What a morning! Baptisms (yes, plural!), World Communion Sunday, new faces in church and a sanctuary full of people. What more could a pastor ask for?
Today’s sermon – audio is here!
Planting a garden begins long before a seed is ever actually planted in the ground. It starts with a vision.
This morning’s scripture comes to us from the Old Testament, from one of the Prophetic Books, the book of Isaiah. The book as a whole is actually not written by one particular prophet, it is a composite work. It was the product and writings of several different prophets who were ministering in the nation of Judah throughout different parts of Judean history. Isaiah is typically split into three parts and the first part, the part that we just heard from, was actual supposedly written by a prophet name Isaiah; Isaiah was an 8th Century BCE prophet.
In many ways, like other nations in the Old Testament, the nation of Judah was kind of a mess. They were, as a people, plagued by conflict, by power struggles and shifts and by mixed messages. The prophet Isaiah himself and the messages he was prophesying were both rejected by some kings and embraced by others; there was not a whole lot of unity throughout the nation.
And yet, the book starts off by saying, “The vision of Isaiah.” Despite the challenges Isaiah faced and knew that he would continue to face, Isaiah had a vision for this nation.
“The vision of Isaiah.” The vision.
What is a vision? Is it simply a prophecy that prophets have? Or is it something more?
Planting a garden begins long before a seed is ever actually planted in the ground. It starts with a vision. Before you plant a garden – or a vineyard, in the case of this morning’s scripture – you have to have a vision. You have to decide what you want to plant, where you want to plant and if where and what you are planting is even conducive to planting and nurturing a garden to harvest. You have to think about what your resources are and where you are in life and develop a vision for the future of your garden.
“Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard,” the prophet says. Let us see how my vision is unfolding, you might say that he meant.
Unfortunately, the name of this particular piece of scripture is titled “The Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard,” not “The Song of the Fruitful Vineyard,” so the vision did not necessarily pan out in a positive and happy-go-lucky way. The vineyard yielded wild grapes that could not be used to make wine. Was that the vision that Isaiah had? Was that the harvest he was hoping to yield?
Now this is a parable, of course. Isaiah was not specifically talking about a vineyard yielding wild grapes and not being able to harvest them. He was talking about the future of the communities that he was ministering to, the unity he was trying to bring and that nations that were still at war with one another.
But the question that he poses afterwards is interesting. “And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah,” he says, “judge between me and my vineyard. 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?”
In other words: What did I do wrong? Was this my fault? Could I have done something different? Was my vision too grand? Should I lower my expectations for next time? How do I move forward? How do I see new visions amidst these bumps along the road?
It is ironic that this passage comes up when it does. This church and many mainline protestant churches in the United States are preparing for their stewardship campaigns. Now I know people don’t like stewardship campaigns – no one really likes when someone asks them for money – but bear with me for a second and hear me out.
I took a class in seminary on nonprofit leadership. I walked into class on the day that we were scheduled to talk about fundraising and I said to my professor, “Just so you know, I hate talking about money, I hate asking for money and I am not looking forward to today’s class.” And he just smiled at me. He said, “I love asking people for money.”
I thought he was nuts. I kind of gave him a strange look so he continued. He told me that it is all about perspective; that he would never fundraise on behalf of an organization that he really did not care about. And by having that rule, he said, you are then really only asking for money for something or someone that you really care about.
The lecture that day was unbelievable. My professor, Dr. Jenkins, captivated me by talking about visions. He said that in fundraising, you should only ever ask people to help you fund something that you genuinely and truly care about; that deep down you have big dreams for – and great visions of for the future. He said that by telling your story, by telling the organization’s story and by telling the stories of the lives that are being changed because of what you represent, you eventually get to a point where you are not asking someone for money; rather you are inviting them to be apart of something very, very special.
So fear not: I am not asking for money. But I am inviting you to see your own vision: Your own vision of this church, of this community of faith and of you and your family being apart of it all. What does that vision look like to you? What is your story?
Planting a garden begins long before a seed is ever actually planted in the ground. It starts with a vision. Building a church, growing a church, reigniting a church happens long before anything concrete is actually visible. It starts right now.
What is your vision for this church?
Would you want to see it grow? Would you like our worship options to expand from our one weekly service? Would you like our Church School to have more resources for new curriculum and supplies? Would you like to see more bible studies and adult education offered? Would you like to see our staff grow?
Would you like more support to be available for youth and young adults as they transition into adulthood? Would you like to have the opportunity to once again travel through our missions programs? Would you like to reach out into the community in new ways? Would you like to see improvements to our building that would enhance our ministries?
What is your vision for this church?
That ‘New Beginnings’ sign is still hanging because now is the time when we can start to have those visions; now is the time when we can get ourselves ready to plant some seeds.
It is not easy. Isaiah prophesied that visions of a fruitful harvest would yield wild grapes that could not be harvested. But in the end, I think Isaiah was wrong. He said, “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,” etc. etc. etc.
If our visions do not turn out exactly the way we saw them at first, do we allow them to be devoured, broken down and trampled? I don’t think so. I think we are called as Christians and as members and friends of this community of faith to allow ourselves to dream big and to see a grand vision. And then we are called to move towards it. To plan, to plant, to pray, to nurture and to be flexible and faithful when we encounter bumps along the road.
So – like I said, I am not asking for money. (Not yet anyway!) I am asking for something a lot more fun. I am asking for you to see visions: Visions of this church, visions of this community and visions of what that means for you. Look long, look far and dream big. It starts with you. It starts with your vision. That will be a great story to tell. What is your vision?