The Umbrella over Trinity Christian College

At the all-college faculty and student retreat held in Camp lake Geneva, Wisconsin, September 8, 1967

Quite simply, before I speak, we are going to sing and read to you Isaiah 2–5. What you hear now, this is the Word of God:


the prophet (in song):

Let me sing a song of one who loves me, a song my lover wrote about his vineyard. My lover had a vineyard on a sunny, fertile mountain slope.

He spaded it over and over with care. He took out all the stones, and planted it with vines to grow grapes fit for wine.

My lover built a sturdy watchtower in the middle of the garden. He even hewed out of the rock a press to thresh the grapes there.

And he waited with hope [on that mountain slope]

for the choice vines to bear a grape fit for wine. But all he got was bitter, little pits in rot.

the Lord (in song):

What now?

You who live in Jerusalem, You [favored] men of Judah, Go ahead and judge between me and my garden of grapes!

What more could more been done for my vineyard that I did not do? Why did I have to hope good grapes be grown, and alII got was bitter, little pits in rot?

And now?!

I’ll tell you what I intend to do to my vineyard:

Away with its hedge of thorny bushes! Let animals graze it to the groundBreak down the protecting wall of stones! so beasts can trample it all around.

No trimming anymore, No weeding it out, I turn it into wasteland where only thorns and thistles sprout.

And I shall forbid the clouds to drop their rain on its ground.

the prophet (spoken):

The vineyard of Yahweh, God of the angels, is you, house of Israel! And you men of Judah are the crop the Lord most delighted in—

He expected from you wMt is good and straight. What‘s there? Gossip and the underhandedly crooked!

He expected from you what is holy and worth his trust. What’s there? The cry of those hurt and misled… (5:1–7)

the prophet continues, speaking to God and to those who hear the Word about


Yes, You have abandoned your people, [haven’t you, Lord?]

The house of Jacob is chuck-full of Oriental practices—soothsayers like the Philistines—and they strike bargains with whippersnappers who are strangers (to you, Yahweh]:

Their country has been filling up with silver and gold there’s no end to what they’ve been stockpiling;

Their land is overrun with horses, and endless are their vehicles for war.

“Gods”! too overfill their land: they worship what their hands have made! what their little fingers have put together...

But everyman will be cut down to size, everyman shall be brought low: You will not hold them up [much longer, will you, Lord]?

Beat it to caves in the rocks, and bun) yourself in the dirt before the awful majesty of the Lord Yahweh and his terrible glory!

Stuck-up looks of men shall be struck down;

The haughty men of society shall be squished to the ground: only the Lord God Yahweh shall command respect on that Day.

Yahweh, God of the Angels, has a Day coming that shall top every show, every parade performance; every would be spectacular shall be humiliated by it.

(The Lord’s Day coming] shall dwarf the mighty, towering cedars of Lebanon and loom above the oaks of Bashan.

[The Lord’s Day coming] shall stand out above the tallest mountain ranges and overshadow the steepest hills.

[The Lord is going to hold a Day] to take care of every Babel-like lower and every so-called impregnable wall, all the clipperships of Tarshish and the whole slew of costly, showpiece “dream houses”—

The people with put-on airs shall be deflated, and

Smugly arrogant men shall be ruined: only the Lord God Yahweh sMll be imposing command respect on that Day, and every single “nogod” will be vanished....

Men will try to squeeze into cracks in the rocks and cmwl into holes of the ground to get away from the awful matesty of Yahweh and his terrible glory when he stands up again to come astound the earth—

On that Day a man wiU fling away his gods of shiny silver, the nogods of gold he had made for hinuelf to give his life to-a 1Jum will fling them to the moles and bats so he can better scurry deeper into the caves and hollows of the rock

to get away from the awful majesty of Yahweh and his terrible glory

Why put stock in men? What’s a man worth! Just a little air puffing through his nose...

