Stink Fruit and Wine

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Hello everyone, my name is Larry Ritterbeck. Pastor Harris asked me to come and preach some time this summer, so here I am. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here and to preach. But before we get started, I want to tell you a little about myself. I grew up at Arlington Church of the Nazarene. It is like 10 minutes west of here. We’re pretty much neighbor Nazarene churches. I have 4 siblings and a mom and a dad and 2 dogs. I am a senior at MVNU and I will be a pastor one day. I love to read all sorts of stuff and to learn about Jesus and the bible and I’m really excited to share what God has laid on my heart today.
During the summer in between school, I work with my dad doing masonry work. You know, like brick, block, and concrete work. I know that it’s the middle of August, but one day last week I was working hard outside just thinking, Man I miss the snow. I know, I know, that’s a terrible thing to say, especially in Northeast Ohio, but you gotta understand: working outside in the heat all day gets old REAL fast. Yeah, I get a tan outside, but there’s nothing worse than working in 80-to-90-degree weather all day. So, I totally wouldn’t mind feeling the cool, brisk feeling of the snow on my face again. Now, whenever you’re in school, the greatest gift you can ever have as a kid is 2 words: snow day. It’s normally pretty rare. You only get a handful of them each year. Some years you might get lucky and get like 8 or 9, but most of the time it’s 5 or less. At least that’s how it was when I was growing up. It almost seems as though the stars have to align for a snow day to happen. If it snows too early in the day, then the plow trucks will clear the road before its too late. If it snows too late at night, the snow won’t pile up, and the school bus can come and pick everyone up for school. So, you have about a 6- or 7-hour window of time that it HAS to snow at night almost nonstop in order for a snow day to even have a chance of happening. And even then, the snow day might not happen after all, so you better not get your hopes up. No snow day would just mean a cold day at school and a slushy, mushy mess in the halls and all the classrooms from snow dragged in by snow boots.
But when a snow day finally happens, it’s the greatest thing ever as a kid. The normal school day spent sitting down, listening to a teacher talk, writing papers, doing assignments, etc. are all suddenly replaced by endless possibilities of snowy fun outside. Obviously, the best part of a snow day is the fact that you can sleep in. You can take your time getting ready for the day because what’s the rush? There’s no class that you can’t be late for. You can sleep in until at least 9 or 10. And then you can eat breakfast, brush your teeth, and get ready for the awesome day ahead of you. Before going outside, you have to gear up for the adventure and make sure you have plenty of warm layers to fight off the freezing cold. I’m talking at least like 3 or 4 layers. Once you finally get outside, all the fun can begin. Sledding, Snowball fights, building forts, snow angels, building a snow man, there are so many things to do outside in the snow. The only limit is your imagination! I’m sure that all of us here have some great memories from playing in the snow in the past. There’s just so much to do, so little time before you begin to freeze! And even when you basically become a human popsicle in the cold, you still have the whole day to thaw out, drink hot chocolate and do whatever else you want that is NOT school. All of this to say, Snow Days are probably one of the greatest gifts a kid could get. Sleeping in, playing in the snow, and just chilling inside while NOT at school is just so awesome. I literally haven’t ever met any kid who didn’t enjoy having a snow day.
Now, I want you to picture this: It’s a cold January night before a heavy snowfall is about to come. You’re a kid in 5th grade and you’ve checked every weather channel and station that you can think of. You’ve played the odds in your head over and over again, and it looks as though it is about 98% certain that a snow day is going to happen. You don’t want to get your hopes up, but you do anyway because it’s just so likely to happen. You’re going to get a snow day. You do all the little rituals that are *supposed* to help like wearing your pajamas inside out and flushing ice cubes down the toilet. You lay down to bed and the last thing you can think to do is to pray that God would just recognize your misery at school and show you some mercy with the divine gift of a snow day. You fall asleep, at peace knowing that you will get to sleep in tomorrow. But then, tragedy strikes. It’s 7 A.M. and your mom comes and shakes you to wake you up. What could possibly be the meaning of this? Certainly, it’s not school! It should be more likely that your house was burning down in the middle of winter than that you should have to go to school! But then you finally realize the daunting truth: school wasn’t cancelled. Despite everything that happened, all the weather reports, the 98% chance that school was cancelled, and even all the little rituals that are supposed to help, you still had to go to school. If only the plow trucks could have just not plowed. Rather than have an amazing, fun, awesome day in the snow, you have just another boring, worthless day at school. If you were this kid, the main thing that you would be feeling is disappointment. Just disappointed that you got your hopes up. Disappointed that despite everything, today wasn’t that special, rare day known as a snow day. It was just another school day.
