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"After Sunday worship I feel refreshed and ready to start a new week. Worship calms me and makes me want to be a more giving and forgiving person."

 

 "I am here to share my soul, body, and mind with our bigger family who shares our worship to God and the entire universe.  This is my worship experience at church."

 

Worship at FCC Essex follows a traditional liturgy, but God still speaks to the world today from these ancient words and rituals as if they were new.  Music and spirit and art and words and silence center us and inform us.  Our style of worship brings comfort, soothes the spirit, challenges the mind, strengthens our love of each other, and empowers us for doing good in the world.

Our service is available in person at 10:00 am, of course, and also on live on Facebook, or on YouTube or here on our website later in the day on Sunday.

Other special services of worship are celebrated throughout the year during Advent (Christmas) and Lent, as well as ecumenical events with other churches in Essex and within the UCC.

 

August 14, 2022

The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost

Isaiah 5:1–7

Psalm 80:1–2, 8–19

Hebrews 11:29–12:2

Luke 12:49–56

 

 

Reflection on Isaiah 5:1-7

Rev. Dr. Cheryl Lindsay

Has anyone ever written a song for you…about you? I’ve been introduced to songs titled with my name, written for or about some other “Cheryl.” I’ve heard their melody or listened to their lyrics and attempted to imagine the person who inspired them. Once, I was at a poetry reading, and one of the featured poets (whom I had just met minutes before) dedicated a poem to me. It was quite the experience. He looked at me most of the time while he recited the words. I felt like everyone was looking at me. My heart beat faster and it felt as if all the blood in my body rushed to my face. At the same time, I kept perfectly still as if I was trapped–or maybe held–in the moment. That poem wasn’t written with me in mind, but it came to his mind during our conversation. I have never felt more exposed, and this happened by a stranger who had only gotten a glimpse of me.

Imagine how the people of the covenant felt when they first heard the words of this song. How excited the words of the first verse made them. “Let me sing for my beloved…” the prophet begins. It’s clear that this love song comes as a message through Isaiah from their God. Who wouldn’t want to hear of the Holy One’s love? I imagine their hearts began to race, smiles transformed their faces, and even their posture improved.

Only the prophet keeps singing.

Isaiah 5:1–7 begins innocently enough. The prophet appears at a public gathering and begins to sing like he’s some sort of minstrel. On the surface, the song seems to be about the singer’s friend and his vineyard. Anyone, however, who had been listening to Jerusalem’s Top 40 in the eighth century B.C.E. knew that it was really a love song. The vineyard metaphor for the bride is found in Song of Songs 8:11–12. Assyrian and Egyptian songs are known to have similar themes of making an orchard or field fruitful. Isaiah sings of preparing the vineyard, and everyone smiles because they know the code. They understand that it is not about a vineyard and owner at all; it is about a bride and groom. They let their guard down because there is a certain comradery that comes from sharing secret meanings.

Gary W. Light

This love song takes a turn. So many of the great ones do. They evoke tears as they articulate the aches that love can bring when it is unrequited, unappreciated, and unwanted. When the ballad bemoans love lost, we grieve the memories we will not make and the moments that will never come. I haven’t accessed any quantifiable research on this, but it seems like most songs about love are cloaked in sadness, pain, and even despair. There are plentiful exceptions, of course, and they get sung at weddings and other celebrations of love. But, the great love songs speak more of heartbreak than blossoming and more pain than joy. This song Isaiah sings for the vineyard fits that category.

Yet the love song ‘turns out to be a complaint’ (Childs 2001:45). The owner of the vineyard has invested a considerable sum in developing the venture into viticulture. The owner has used the best raw materials (excellent soil and the choicest vines) and has installed the best technology (watchtowers and vats). A substantial return is anticipated from this investment. However, the vineyard only produces bitter grapes that are unusable for wine (Childs 2001:45). Couey notes the precise detail and technical vocabulary used by the prophet in describing the production of this vineyard. The entire scope of the process is described (2015:161). However, as the song continues, it becomes clear that this vineyard refers to Judah and Israel. Instead of producing a harvest of justice, they have produced bloodshed. Instead of yielding righteousness, they have produced a cry of pain from the people who are being treated unfairly and oppressively. As Goldingay notes, ironically this same term is used to describe the crying out of Israel in Egypt but is now used against one another (2014:22).

