Year A Proper 22, October 4, 2020

“What are the wild grapes in my life?

“I expected fine wine grapes, but instead I got wild grapes.”

This morning we heard the prophet Isaiah  sing a song to a beloved vineyard. Most likely he sang this song during the festival of booths, where many are gathered outside and this song would have fit in quite naturally with the festivities. Owning a vineyard or at least planting some wine grapes was very common. So I imagine folks gathering around him to listen to his song would have known the effort it takes to tend wine grapes. They knew the process of picking out the finest grape seeds, tending the plants, moving massive rocks from the field or hill, creating a rock watchtower to make sure animals, children, and thieves did not trample the seedlings or eat the grapes. They knew the efforts of creating an irrigation system, watering the plants, pruning back the grape vines, hoeing between rows, and weeding in the hot sun. 

It takes at least two years for a grape seed to mature and bear fruit. Some vineyard grapes are not suitable for wine until at least the 7th harvest. 

Those gathered around Isaiah knew full well the work, the cost, the patience required to tend a vineyard. Vineyards were large investments of time, money, and effort. They were planted with great effort, nourished, and nurtured in order to produce good wine and good income.

So Isaiah begins, “Let me sing for my well beloved, a song of my beloved about his vineyard.” He speaks of the hard work and toil that the owner put into the vineyard. Then he says, “He looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.” 

All this effort, all this care, all this hope and yet the vineyard yielded wild grapes. 

I wonder are there any wild grapes in your life?

Are there  places where you have tried your hardest and it’s just not working out the way you expected it would?

Usually the first thing we might think of is a relationship, a person, a house or work project, a financial investment that just went south. 

I had a patient who suffered from really bad substance abuse and his mother was beside herself. She said, I feel like I tried to do everything right and he got into the wrong crowd and now he is so addicted. I don’t know how he will ever come off of this stuff. I tried so hard.

I had a physician one time tell me that she and her husband got a multi-family house in new haven at the height of the housing market and then the housing market crashed and the rent on the property never made any income. In fact the house was costing them money. They ended up selling it for a huge loss. 

Are there wild grapes in your life?

When faced with this question we often think of examples like these… people and things we have invested in that just haven’t turned out the way we hoped or expected.

But sometimes isn’t it true that the the wild grapes are not outside of ourselves in another person or a failed investment. Sometimes the wild grapes are in us. 

Other people have poured into us, invested in us. We have invested in ourselves and yet still there are some wild grapes. 

I spoke with a man this week who was just coming to faith. He had always struggled with anxiety, but had worked hard to manage it. He knew all the meditation apps, regularly exercised, ate well, had friends, a good job, but then he discovered that he had cancer and he asked me, “Is it okay to have faith and be anxious?”

He knew better than anyone else that living with anxiety was not fully living. Anxiety had prevented him from doing things he always wanted to do. It prevented him from living a full life. And now the anxiety was oppressive. He could not sleep, eat, or work. He was overwhelmed by his anxiety. 

He asked, is it okay to have faith and be anxious?

Is it okay to have faith and have this wild grape in my life?

Is it okay to have faith and have this thing in my life that is not producing anything good and is actually preventing me from living the life I want to live?

Are there wild grapes in your life?

Anxiety, depression, bossiness, emotional distance, workaholism, laziness, perfectionism, greed… 

And is it okay to have faith and be emotionally distant? Is it okay to have faith and be greedy?

You all probably know by now, one of my favorite verses in scripture is Romans 5:8. While we were still sinners Christ died for us.. The full verse is “But God demonstrates/proves his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

God proves his love for us when Christ died for us even though we still were full of bitter, sour, wild grapes.

Yes it is okay to have faith and be anxious. Yes it is okay to have faith and have wild grapes. Jesus dies for us, loves us while we are bossy, depressed perfectionists. 

But do not miss the two very important pieces in our scripture here today.

Notice… Isaiah didn’t say that the vineyard owner planted those wild grapes.

God did not plant those wild grapes in you. God did not plant depression in you. You are not wild grapes. You are not your issues, you are a plant worthy of immense care, protection, nurturing, and nourishment. 

Yes it is okay to have faith and be anxious. God loves you even with your wild grapes. 

But remember God did not plant that anxiety in you. God chose to plant you, the finest grape. God choose you carefully. You are beautiful, fruitful beloved child of God.  

And notice, Christ died not only to prove God’s love for us, Christ died to set us free. In Galatians 5:1 another favorite verse of mine we hear that it is for freedom that Christ has set you free. 

Of course you can come to Jesus dragging around all your bitter wild grapes and he will love you just the same, but he did not put those wild grapes there and he does not want you to live under their weight. He wants you to be set free from all that is bringing you down, set free from all that is disappointing you, set free from the oppression, set free from the behavior that is just not working in your life. God loves you while you have weeds and wild grapes around, and he wants you to be set free.

So in the week ahead, God is inviting us to do a bit of gardening of our souls. I am so very grateful to Martine, and Carol and Howie, and Betsy and others who have been tending our Ash Garden, our bushes, our beautiful flowers. Perhaps many of you garden, but if not you can ask them about it. They did not plant the weeds that crop up and try to choke the beautiful flowers, in fact they planted the beautiful flowers. And of course they are not mad at the flowers for the weeds, they love the flowers, they want to nourish the flowers, water them and care for them. They see the weeds and take them out, so that the flowers can flourish and be free to grow.

So it is with God. Beautiful soul that you are, God planted you to be gorgeous, to be fruitful and God wants to pull up the weeds, set you free from the wild grapes. So do not try to hide them from God. Unearth them.

In the week ahead ask yourself, what are the wild grapes in my life? And then show them to God and God will lead you down a path to be set free. 

As Jesus tells us in our gospel this morning, the Kingdom of Heaven is not for the wild grapes, it is for you, the beautiful souls, the ones chosen carefully by God, the ones nourished and nurtured. 

So this week look into yourself, do a little gardening of your soul and go to God, show him the weeds and be set free.