Between What Is And What Could Be – A Sermon On Isaiah 5:1-7

Proper 22A – Isaiah 5:1-5

Photo by David Köhler on Unsplash

Where is God when tragedy strikes or evil is perpetrated? Why won’t God heal the divisions in our country today? When will we have peace on earth? Why doesn’t God do something about …? Fill in the blank with whatever you see happening in your life or the world today that concerns you

I know the heartbreak, disappointment, sorrow, frustration, and anger behind those kind of questions, and I’ll bet you do too. I’m betting every one of us has asked or at least wondered about those questions. I think they’re the questions many of us live with and are asking today in light of everything that is happening. 

We’re not, however, the only ones asking those kind of questions. We’re not the only ones experiencing heartbreak, disappointment, sorrow, frustration, and anger about not getting what we expected. 

“When I expected it to yield grapes,” God says, “why did it yield wild grapes?” 

Isaiah describes how God dug a vineyard, cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines. Then God built a watchtower in the midst of the vineyard and hewed out a wine vat in it. And now God want to know, “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?” God “expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.” (Isaiah 5:1-7)

God “expected justice but saw bloodshed.” God expected “righteousness but heard a cry!” God didn’t get what God expected or wanted.

How can that be? That God wouldn’t or couldn’t get what God expects or wants doesn’t fit with many of the images and concepts we have of who God is and how God is. 

Some of my earliest memories of prayer are asking God to let me go fishing, to catch a lot of fish, and a really big one. After all God was all powerful, all knowing, and present everywhere. Letting me catch some fish should be easy for the Big Guy in the Sky. I believed God was bigger, faster, and stronger than me. God was – to use a phrase from my childhood – “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!” Maybe God was Superman for you too. Maybe God still is.

Later, catching fish would be replaced with getting a good grade on the test, getting the job I wanted, fixing the problems in my life, taking care of those I loved. 

Somewhere along the way God became a scorekeeper and the dispenser of rewards and punishments. You know, the God who’s making a list, checking it twice, and going to find out whose naughty and nice. Has that ever been your understanding of God?

If God was Superman and Santa Clause then it was easy to conclude God also was like a Coke Machine. All I need do was put in the correct change – good behavior, right beliefs, a sincere and faithful prayer – make my selection, and I would get whatever I wanted. Have you ever lived with a God like that?

When the Coke Machine stole my money or gave me what I didn’t ask for I was told that the Man Upstairs (and it was always a man) has a reason for everything and someday I would know and understand. God was like a puppeteer planning my life and directing my every move. 

Have you ever lived with any of those as your image of God or prayed to that kind of God? What other images or concepts of God have you had? And who is God for you today?

As much as I sometimes still want to hang on to my old images and concepts of God, they never really matched my experience of God. And none of them describe the God we get in today’s reading from Isaiah. God is heartbroken, disappointed, frustrated. Maybe we need to reconsider our images and concepts of God. 

  • What if God is not Superman, Santa Clause, a Coke Machine, the Man Upstairs, or the Puppeteer in charge of your life?
  • What if, without us, God is helpless and powerless to accomplish anything in the world?
  • What if every time we turn away from justice, love, forgiveness, compassion we render God impotent in and absent from the world? 
  • What if God cannot act or be realized in the world except through human actions?
  • What if you and I are created and designed to give God existence in the world through our thoughts, words, and actions? Through our work, our voice, our compassion, our listening, our hope, our presence?

Here’s why I ask those questions. Isaiah describes two vineyards – the one God intends and envisions, and the one he gets and sees. There’s a gap between those two vineyards, between what is and what could be. Where do you see that gap today in your life, this community, our country? And what is it asking of you? What would it take for you to close it? 

Every gap is a call, an asking, an invitation from God. Every gap waits for us to step into and fill it. We are the ones to step into the gap between what is and what could be, between what God has planted and what God expects, between the world as it is and the world as God sees it. Unless there is a response on our part nothing happens. 

Let me tell you about a response your vestry made a couple of weeks ago. It began with a conversation about the upcoming presidential election. Everyone there knew the intention, the desire, the heart of God was for relationship. But the anxiety and fear were palpable, and the gap was real. 

I watched as your vestry stepped into that gap. They were vulnerable and courageous. They were prophetic. They were hopeful. They entrusted themselves to each other. They spoke with honesty and listened deeply. They softened their hearts and opened their eyes to one another. 

They never said who they would vote for, but it was obvious. I could see it in each of their faces and hear it in each of their voices. They would be voting for and in favor of each other. What if that were the first vote we each cast?

Let me read you the pledge your vestry and clergy took as a result of that conversation

As a person of faith committed to the life and teachings of Jesus, I make this pledge to all people regardless of their political beliefs, whether we are in agreement or disagreement, and regardless of who wins the election.

With respect to my words and actions, whether in person or through social media, I pledge and commit myself, both before and after the election –

+ To love others as Jesus has loved me (John 13:34);
+ To treat others as I would want them to treat me (Luke 6:31);
+ To love my enemies, do good to those who hate me, bless those who curse me, and pray for those who abuse me (Luke 6:27-28); 
+ To “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” (Book of Common Prayer, 305); and
+ To “strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being” (Book of Common Prayer, 305).

This I pledge in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I hope you will join the vestry and me in this pledge. It’s bigger and about a whole lot more than just the election. It’s about nothing less than giving God existence, and making God present today, here and now, in the midst of whatever might be going on. It’s about God’s expectations and desires coming to fruition in the vineyards of our lives, this community, our country. 

And that’s on us. Superman is not going to do it. Santa Clause is not bringing it. And the Coke Machine isn’t dispensing it. That’s our work. That’s our participation in the divine life. 

“What more was there to do for my vineyard” God asks, “that I have not done in it?” 

Nothing. Now it’s your turn and my turn to step up, speak out, fill the gap, and make God real in the world today.

I wonder how you and I will do that.


  1. I’ll try again, with the thought that came to me, as I closed out the first comment, but was too late to add it! This Sermon is also reflective of Pope Francis’ new Encyclical that was signed in Assissi yesterday!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another wonderful sermon, Mike, which I will share as I do so many of your pieces. The pledge is something we all should consider. Thank you for your insight and vision on this timely topic. Blessings on you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sitting in Quaker Meeting some time ago, and trying to empty my mind of me, an image came which resonates with your sermon. It was that each of us has a conjoined twin, who is God: we supply the limbs, God the heart and head. And without what God brings, we are not even people – we cannot live. And without us, God is impotent…

    Liked by 1 person

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