Poor Draft Choices and a Hopeful Future
Scriptures: Isaiah 5:1-7; Isaiah 27:2-6 [The Message]
I will read our second scripture near the end of the sermon today. Before that, I need to talk about the scripture we just heard.
For Seahawk fans there may be less interest in today’s Superbowl than in the upcoming NFL Draft. For those of you who don’t follow this stuff, the NFL draft is where teams take turns picking from among the top college football players across the country who are graduating or turning professional. It’s called a draft because the players don’t get to choose their teams, the teams get to choose their players. In the NFL draft the team with the worst record gets the first pick, which is a way of trying to even out the talent between teams.
The problem is that the Seahawks have a mixed record in the draft. In 1987 the Seahawks had the number one pick in the pro football supplemental draft. They got the first choice of all eligible college football players in the country. They chose Brian Bosworth. The Boz, as he was called, seemed like a good choice. He had played three years for the University of Oklahoma and was twice named the best college linebacker in the country. The Seahawks signed him to the biggest contract in team history: $11 million dollars over 10 years. He played only three years. ESPN named him one of the 10 biggest flops in the last three decades.
In 1993 the Seahawks tried again. They had the 2nd pick in the NFL draft, the 2nd choice of any eligible college player in the country. They chose Rick Mirer from Notre Dame. Rick signed a 5 year, $15 million contract. He played four years for the Seahawks, and in three of those four years he threw more interceptions than touchdowns. Pro Football Reference rated him the worst quarterback in NFL history.
Believe it or not, this is actually relevant to our scripture reading from Isaiah. Isaiah 5 describes a vineyard planted by the Lord. Verse 2 says, “He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it.” The Lord did everything to make this a healthy, safe, and productive vineyard. The Lord had high hopes for this vineyard, expecting it to yield high quality grapes. But instead it produced wild grapes—grapes that tasted bitter and were worthless.
In verse 7 we are told the meaning of this parable: “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting.”
To use football imagery, Israel was God’s first draft choice. The Bible says this quite clearly. In Deuteronomy 7, Moses tells the people of Israel, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” Israel was God’s first round draft choice. And if you think about it, the Lord paid a significant price for them: bringing them out of slavery in Egypt, leading them and feeding them for forty years in the wilderness, defeating all their enemies and giving them a fertile land in which they could plant vineyards and raise crops. In one sense Isaiah 5 should be taken literally. The Lord literally created a vineyard for the people of Israel, giving them a good land with the potential to produce delicious grapes.
But they turned out to be one a “bitter” disappointment. In Isaiah 5:5-6—the Lord says,
And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns.
This is not just a parable. It describes quite literally what happened to the people of Israel in the time of Isaiah. Their vineyards were trampled and destroyed by foreign armies. Their towers and fortifications were torn down. The people who survived were taken into exile, which meant the fields were left untended, overgrown with briers and thorns.
Why did that happen? Because the people did not fulfill their purpose. They did not live up to their reason for being drafted. Verse 7: “God expected justice (mishpat), but saw bloodshed (mishpah); God expected righteousness (sedeqa), but heard a cry (she’aqa).” In Hebrew words almost rhyme. I tried to emulate that in the prayer of confession this morning. God expected light, but instead got blight. God expected care, but instead got despair. God expected hope, but instead got self-centered dopes. It’s not great poetry, but you get the idea. God expected Israel to bring blessing into the world, but instead their history was filled with greed, conflict, and destruction.
But that is not the end of the story. Now we are ready for the second scripture reading. By the time of Isaiah 27 Israel and its vineyards had long since been destroyed by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. By the time of Isaiah 27, Israel was no longer a first draft choice. It was an undrafted free agent, meaning no team wanted it. But God did, and that is where our second scripture reading begins. This scripture reading is confusing in the New Revised Standard Bibles, so I am going to read it from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible called The Message.
At that same time, a fine vineyard will appear.
There’s something to sing about!
I, God, tend it. I keep it well-watered.
I keep careful watch over it so that no one can damage it.
I’m not angry. I care.
Even if it gives me thistles and thornbushes,
I’ll just pull them out and burn them up.
Let that vine cling to me for safety,
let it find a good and whole life with me,
let it hold on for a good and whole life.”
The days are coming when Jacob shall put down roots,
Israel blossom and grow fresh branches, and fill the world with its fruit.
Did you notice how this scripture reverses the damage described in Isaiah 5? Both talk about God tending a vineyard. But there is a difference.
- Isaiah 5: Hedges and walls are torn down, leaving it unprotected.
- Isaiah 27: God will keep careful watch over it.
- Isaiah 5: No rain will fall on the land.
- Isaiah 27: God will keep it well watered.
- Isaiah 5: It will be overgrown with briers and thorns.
- Isaiah 27: God will pull out the thistles and thorns.
- Isaiah 5: The vineyard is a waste.
- Isaiah 27: The vineyard blossoms and grows.
Isaiah 27 is the vineyard in Isaiah 5 restored. In fact it is made better. This new vineyard fills the world with its fruit. Israel finally becomes the blessing to the world it was meant to be.
It seems that when the Seahawks had a top draft pick, they did not do very well. The Seahawks often seem to do better when they pick from the bottom of the barrel. In 2012 they took Russell Wilson as the 75th overall pick. In 2011 the Seahawks had the 154th pick. 153 college players had already been chosen by that point. On the 154th pick, the Seahawks took a not very highly rated player from Stanford. His name was Richard Sherman.
In the time of Isaiah, God could have selected many more promising nations as God’s chosen people, like the Assyrians, the Babylonians, or the Persians. But God chose instead to stick with the lowly, defeated people of Israel, determined to make them a fruitful vineyard and a blessing to the world. Which has happened, we believe, in no small part through an unheralded descendant of Israel named Jesus.
In 2011 the Seahawks signed an undrafted free agent. That means no professional team wanted him. No NFL team chose him in the draft that year, so the Seahawks signed him as an undrafted free agent. His name was Doug Baldwin, who now has the second most career touchdown receptions in Seahawk history.
If the Seahawks can do that with an undrafted football player, if God can do that with a disappointing vineyard, what might the Creator of the universe be able to do with you, if you only give God the chance?