Jacqueline Grey

Like so many bittersweet love songs, this one chronicles the breakdown of a precious relationship. Commitments have been ignored, and trust has been broken. Another prophet, Zephaniah, portrays God rejoicing over the human beings God has created as if God were dancing in delight over us. The Holy One delights in these human creatures with the giddiness of new love that hasn’t been tested, broken, and defiled. And, while humans may be disappointed and even feel abandoned by God, the Alpha and Omega keeps their promises. God’s steadfast love endures forever. Humanity is the heartbreaker. The people of the covenant inspire the Author of the covenant to write this sad, love song.

The amount of effort and the expectation of fulfillment in this relationship were incredible. Then the tune suddenly turns sour. The select vines so lovingly cared for produce putrid, rotten grapes!….As soon as the love song breaks down into an accusation, the singer changes from the “best man” to the bridegroom/farmer himself. He calls to the listeners, “Judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?” (5:3–4). Perhaps the people were thinking of what to do with that kind of a vineyard….The people were involved in the story line and they knew that the bridegroom/farmer was not the one at fault. Isaiah himself does not pause to consider the various responses of his audience. He delivers the message of what the bridegroom/farmer has already decided to do. The protective hedge will be removed, and the grapes will be eaten by anyone who would want them. The stone wall will be broken down, and the vines will be trampled down by people taking shortcuts across the hillside (a more likely fate for bitter grapes than that of being eaten). No more energy will be wasted in the cultivation of the vineyard, and it will quickly be overgrown with choking briars and weeds. Finally, and with this we know that Bridegroom is spelled with a capital B, the speaker will “command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it” (5:6). The minstrel is a prophet and YHWH is his “beloved” Bridegroom/Farmer. Who else but God can command drought as punishment?

Gary W. Light

In some ways, the Holy One asserts themselves as sovereign to a people who have been and will continue to be subjected to the earthly rule of a more powerful adversary. In Isaiah, the people are not encouraged to fight or to flee. Rather, they have been called to remember and affirm that their God is sovereign of all. Despite occupation or captivity…displacement or exile…conquering or capitulation, the Holy One will provide and sustain them through it all. Their survival and flourishing depends upon trusting in the One who has proven to be trustworthy. The reign of God and the realm of God function like the love of God…they endure forever.

That is the promise of the covenant, which stands as a solemn pledge and agreement no matter the human condition. Even sad love songs remind us that the emotions and commitment of the faithful one do not abate because of the infidelity of the other party. Even as the Divine Lover accounts the wrongs, God still refers to her people as “my beloved.”

The actions to come are consequences not vengeance. Part of loving their people entails holding them accountable for their decisions. It’s interesting that even their dreaded enemy, the Assyrians, had a tradition of love ballads from the deities they worshipped. I suspect they also had songs of judgment. It would be even more interesting to compare the differences. What I find most fascinating, particularly considering the vine-branch imagery Jesus introduces during the New Testament era, is that this was not a song for the vine or for the branches. Not even the grapes were the direct subject or object of this ballad.

The vineyard was the place they gathered. At the time, the people of Israel and Judah represented both a national identity and a religious community. There was no separation. The vineyard, by extension, represented the territory of the nations and the sacred spaces of the community. The people won’t be overcome, but those places will become wasteland. Afterall, the only point of a vineyard is to produce fruit. Sometimes, the land has to turned over in order for new plantings to flourish. This is not a judgment for all time, but a correction for a season in order for God’s beloved–God’s “pleasant planting”–yield fruit again.

 

   
 

First Congregational Church in Essex

United Church of Christ

6 Methodist Hill

Essex, Connecticut 06426

phone:  860-767-8097

office@essexucc.org