A sermon for Christ the King Sunday from the Narrative Lectionary text Isaiah 5:1-7; 11:1-5. What does God do when God’s children continually rebel and turn to self-destructive behavior? How do we balance Law and Grace in our lives and in our violent world?
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There are many ways to break a heart.
I wonder if you have ever been broken-hearted?
Your spouse cheated on you. Your spouse violated the vows you made and turned to the arms of another, and now your heart is broken into a thousand pieces.
Maybe you’ve felt a different kind of broken heart.
You’ve felt the broken heart of a parent.
You raised him the best you could.
You prayed with him, modeled love and grace, took him to church, taught him right from wrong. But, then, he started using drugs. His addiction led to lying and stealing from you.
You took him to treatment centers. You bailed him out of jail countless times. Eventually, you had to let go and give him over to his addiction and let the consequences play out.
And now, he’s laying in your arms and the doctors tell you that he’s taken so many drugs he might not make it through the night, and your heart breaks.
These feelings of the jilted lover and the terrified parent are the broken hearts that happen when you watch the people you love make decisions that you know will destroy them, and there is nothing you can do to rescue them from it.
It is the broken heart of the lover who says, “I gave everything for you, and you betrayed me. The trust is gone.”
It is the broken heart of a parent who says, “I taught you how to walk, I held you to my cheek when you were a tender child, and now you have destroyed your own life.”
It is the broken heart of God.
This week we look at Isaiah 5:1-7 and Isaiah 11:1-5. I invite you to take out your Bibles and look at it. This is page 621.
Isaiah was a prophet. He was a preacher who lived in Jerusalem. Prophets are not popular preachers. Then or now.
Our passage in Isaiah chapter five is written in the form of a love song. It begins with a beautiful picture of a lover who planted a lush vineyard, fully expecting that it would produce sweet wine that would bring joy to the world.
But then we discover that this is actually the tragic love song of a broken heart.
It is a song about a jilted lover who finds that his lover is cheating on him.
God is the singer and the lover who planted a vineyard that was supposed to produce sweet wine, but all he finds in the vineyard of Jerusalem is the sour and rotten fruit of injustice and violence against the poor and needy.
The people of Jerusalem are the cheating lovers.
Last week we heard a sermon from another prophet named Hosea.
In Hosea 11:1-8 the prophet spoke of God as being like a father who loves his children and holds them to his cheek.
It was a wonderful sermon and I wouldn’t change it. However, the irony of the text is that those are the only positive verses in the book of Hosea. We must zoom out from that scene and realize that the passage actually speaks of the heartbreak of a Father’s love for children who have betrayed him and disregarded all of his instructions.
They have turned to other gods, to their drug of choice, and have chosen a life of self-indulgence, injustice, and violence against the poor and needy.
The message of the prophets
is the voice of God that looks at the streets of Paris and grieves over centuries of hatred and violence between the Muslims, Jews, and Christians.
It is the voice of God that watches the local news and sees the protests in front of the police station and the ongoing racial tension in our communities.
It is the voice of God that watches as war lords in Africa, and corporate executives in the United States, choose money and power over justice for starving children.
So, what does God do?
What does the loving Father do to rebellious children?
What does the jilted lover and disappointed vinedresser do to the cheating and rotten fruit?
He throws up his hands and says,
“Fine. Have it your way.
Look, again at Isaiah 5:5. He says,
And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it
Then he watches, tears streaming down his face, as the devastating consequences of his beloved’s choices rip them apart.
The Kingdom of Israel is utterly and brutally destroyed by the Assyrian Empire, ten tribes of Israel never to be restored.
Jerusalem is crushed and the people are carried into exile.
The beautiful vineyard is reduced to a stump.
Too many parents, and too many jilted lovers know the pain that God feels when this happens.
At this point you’re probably thinking,
“Wow, Steve, this is a real downer sermon.”
Isn’t this Christ the King Sunday?
