A Reflection on Isaiah 5:1-7 and Psalm 80

When the gardening catalogues arrive in the frozen monochrome of February, I begin to dream.  Mark, my husband and I pour over the glossy pages and begin planning for our garden.  Should we plant eggplant this year?  You never can have too much fresh greens.  How about a row of raspberries by the back fence?  With great expectation we dream of what the garden will be.

And then it is May.  Mark turns the compost again and again until it is ready to fertilize the soil, deep and rich.  We lovingly choose our starts from the local farm and I delight in neatly planted rows.  I have even been known to turn broken clay pots over making homes for toads hoping they’d be my helpers in bug control in the weeks to come.  There is nothing more perfect than a newly planted garden.   

It is time to wait and watch. 

Time goes by.  We get busy on other things and suddenly it is mid August and my beautiful garden is now a tangle of wild weeds.  Choke weed from the back slope has made it over the fence and into the garden.  The greens have gone to seed.  I cannot find the eggplant.  The raspberries have become a tangle of thorns.  And Mark and I?  I love my husband more than life itself but to be honest I have caught myself blaming him for the whole mess.  Why didn’t he get out there earlier?  How could he have let it go like this?  Now we are going to have to just tear up the entire thing and start again next year.  What a waste!

Great expectations that have not come to fruition, not yet a least.  That is what we hear in Scripture this morning.  In the passage from Isaiah we hear the lament of the prophet and the Lord as they look out over what was once a beloved vineyard.  God prepared the soil, removed the rocks, build a watch tower and even a vat to hold what the harvest of grapes that God knew would come.  God delivered the people from bondage in Egypt, took the vine and planted in this beloved garden.  Planted it and waited with great expectation.  But instead of the sweet fruit of justice, there is bloodshed.  Instead of righteousness there is a cry.

And for the people whose voice we hear in the Psalm it is no better.  They had great expectations for what life would be like in the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey.  They dreamed of dwelling in God’s vineyard, of returning to the garden.  But instead, the Assyrians have captured the northern kingdom of Israel and are threatening the walls of Jerusalem.  The wild boar of Babylon ravages the land and people feel abandoned. 

Let these laments be ours as well.  We who have been delivered by the love of God and invited into a renewal of creation, look out over a world and see bloodshed.  We hear the cries of our brothers and sisters who remain enslaved by poverty, disease, hunger, — We hear the cry of creation calling for deliverance.  And the wild boar of Babylon nips at our heels.  

God and the people look upon the vineyard in sadness and lament.  Each had great expectations that were not fulfilled and both blame the other for things not turning out the way they had intended.  At this crossroad of disappointment, there is a choice to be made.  Turn and walk away —  The people could look for a new God and God would find a new people. 

Or listen again to the opening words of Isaiah passage “let me sing for my beloved, a love song concerning his vineyard.”  “Let me sing for my beloved, love song.”  Isaiah sings of a great love affair – a love affair between God and God’s people, that is the fertile ground that Isaiah can claim, that he stands in the midst of confusion, and failed expectations and disappointments and bewilderment.  Isaiah sings of the love affair that will endure and from which new life, new beginnings will emerge.

For the people of Israel this would be long in coming.  The land of Israel would first be overrun by the Assyrians and then all of Judea would fall to the Babylonians.  The people would we taken from the vineyard of Jerusalem and sent into exile in a foreign land.  But the love affair will not die.  The love affair endures.  The people come home from Babylon.  They return to tend vineyard.

For Mark and I, it means putting on our gloves and heading out into the tangle of what is while holding onto the dream of what can be.   It means working side by side pulling up weeds, reclaiming paths, and tying back raspberry bushes.  And it means, discovering the slender purple eggplant growing amidst the choke weed.  It means tasting the warm juice sun ripened raspberry that is undaunted by the tangle of thorns.   

God has delivered us to good soil but even so hard times will come.  Difficult and painful things will happen, things we do not understand.  But do not fear.  Do not despair.  The love affair remains.  The love affair between God and God’s people will endure and through that love so will we.  

So let us take up our places as workers in the vineyard, keepers of the garden, tending, and weeding so that the expectation of what can be becomes the reality of what is.