17th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 22) LSB #869
Text – Isaiah 5:4b
When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
YIELDING WILD GRAPES
With the elections held in March of 1933, the ruling Nazi Party gained over 17 million votes. The next closest party had 7.5 million. The Nazis ended up with over 43% of the elected positions in the German Reichstag, & Adolph Hitler was the leader of that party.
The nation of Germany had been devastated by the harsh conditions of the peace treaty following WWI. When the United States descended into its Great Depression, Germany was dragged down even further. Hitler had promised to restore the economy & the glory of the German nation. In 1933, millions of the German people were voting for their wallet.
That’s a greatly simplified version of everything going on behind the scenes of that election. Nevertheless, it was the last time people all across the nation were free to vote until the year 1990. Then the Berlin Wall had fallen, the communist government had collapsed & Germany was reunited. 1933 was a watershed year in the history of the German nation.
Back in the 1700’s, lived a man named Edmund Burke & credit has been given to him for the saying, “All that’s needed for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” That was the case in Germany, & across Europe, as Adolph Hitler came to power & proceeded to butcher upwards of 11 million helpless people. Around 50 million Europeans died due to the war.
What a turn of events came out of that one German election in March of 1933. The American Family Association reports that 90 million Christians are registered to vote in the United States, but in any given election as many as 39 million of them do not vote.
In our last national election, in November of 2012 – just short of 127 million votes were cast. The Christians who did not vote were estimated to be around 12 million. That’s almost 10% of the total who did vote. The 12 million Christians who did not vote could have positively affected those elections. “All that’s needed for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.”
Mathematically speaking, you may recognize that your one vote hardly does make a difference. Yet, when adding all the Christians in our country together, indifference to voting could actually destroy our nation. People around the world suffered because one very twisted & corrupt politician was elected in 1933. Fast forward now to the year 2001.
“Detroit had been down on its luck for a long time, & after more than half a century of decline, the people were starved for a leader who could bring about change & finally get the city back on its feet. They needed a hero, & thought they found him in a young, charming, energetic state representative named Kwame M. Kilpatrick.
His campaign slogan: ‘Our Future: Right Here, Right Now.’ His inaugural address put goose bumps on people’s arms as he urged metro Detroiters to “rise up” & help him resurrect Detroit. He preached about the region finally coming together & moving on from the racial tensions that had defined its past.
At 31, he became the youngest mayor in Detroit’s history. By age 38, he had become the worst, most corrupt mayor in Detroit’s history.” “Kwame Kilpatrick was as charming & inspiring as he was corrupt & arrogant.” “…one of the things that stings so badly about Kilpatrick: He took advantage of hope & tried to get rich off a broke city.”
The prophet Isaiah knew well stories of men like him. Listen again to the ballad he wrote at the beginning of chapter 5:
“Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it & cleared it of stones, & planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, & hewed out a wine vat in it; & he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem & men of Judah, judge between me & my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?”
If you translate the Hebrew there in a raw manner, wild grapes is literally, “…rotten, stinking grapes!” Our heavenly Father asked, after every thing I have done, why did my people yield rotten, stinking grapes? Why? If you & I are going to learn from the city of Detroit, & from the nation of Germany, if we’re not going to fall into the same trap of voting for corrupt & immoral leaders, if we’re not going to fail in our Christian duty to choose godly leaders, do the words of Isaiah the prophet offer to us any sort of wisdom?
Some evangelical Christian groups have designated today as Pulpit Freedom Sunday. Their point is that for far too long, pastors & the children of God have been silent concerning the duties & responsibilities that come along with the freedoms we have in the United States. It is not just a privilege to vote, & it is not simply our right. It is also our responsibility.
If we do not live up to that responsibility, evil will certainly fill the vacuum we leave through abdicating our Christian duty. If you aren’t convinced, just observe how ISIS has filled the vacuum in the nation of Iraq. Consider what Hitler did with the vacuum in Germany & Europe. On a closer scale, think of what Kilpatrick did in Detroit?
