Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. (Isaiah 5:1-2)
Sigh…imagine the disappointment, the pain, the hurt. Imagine the annoyance, the anger, the frustration. Imagine the brokenness that results. Where do we go from here? How do we restore what has been broken? How do we return to the point of want, of desire, of longing? How do we come back together? How can we be reconciled after such a betrayal? So much was invested, so much was given, and so much was allowed. We began with such hope. We had such high expectations, and now, this. How do we pick up the broken pieces and start over? Where do we even begin if we are to begin again?
Friends, who’s ever experienced a breakup – in a romantic relationship, a friendship, a professional/business partnership, a faith community, a relationship with a family member? What did it feel like? Do you remember the pain, the anger, the denial, the numbness, the promises never to give the other party a second chance? Maybe you denied the pain and you continued as if nothing had ever happened. What about the vengeance that you might have sought? Perhaps you sent abusive messages. Perhaps you ignored the other party’s attempts at reconciliation? Perhaps you used every opportunity to let others know just how mean or cruel the other party had been to you. Perhaps you took to posting passive-aggressive messages on social media. Perhaps you slumped into a pit and withdrew. Perhaps you found a new ‘hobby’ or ‘passion’ and gave vent there to the repressed feelings. Perhaps you found God and dedicated yourself to delving into Scripture, prayer and worship.
Whatever your response, you remember that the broken relationship was among the grimmest periods in your life.
Let’s now return to the reading from Isaiah 5, where after a few verses, it gets abjectly disappointing:
He expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!Isaiah 5:7
Friends, this is no made-up story. This is the experience our God has had with us. This is the betrayal that God has suffered in the relationship with us. This is the state of brokenness that has contaminated the purity of what existed at the beginning. These quotations are taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah, chapter five. Chapters 1-40 of the book date back to the latter half of the eighth century BC. Much time has passed since that, wouldn’t you say? Yet, I wonder whether the experience of God in the relationship with us has changed. Can we say that, for the sophistication, the progress, and the advances of which we love to boast as humanity, the anguish of these writings has abated?
Now, these quotations are from the writings of the prophet Isaiah and those date back to the latter half of the eighth century before Christ. In them, the prophet uses analogies to describe the Israelites’ betrayal of God who had established a covenant with them.
Fast foward to the present age. Surely, given our sophistication, progress and development, we have moved past these less noble moments in history, haven’t we? Surely, we are doing some good work. The Creator must be proud of us:
- consider the advances in medicine which have saved the lives of many;
- consider the advances in food production which allow food to be produced more efficiently;
- consider the advances in technology that kept the world connected during the global shutdown?
That is true. There have been numerous advances since these writings, far too many to list here. Yet, it is easy for these just listed to be eclipsed when we consider:
- the unflattering statement made about our love for our neighbour when smaller economies had to beg larger economies to release their hoarded COVID-19 vaccines;
- the lopsided picture of food self-sufficiency that the war between Russia and Ukraine has highlighted;
- the fact that many children went without an education because they had no access to online schooling.
There are yet less redeeming stories:
- Humanity argues over whether God is male or female, yet we argue that we, who were made in the image and likeness of God are gender non-specific;
- We have done what we could to silence the voices of those who have urged us to minimise our carbon footprint. The current situation: forest fires provoking widespread drought in non-traditional places, and unnatural floods, with the ensuing death toll and impact on food availability and the cost of living.
- The failure of governments the world over (even in more developed countries) is now common in the news.
- Wars continue; discrimination on the basis of gender, sexuality, and race continues; racial killings are increasing while there are debates on the need for gun control.
- Challenges in access to education and proper healthcare continue to affect the poor and women, in particular, the world over, not only in less developed countries.
Now, you might think, ‘I haven’t contributed to any of this’. That thought, though, reflects another break in the relationship with God, for, to harbour that thought is to deny the connection between all of humanity and to assert that the sin of the one does not impact the fate of the other. I have only to remind you of the Garden of Eden story, and its impact on us to this day, for you to appreciate what a fallacy that thought is.
Friends, let’s not lose sight of the fact that creation is an expression of God’s love: a love that has been poured into us and that we are to extend to God, to ourselves and to our neighbour, including the rest of creation. Our shortcomings reflect an unchecked and unbridled perversion of that love. As such, when I fall, it impacts you; when you fall, it impacts me. The opposite is also true: when I rise, it impacts you; when you rise, it impacts me.
What does this mean for us – imperfect and fallen as we are? Is there no hope? Not at all! Far be it from me to leave you on a note of despair. As betrayed as God is by our corruption, there is nothing greater than the love of God. In that love are patience, mercy, forgiveness, grace and salvation, all of which offer us an irrevocable opportunity at reconciliation to the Father through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.
What does this require of each of us? It begins with repentance – repentance not only for ourselves but for all of humanity. In that repentance is a practice of prayer, worship and contemplation of Holy Scripture. In that practice is a commitment to ‘lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and […] run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith […]’ (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Is it that simple and, presto, the world’s troubles are over? My friends, it is only a spark and, as the songwriter wrote, ‘It only takes a spark’, and well, that is all that God needs to work wonders. How about you allow yourself to experience it?
Until next time,