Sermon Seeds: Song for the Vineyard

Sunday, August 14, 2022
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost | Year C
(Liturgical Color: Green)

Lectionary citations
Isaiah 5:1–7 and Psalm 80:1–2, 8–19
Jeremiah 23:23–29 and Psalm 82
Hebrews 11:29–12:2
Luke 12:49–56

Sermon Seeds

Focus Scripture:
Isaiah 5:1-7
Focus Theme:
Song for the Vineyard
In and With: Treasure in Heaven (Click here for the series overview.)

By Cheryl Lindsay

Has anyone ever written a song for you…about you? I’ve been introduced to songs titled with my name, written for or about some other “Cheryl.” I’ve heard their melody or listened to their lyrics and attempted to imagine the person who inspired them. Once, I was at a poetry reading, and one of the featured poets (whom I had just met minutes before) dedicated a poem to me. It was quite the experience. He looked at me most of the time while he recited the words. I felt like everyone was looking at me. My heart beat faster and it felt as if all the blood in my body rushed to my face. At the same time, I kept perfectly still as if I was trapped–or maybe held–in the moment. That poem wasn’t written with me in mind, but it came to his mind during our conversation. I have never felt more exposed, and this happened by a stranger who had only gotten a glimpse of me.

Imagine how the people of the covenant felt when they first heard the words of this song. How excited the words of the first verse made them. “Let me sing for my beloved…” the prophet begins. It’s clear that this love song comes as a message through Isaiah from their God. Who wouldn’t want to hear of the Holy One’s love? I imagine their hearts began to race, smiles transformed their faces, and even their posture improved.

Only the prophet keeps singing.

Isaiah 5:1–7 begins innocently enough. The prophet appears at a public gathering and begins to sing like he’s some sort of minstrel. On the surface, the song seems to be about the singer’s friend and his vineyard. Anyone, however, who had been listening to Jerusalem’s Top 40 in the eighth century B.C.E. knew that it was really a love song. The vineyard metaphor for the bride is found in Song of Songs 8:11–12. Assyrian and Egyptian songs are known to have similar themes of making an orchard or field fruitful. Isaiah sings of preparing the vineyard, and everyone smiles because they know the code. They understand that it is not about a vineyard and owner at all; it is about a bride and groom. They let their guard down because there is a certain comradery that comes from sharing secret meanings.

Gary W. Light

This love song takes a turn. So many of the great ones do. They evoke tears as they articulate the aches that love can bring when it is unrequited, unappreciated, and unwanted. When the ballad bemoans love lost, we grieve the memories we will not make and the moments that will never come. I haven’t accessed any quantifiable research on this, but it seems like most songs about love are cloaked in sadness, pain, and even despair. There are plentiful exceptions, of course, and they get sung at weddings and other celebrations of love. But, the great love songs speak more of heartbreak than blossoming and more pain than joy. This song Isaiah sings for the vineyard fits that category.

Yet the love song ‘turns out to be a complaint’ (Childs 2001:45). The owner of the vineyard has invested a considerable sum in developing the venture into viticulture. The owner has used the best raw materials (excellent soil and the choicest vines) and has installed the best technology (watchtowers and vats). A substantial return is anticipated from this investment. However, the vineyard only produces bitter grapes that are unusable for wine (Childs 2001:45). Couey notes the precise detail and technical vocabulary used by the prophet in describing the production of this vineyard. The entire scope of the process is described (2015:161). However, as the song continues, it becomes clear that this vineyard refers to Judah and Israel. Instead of producing a harvest of justice, they have produced bloodshed. Instead of yielding righteousness, they have produced a cry of pain from the people who are being treated unfairly and oppressively. As Goldingay notes, ironically this same term is used to describe the crying out of Israel in Egypt but is now used against one another (2014:22).

Jacqueline Grey

Like so many bittersweet love songs, this one chronicles the breakdown of a precious relationship. Commitments have been ignored, and trust has been broken. Another prophet, Zephaniah, portrays God rejoicing over the human beings God has created as if God were dancing in delight over us. The Holy One delights in these human creatures with the giddiness of new love that hasn’t been tested, broken, and defiled. And, while humans may be disappointed and even feel abandoned by God, the Alpha and Omega keeps their promises. God’s steadfast love endures forever. Humanity is the heartbreaker. The people of the covenant inspire the Author of the covenant to write this sad, love song.

The amount of effort and the expectation of fulfillment in this relationship were incredible. Then the tune suddenly turns sour. The select vines so lovingly cared for produce putrid, rotten grapes!….As soon as the love song breaks down into an accusation, the singer changes from the “best man” to the bridegroom/farmer himself. He calls to the listeners, “Judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?” (5:3–4). Perhaps the people were thinking of what to do with that kind of a vineyard….The people were involved in the story line and they knew that the bridegroom/farmer was not the one at fault. Isaiah himself does not pause to consider the various responses of his audience. He delivers the message of what the bridegroom/farmer has already decided to do. The protective hedge will be removed, and the grapes will be eaten by anyone who would want them. The stone wall will be broken down, and the vines will be trampled down by people taking shortcuts across the hillside (a more likely fate for bitter grapes than that of being eaten). No more energy will be wasted in the cultivation of the vineyard, and it will quickly be overgrown with choking briars and weeds. Finally, and with this we know that Bridegroom is spelled with a capital B, the speaker will “command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it” (5:6). The minstrel is a prophet and YHWH is his “beloved” Bridegroom/Farmer. Who else but God can command drought as punishment?