Aren’t we supposed to be celebrating the climax of our month on service and celebrate how awesome we are that we brought all this money to the altar to feed God’s starving children?
Aren’t we all about God’s grace, so we don’t talk about icky things like sin and judgment and radical pruning?
And yet, we are also preaching from the prophets Isaiah and Hosea.
They weren’t very popular, and still aren’t.
So, here’s my big question:
How do we reconcile the message we heard last week about God’s unconditional love with this really harsh reality of God removing the protective boundaries and turning us over to our own bad choices?
Here is where we must wrestle with the tension of Law and Gospel.
This is a crucial and central idea for Lutheran theology. It is a way to interpret scripture and life.
The key word in this phrase is AND.
The ongoing creative activity of God is Law AND Gospel.
The law is conditional.
If you stick your hand into a hornets nest, you will get stung.
If you eat rotten meat, you will get botulism.
If you cheat on your spouse, you will destroy the fabric of trust that holds your children’s universe together.
If you practice promiscuity in your sexuality, you will have a much higher risk of contracting and spreading STDs.
If you eat chocolate cake for every meal and never exercise, you will probably develop diabetes.
If you cook the corporate books or look the other way at injustice, people suffer and die.
And on, and on, the law goes.
The law is conditional, and the law exists to produce health, safety, life, and security in society.
And it is good.
And, it is completely dependent upon our will to choose to follow the Law. And we mess it up all the time.
For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
I am a stump, and so are you.
The Gospel, the good news of God’s unconditional love for us, does not negate the consequences of breaking the Law.
You will still suffer those consequences when you make those choices.
The Gospel, however, declares that God loves us so much, that, even while we are sinners and lawbreakers, Christ died for us.
Jesus took all those consequences upon himself and let our violence and injustice destroy him on the cross.
Let that sink in for a moment.
And that is what saves us.
We must remember that this is the collective us, not just the individual self who only cares about not going to Hell when I die, but the collective us, as in ALL of creation.
That is the promise of God’s blessing for ALL nations.
You see, sometimes I think there can be a dark side of always preaching Gospel and Grace, if we are not careful?
Many times, when we are still listening through self-absorbed ears, when we talk about Grace and God’s unconditional love, and hear preachers say things like,
“It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, or what you do, God will always love you,” and think,
“Sweet! I can do whatever I want to do.”
The apostle Paul was accused of preaching this.
That is why he says in Romans 6:1-3,
“what should we say, then, should we continue sinning so that Grace may increase?”
What is his response to this accusation of “anything-goes-free-grace” mentality?
NO WAY! May it never be so!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls this do-whatever-I-want mentality “cheap Grace.”
Grace is free, but it is not cheap.
Grace is costly. It cost Jesus everything.
And it set us free.
We have been set free from sin and death through the cross of Christ.
This freedom is not for self-indulgence.
This freedom is given to us so that we can produce the sweet wine of God’s vineyard for the world.
Often times, the only way that we can truly understand this Amazing Grace of God’s love is when the vineyard has been reduced to a stump in the ground.
Some times we have to go through seasons in our life when all is stripped away.
Everything that we thought was our security and our identity and our hope has been hacked away and we are left, naked and empty, like a stump in the ground.
This is why we must turn to the second part of our text for today.
Isaiah says in chapter 11,
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
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.
His delight shall be in 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,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
This is Jesus.
This is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
This is the one who came, not to be served, but to serve.
Jesus said in John 15:1-5,
“I am the vine and you are the branches. Remain in me and you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.”
And so, as we bring our money to this altar to feed God’s starving children, let us remember.
We do not bring these gifts to save the world. Only God can save the world.
We do not bring them to show everyone how awesome we are,
or to somehow earn brownie points with God.
We are stumps in the ground, and any fruit of righteousness is the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruit of me.
We bring these gifts because it is right and just for the poor and weak of this world.
It is who and what our King does.
It is who we are.
Forgiven and set free, to serve.