This feeling of disappointment is what I really want to focus on here. Disappointment seems to follow us everywhere in life. You might have been disappointed in the past that you didn’t get that raise or promotion at work, or that this project that you worked so hard on didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to, or that instead of having a baby, you had a miscarriage. There are so many times that we can end up disappointed. I guarantee that everyone here has been at least somewhat disappointed before. And you know what? Disappointment stings, doesn’t it. The reason that disappointment stings so much is because we’re expecting the opposite of what happened to happen. It wouldn’t be so disappointing if we didn’t get a snow day when the weather wasn’t supposed to be bad, it would just be another school day. We weren’t expecting a snow day, so we’re really not disappointed that it didn’t happen. But sometimes we are expecting something great, something awesome to happen, only for it not to happen. That is when disappointment strikes and hurts most. When our expectations don’t turn out, we get disappointed.
Now I want to talk about something else. What about when we disappoint others? What about when other people expect great things from us, only to have them be disappointed in us? I personally think that that is one of the worst feelings ever, when someone you love is disappointed in you. When you let someone you love down it hurts really bad.  Have we ever thought that maybe God gets disappointed sometimes too? It seems that everywhere we turn in scripture, someone seems to be letting God down. Was God disappointed when Adam and Eve, the best part of his creation, ate the fruit? Was God disappointed when David, the man after God’s own heart, slept with Bathsheba? What about when Judas betrayed Jesus, certainly God was disappointed then. Jesus chose Judas as one of his twelve disciples, and Judas betrayed him. God expects great things from the church, but sometimes I can’t help but think that sometimes we aren’t living up to all that God expects from us. There’s so much to being a Christian and it’s so hard to do everything right, though! So, do we ever disappoint God? This all makes me wonder what happens when God is disappointed, like a kid who expects a snow day and doesn’t ever get it. And that leads us to our sermon text for today. Today we will be looking at Isaiah 5:1-7. In this text, Isaiah sings a song about a vineyard. But it’s really not a song, its more like a parable. The vineyard represents the kingdom of Judah and the gardener represents God who expects to find some good fruit in his vineyard, only to not find any. Isaiah 5:1-7 reads,
I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. 2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. 3 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? 5 Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. 6 I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.” 7 The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
On first reading this passage, I thought, well where’s the good news!? I only hear bad news so far, and it doesn’t look like it’s getting any better for that vineyard any time soon. Where is there something good to preach about? Don’t worry, we’ll get there. This passage is somewhat troubling. Isaiah sings of God as a gardener. God had a vineyard on a fertile hill. God is like a farmer who takes extra special care to make sure that his vineyard can flourish. He digs up the ground and makes it great soil for growing plants. He plows and hoes all through his vineyard. He removed all the stones that are in the ground so that there was nothing in the soil that could hinder the vineyard’s growth. God goes and picks out the best vines that will produce the best grapes. Not only that, but he carefully tends them and makes sure that they grow properly. He waters and cares for the whole vineyard. He very meticulously cares for every single vine in the garden. He builds a watchtower and a hedge to protect the vines from animals and thieves. And he puts a winepress in the garden, expectant of the wonderful, juicy grapes that will be produced at harvest time. Grapes are used for so many things. You can just eat normal grapes, or you can make jam, or you can make wine and have a good time. Just don’t do one thing, don’t waste the grapes to make raisins. Seriously, raisins are just about the worst use for grapes that I can think of.