“All that’s needed for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” In the day of Isaiah the prophet, Yahweh refers to the people of Israel as His vineyard. He loved them, sacrificed for them, & did everything possible to make them a fruitful & a productive estate. They had been planted to do good works, to bring justice & righteousness to all people.
Yet the good men of Israel did nothing. They left a vacuum & so evil had prevailed. Ahaz was the king in power during the 5th chapter of Isaiah & he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord. Though Yahweh had done everything possible to make Ahaz productive & fruitful, he yielded nothing but rotten, stinking grapes.
Yahweh tells His people what He will do in response: “I will remove its hedge, & it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, & it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, & briers & thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.”
Nowhere does the Lord say He will uproot the plants, but He does remove every
protection & blessing. The only way the people of Israel can survive now is to humble themselves & turn back to their heavenly Father. Their kings & armies, even the walls of their cities, have been rendered useless & helpless before the righteousness of God.
Although the evangelical Christian groups that designated today as Pulpit Freedom Sunday had a good idea, I was sadly disappointed when online, I watched two different mega-church pastors preaching. They lead churches with thousands of people in attendance. Both talked about the duties & responsibilities of Christian citizens to vote for godly character.
Each one of them preached for almost an hour & neither one ever mentioned the name of Jesus Christ during their sermon. Although they both spoke eloquently & persuasively about God’s call for us to impact our culture, not one & not the other said anything concerning what our Savior has done for us that compels us to vote, or to be godly citizens of our nation.
Any patriotic atheist could have given their message. Since, apart from Jesus, we can do nothing, those sermons were nothing more than rotten, stinking grapes. As Isaiah wrote, on behalf of our heavenly Father: “What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?”
Shortly after coming to power in 1933, Adolph Hitler boasted that the Christian church was impotent & posed no threat to the Nazi agenda. He confidently declared:
“I promise you that if I wished to I could destroy the church in a few years. It is hollow & rotten & false through & through… We should trap the priests by their notorious greed & self-indulgence… They will swallow anything in order to keep their material advantages… The parsons will be made to dig their own graves. They will betray their god to us. They will betray anything for the sake of their miserable jobs & incomes.”
Martin Luther once wrote: “…the pastor who fails to publically, boldly & honestly rebuke the sins of government not only strengthens the wickedness of the tyrants, but ‘becomes a partaker in it & bears responsibility for it.’” In 1940, Nazi Germany was near its zenith – the
nation’s power, prosperity & prestige were at their highest levels in history. The Jews had been systematically excluded from the life of the nation, deprived of the protections of citizenship & the law, gradually disappearing into the spreading network of concentration camps.
That year, at the height of Hitler’s power & popularity, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer offered the following assessment of responsibility for what was taking place within his country:
“I am guilty of cowardly silence at a time when I ought to have spoken. I am guilty of hypocrisy & untruthfulness in the face of force. I have been lacking in compassion & I have denied the poorest of my brethren. …the church must confess that we have not proclaimed often or clearly enough our message of the one God who has revealed Himself for all times in Jesus Christ & who will tolerate no other gods beside Himself… The Church was silent when she should have cried out because the blood of the innocent was crying aloud to heaven. She has failed to speak the right word in the right way at the right time. The church must confess that she has witnessed the lawless application of brutal force, the physical & spiritual suffering of countless innocent people, oppression, hatred & murder, & that she has not raised her voice on behalf of the victims & has not found ways to hasten to their aid. She is guilty of the deaths of the weakest & most defenseless brothers of Jesus Christ… She has not borne witness to the truth of God… By her own silence she has rendered herself guilty because of her unwillingness to suffer for what she knows to be right.”
Less than five years later Bonhoeffer was dead, hung naked from a piano wire noose at Flossenburg Concentration Camp. Germany had been destroyed, her great cities bombed out of existence, her ancient cathedrals reduced to piles of rubble. In the face of monstrous evil “He who keeps silent shares the guilt. He fails God.”
