October 19, 2014
“Wine: A Grape’s Love and Service”
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Bossier City, LA
INI + AMEN.
Have you ever considered the life of a grape? Maybe it’s a little bit of an odd question, but have you ever considered the life of a grape? Because that’s where we find ourselves today in our Gospel text and Psalm. We’re given to consider the life of grapes, of wine, and the journey grapes take to become wine. “There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit.” The Lord wants His vintage. It’s not just time for harvest, but it’s time for wine-making and wine-delivering. There’s no other reason to have a winepress, and it surely would’ve been a good year. He “planted it with the choicest vine.” How could He do otherwise? It’s the Lord’s way to plant the best. He planted Israel: “the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant plant,” and we are spiritual Israel, seed of Abraham. So we’re here today and we have before us a vineyard, winepress and wine, proper vintage at a the proper time; we’ll imbibe on all this wine talk, and the Lord Jesus will “gladden our hearts” not that we’ll be “drunk with wine, for that is debauchery,” but rather we’ll “be filled with the Spirit.”
(3. Someone’s at work on something.)
By the time the grape’s come on the scene, if it could, would it even know the labor of love it took to get there on its vine. There that grape sits on its vine hanging in one row amongst the many long rows of trellises (the long rows which help support and guide the growth of the vines). “Where did such support and guiding come from,” the grape may ask. “I’m held fast but not choked. I’m comfortable,” says the grape on the vine. The soil it rests in isn’t hard or rocky, but soft and life giving. As the day winds down, the sun sets, but there’s been some shade from sun and heat since about mid-afternoon—the guard tower offers unintended protection. In the distance, would it perceive what transformation is in store for it in the building where grapes go in and barrels come out? You see, when it comes to grapes and wine, there’s someone at work, and it’s not the grapes themselves. There’s no grapes without a vineyard. The ground must be and is cleared of stones, the land is surrounded by a hedge. There’s the trellises, a watchtower to guard the precious commodities won by the painstaking labors, and then there’s the winepress. All of that doesn’t happen without the farmer. There’s no wine without him, and there’s no wine without the winepress, no wine without fermentation.
We’re just like that little grape. We’re in the vineyard of the Lord, and we aren’t working on ourselves. The Lord’s at work. We’re “grafted in” to the “true Vine”. We’ve been grafted into Him, and we become new vines—no longer “wild plants”. We’re grafted and watered at the same time by water empowered with God’s Word and we’re placed into the Vine by the Vinedresser: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” Planted, grafted, and watered we’re no longer wild grapes but good grapes, but only as long as we’re in the true Vine here in the Vinedresser’s vineyard—not off elsewhere doing other things during pruning day. The Lord’s still at work on us and in us: pruning us with His Word. The Lord’s working on us, pruning us wherever His Word encounters us in His Vineyard: Absolution; Word (read and preached); Supper, which connects to the true Vine, Jesus, with His body and blood, and this connects us to His forgiveness, life, and salvation.
(2. The thing worked on produces)
That day comes. It’s finally the right time. The sun rises like any other day, clearing the dew and lifting the fog which hangs in the air, but this isn’t just any day. It’s harvest day. The months of work pay off and the vines produce their yield: the grape is finally there and ready to be harvested. Life on the vine was carefree and easy, but now the farmer has come. “I wonder where he’s taking me,” the grape thinks. To the winepress he goes. There all the little grapes meet their end, but it’s not really the end. The farmer’s work continues. There’s barrels, maybe some yeast, time, right temperature, and more time. Then that grape is transformed, fermented into something far greater. It’s life wasn’t spent in vain, but from vine to wine and then on to gladden the hearts’ of men, as the LORD has given it. The grape is worked on and so produces its vintage.
The LORD, the great gardener and farmer, is at work amidst our rows. He’s at work with His Word. God ferments us with His Word. His Word will have its way with us. “A little leaven leavens the whole loaf,” and even a little wine yeast makes grapes something far greater. So also with the Lord’s Word—the Lord won’t leave us as grapes nor juice, we must become something far more, something far greater and better, something that will bring joy and gladness to our neighbor’s heart: wine. Grapes don’t stay grapes. They become wine in the Lord’s winepress. As the grapes must die and ferment to produce their vintage, so we must die and rise to produce our vintage: love. So the Lord works on us, He dies and rises us as surely as He died and rose for us. He is the one whom Jacob foresaw: “He has washed his garments in wine and His vesture in the blood of grapes.” This is the Lord Jesus’ love for us: to be crushed, poured out, but raised again.
We partake of this love, His body and blood crucified, pierced and poured out, His body and blood raised to life again. This is why we can so often pray after receiving this salvation, forgiveness, and life: “We implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith toward you and in fervent love toward one another.” Fervent love is fermented love, love that’s been fermented by God’s Word, fermented with the vintage of Jesus’ body and blood.
But we want to remain grapes. We don’t want to let the Lord’s love work on us. We resist His Word. If we actually allowed ourselves to be fermented and so confess our sins to those charged to hear and forgive them, we’d say, “I have not let God’s love have its way with me and so my love for others has failed.” But the Lord continues His fermenting work on us. He forgives our false love. He forgives our bitterness, our sourness. He takes what is spoiled and makes it new again: washing it anew, enlivening it with His own life-blood and life body. If we think that’s not the case, or we think “Here we go again,” then we’re rotten grapes, to such bunches, vines, and vineyards the LORD says, “I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned;” “it is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
Being in the true Vine, we produce the proper vintage, a vintage that never spoils or fails, that’s never sour or bitter. That vintage is love. Love which gladdens our neighbor’s heart. How does such wine-like love get to our neighbor? God likes to use simple means to do it: you and me to serve our neighbors, our friends, our acquaintances, and even those people we struggle with. He uses just little old me and you to do that. In the same way He uses simple water to wash away sins in baptism. He uses bread and the wine, which gladdens our hearts, because His Word makes the true fruit of the vine, wine, to be something beyond all telling and joy—the body and blood of His Son.
BECAUSE OF GOD’S WORD WORKING ON US, OUR ACTS OF LOVE POUR OUT ON OUR NEIGHBORS.
(1. What does this look like?)
What does this look like? Our question should be, What does my neighbor need. That’s sort of how it was in Exodus. What did the Israelites need? They needed the tabernacle. There YHWH would forgive there sins with sacrifice. So He fermented Bezalel and Oholiab with skills and with love to do this work for Israel. We look at our neighbor’s needs first. We look to them in love. What does that mean here? We love our fellow members here at Immanuel. We look to their needs. A grapes’s life is spent to become wine not to ponder what gifts it may have. There are boards and committees, and there we can love our neighbor. Our lives are poured out there, like wine into a glass. There we serve in love for our neighbor all the while remembering that the LORD is fermenting us, Jesus is fermenting us by the Spirit in His Word and in His body and blood with the bread and wine, and BECAUSE OF GOD’S WORD WORKING ON US, fermenting us, OUR ACTS OF LOVE POUR OUT ON OUR NEIGHBORS in a heart-gladdening vintage of love.
INI + AMEN.