Isaiah is singing a love song of our God.
Our response to God’s love song is complicated. We may be frightened by the righteous indignation, the implicit violence. We may doubt God’s love for us. Most of all, most of us have had the experience of living in a wasteland, when everything feels broken down, and briers and thorns are all around. We may doubt the promise of better things to come.
Perhaps we have been through a trauma or a sustained period of suffering or illness. Our lives can feel as parched as the land on which no rain falls.
It doesn’t take a personal tragedy, though, for us to have a hard time believing God’s love can change the way things are.
We can be enjoying our work or our retirement, have family that we are looking forward to seeing at Thanksgiving, enough money to cover our bills, and still sense a deep shadow of worry and doom falling upon our soul – an almost certainty that things will not get better.
We are so bombarded with the knowledge of violence – from Hong Kong to Honduras, from our borders to Syria.
We are aware of our own service men and women at war.
Then another young man guns down young people -seemingly without reason.
We watch – or try not to watch – the historic impeachment inquiry, knowing it represents a grim fight within our democracy. It is an argument among the citizens of this nation that makes it hard for us to agree on facts, honor shared value, hear one another or sit at the table together.
Yet there is in most of us – I know there is in me – a deep longing for the promises of God to be true. The prophet’s lifting of this song of love can still touch our souls with hope.
The love song uses the imagery of a vineyard. The owner of the vineyard purchased the right location, cleared, dug, and planted the best of vines, built infrastructure to protect the vines. This loving vinegrower, the prophet sings, did everything possible to assure this vineyard will be a blessing. It will yield goodness, not just for the owner. Here will be grapes for eating and to fill the cup for drinking. This is for the good of all.
But here the song turns to lament. When it is time for harvest, the vineyard owner finds only bitter, wild grapes. They are good for nothing but to be trampled on the ground.
We know the song is not about grapes. It is about us.
This is a love song which doesn’t let us off the hook. God lays bare the sad and sorry behavior of the beloved that has caused God grief, that brought us to grief. For six chapters, the song sings out the truth of trampled fields, injured people, the slaughter of the vulnerable, the abandonment of righteousness, the betrayal of the lover. We are nothing but vines scattered dead upon the ground.
Then a verse rises and another and another, until there is a chorus of renewed love and promise.
Right in the midst of the nation divided and destroyed, God’s love song sings of the hope and the life to come.
A shoot out of stump is not a mighty image. A shoot out of a stump is a small thing. It appears fragile and tenuous. But it is also persistent. Tenacious.
Hope is like that. It is persistent. It appears small but it endures. And grows. If we listen carefully, all around us, we can hear God singing love into lives which spring up with new life.
There is the young person who felt like they had nothing to live for, who was held by the love of family and friends and held on held on, until one day she was bursting with new life and purpose.
A man – sure he would never love again – was encouraged by his friends to cherish his memories but get out there. He found himself open up to a new relationship and married happily a second time.
A church member angered by something said or left undone, vows to be finished with all this nonsense, but friends in Christ kept calling, talking, texting, visiting until one day there was nothing left to do but to return to the congregation that would not leave them alone.
So many planned on simply keeping their heads down, making it through this life, determined not to get involved in all this mess of city, state, and nation, politics, protest, and advocacy, then found themselves unwilling – unable even – to let things go on as they are and walked out into community involvement.
If we listen, carefully, even in the midst of wearying sounds of bitterness, we can hear God’s people joining in the verse it is theirs to sing.
Their voices joined in God’s love song tell the stories of tender shoots springing up, the power of simple kindness, the tenaciousness of daily righteousness living. Their stories sing forth with images of how the landscape is changed when people join in God’s song of love.
You, too, can join the song. God is singing a verse just for you.