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The Prophet Isaiah: Restoring Abundance

August 27, 2013

A sermon preached by the Rev. Sarah Henkel at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 18, 2013

Isaiah 5: 1-7

Many of you have seen the garden over on Rockledge. Last year the youth helped dig, plant, water, and harvest during church school.  This year we invited neighbors and community members to join us in the garden.  One day a couple months ago while we were out in the garden we saw that one of the summer squashes didn’t look so hot.  The leaves were turning yellow and the root of the plant had turned brown and dusty.  On closer inspection there was a hole at the root of the plant.  We slit open the root to find a bunch of grubs, baby squash borers eating their way through the root of the plant.  We pulled the whole vine out and turned to the other squash in the garden…we pulled out 5 more summer squashes all with the beginnings of healthy fruit that now would never grow.  We lost all but one summer squash.  I remember the feeling I had that day – utter disappointment.  I remember feeling a little surprised about how strong my disappointment was but I kept thinking: ALL that work we put in, all the water and weeding and digging, all for what?  We’ve all felt deep disappointment in one way or another in our lives, when expectations we had for something or someone are not met.  The depth of our disappointment is often measured by the depth of the love and energy that we dedicated to the relationship or work or vision that did not bear fruit.

Today’s reading is a love song, an agricultural parable, a mixture of Isaiah’s voice, the voice of the vineyard tender, and the voice of God.  The song begins with Isaiah singing of his beloved who tends a vineyard.  The song describes the love and care the vineyard keeper put into the growth of the vineyard.  The vineyard-tender dug and watered and protected and expected good grapes but instead the harvest brought wild grapes.  The song then continues in the voice of the vineyard keeper as he describes his response to the wild grapes. He addresses the people of Judah and Jerusalem saying, Judge between me and my vineyard? What should I do since it produced wild grapes? The vineyard keeper describes what he did: took down the protective tower and hedge, let weeds infest the ground, and told the rain not to rain upon it.  At this moment the hearers knew this was no ordinary vineyard keeper.  Only one can control the rain and the sun, the Creator of the rain and sun, God. In case we’re not clear who is who in this song and parable the last verses make it clear: For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting.  The reason for the destruction of the vineyard: God expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry! Again we hear the prophetic proclamation: you cannot be right with God if you do not care for one another with justice and righteousness.

This song of the vineyard is important to our understanding of all the prophetic texts that we have worked through together this summer and those we will read together in the months and years to come. It’s important because it reminds us with its tender beginning, the song of God’s love and dedicated care for God’s people, that these prophetic warnings and prophesies of destruction are about reclaiming God’s vision of abundance for the community.  The prophets show the destruction of the path that the people have chosen, a path of scarcity, of wild grapes with big seeds and little fruit, a path where there is not enough for all to survive.  The prophets remind the people that God offers and carefully tends with love and care a different path for the people, one of rich abundance for ALL.  God set up a vineyard that was going to produce big, fat, juicy grapes.  God set up a wine vat in the vineyard where the community would come at harvest to crush the grapes and sing and celebrate and benefit from the harvest for generations to come.

The text that follows in Isaiah convicts the people of Jerusalem and Judah of bad economic practices, of amassing land in unethical ways so that fewer and fewer people had access to the land to grow food for survival.  People were seeking abundance but not God’s abundance.  It was abundance that came at the cost of someone else’s livelihood. It’s not hard to draw parallels in our current lives and economic systems or in the very building of our nation. And our challenge as Christians here and now: to constantly check and reorient how we define abundance.  How we seek out and co-create God’s rich abundance for this community and our world.  The prophetic texts call for a radical reorientation: abundance overflows when we orient our lives to justice, it is something we can only seek in and through community, abundance is when everyone has enough which means that no one has more than their share.  It is finding balance with one another and the earth.

I’m going to tell you one story of hope and there are many more, praise God. One story of hope about recovering and restoring God’s vision for abundance in our community. This year a group of indigenous peoples and allies celebrated the 400th anniversary of the Two Row Wampum, a treaty made between the early Dutch settlers and the Haudenosaunee, “an alliance of native nations united for hundreds of years by traditions, beliefs, and cultural values.” “The Two Row Wampum is a belt that is the Haudenosaunee record of the first agreement between the Haudenosaunee and European newcomers in 1613.  The belt has two rows of beads to represent the native nations and Europeans traveling parallel to one another, living in peace. It is the first covenant, which forms the basis for the covenant chain of all subsequent treaty relationships made by the Haudenosaunee and other Native Nations with settler governments on this continent. The agreement outlines a mutual, three-part commitment to friendship, peace between peoples, and living in parallel forever (as long as the grass is green, as long as the waters flow downhill and as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west). Throughout the years, the Haudenosaunee have sought to honor this mutual vision and have increasingly emphasized that ecological stewardship is a fundamental prerequisite for this continuing friendship.”[i]

Concluding their journey just a week ago, hundreds of people rowed together in canoes down the waterways of Northern New York State and eventually down the Hudson River to the United Nations in NYC for the International celebration of Indigenous Peoples. The journey continued the vision of the Two Row Wampum, as the Haudenosaunee rowers traveled in a row parallel to non-Native allies. It was a journey for healing, recognizing that though the Haudenosaunee have maintained their commitment to the treaty, European settlers, the U.S. government, and local governments and individuals have not.  We have not lived at peace and our people and our earth show the consequences.

On Monday August 5th the Two Row Wampum rowers landed in Stony Point and stayed the night at the Stony Point Center.  The night was beautiful and hundreds of places were set outside and inside for dinner at exactly 8:08 p.m. for Two Row participants, members of the Community of Living Traditions at Stony Point Center, and many other guests. Why dinner at 8:08 exactly? It was Iftar, the breaking of fast at sundown, observed during the Muslim holy month of fasting called Ramadan.  Muslim members of the Community of Living Traditions hosted the meal along with Stony Point kitchen staff.  Curried chicken, spiced chickpeas, rice, bread, salad, and rosewater were passed around the hundreds of tables.  Volunteers would swap the food between tables – Can you spare some chicken for the table next to you? We’ll trade you bread for rice.  It was a crazy wonderful mix of different faiths, different socio-economic realities, different languages, different places we call home, different ways we have learned history.  There were uncomfortable moments, painful moments, as we acknowledged the suffering of indigenous people in the United States and as Two Row participants commented on the contaminated state of the water that they traveled through.  But in the gathering, as bellies were filled and the sun set, there was a feeling of power and abundance.  The Creator, who we know by different names, is big enough to bring us together.  Loving enough to provide words of healing for wounds that run deep.  Joyful enough to mix laughter and stories into this gathering of God’s people. Caring enough to demand that justice and righteousness be the glue that connect those gathered.

Back in the garden at Rockledge a couple of days before the Intercultural Peace dinner at Stony Point, Roger, a local peace and justice advocate from White Plains who has been a part of the garden this year was hard at work weeding and harvesting.  The table was full of fruits from the garden – kale, tomatoes, cucumbers, the biggest marigolds I’ve ever seen – and Roger got a call from one of the Two Row Wampum organizers looking for fresh produce to feed the rowers.  Minutes later the person who made the call was there and left with her hands full.  By God’s grace we all have enough to give, whether it is material or immaterial we all have something that we can share to build communities of justice and righteousness, to bear abundance in our communities.  What God expects of us and what the prophets demand is that we walk through life with hands and hearts wide open to seek the good of all, to work hard for justice in the vineyard of the Lord so that we can taste that sweet fruit together.

[i]  Additional information about the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign can be found at

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