Gary W. Light

In some ways, the Holy One asserts themselves as sovereign to a people who have been and will continue to be subjected to the earthly rule of a more powerful adversary. In Isaiah, the people are not encouraged to fight or to flee. Rather, they have been called to remember and affirm that their God is sovereign of all. Despite occupation or captivity…displacement or exile…conquering or capitulation, the Holy One will provide and sustain them through it all. Their survival and flourishing depends upon trusting in the One who has proven to be trustworthy. The reign of God and the realm of God function like the love of God…they endure forever.

That is the promise of the covenant, which stands as a solemn pledge and agreement no matter the human condition. Even sad love songs remind us that the emotions and commitment of the faithful one do not abate because of the infidelity of the other party. Even as the Divine Lover accounts the wrongs, God still refers to her people as “my beloved.”

The actions to come are consequences not vengeance. Part of loving their people entails holding them accountable for their decisions. It’s interesting that even their dreaded enemy, the Assyrians, had a tradition of love ballads from the deities they worshipped. I suspect they also had songs of judgment. It would be even more interesting to compare the differences. What I find most fascinating, particularly considering the vine-branch imagery Jesus introduces during the New Testament era, is that this was not a song for the vine or for the branches. Not even the grapes were the direct subject or object of this ballad.

The vineyard was the place they gathered. At the time, the people of Israel and Judah represented both a national identity and a religious community. There was no separation. The vineyard, by extension, represented the territory of the nations and the sacred spaces of the community. The people won’t be overcome, but those places will become wasteland. Afterall, the only point of a vineyard is to produce fruit. Sometimes, the land has to turned over in order for new plantings to flourish. This is not a judgment for all time, but a correction for a season in order for God’s beloved–God’s “pleasant planting”–yield fruit again.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“Pray You Catch Me”
You can taste the dishonesty
It’s all over your breath
As you pass it off so cavalier
But even that’s a test
Constantly aware of it all
My lonely ear
Pressed against the walls of your world
Pray to catch you whispering
I pray you catch me listening
I’m praying to catch you whispering
I pray you catch me
I’m praying to catch you whispering
I pray you catch me listening
I pray you catch me
Nothing else ever seems to hurt
Like the smile on your face
When it’s only in my memory
It don’t hit me quite the same
Maybe it’s a cause for concern
But I’m not at ease
Keeping my head to the curb
Pray to catch you whispering
I pray you catch me listening
I pray to catch you whispering (whisper, whisper)
I pray you catch me (whisper, whisper)
I pray you catch me
I pray you catch me (praying)
I’m praying you catch me
What are you doin’ my love?
— Beyonce Giselle Knowles / James Blake Litherland / Kevin Garrett

For further reflection
“There are basically three types of songs: loved songs, unloved songs, and transitional songs written by tired people in between the two. Love songs are cheesy, unloved songs are depressing, and transitional songs are poetry. Transitions catch the world on fire, touching on relevant topics while speaking with giddiness and despair of the lover between.” ― Ace Boggess
“Listen closely. Even the trees exhale sweet love songs that roll off their boughs and echo out to all of creation. Love is always in the air.” ― Cristen Rodgers
“Mine was the twilight and the morning. Mine was a world of rooftops and love songs.” ― Roman Payne

Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection
Compose lyrics for a new love song to God.

Works Cited
Grey, Jacqueline. “Isaiah 5: A Prophetic Critique of Economic Proportion.” Verbum et Ecclesia
39, no. 1 (2018):1–7.
Light, Gary W. Isaiah. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (, also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page:

A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.

Lectionary Texts
Isaiah 5:1–7 and Psalm 80:1–2, 8–19
Jeremiah 23:23–29 and Psalm 82
Hebrews 11:29–12:2
Luke 12:49–56

Isaiah 5:1–7
5 Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people of Judah,
judge between me
and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?
5 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.
6 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.
7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry!

Psalm 80:1–2, 8–19
1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
and come to save us!
8 You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
9 You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches;
11 it sent out its branches to the sea,
and its shoots to the River.
12 Why then have you broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13 The boar from the forest ravages it,
and all that move in the field feed on it.
14 Turn again, O God of hosts;
look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
15 the stock that your right hand planted.
16 They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down;
may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.
17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
the one whom you made strong for yourself.
18 Then we will never turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call on your name.
19 Restore us, O LORD God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Jeremiah 23:23–29
23 Am I a God near by, says the LORD, and not a God far off? 24 Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD. 25 I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” 26 How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back—those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? 27 They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal. 28 Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the LORD. 29 Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?

Psalm 82
1 God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
2 “How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
3 Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk around in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6 I say, “You are gods,
children of the Most High, all of you;
7 nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,
and fall like any prince.”
8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth;
for all the nations belong to you!

Hebrews 11:29–12:2
29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
32 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Luke 12:49–56
49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?