Stage 4: The Edge of Isaiah, part 2
If part one of Isaiah was difficult, then this is impossible. And the prophet calls this a love song. Plus, and this is where it gets troublesome, Israel saw itself as the vineyard; later, the church began to see itself as the new vineyard. And the vineyard is tagged for destruction in this text. It’s hard to find a positive spin to put on this. Maybe we should check the gospel text!
Hang with Isaiah for a while; let’s see if there is a way we can hear his pronouncement in a productive way. A key verse is verse 3: “my people judge between me and my vineyard.” We love our churches; we expend a lot of effort to maintain the buildings and to fill them with ministries and events, fellowship, and service. We spend a lot of time there. We love our church, and we should!
Isaiah is asking us, however, if we sometimes lose perspective when it comes to the church, God’s vineyard. The question for worship today might be, “What is the church for?” Supporting the church is not supposed to be an end in itself. Our church mission statement is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Not disciples of the church. Not for the transformation of the church. The church is the means, not the end of what we do. So, how can we make that our focus for worship today?
What if we celebrate the church by featuring what happens outside the church? What if we lift up ministry that may be happening in small ways throughout our neighborhood, or city, or world? What if we take time to point out that the church is wherever the congregation is and does whatever it is each member does? Somewhere theologian Leonard Sweet said that the church has an “edifice complex” and needs to move beyond buildings to focus on being the presence of God at work in the world.
Wild grapes, according to Isaiah, means that the people of God were following no leadership but their own will and conscience. God wants us to be cultivated grapes, guided by the Word and tended by the Spirit, wherever we live and work. While we are thankful for the church buildings, for the beauty and utility of these structures, it is the people and how they live in the world that are the church at work.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.