Rev. Dr. B. Kevin Smalls
We are thrilled to welcome the writing of Rev. Dr. B. Kevin Smalls for the Preaching Notes for this worship series. Dr. Smalls is senior pastor of Hope United Methodist Church in Southfield, Michigan, and an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church. Click here to read more about Dr. Smalls.
Vineyards are aesthetically beautiful places. They have beautiful greenery, well-manicured lawns, and rows of grapevines. They are exquisite and breathtaking. The rolling hills are marvelous to see.
In biblical days, a vineyard was a prized possession. They were well taken care of. It actually took a great deal to take care of them. There was always the nurturing of the grapes or whatever fruit was featured. This tending to the vineyard was all orchestrated for one thing: grapes—fresh, whole, round, perfect grapes. Workers in the vineyard were meticulous and detailed in their care.
However, God speaks of grapes gone wild. There is no excuse for wild grapes. They’ve been watered, given good shade so as to not be parched by the sun. They’ve been given the best environment for growth. So, it’s not adding up. Why has God’s vineyard, a beautiful masterpiece, somehow led to the production of wild grapes? These grapes were not sufficient, healthy, or wholesome for their intended use.
This would not be the last time God was disappointed by fruit. You’ll recall Jesus while on a journey walked up to a fig tree that looked like it was ready for the picking, but it was not. Jesus was seemingly angry at the tree for false advertising. The tree was presenting an appearance that didn’t match its reality. This too was a lesson.
Today, our vineyards are buildings. Big churches in some cases. Sanctuaries with major lighting and technology packages and cafés and eateries to enjoy one’s sojourn there. The visuals can be breathtaking, and clearly the buildings are well-cared for.
Yet, the world seems to still be struggling with issues of deep oppression, massive healthcare needs, racism in housing markets, immigration discrimination, ageism, misogyny, xenophobia, and nationalism.
How can this be with so many vineyards in our midst? Could it be that they are producing wild grapes?
The formula for getting all this corrected remains: repentance. The lack of repentance will prompt God to remove the workers in the vineyards, dismantle the vineyards, and let the people have their way. This, of course, means that there will scorching heat, weather, and lack of nourishment that will cause great suffering and despair.
There is nothing wrong with great vineyards. But that is only a little bit of what it means to be a people connected to their God.
How is God calling us to address grapes gone wild in our contexts? Be mindful, however. Jesus did this in his opening homily in Nazareth after reading from this very book, Isaiah.
Once the scroll was rolled up, he began to announce that the day was at hand when God would finally get what God wanted for those who were oppressed. He would be the one to complete it.
This kind of sermon angers a church, and it almost got Jesus killed. Nevertheless, it was from here that he launched his messianic ministry; albeit, from the margins.