Good God! Yes, Yahweh, Lord of the Angels, is emptying Jerusalem and Judah of what is basic to its existence: all the resources of food and water; strong men and soldiers, {good] judges and preachers, as well as the “forecaster of the future” and sages; [the Lord is making extinct] men able to command groups of men, giftedly distinguished persons, statesmen, deeply perceptive artists, as well as the “specialist at incantations”

—I shall let inexperienced, unripe fellows rule them, [that’s what the Lord said,] so they get subjected to all manner of haphazard, wanton leadership

All the people are under tension: it’s man threatening man, every man against his neighbor. The young people thumb their noses at the older people, and those with nothing to their mime mimic and jibe at those with prestige…

Yes, Jerusalem is ruined and Judah has already fallen, because their actions arid their talk repudiate Yahweh, poke fun of his glory to his face.

Their impudent looks betray themselves; they propagate their sins as shamelessly as Sodom clid.

Too bad for them all: they are only bringing themselves irrevocable evil.

[Look!] Yahweh! is getting set to toke the witness stand—He is standing there, [oh,] to judge peoples. The Lord Yahweh himself is come to judge [especially] the older ones of his people, the leaders:

You are the ones! You are the ones who let the vineyard decay and decompose!

What’s been robbed from the poor, defenceless ones is in your possession. flow come? What’s it to you! that you grind my people to bits?

What do you get out of it? chopping the expectant faces of the tender ones into mincemeat!

this is what my Lord, Yahweh, God of the Angels, has to say.

because {the girls,] the daughters of Sion are vain—walking around with chin tilted up, coquetting with their eyes, mincing around pitter-patter with their feet, high heels clicking [on the ground-because they are vain], my Lord shall make their [proud] heads a muss of scabs and pull down their [fancy] panties in public.

and the boys, your young men, shall die by the sword; the fellows among you shall get killed in the strength of youth at war.

And there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in the suburbs. And the Holy City shall lie emptied, prostrate, sunk to the ground. (2,6–3,5; 3:8–9, 13–17, 25–26)


the prophet (in song):

But a day is coming! when the offshoot belonging to the Lord Yahweh shall be a thing of beauty, a glory! and fruit the land bears shall overwhelm like jewels those of Israel who escaped…

Yes, a day is coming when those left over in Zion, the leftovers! of Jerusalem, shall be called “holy ones”—everyone in Jerusalem whose name is written down “for Life”!

When my Lord have bathed away the stinking rot [smeared] over Zion’s daughters,

When my Lord shall have scrubbed all the guilty blood and washed Jerusalem clean to its core by the turbulent force of Judgment and the destructive power of fire,

Then over the whole area of Mount Zion, over every one of its convocated meetings,

The Lord God Yahweh shall create a cloud to hang in daytime, and at night a smoking, flaming fire burning bright.

Yes, the striking glory [of the Lord] shall hover over all [the “leftovers”] like an umbrella.

[The presence of the Lord himself] shall be like a cozy grape-arbor giving shade by day against the weltering heat, like a retreat, a place to run and hide from the thunder and pouring rain.

(4:2–6)                         …like an umbrella, a grape arbor, like a retreat

is the striking glory of the Lord!

But first comes the parable of the vineyard you heard. The vineyard keeper expected good grapes fit for wine, and all he got was bitter, little pits in rot.

There you have it again: God always seems to get what he did not expect.

The Lord made Adam good and gave him a naked Eve, and man and wife together they stole fruit Yahweh had set off limits; so he had to send his angel with a sword of fire to separate the first people he created from the tree of Life. Adam and Eve got children, and things grew so corrupt God was sorry, it says, he had made men on earth—God was hurting!—so he opened the clouds of heaven and drowned the world with a flood; just a few were left over, escaped from Death. The Lord made Noah the present of a rainbow in the sky, promising him security for ever; but Noah got drunk, and his children’s children tried to outdo God and hitch their wagons to a star with a skyscraper; so God cursed their tongues and dispersed them throughout the earth like displaced persons.