Isaiah is writing this song about Judah. You see, Judah was God’s special vineyard. God had done everything to take care of the nation, going all the way back to Abraham’s time. God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt when they cried for help and deliverance. God gave them manna in the wilderness, and he helped them to defeat their enemies in Canaan when they came to the promised land. Whatever stood against the people of Israel, God helped them to defeat it. Like a careful gardener, God carefully took care of his vineyard, Judah.
Yet, when the gardener went out to look for fruit, he saw none but bad fruit. In the Hebrew, the original language of Isaiah, the word for bad fruit literally translates as stink fruit. When I think of the word stink fruit, I can’t help but think of smelly fruit that is mushy, rotten, and has flies swarming all around it. It makes my nose scrunch up just thinking about smelly fruit like that. Now these are grape vines, so think about mushy grapes. Whenever I eat grapes, I refuse to eat any that are mushy. Grapes just shouldn’t have that mushy, squishy, soggy texture. Gross. But the smell of rotten fruit is what is really bad. If you’ve ever smelled fruit that is rotten, it’s really bad. It will spread out to fill the whole surrounding area. Fruit should smell sweet, but rotten fruit just smells… rotten. It is gross like garbage. That’s like what the gardener found. Even though the gardener had taken good care of the vineyard, it still produced nothing but worthless, smelly, rotten stink fruit. What more could God have done for the vineyard? The same thing happened with Judah. Even though God looked for the good fruit of justice and righteousness, he only found the stink fruit of bloodshed and cries of distress.
So, the vineyard didn’t produce the good fruit, Judah didn’t do justice. But what I find so interesting is the response of the gardener, the response of God. In this parable from Isaiah, God really starts to be seen as this disappointed and distressed lover. God says in verse 4, What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? It’s obvious that God expected good things from his vineyard, and he is distressed that it seems like his labor was all for nothing. He is disappointed that he didn’t find any good fruit, he only found stink fruit in this vineyard that he cared so much for. Just like the kid who expects to get a snow day, only to find that he wakes up the next morning and has to go to school.
This passage is written toward the people of Judah, but we are also God’s vineyard. Jesus calls himself in John, the true vine and he urges us to stay connected to the vine and to produce good fruit. Is it possible that sometimes we are that vineyard that God takes care of, only to produce stink fruit? I guess what I’m saying is, sometimes after we are Christian, we still find ourselves not living up to all the God expects for us. We are supposed to produce the best, plumpest, juiciest fruit anywhere, yet sometimes we only seem to produce mediocre fruit at best. We know that we are supposed to produce the fruit of the Spirit, Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness and self-control, but how evident are the fruit of the spirit in our lives? If God were the gardener walking through us as his vineyard, would he be delighted with the amazing fruit we are producing, or would he be overwhelmed with the stench from stink fruit?
I think that it is really easy to read this passage and see God as an angry God. He decides to take down the hedge that was protecting the vineyard and let it be trampled. He’ll let thorns and briers grow there and it won’t be cultivated anymore. He’ll even take away the rain clouds so that the vineyard can’t grow anymore. So is God a rageful God here, demanding results of good fruit? It may seem that way. God takes down the hedge because that’s what the vineyard has coming to it anyway. God allows the briers and thorns to grow because the vineyard has become as useful as the thorns. God stops the rain coming because what’s the point if the vineyard is only going to produce bad fruit. That’s what it seems to show us about God, but that is not true. God is not motivated by rage. It seems as though because God is disappointed, anger and rage would follow. That’s sometimes how it is for us as humans, right? We get disappointed and sometimes that makes us get angry. But we can’t forget, this is God we’re talking about here. God may have been disappointed that the fruit was not good, but he is still a loving God first and foremost. And because he is a loving God, he allows choice. If the vineyard only wants to produce stink fruit and become like wild grape vines, God would allow that. He would take down the hedge and let thorns grow among the vineyard. It was the same with Judah. They wanted to live like everyone else, worshipping whatever they wanted and forgetting all about justice and righteousness. And God allowed their choice. And it is the same with us also. Whenever we decide to live just like the rest of the world, God allows that. Even though God has done everything for us, we can still choose to do what we want and live how we want, no matter if it’s what God would want. But that’s exactly the point. Because God loves us, he gives us the choice. Nothing in our relationship with God is forced, but he rather lets us choose him and he lets us walk away. So what’s the good news here? Is there no redemption for the vineyard? Well, guess what? This is not the end of the story for the vineyard, and it’s not the end of our story either. Isaiah sings a new song about the vineyard in Isaiah 27:2-6. He writes,
2 In that day— “Sing about a fruitful vineyard: 3I, the Lord, watch over it; I water it continually. I guard it day and night so that no one may harm it. 4 I am not angry. If only there were briers and thorns confronting me! I would march against them in battle; I would set them all on fire. 5 Or else let them come to me for refuge; let them make peace with me, yes, let them make peace with me.” 6 In days to come Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit.