The traditional German children’s prayer, “Dear God, make me pious, so that one day I may go to heaven,” underwent a tragic mutation during the reign of Hitler. As the children played their games during those years they sang this rhyme instead, “Dear God, make me silent, so that I don’t end up in Dachau.”
You & I face no such risks today, but the silence from the pulpits of America is deafening nonetheless. The collapse of morality is wreaking havoc in the lives of people across our land. Yet we remain silent. We’ve allowed ourselves to be deceived & intimidated. We cannot afford the luxury of a pious retreat from the world & its problems. Such isolation may have worked in simpler times, but it will not work now.
We cannot allow the world to set the church’s agenda & determine the content of the church’s message. That would reduce us to mouthing the trendy slogans of every new political & social movement that appears on the scene.
It’s true; the practical problems involved in being the salt of the earth are outrageously difficult. It is sorely tempting to wash our hands of the sordid business of politics, but there is too much at stake for us & for the people whom God has placed into our care. The chilling precedent of German Christianity’s failure to respond to the evil of Nazism makes that clear.
Elections have consequences. Is November 4th marked on your calendar? We have the responsibility given to us by God of choosing godly leaders, men & women who will not lie to their people, men & women who will work to understand what religious freedom is & protect it, rather than cram immoral policies down the throats of their people.
The people of Detroit & the people of Germany paid a heavy price for electing men with ungodly character to lead their government. In far too many elections there seems to be no clear cut man or woman of God in the running. We are often faced with nothing more than choosing between the lesser of two evils. Yet our own sins leave us no different.
That’s why we worship Jesus, because God’s justice & God’s mercy intersect on the cross! His holy justice is accomplished at the same time as His undeserved mercy. What more could God do for His vineyard than to give the life of His only-begotten Son. You & I take that intersection out into the world in our daily decisions, in our daily living.
For children of God, voting in a democratic society is never simply a political decision.
As we vote for the lesser of two evils, yet also in the cases where we are able to discern that one candidate has godly character & the others do not, we can yield good grapes & a bountiful harvest, by first yielding up to God a repentant heart. Exactly that is what we’re talking about as we prepare for Holy Communion with the words:
“Lift up your hearts.” “We lift them to the Lord.” We are accountable to God for our decisions. When we decide who to vote for, that’s a decision which Jesus pictures in His parable of the vineyard from the Gospel reading. Are we voting for the vineyard owner, or against Him? Are we lifting our heart to the Son He sends, or, are we lifting our heart against Him?
That is the question Isaiah means to lay upon your heart this morning. If you seek to give yourself a new heart by voting for your wallet, or for any reason other than God’s will, you will find yourself with a Frankenstein heart. But if you lift up a broken & repentant heart to the Lord, He will heal you through the forgiveness of your sin.
In response to that love of our almighty Creator & Savior, we take on even the distasteful task of trying to decide which politician or bureaucrat to vote for. Elections have consequences, & not putting in the time & effort to vote is allowing the vacuum you create to be filled by evil.
Now is the day of salvation! Now is the time to repent & turn to your Savior to receive the bountiful harvest of His healing & His forgiveness. “Lift up your hearts.” Amen.
With the Lord begin your task; Jesus will direct it. For His aid & counsel ask; Jesus will perfect it. Every morn with Jesus rise; & when day is ended, in His name then close your eyes; be to Him commended. Let each day begin with prayer, praise & adoration. On the Lord cast every care; He is your salvation. Morning, evening & at night Jesus will be near you, save you from the tempter’s might, with His presence cheer you. Amen.
 Austin, D., Meet the Five Worst Mayors in Detroit History, (Detroit Free Press, July 23, 2014).
 Conway, J.S., The Nazi Persecution of the Churches, (New York: Basic Books Inc., 1968), p. 16.
 Berggrav, E., Man and the State, (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1951), p. 308.
 Bonhoeffer, D., Ethics, (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1975), p. 112ff.
 White, L., Reclaiming Our Squandered Heritage, (The Lutheran Clarion, September 2014), p. 3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet