Sermon Script: Isaiah 5:5-7
Sermon Purpose: “Why does this church/our church exist?”
Sermon Title: “Work for it”

(Let me give y’all fair warning. This is going to be a congregation participation sermon.)

Winchester, Virginia, is known as the Apple Capitol of the world. The whole town is surrounded by apple orchards. You might say Winchester, Virginia, is as well known for apples as Carolina, NC State and Duke are known for basketball. Each spring they have an Apple Blossom Festival to celebrate the fruitfulness of the orchards. To you and me thinking about those orchards the idea of an apple blossom festival to celebrate fruitfulness may sound beautiful and wonderful. However, the people who live in Winchester know it is a labor of love. All year long the trees need to be tended. Spacers are placed in the branches; the trees are fertilized, pruned and sprayed all year long so that every fall the orchards will be laden with fruit. Sisters and brothers the realm of God here on earth is very much like those apple orchards. We are responsible for reaping a bountiful harvest. I’m sure most of you are aware the fall is harvest time. However, to bring in the bountiful harvest we as the church have to be vigilant about our duties all year long. We have to take our duties seriously. We must all be willing to work to see the good news of God’s love spread far and wide for all to see. That way when harvest time comes the crop will be very fruitful indeed.[1]

The mission of the people of Winchester, Virginia, is to bring in a bountiful apple harvest. My question for us this morning is what is our mission? What is the bountiful harvest for which this church – our church has been tasked. There are all kinds of crops; apples, cotton, corn and soy bean. What is the specific crop to which our church has been tasked to be fruitful? The mission of the United Methodist Church is to, “Follow Jesus, Make Disciples, Transform the World.” That is a fine and lofty vision, but for us as a local church it’s a little broad. So let me ask you church. Why are we here? Why do we exist? What is our purpose? (pause) Let me put it another way. If you were eating at Cagney’s or Café 35, or McDonalds this week and someone asked you, “Why does your church exist?” What would you tell them? (Encourage the congregation to write their answers on their bulletin insert.) The mission of a church is that place, and that life to which God has called us to go and be fruitful, and multiply. Here’s the thing wherever God has called us to go, and in whatever way God has created and gifted us to serve God expects us to be fruitful, and to bear good fruit.

In the fifth chapter of the book of Isaiah God has a problem with Israel. God sends God’s prophet Isaiah to deliver God’s message to God’s people. Please remember God’s prophets in the Bible are not fortune tellers. God’s prophets are more like God’s prosecutors holding Israel accountable to the deal they made with God. Through the prophet Isaiah God describes Israel as a beloved vineyard. God has protected God’s vineyard with hedges, a wall and a watchtower. God planted God’s best vines. God was a good steward of God’s vineyard, Israel, and God expected the vineyard to yield good grapes. However this vineyard did not bear good grapes. This vineyard yielded wild grapes (Isaiah 5:2). The question of fruitfulness is the issue. Through the prophet Isaiah God is holding Israel accountable for the kind of fruit they have become. Israel has born wild fruit, and that is not good.

Now church, we have a choice to make. Will we bring in the good fruit of God’s harvest or will we bear wild grapes which are not fruitful? What choice will we make? What does it mean to choose to bear good fruit? What is involved? Well first, I think we have to keep our eye on the prize. Hear these words from retired United Methodist Bishop Ernest S. Lyght. “When your mind is stayed on Jesus, there is no time to dislike your neighbor; there is plenty of time to love God’s people; there is no room in your mind for devilish thoughts; and it allows Jesus to be the “captain” of your mind.”[2] By devilish thoughts I mean the things we talked about last week: “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, [and] envy” (Gal 5:20-21). When we carry these devilish thoughts we are squeezing the love of God out of our lives for the sake of our misery. We are not being fruitful. If there are any in this room with that challenge right now I pray they recognize their misery and lay those things aside for God’s glory. My sincere prayer is they recognize their own wrong doing. I pray they are overwhelmed with a powerful desire to “flee the wrath to come.” It should be noted today is World Communion Sunday. I have taught you before that Holy Communion is a means of grace, and today is the day the whole world comes to partake in God’s grace. There are people all over the world who will be confirmed by God’s grace today. There are people all over the world who will be convicted by God’s grace today. I pray when we celebrate Holy Communion those who are carrying the bad fruit of devilish thoughts and feelings will come to God’s altar and leave their baggage here. God wants it. God has already sent God’s Son Jesus Christ to pay for our baggage; and Christ died to bury it. Oh that we would put aside our sinful nature and actively look for ways to grow closer to God because the truth is God’s wrath is coming.

God will not allow a vineyard to stand which is not fruitful. God will tear down a church’s wall of protection. Our church’s wall of protection is a strong defense against the temptations and powers which would cause our church to shrink and to become ineffective. These temptations take the form of the fruits of bitterness, and the thorns of the flesh. A church which is over run by these becomes inwardly focused and divided against itself. Thorns and weeds over take the church. The congregation becomes sharp and bitter toward one another, and the joy of the Lord is not in that place. Negativity becomes the driving force of the church and the negativity brings destruction. God will not allow the Holy Spirit to rain down on a church which is not focused on doing God’s will. A church which is inwardly focused on internal problems and negativity has made those things its idols. That kind of church does not worship the Lord. God looks to every planted church to seek God’s justice in their community. However, when God sees a church that has quit looking to God for its strength God finds no righteousness. Where God looks for justice God sees only communities torn apart by the injustices born by bitterness, envy and those seeking revenge (Isaiah 5:5-7).

Sisters and brothers, hear the good news. However far we have traveled down those dark paths in our past we do not have to continue down those paths in our future. Through the prophet Jeremiah God tells God’s people in exile, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11). I believe a church which has become inwardly focused on divisions and negativity has become like a church that has walked away from the light and exiled itself in darkness. To be exiled from God is a truly scary thought on this first Sunday of October. But here’s the thing about self-exile. We don’t have to stay there. Amen? Amen! Amen?! Amen!! Jeremiah goes on to say, “You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, declares the Lord” (Jer 29:13-14). Church I believe there is no congregation which has traveled those dark paths which cannot turn back to God. I believe in repentance. I believe ours is the God of grace who restores the fortunes of those who return to God.

If we would be a repentant church; a church who continually seeks to return to God then let us lay out such plans that we would return to our intended purpose and mission. I’m asking you church. What does our church look like when this church is operating at its best? (Pause, and encourage answers.) What would it take for this church to operate at its best all the time? (Pause, and encourage answers.) What steps might we take as a church together to operate at our best all the time? (Pause, and encourage answers.) Let me ask you church, where are we called to be fruitful for God’s kingdom here in Lexington, and where are we called to fight for Kingdom justice? Are we being fruitful for God’s justice here in our community? Where is there room for growth? What needs to stop happening? How will our church need to change if we are to bear the good fruit of God’s justice in our community? I tell you now, it is no longer good enough to just go through the motions. Now is the time to turn the corner. Now is the time to leave every weight behind (Heb 12:1). Now is the time to flee the wrath to come (Matt 3:7). Now is the time to fully recommit our lives and our church to God (Deut 6:5). Now is the time to work for the bountiful harvest.

In the Name of Jesus Christ – Amen.

[1] Lovett H. Weems Jr. & Tom Berlin, “Bearing Fruit: Ministry with Real Results,” (Nashville: Abingdon 2011) p11.

[2] Ernest S. Lyght, “Have You Faith In Christ?,” (Nashville: Abingdon 2015) p25.