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Sermon by Rev. Mark Covington, Pastor
First United Methodist Church
January 15, 2012
(Second Sunday after Epiphany)
Topic: “I Planted You a Choice Vine…” (Jeremiah 2:21)
There is a theological concept known as the doctrine of “Original Sin.” Basically, it says that because Adam and Eve sinned (their sin was the “original sin”) that we all come into this world as sinful beings.
Before the occupants of the Garden of Eden sinned, they lived in a perfect place. Everything they needed was theirs for the taking. It was so perfect a place that God even came to them and walked with them and talked with them in the cool of the day.
At the point of our text this morning [Jeremiah 2:21], Jeremiah is something of a novice prophet. If you read Jeremiah, the first chapter begins with Jeremiah recounting his call by God. The end of the first chapter contains God telling Jeremiah what he is going to do to Israel and Jerusalem. And in chapter 2 God begins to lay his case out before Jeremiah so that Jeremiah will understand why God is about to do what He is about to do. And it is in that context that God says, “I planted you a choice vine and you became a wild vine.” [Talking about Israel.]
In the verses just preceding that, Jeremiah tells what God says to him: …your fathers have gone far from me … and worshipped idols…verse 6: they no longer acknowledge what I did for them in bringing them out of their bondage in Egypt…verse 7: I gave you this land as a heritage and you made it an abomination…verse 8: the priests, rulers and prophets have turned away from me… And it’s right at that point that God says, “I planted you a choice vine…and you became a wild vine.” [verse 21]
What other people are like Israel? No other nation has ever been able to trace their origins back to God. No other nation can claim to be God’s chosen people. No other nation can claim that they were a nation in slavery and because of direct actions of God they were brought out of their slavery.
Is there another nation that can claim God came to their aid by turning a river into blood, frogs everywhere, dust into gnats, flies that only bothered Egyptians, livestock dying, boils and open sores, hail, locusts, darkness and death of first-born children?
What other nations can say they escaped their captors by God opening up a sea so that they could cross over on dry land and then closing the sea around their enemy? What other nation could claim being led into the wilderness by a fiery pillar [by night] and a smoky cloud [by day], and having food fall from heaven? What other nation can boast that their laws were given to them directly by God, and not some Parliament or legislature? What other nation can claim such things?
What other nation can claim they were led to a place “flowing with milk and honey,” and that they were given that land as a birthright? What other nation could brag about being planted by God in that land as a “choice vine?” But then, what other people could claim that God now calls them a “wild and degenerate vine?” Only Israel.
What happened? Why did they go from being God’s chosen people, led directly by God, into being called a degenerate vine?
When we look at Israel’s history, we find a number of things that by themselves probably did not get them there, but when you take them all together, it got them from being God’s good vine to God’s degenerate vine. You remember how in the desert they whined about being led out there to die of thirst or starvation? You remember even when the law was being given to them they were creating a god of their own liking? David’s sin that prevented him from exercising proper discipline and authority over his own household? Solomon’s rejection of God in his old age? Rehoboam’s rebellion that split the nation in two? There was a series of rulers who wanted to BE gods instead of God’s servants. That transformation didn’t happen overnight.
One of the saddest things to me is to stand in the front of a church, in front of a crowd of witnesses, with a bride and groom gazing into each other’s eyes professing their love for one another, repeating vows…”will you love her…comfort him…honor and keep each other in sickness and in health for rich or for poor for better for worse to love and to cherish and forsaking all others [etc] as long as you both shall live…” …and while they’re repeating that, I’m standing there thinking, “They have no idea…”
When I’m doing pre-marital counseling, one of the things I’ve started emphasizing is that you are not taking those vows to me. You are not taking those vows to the people who have come to watch you get married. When you say those words, you’re promising that to God. And then sometime later I hear that that couple is getting divorced, and it always makes me sad. Their marriage started out with such promise–started out perfect–for the first 5 minutes.
Marriages don’t go bad overnight. Marriages go bad over a long period of time. That’s how Israel went from being called by God a “choice” vine into being called a “wild” vine. It happened gradually, and slowly. Most people don’t set out over time to go away from God, but it happens.
On May 13th, 1931 in rural Indiana, a baby boy was born to James Thurmond Jones and Lynette Putnam. He wasn’t evil, laying there in that bassinette. But along the way he became Jim Jones [the cult leader responsible for the deaths of over 900 people]. It didn’t happen overnight.
Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili was born in Gori, Georgia in the Russian empire to a cobbler who owned his own business and a woman named Ketevan Geladze. This was their third child; the other two boys had died in infancy. On the day he was born I’m sure his mother and father looked over in that bed [where he lay] and they loved him. And he was perfect. Somewhere along the way he became a bad vine. You don’t know him as Iosif; you know him as Joseph Stalin. It doesn’t happen overnight.
You know, I’m not sure I agree with the doctrine of “original sin.” I think that we were…are…created in God’s image, and that His image does not include sin. Along the way, however, we [many of us] who are born good vines become degenerate vines. Sometimes it’s disappointment that causes us to turn, sometimes it happens in school or a career or a marriage that causes us to start withdrawing from God. Maybe it’s alcohol or drugs or sex. Maybe it’s bad parents, or bad friends, or bad choices that turn us from choice vines to degenerate vines. And yet that’s not universally true. [Some] people go through the same thing that others go through and they don’t turn into a bad vine. How can that be?
Well, it doesn’t happen overnight. Over time people lose their way. Over time they pray a little less, and a little less often. Over time they stop going to worship. Over time people pay less attention to their devotions and Bible reading, giving that time over to non-spiritual things. Over time they let disappointments take over; appointments take precedence over appointments with God. The really sad part is, that people don’t usually know they’re doing it. They’re usually bad vines before they ever find out. Over time we let our personal agendas override God’s agenda. Over time we may gain the whole world but in doing so, we lose our lives.
Judas didn’t start out to betray Jesus. Peter didn’t start out to deny Him. And yet, both did.
You may at this very moment be on your journey to being the bad vine, on your journey away from God. You at this moment may be in the middle of that journey, or even at the end of that journey. It takes time, but you need to know that just knowing that you’re leaving God is usually a good start.
If you read the 18th chapter of Jeremiah, God tells Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house, and here’s what he says: “The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, ‘Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he re-worked it into another vessel that seemed good to him.
“…Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘Can I not do to you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done?’ says the Lord. ‘Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it. But if that nation concerning what I have spoken turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I’ve intended to bring on them. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build up and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about it, the good that I intended to do to it. Now therefore say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, thus says the Lord: Look. I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you, from your evil way, and amend your ways, and your doings.’”
God is saying: I planted you a choice vine. You became a degenerate vine but if you turn from your ways I will make you a choice vine again. I planted you as a choice vine from the purest stock. How then did you turn degenerate and become a wild vine?
For us as Christians, Jesus Christ is the way that we can become good vines again. Jesus Christ is the way that we return to God from our journeys into evil. Be those short journeys, or long journeys, Jesus Christ is the way that we turn back to God. And if we as a nation and as a people don’t turn back to God, I hate to think…[what will happen]……….