A Vineyard on a Very Fruitful Hill

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Mitchellville, Nov. 21, 2004

Now let me sing to my Well-beloved A song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard: My Well-beloved has a vineyard On a very fruitful hill. (ISA 5:1)

Since the beginning of agriculture vineyards have been appreciated as one of the higher forms of farming.

It could be because of the difficulty of domesticating the grape in the first place, and then the long years of care that are required to keep the vine healthy and productive.

It could be the important role that wine has played in the development of civilization, providing both healing and refreshment while tasting good.

It could be because a well-maintained vineyard could produce a relatively high return for the amount of land dedicated to the vineyard.

In any case, for whatever reason, vineyards are an important element in many of the stories of the Old Testament (Naboth’s vineyard in 1 Kings 21, for example), and are the setting for many of the Lord’s parables in the New Testament.

In Isaiah, as was read in the first lesson, the vineyard itself is the centerpiece and symbol, being a lovely representation of how the Lord builds the church among His people.

(Isa 5:2) He dug it up and cleared out its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, And also made a winepress in it; So He expected it to bring forth good grapes, But it brought forth wild grapes.

First, He picked a "very fruitful hill" on which to place it.

When the Lord selected the hill, the hill itself was not fruitful because it had not yet been cultivated, but in His wisdom (the wisdom of the Farmer), He could see that because of its setting and soil, that it would be fruitful with the proper care.

The human race is that "fruitful hill." We come into the world full of hereditary evils and with minds that are tabula rasa or "blank slates." As the Lord teaches in Matthew 13 the human mind is like a field in which He sows truth from the Word like seeds. Then, depending on how the soil has been prepared, there may be a fruitful result.

But, that fruitfulness is there only in potential at first. Much work has to be done to prepare the soil to receive the seeds, or the vines, or the olive trees. So the passage from Isaiah tells us what the Lord does to prepare the soil.

He dug it up and cleared out its stones.

In the Word, stones usually represent various forms of truth, but they can also represent falsities. We can certainly understand that a lot of the things that we pick up as children are false, so the mind of a young adult can be compared to a field that is full of rocks. The process of education is one in which we probe for the rocks – the falsities – and through some effort dig them out and move them to the side of the field.

We need to be reminded from time to time that although the decision to remove the rocks is ours, the work is actually the Lord’s.

And planted it with the choicest vine.

So when the Lord has so carefully prepared the soil, what does He plant there? "Choicest vine," the good of faith in the spiritual church.

Some plants, like wheat and corn, are grown from seed scattered on the soil. Grapes are cultivated as plants, sometimes from cuttings, and then individually planted. While seeds represent simple truths, the vine plant represents what happens when seeds take root. An individual learns truths and thinks about them in relation to all the truths he knows. He sees how they can be applied to life, and applies them. From being truths in the abstract, when lived they become charity, the "choicest vine" which can be expected to bear good fruit.

He built a tower in its midst.

This is not just any vineyard. This one had a tower. It’s mentioned to emphasize the wealth of the owner of the vineyard, and His plan to do it right in every aspect. The function of a tower would be both symbolic and practical. It was a symbol of his wealth, and it was practical as a place to put watchmen to protect the crop.

A tower represents the interior things of truth because it is made of stone, and yet it rises up into the higher (or more interior) realms.

This is a picture of how those who first learn truth, than bring it to life as charity will then learn by doing and be elevated into interior truths – which lead to more interior uses, and so on and so on to eternity.

At least this is how it was supposed to work, this was the Divine Plan for the Lord’s church on earth. Like every plan, it needed to be tested by life, there needed to be some way to measure it to see if the result was the one that was desired.

And also made a winepress in it.

The wine press represents the examination of works as to their interior quality.

Most everyone has had the experience of eating grapes from a cluster. All the grapes look pretty much the same, so you pop them into your mouth expecting a tasty treat. But every so often you run into one that is sour, that sets your teeth on edge.

As with so many things, it’s not the outward appearance that counts, but the inner nature. And that can only be exposed through trial and temptation. So, the Lord’s vineyard must also have a winepress so that the juice can be extracted and tasted, and a judgment made of its quality.

So He expected it to bring forth good grapes, But it brought forth wild grapes.

Grapes represent goods; goods of charity, goods of life while wild grapes represent the opposite, that is, evils of life.

To all appearances, everything was perfect. The wall, the tower, the soil, the location, and the plants. And yet when it came time to test the wine, it was sour.

Where does the fault lie? With the owner of the vineyard? Or with the vines and grapes themselves?

More to the point, what is to be done about it? A good farmer would try again, he’d pull up the vines and try new one from another source to see if he could not get a better result in that location.

This story is a summary, in the form of an easily remembered story, of the succession of the churches.

It tell us how and why it is that there have been several churches over the passage of the years. The Lord prepares the ground, but it is up to us to receive His gifts and to grow in the environment He provides, to learn to do truth and become charity.

