A More Light Congregation

Bethany Presbyterian Church

Guest Sermon

A Radish is a Radish

Reverend Debra McGuire

November 17, 2019

Isaiah 5:1-7; 11:1-15

I really like to watch baking shows.  I don't know the first thing about baking or how to use the really great appliances and gadgets on there, but it looks like so much fun.  It's like arts and crafts meets the culinary world.  The bakers get a challenge, work it out and bake something, and then present it to the judges one by one.  The best part for me, is when they tell what the inspiration for their creation was.  An engineer designs and builds things based on beauty, structure strength, physics, and function.  But the true art comes when something built has a story to tell.   When the bakers tell what the story is in their creation, another layer of beauty is added because it becomes real in my head and my heart.

One challenge for the bakers was to make a traditional Yule Log cake, with a twist.  The twist was that they needed to use some unusual flavors or items.  During the presentations, I loved the idea one contestant had.  Her variation of a Yule Log was to make a Yule stump.  The story behind her creation came from when she used to go get a live Christmas tree from a forest as a kid.  She said she was always saddened by seeing all the stumps left over.  So she made a beautiful rolled cake, but it was short and stumpy, not long and elegant.  

I don't remember who actually won, but I was so moved by the idea of an adult remembering a sad image from childhood and finding a way to both uplift the sadness of the memory, and create something of beauty from it.

I think when something bad happens, large or small, one thing we sometimes do is look for something to distract us, or give it some time and our burden will lighten.  Sometimes we look for or notice something that gives us joy, just to try to balance the scales.

Sometimes though, the bad seems to be so out of balance, we get paralyzed.  We all do this from time to time.  Maybe half of us feel that way right now.

The impeachment hearing are exhausting and enraging and just plain sad.  The horrific fires burning in our neighborhoods and others are terrifying.  The global political instability in Bolivia, Turkey, Israel and Palestine.  The news of lack of progress in Flint Michigan and the Philipines.  The school shooting, again, in Santa Clarita, California.  Debilitating illnesses.  Debilitating emotions after events in our own lives.

I can't see you behind all of this bad.  You can't see me.   Is this what it's like after the vineyard is destroyed, and overgrown with briars and thorns, without a hedge, just a wasteland, with nothing to feed our spirits? We lose ourselves?  We lose our community? Sometimes we feel like we are living in Isaiah 5 times.  

The vineyard owner did everything right.  He surrounded the vineyard by a hedge. He dug, cleared stones, planted on a fertile hill.  He even built a watchtower.  But the grapes for wine that he planted didn't come up.  He got wild grapes instead.  Useless.  So he destroyed everything.  Like destroying a grove of trees all that was left was a stump.  We like to think we are good people.  We do things right, we try to be kind, we try to fight for good causes, we try to keep in mind that people are human.  We raise our children to be honest, have integrity, be loving, true to themselves, be safe, and be kind.  But we're human.  Sometimes we're unfaithful and abandon our world, our fellow humans, and even ourselves.  The problem with an agrarian metaphor like a vineyard for humans is that plants and humans don't work the same way.  If you plant a radish, you get a radish.  If you bring a human into the world, you just never know!  

Isaiah 5 and Isaiah 11 portions are paired together to tell two stories, one of faithfulness and one of unfaithfulness.  The first story from Isaiah 5 talks of the owner of a vineyard.  The owner has taken the best care of the vineyard as possible and awaits the glorious harvest of grapes.  But what comes up instead are wild grapes – not at all useful for the winemaking the vineyard owner was hoping for.  Therefore the vineyard owner ripped up all of the vines and all that was left was destructions and stumps of the vines.  This is the story of unfaithfulness.

The second story from Isaiah 11 tells us that even from just a stump, the remnant, the left over after a scorge, or after a destruction, there is still going to be a root.  A beginning of a promise, that destruction will not win, and there is hope even from what looks like the end of the story, for something more and something better.  The shoot is Jesse.  The branch that then grows represents the promise that the lineage of David will always be the head of these people.  That promise includes us as well, because the geneology that begins the gospel of Matthew shows us that Jesus was of the lineage of David.

This is the story of faithfulness.

So where is our shoot pushing its way through the stump that is our lives sometimes?  What do we have at our disposal that will help us when we feel like we're living in an Isaiah 5 world?  How do we get to feel the hope of an Isaiah 11 world?

The troubles that stop us from living, from seeing each other, need to be taken down.  How do we do that? We do that by asking for help.  Take care of ourselves with whatever represents self care for us.  We share our burden with one trusted person.  We change our perspective.  We pray.  We take action.  We find community.  

We can claim that promise.  Find the shoot, hold on to the branch as best you can.  It is the job of our lives to learn to rise when we fall, and help others when they can't rise.  But it's worth the work.  If we're good enough, even a sad memory can become a cake.

Let's pray…