Isaiah begins our Old Testament lesson for today with the words, “I will sing a love song for my beloved. My beloved planted a vineyard.” The vineyard was a common image for love poetry in ancient Hebrew poetry. It was sort of like a rose is nowadays. So you see a Facebook post or a poem that begins, “My love is like a red, red rose,” and you know where it's going. So also, in ancient Israel, someone would say, “By beloved planted a vineyard,” and you knew where it was going. It was going to all those branches and vines twining themselves around each other, and to that rich, dark soil, and to those sweet, purple grapes, and to that potent wine.
Like a rose nowadays, images of vineyards and gardens and things bearing fruit reached beyond romantic love. Went all the way back to Genesis, where God creates the human being and then says, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Which means that bearing fruit is not just something that we do for a living. Bearing fruit is part of who we are.
The passage in Genesis is often rightly interpreted to refer to having children. It's as if God is saying, “Here's a grand adventure. Go on it. They will drive you crazy every once in a while but it's worth it.”
Bearing fruit does not just refer to children, however. We may not feel called to be parents. We may not be able to have children. Things simply might not have worked out that way for us. Nevertheless, we bear fruit when we bless the people of this world. We work in the field of healthcare, we help people to heal. We work in business, we help people to have jobs with which to provide for themselves and their families. We smile and laugh. We bear fruit. We put our hand on the back of a friend and give a word of encouragement. We take a walk in the cool of the evening. We choose to cultivate and intentionally practice an attitude of thankfulness and generosity. We savor good sleep after a long day's work. We are bearing fruit. Sweet, rich fruit. God is delighted when we bless others and enjoy life.
The problem comes when we fool ourselves into thinking that this fruit is ours, that the vineyard is our property. “It's my life. It's our church. It's our world.” That's when bad things start to happen.
For example, one man last Sunday night, said to himself, “These are my guns. I can do what I want with them,” and kills fifty eight people. We don't know his motives yet. Sometimes people do these horrific, evil things because they think they are serving a greater good, even God. Which is strange because God is reasonably clear about how we are to run our lives, how to run our vineyards. Jesus says it like this: “you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind, and you will love your neighbor as yourself.”
Further details can be found in the book of Exodus: “I am the Lord your God, who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.
Honor your father and mother.
You shall not murder. . .
Jesus says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” “If someone asks you for your coat, give them your cloak also.” And, as we will be hearing toward the end of November, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was naked and you clothed me. I was a stranger, a foreigner, a refugee, somebody you didn't know, maybe somebody you were afraid of, and you welcomed me anyway.
That's how you grow a good vineyard. That's how you bear good fruit.
Now, here are some examples of people bearing fruit. Amid the chaos of the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival shooting, Dean Alton had found a way out, but he was a firefighter so he had some training. He stayed in danger of fire in order to help a seventeen year old girl. He managed her tourniquet. She had been shot in the leg. He helped with her IV. He let her use his phone to call her father. On the way to the hospital, he kept her calm by showing her photos of his wife and son and dog. The girl's father contacted him later and said, “You saved my daughter's life.”
Carly Krygier lay on top of her daughter to shield her from the bullets. They both got out okay.
Tom Meldon shielded his wife from the bullets. He did not come out okay.
People drove folks to the hospitals in their cars and trucks. The next day they lined up around the block to give blood. Waited in a line five hours long. This is good fruit.
Good fruit does not have to come from a terrifying situation. It can be the little things. Here is part of a hygiene packet from God's work Our Hands Sunday last month. Lots of you, especially you kids, bore fruit putting together these bags so that people who have had a hard time, who have been through a lot of difficulty, can have a little easier to take a bath, brush teeth, simple things.
One last point. We don't always see the good God does when we try to do the right thing. For example, Jesus did not see the good he was doing when he died on the cross. He believe it. He trusted it. He would not have seen it.
And yet the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. What we think is futile, what we think is a waste of time and doesn't matter, what we think, even, is defeat, the cross. That's exactly what changes everything.
Bear fruit, people of God. Use your time for joy and blessing. Be courageous in your compassion for others. Obey the Ten Commandments. Bear fruit for God. It's a lot more fun that way.