The best part about this whole parable of the vineyard is how God didn’t ultimately give up on his vineyard. He took every care to make sure that the vineyard would produce fruit earlier, and he doesn’t give up still. He decides to continually water it and guard it, protecting it from any kind of brier or thorn. And yes, eventually, the vineyard will produce fruit and fill the earth with it. Even though God may seem to have been disappointed earlier, it’s even more evident here that his love is relentless. He doesn’t give up. He keeps working the vineyard. He keeps protecting the vineyard. And yes, eventually the vineyard produces fruit. God doesn’t love the vineyard only if it produces good fruit, he loves the vineyard just because its his vineyard. How awesome is this! God spares no effort to make sure that we have the proper environment to thrive and grow in! And he doesn’t love us just for good works, he loves us simply because we are his people.
You know, I have experienced some of those days that I talked about earlier. Those days when you expect a snow day, only for it to never come. It is such a terrible feeling of disappointment. But you know what? Each winter that rolls around, I never stop hoping that a snow day will come eventually. There’s always that chance that I will get that wonderful snow day again when the conditions are right. Because as much as it hurts feeling the disappointment of that snow day that never happened, the joy of a snow day is right around the corner, just waiting for me one day. That’s what it is like for God. God doesn’t lose hope in us, he’s always willing and ready to work in us.
I think that we all can see a little something about grace from these passages. Our unwillingness to produce good fruit can never be greater than God’s willingness to keep bearing with us! Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that God’s grace is sufficient for us, because his power is made perfect in weakness. How true is that for us! We desire to do things our own way, God desires even more to bring us back on the right path. We don’t live up to all the things that God has planned for us, God still continues to work with us. God will get us there one day. He’s not going to let us fall. God doesn’t love us just when we produce plump, juicy fruit, but also when we produce stink fruit! God doesn’t desire us to produce that stink fruit, but he is still tending his vineyard, working and planning and making it possible for the vineyard to produce good fruit. So, God asked earlier, what more could he have done for the vineyard? Well, he did do more. He gave us Jesus Christ, the true vine. Staying connected to him means producing good fruit. If we remain in him, he will remain in us.
Even when we stumble, we’re only one step from getting back on track. And even when we fall, it only takes one step to get back up again. That step is always toward Jesus Christ. Wherever you are today, remember that God is the gracious gardener, and we are his chosen vineyard. God has done everything for us to produce an atmosphere where we can thrive and produce much fruit. He even gave his own son so that we can be connected to the true vine. We have every reason to produce good fruit. What’s stopping us from producing good fruit? What is standing in the way of us overflowing with the good fruit of love and justice and righteousness? Nothing. God’s taken care of it. So go make good fruit.
Let’s pray, “Gracious God, we are so grateful today to gather in your house and celebrate you. We’re glad to remember and celebrate who you are and all that you’ve done for us. Thank you for this time that we’ve had to learn more about you. You are the God who loves us. You are not an angry God. You may be disappointed in stink fruit, but your relentless love far overshadows any disappointment you may feel. Thank you for never letting us go. Thank you for creating an environment for us to thrive in. But God, it’s not enough to just dream of thriving, we actually need to thrive! Help us to produce the kind of good fruit that you desire, the fruit of love and justice and righteousness. Enable us to be the church that you desire. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.
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