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Wild Grapes

August 14th, 2022 10:30 a.m.


By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche

Good morning again and thank you to those who led and volunteered and gave some time to support our worship while I rested. I hope you have or will have some time to rest yourself and so thank you again.

I invite you now as you are moved to take a couple of deeper breathes, to let yourself arrive more fully to tune into our heartbeat and to give thanks for this day. Join me in a spirit of prayer. Gracious God, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Not much of what I planted is quite where I wanted it to be, or had imagined it would be, out in the little garden in our backyard here in South Boulder. In the beginning of the pandemic, I channeled some of my frustration and “stuck-at-home-ness” into digging and shifting and shaping part of our patch of land into a flower/prayer garden with paths and stepstones and statues of gods from various local places and metal leaves surrounded by cairns and if any of you have dug around here, you know that what you get is rocks and more rocks and more rocks and more rocks. I used those rocks to form paths and it was all going to be just right and the birds would love it and I would walk it and it would give me hope.

But as I stood before it this week, it occurred to me that very little of what I planted is quite where I wanted it to be. The whole thing has gone a bit rogue. Even though I have watched it carefully and weeded it faithfully and watered it regularly. I have done what I could and still this little garden of mine has gone wild. The holly hawk has taken over an area meant to be shared. There is a sunflower right in the middle of the path and not all of the varieties I planted survived. The strawberries that I so joyfully included, in response to the knowledge that they were indigenous to the area, have totally taken over and the little berries they produce don’t even have any flavor. The two tomato plants that I thought I had put in just the right spot, I found that some creature took a bite and left the rest to rot. Well I put a lot into this garden and not much of what I planted is quite where I wanted it to be and I guess it could be called a failed harvest.

That’s one of the ways this story that we heard from the Prophet Isaiah is described, that’s what writer Katheryn Darr called it- this is a story of a failed harvest. And I think there are lots of things in life that we might describe as a failed harvest. Are you with me? Because the official definition of a failed harvest “is an absent or greatly diminished crop yield relative to expectation.” Ha ha! That’s pretty much everyday of my life!

Maybe that can be another way, an honest way that we share how something went: there was an absent or greatly diminished yield relative to expectation. In other words, things didn’t go as planned, what came up wasn’t what was expected and disappointment abounds.

And as I hear this story from the Prophet Isaiah, it does seem like a failed harvest in one sense, because this vintner, gives it his all, and as one scholar writes, “lavishes care upon his vineyard, but harvests bitter grapes.”

Instead of what he thinks should emerge, in spite of all that he has built and planted, he gets something he doesn’t want. Can anyone relate to that? And so what starts out like it might be another one of scriptures’ descriptive and juicy love poems, ends with a warning and we hear that the character plans to destroy the vineyard.

And this whole thing gets more interesting when we note that many scholars believe that in this story, God, the Divine, the Holy, is the vintner. And this vintner is clearly angry and so much so, that he says his response will be to kill the whole vine, the whole network of roots by not caring for it properly and by not watering it as it needs and by not protecting it from the harsh spikes of the worlds’ toxins and harm, for the bigger organism…all because of, well...wild grapes.

The text says that because of this unwanted fruit, the vineyard “shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns…and there will be “no rain upon it.” As if to say, take that failed harvest;, take that rogue plants! Things didn’t go as planned, so the whole thing is going to be pulled up. And because here it seems that the measurement of a success was meeting expectations, it was a failure. And as the story goes, we are to understand that the grapes are bitter because they aren’t rooted in righteousness, they aren’t watered with justice.

J. Clinton McCann Jr. writes that “Both justice and righteousness are featured again in Isaiah 5:1-7, another of the more memorable passages in all of the prophetic literature. What begins as if it will be a “love-song” quickly develops into an allegory; and lest there be any doubt about the message, verse 7 concludes the passage by offering an explicit interpretation. God is the owner of the vineyard….”

In this story, as it has been handed down to us, God is so mad at the humans who cannot figure out how to embody justice and righteousness that God threatens to end the whole thing, to stop pruning the vines, to stop paying attention to them, because if the measurement of success was meeting expectations, it was a failure. The people didn’t live up to what God hoped. And so out came wild grapes.

I have for sure felt like a wild grape at times, you know those times where you felt like what you offered or how you showed up didn’t meet the expectations of others or even the Divine. Being a wild grape is like those moments where we try to do the right thing, but it just falls short, it just doesn’t meet the moment. Has anybody been a wild grape? And I have for sure felt like the vintner, where so much heart and hope and time is invested, cared for and still not much of what is planted isn’t quite what comes up. Most of us know something about a failed harvest of one kind or another.

And so when I read this story holding all of that, I wonder if maybe this story isn’t so much about what God will respond but how we humans do? It seems to be an allegory as to what can happen if we let ourselves be undone by expectations. Because what I mean is that God or the vintner or us, in this story, totally unravels because he is attached to a certain outcome; he is totally attached to it looking just like he planted and he gets angry when something else shows up. Does anyone else know something about that? Being undone because what happened isn’t what you expected.

So I wonder if part of what we are to take away from this story is this: Joy comes from being unattached to our own expectations. That’s a hard one! What if a so-called failed harvest, what if wild grapes can be a gift? What if success is more about nurturing whatever comes up? If we are attached to things looking like what you expect, sometimes we miss the good. And what if success is something other than getting what we want? And what if our expectations of the kind of fruit our vineyard might be ready for are off or wrong or based on ego things? What if sometimes what we need is wild grapes? Not because we need more bitterness but because they have something to teach us about how we are called to respond when things show up in ways that are different than what we expect? I think that is the difference in whether or not a church thrives, how do we respond to wild grapes? To wildness in general? As we heard from Robin Wall Kimmerer, “What happens when you embrace the wildness of a tree-being?” How do we respond to rogue gardens and failed harvests? Sometimes we might need to pull up the whole thing and start over perhaps but sometimes I think we need to embrace the wild grapes that come up.

Not much of what I planted is quite where I wanted it to be, had imagined it would be, out in our little garden, but for the first time this week, I saw a yellow monarch, and it reminded me that what I truly wanted from the garden, wasn’t sunflowers in a row, but butterflies. How do we respond when things show up in ways that are different than what we expect? Beloved of God, let us not be afraid of wild grapes. May it be so. Amen.

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