“Warning Labels” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine on the weekend of November 19, 2023 — the Sunday before Thanksgiving and Christ the King Sunday on our church calendar. The text upon which it was/is based is Isaiah 5:1-7. To access a copy of this week’s worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order 20231119
Christ the King Sunday (NL2) John B. Valentine
Isaiah 5:1-7; 11:1-5 November 19, 2023
So ... I was over at Starbucks getting a cup of coffee the other day and noticed that ... as is their practice every holiday season ... they’d changed their cups.
Gone from the generic white ones with the green logo to the holiday ones ... replete with what looks like generic gift wrap ... and even a cute little gift tag printed on it.
But the one thing that hadn’t (and hasn’t) changed on those cups is the warning label ...
But because ALL Starbucks cups ... the holiday and non-holiday versions alike ... carry a particular warning label.
Specifically ... Starbucks cups declare “Caution: the beverage you are about to enjoy is extremely hot!”
You may not know it ... but there’s a particular reason they put those warnings on their coffee cups ...
It’s because ... a number of years ago now ...there was a gal who successfully sued McDonald’s for like two-and-a-half million dollars ... after she spilled her McDonald’s coffee in her lap while trying to take the lid off!
• Not that she shouldn’t have not put the cup of coffee between her legs in the first place ...
• Not that she shouldn’t have put the cream and sugar in it before her grandson drove off ...
• Not that she should have owned some culpability in the whole thing ...
No ... in her estimation ... the whole of the problem had to do with McDonald’s coffee being TOO HOT!
To the end that ... nowadays ... we have warning labels on everything ... cautioning us to be wary of absolutely everything!
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But do you realize the true extent to which warning label creep have intruded upon our world???
• There’s a label on a baby stroller which warns: “Remove child before folding.”
• There’s a label on a toilet brush which warns: “Do not use for personal hygiene.”
• There’s a label on an iron ... an iron! ... which warns: “Never iron clothes while they are being worn.”
Are you kidding me!
• Your new dishwasher probably comes with the caution: “Do not allow children to play in the dishwasher.”
• Your new refrigerator definitely comes with the caution: “Do not allow children to play in the refrigerator!”
• And ... my own personal favorite ... a chain saw I recently purchased has a highlighted picture and an arrow pointed at the chain ... reminding you to “Never pick up your chain saw by the wrong end!”
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Anyhow ... this morning’s Bible lesson strikes me ... in a certain way ... as being a big ol’ warning label.
Seriously ... this morning’s lesson starts with that text from the fifth chapter of the book of the Prophet Isaiah.
It’s a warning in the form of a love-song ... a song that tells of God and his vineyard.
“My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill” sings Isaiah.
• He dug it and cleared it of stones.
• He planted it with choice vines.
• He built a watchtower in it.
• He hewed out a wine vat.
In other words ... God did everything God could to reap a good harvest.
And ... accordingly ... God expected it to yield its fruit in due season. Fair enough!
Rather than yielding grapes of the sort that might yield a jammy Zin or a luscious Cab ...
The vineyard yielded ‘wild grapes’ ... YUCK!
This meticulously-prepared ... meticulously-tended ... vineyard yields bad fruit.
To the point that God says “What more could I have done?” ... “Show me where I have fallen short!” ... “Tell me what I have done wrong!”
WHY DID I GET WILD GRAPES???
“Judge between me and my vineyard” ... says the Lord.
Are these wild grapes the fault of the vineyard owner??
Or are they the fault of the vineyard itself?
Are they the fault of the manufacturer??
Or the fault of the customer??
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Let’s be honest ... folks:
• If a child is injured playing in the dishwasher ... we have to blame the customer ... not the manufacturer.
• If a man gets a birthday candle stuck in his ear ... we have to blame the man and not the candle company.
• If a woman steps on a storage rack for compact disks and DVDs ... and falls ... we have to blame her for not obeying the warning label that was prominently placed on the CD rack: “Do not use as a ladder or a step-stool.”
And ... if this particular vineyard yields bad fruit ... blame lies NOT with the vineyard owner.
After all .... the owner spent an obscene amount of money buying up the best land ever in the heart of the Napa Valley ... and investing an obscene amount of money in infrastructure and irrigation and the like to make SURE it was all good!
So what is the product-developer left to do?
Well ... to slap a warning label on it ... to be sure!
“And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge … break down its wall … make it a waste … [and] also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it!”
This warning label couldn’t be any clearer ... folks!
Producing bad fruit can result in injury, dismemberment or death!!
God is issuing a caution that is as obvious as the sticker on those Duraflame logs you can buy at the grocery store or over at OSH ... the one that read “Caution — Risk of Fire.”
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I trust that ... by now ... you’ve realized this passage from Isaiah isn’t really about vineyards.
Rather ... that it is a song and a story about people ... about people like us!
It’s this insistence:
• That God has made us for justice ... but we have practiced injustice.
• That God has made us to be fruitful .... but we have been fruitless.
• That God has created us for righteousness ... but we’ve practiced wickedness.
• Made us for selfless service ... but we’ve preferred to selfishly party.
• Made us for good ... but we’ve sold out to evil.
• Made us for truth ... but we’ve shown a preference for lies.
• Made us to dwell in the light ... but we’ve opted instead for the shadows and darkness.
That we’ve become like the man in a New Yorker cartoon ... talking with a friend. “I’ve tried a lot of life strategies” ... he says .... “and being completely self-serving works best for me.”
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You know ... over the course of the past couple three months now ... this Narrative Lectionary thing that we use as the basis for our weekly scripture readings has taken us on a whirlwind tour of the Old Testament.
• We’ve looked at the story of life in the Garden of Eden ...
• We’ve looked at the story of Jacob being called by God ...
• We’ve looked at Moses and the story of the Ten Commandments ...
• We’ve looked at Ruth and her story of steadfast commitment ...
• We’ve looked at David and David’s kids ...
• We’ve looked at Elijah and Hosea and now Isaiah.
But ... looking back on all those stories ... I been trying to puzzle out what it is that holds them all together.
And it seems ... to me ... that what holds them all together is this:
“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength ... and love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
OUR ETHIC AS PEOPLE OF GOD IS AN ETHIC GROUNDED IN LOVE ... LOVE FOR GOD AND LOVE FOR THOSE WHOM GOD WOULD CALL OUR NEIGHBORS.
That’s the “Warning Label” which the Lord our God affixes to this thing we call “Life” ...
That if we don’t handle it with “Love” ... it’s bound to blow up in our faces.
• Not just love for those who are our next-door neighbors ... but love for our neighbors half-way around the world.
• Not just love for those with whom we agree politically ... sociologically ... philosophically ... but love for those with whom we disagree on the issues that face our world.
• Not just love for members of our own families ... but love for those who have no families ... what the Bible calls “orphans and widows and the resident alien in your land.”
That doesn’t mean that we may not ... on occasion ... disagree ... but we may not ... cannot ... dare not ... handle this life and this world which God has gifted us without love.
AND THAT IS A WARNING LABEL WORTH READING!