31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
November 22, 2015
Isaiah 5:1-7, 11:1-5
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
I don’t like cranberry sauce. I don’t care if it is homemade or that weird jelly concoction that is so often served as a log with the can ridges still in it. It’s nothing against cranberries per se. I like cranberry juice and cran-raisins, but on Thursday, I will not be eating any cranberry sauce.
Our scripture passage this morning has to do with bad fruit, but the prophet Isaiah is not talking about cranberries or squash or any other dish we might be having with our Thanksgiving dinners this week. The prophet Isaiah is using the metaphor of bad fruit for the people of Israel, the people of God.
Isaiah “sings” us a song of his friend who has carefully cultivated a vineyard. Isaiah tells of how his friend has chosen a fertile hill, dug it and cleared it of stones, and then planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in the middle of it and hedged it all about. Isaiah’s friend did everything he possibly could to nurture sweet, bountiful grapes, but all he got was wild grapes, bad fruit.
And who is to blame? “Who is responsible?” asks Isaiah as if he is a courtroom prosecutor. Who should be found at fault? The gardener who carefully and lovingly gave all that he had, providing every blessing and advantage? Or the vineyard that has turned from its creator and failed to fulfill its purpose?
It is the vineyard that is at fault, Isaiah says. It is the people of Israel, the people of God, who have turned from their Creator, who have failed to fulfill their purpose. Where God expected justice from them, God saw only bloodshed; where God expected righteousness, God heard the cry of neglected, persecuted people. This is not what God created humanity for – for violence and abuse, to harm and use each other for our own personal gain.
God created us for love. God created us to help build each other up. God created us with incredible gifts to partner with God in building God’s kingdom here on earth.
Like the vineyard, God has provided us with every blessing and advantage.
On Thanksgiving, we will sit down and before we eat our turkey and enjoy our pies, we will give thanks for those advantages, but God wants more than our gratitude. God wants us to work for justice, to act with integrity, to behave in righteous ways, in ways that bring peace and harmony, health and wholeness to all people.
But we struggle with this. We really struggle. It is so easy to see all of the ways we have been wronged and so very hard to see our individual and corporate sin, to acknowledge the ways we have contributed to this broken society and world. We might want to be fruitful, but too often, we are the unfruitful vineyard, the ungrateful tenants.
After delivering this scathing indictment of the people of Israel, the people of God, the prophet Israel goes on to offer these words of promise and hope: a Messiah is coming, and…
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord….He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. (Isaiah 11:2-4)
As Christians, we believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah of whom Isaiah speaks. We believe that it is Jesus who came into our world to bring about peace and justice, compassion and righteousness, care for the poor and outcast, all of those things that make up God’s peaceable kingdom, all of those things we struggle to accomplish on our own.
Yes, Jesus is the Christ. Yes, Jesus is the Messiah. He is the Prince of Peace and the light of the world, and Jesus lives in each one of us. We are his hands. We are his feet. We are his eyes and ears and mouth.
Jesus lives in us, helping us be the good fruit God has created us to be. Strengthening us to fulfill our calling to live out God’s justice and righteousness in our world, building the peaceable kingdom for all.
This time of year, when we are so very aware of our blessings, we tend to be in very charitable spirits. Our postal workers are collecting canned goods for the needy. Stores have Christmas trees up with gift tags for impoverished children. Pastors get calls from families wanting to donate turkey dinners for hungry families.
Those are wonderful, giving activities, but charity is not the same as justice. Justice goes beyond charity. Justice is asking why children are hungry, why children are homeless and working toward a long-term solution in addition to providing food and shelter right now.
Justice is taking a personal stand against discriminatory hate-filled behavior. Justice is the University of Missouri football team boycotting their own games to take a stand against unaddressed racism on their campus. Justice is taking to social media to say that black lives matter, Muslim lives matter, transgender lives matter. Justice is confronting people with love when they tell racist, homophobic, sexist jokes or stories.
Justice is intentionally not shopping at stores that do not treat their workers with dignity, at stores that prize the almighty dollar above the health and welfare of their people.
Justice is choosing holiday traditions that honor the earth and all of creation.
Justice is acting in ways that bring about healing, wholeness and blessing for all people. Justice is creating a society in which all people know they are loved by God and have been created by God to be fruitful. And justice is creating a society that provides all people with the means to be fruitful.
This week, as we sit down at our Thanksgiving tables and give thanks for all that God has blessed us with, we remember that we have been created with a purpose; We are Christ’s hands and feet, eyes and ears and mouth;
We are God’s good fruit, called to embody Christ’s love and work for justice, building God’s peaceable kingdom for all.