Certainly the Jews listening to Isaiah would have understood the story of the vineyard to be a condemnation of their own behavior and their own church. It’s not difficult to look at the historical records and agree. But if we stopped there we would be missing the point of the prophecy and its inclusion in the Word of God.

The vineyard does in fact picture what actually happened to the Jewish Church, but at the same time it is a warning of what can happen to any church that fails it its primary mission of bringing truth into life through acts of charity toward the neighbor.

Again, looking at the record of history, we can see how this happened to the Christian Church:

The careful preparation surrounding the Lord’s birth into the world and His public ministry. The promising start and rapid growth, and then the turning away from the essential doctrine of the Lord and the resulting failure of charity within the church bringing it to the end of usefulness and creating the need for a New Church.

The New Church is the "new vineyard" in this series, and needs to heed the warning. It is our responsibility as members of the New Church to do everything in our power to make certain that the grapes are good, not sour.

Finally, we need to remember the relationship between the church in heaven and on earth. Just as heaven as a whole appears as a single angel from a distance; that each of the three heavens appears as a single angel from a distance; and that each society appears as a single angel from a distance because the imprint of the Creator is in every detail of the created universe, so it is said that each angel is a heaven in miniature.

The same thing is true of the Lord’s church in that it is made up of regions and societies and individuals and each of them can be considered to be in some way a church. That means that those things that are true for the church as a whole are also true of the individual who wishes to become a "church" that is, to become regenerated and be as an angel of heaven.

Self examination can be likened to finding and digging out the stones.

Reformation can be likened to the process of preparing the soil and planting the vines.

The quality of the grapes that are then produces, the uses, are what then determine the state and the quality of the regeneration.

There is an important difference with the individual as a church, however. For us, the process of testing grapes and reworking the vineyard is ongoing. We may find some bad plants, we may have some bad years, but as long as we hold to the goal, and keep working as a good husbandmen with the Lord, the vintage will improve with time. That is the promise of a vineyard planted on a very fruitful hill with the good vines and the wisest oversight.

It is the Lord who designs, who builds, and who maintains the vineyard.

We need to be good vinedressers, to learn the ways to keep the vines healthy and the wine sweet.

The Lord builds the church and protects it, but mankind must cooperate with Him in this task

(Isa 5:2) He dug it up and cleared out its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, And also made a winepress in it; So He expected it to bring forth good grapes. Amen.


First Lesson: ISA 5:1-7

1 Now let me sing to my Well-beloved

A song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard:

My Well-beloved has a vineyard

On a very fruitful hill.

2 He dug it up and cleared out its stones,

And planted it with the choicest vine.

He built a tower in its midst,

And also made a winepress in it;

So He expected it to bring forth good grapes,

But it brought forth wild grapes.

3 "And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,

Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard.

4 What more could have been done to My vineyard

That I have not done in it?

Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes,

Did it bring forth wild grapes?

5 And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard:

I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned;

And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.

6 I will lay it waste;

It shall not be pruned or dug,

But there shall come up briers and thorns.

I will also command the clouds

That they rain no rain on it."

7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel,

And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.

He looked for justice, but behold, oppression;

For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.

Amen.

 

Second Lesson: Mark 12:1-12

Then He began to speak to them in parables: "A man planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a place for the wine vat and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. {2} "Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that he might receive some of the fruit of the vineyard from the vinedressers. {3} "And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. {4} "Again he sent them another servant, and at him they threw stones, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully treated. {5} "And again he sent another, and him they killed; and many others, beating some and killing some. {6} "Therefore still having one son, his beloved, he also sent him to them last, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ {7} "But those vinedressers said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ {8} "So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard. {9} "Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others. {10} "Have you not even read this Scripture: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. {11} This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?" {12} And they sought to lay hands on Him, but feared the multitude, for they knew He had spoken the parable against them. So they left Him and went away. Amen.

Third Lesson: AE 918:4

"My beloved had a vineyard in the horn of a son of oil, which he fenced about, and gathered out the stones thereof; and he planted it with a noble vine, and built a tower in the midst of it; also he hewed out a wine-press in it, and he waited for it to bring forth grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes" (v. 1, 2, 4).

By the vineyard of the beloved, is signified the spiritual church, which was instituted with the sons of Israel. In the horn of a son of oil, signifies, which had truths from the good of charity. Which he fenced about, and gathered out the stones, signifies the guarding it from falsities and evils. He planted it with a noble vine, signifies that it was gifted with genuine truths. He built a tower in the midst of it, signifies the interior things, which receive influx, and by which there is communication with heaven. Also he hewed out a wine-press in it, signifies the production of truth from good. And he waited for it to bring forth grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes, signifies the hope of the fructification of those things from the good of charity; but in vain, because there was iniquity in the place of good. Amen.


Copyright © 1982 - 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009