthless. So, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what would you do with such a sweet corn patch? Would you continue to care for it? Or would you tear down the fence, and let the raccoons have those worthless ears? Do you owe that rebellious sweet corn patch anything, any grace, any protection?
In answering that question, you point the finger at yourself. “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant planting; and He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” You are the rebellious sweet corn patch, you are the disobedient vineyard that the Lord planted. What more could God have done for you that He left undone? He prepared the soil, giving to you a creation that provides for all of your needs. Then He placed you into that creation, He formed your first parents from the dust of the earth, and He formed you in the womb of your mother. But God didn’t create you only to abandon you. Food, shelter, clothing, and even the very air you breathe are daily gifts from Him. Luther teaches us: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.”
God created this earth and all that is in it; He created us, humanity, the pinnacle of all that He made, and then He waited. In eager expectation, with great patience He waited for us to produce a bountiful harvest. But such a harvest didn’t come. “He looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.” The vines looked good, but they were counterfeit, worthless imposters, filled with wild, sour, literally ‘stinky’ grapes. His people had rebelled against Him. “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” He looked for you to produce a bountiful harvest of good works, love and service toward Him and toward your neighbors, but all He received was sin and rebellion. He looked for selflessness but found selfishness. He looked for honor but found disrespect. He looked for worship but found apathy. He looked for sexual purity but found lust. He looked for honesty but found lies. He looked for stewardship but found greed. He looked for love of your neighbor but found hatred. He looked for obedience but found rebellion. He looked for holiness but found sin. God planted mankind in this beautiful creation; He gave you life and provided for all of your needs, but the only thanks He has received is worthless fruit. “What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?”
What will God do with His rebellious vineyard? God poses the question to us: What would you do with a vineyard that produces only wild, sour grapes? What would you do with a sweet corn patch that produces a crop that no one wants to eat? “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. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.” Sin ravaged the vineyard, the vines were trampled, beaten down by the evil of this world. Briers and thorns grew up, a constant and harsh reminder that this pleasant planting of the Lord was corrupted and fallen. Now death entered the vineyard of the Lord and ruled over it as a tyrant. It terrorized the vines, for it was one power that could not be defeated. No one could escape it, it held all in a prison of fear. Death was all that God’s rebellious vineyard deserved, and not just death in this world, but eternal death.
God didn’t find the fruit He expected from His vineyard, and so it was left open to the ravages of sin and death, just penalties from its rebellion. But God didn’t completely abandon His vineyard. Instead, He sent one messenger after another to call the vineyard to repentance, to summon it back to the one who had planted it. Jesus says in our Gospel lesson: “When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. The tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them.” God persistently sent one servant after another to call on His vineyard to produce the fruit He expected in the first place, but the vineyard refused again and again. God’s messengers were abused, even killed. But God wouldn’t give up; He was willing to go to the very limits to restore His vineyard to Himself. “Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’” He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, true God in human flesh, to call the vineyard to repentance, but His end was exactly like the servants who came before: “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.” Jesus Christ, the vineyard Master’s Son, was cast from that vineyard and killed; He was crucified outside of the city, dying the death of the servants who preceded Him, dying the death of a criminal.
The vineyard rejected the Master’s Son as they had rejected the Master. But it was at this moment, when the rebellion of the vineyard was at its very worst, that the vineyard itself was redeemed. In being cast outside and killed, the Son, Jesus Christ, renewed and restored the vineyard to its Master. The blood of Jesus bought back the vineyard by paying the price of sin it owed. The death of Jesus delivered the vineyard from the tyranny of death, for He died in the place of the vineyard. In the very act of being rejected, Jesus erased the consequences of the vineyard’s rebellion, He returned that vineyard to its rightful owner, cleansed from its sin and iniquity. In our Gospel lesson Jesus declares: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” Jesus is the rejected stone, rejected by the ones He came to save. But this rejected stone is now the cornerstone of a new vineyard, the Church. Through His resurrection, Jesus is now the foundation of God’s renewed and restored vineyard, a vineyard that produces fruit in abundance only through Him. You were a member of God’s rebellious vineyard; now, through the waters of Holy Baptism, you are a member of the new vineyard, the vineyard founded on the rejected cornerstone.
God provided in abundance for His vineyard at its creation; how much more will He provide for His renewed and restored vineyard? In our text, Isaiah sings the song of a vineyard in rebellion against God; but in chapter twenty-seven of his prophecy, Isaiah sings of the vineyard redeemed and restored by Christ: “In that day, ‘A pleasant vineyard, sing of it! I, the Lord, am its keeper; every moment I water it. Lest anyone punish it, I keep it night and day; I have no wrath. Would that I had thorns and briers to battle! I would march against them, I would burn them up together… In days to come Jacob shall take root, Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots and fill the whole world with fruit.” This vineyard is fed by Christ’s Body, it is watered by His Blood. This vineyard is nourished by a constant and overflowing supply of forgiveness so that it does produce good fruit, not to earn God’s favor, but because it has been made God’s own through the waters of Holy Baptism. And this vineyard will endure, with Jesus as its foundation and cornerstone, singing His praises and rejoicing in His salvation for all eternity in the new heavens and the new earth. In the Name of the vineyard Master’s Son, the one who was cast from the vineyard and killed to restore the vineyard to its Creator, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.