Then good old God started again with Abraham and waited with hope for this choice vine to bear grapes fit for a heady wine; but all he got was a batch of pigheaded Israelites stumbling around the Arabian desert bellyaching for better food on their tented tables. Later the Lord anointed handsome Saul king of his people, and King Saul ended up visiting a witch to get leadership from the mouth of Death. God chose David, the savior of Israel, to be Ur-great-grandfather of Jesus Christ, but already David’s son Solomon broke faith and cavorted with his wives before the sexy idols of Baal and Ashtoreth; so Yahweh, Lord of the angels! had to split the body of the elect into pieces and try to keep a remnant holy….

It looks like God never picks a winner. He always gets rotten grapes from good vines.

This is what the vineyard parable in Isaiah starts to say. It is not just a story with the moral to better mind your P’s and Q‘s. Instead, this parable reveals the catch to world history. It tells too those with ears to hear what God is really like. It even touches us who are retreating before we even take a step forward at Trinity Christian College something soberly pertinent—

You are the vineyard of Yahweh.

You are the grapes he is counting on.

And we are not rotting on the vine, are we? Singing hymns in our good clothes, silk ties and stockings, fresh from a summer of sunshine, work and church attendance? We are good and straight and holy and worth his trust, aren’t we?

The people to whom Isaiah‘s parable of the vineyard and prophecy was first directed had things well off. King Uzziah and Jothan had stopped Philistine harassment, put down the Ammonites, chased the Edomites away from the gulf of Acadbah, were building up the port of Elath there to do commerce like Solomon used to do, fortified Jerusalem; and business was better than usual. Isaiah saw Judah stockpiling gold, silver, barley and wheat; the big business was in horses—you used horses only for war—and military chariots and hardware were piling off the assembly lines. On top of that the prophet saw a kind of “Great Society” going: costly model homes, a show of fine fashion and specialized jewelry; people ate very well, indulged in trinkets, and quite literally “worshipped,” that is, “lived for” the luxuries their hands produced. And Isaiah remembered what God told Moses to tell the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, “You all become for me a holy people” (Exodus 19:6), and Isaiah was troubled at the discrepancy.

Then Ahaz became king of Judah and he had weak knees. When the ten tribes of Israel collaborated with Damascus in making raids on his land, King Ahaz of Judah struck a bargain with the superpower of the East, Assyria, for a little protection. It took a pile of money; in fact, it took most of the kings palace treasury and all the precious vessels in the temple of Yahweh—but it worked. The fearsome Tiglath-Pileser of Nineveh wiped out Damascus, occupied the ten tribesGilead, Galilee, Napthali, and deported a mass of brother Jews; so business, prosperity and pursuit of happiness continued about as usual in Judah. The heavy war surtax Ahaz had to levy on his people to keep Assyria happy was unpleasant, but a bargain is a bargain.

Isaiah, however, knew the score. Military security and luxury in the hand is not worth more than God in the bush. Brilliant Tiglath-Pileser is only a godless man with a little air puffing through his nose. You are ruined if you live or think you can live without the Lord of the Angels at your very right hand. Nobody can fool with Yahweh, just because he is patient—nobody, not even his chosen people. Because you poked fun of God, Isaiah told them, slipped God a dime, as it were, and used the rest of your shekels for Assyria, industry, public works, knickknacks, clothes and parties, stuck up!–“in us we trust”—making believe Yahweh was not there: O.K., because of that, Yahweh will truly leave, leave you alone, and you shall go under as a land and a people, raped by Egypt, Assyria and Babylon.

God is a lover, says Isaiah, dont you know that? He rides the clouds and plays with the wind and likes to’ make the grass grow for cows. He enjoys darkening the earth so lions can go out to prowl for prey. He made special rocky crags for mountain goats to be safe there. He gives the fish their daily food, and created bread and wine to make men happy.

Yahweh became the God specially of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Aaron, and took care of their sons and daughters like a father babying a child. He dried up rivers so thc old folks and youngsters could walk across on firm ground and not get their feet wet. He dropped bread out of heaven like rain, and always was there for them, long ago, with a mysterious cloud in the daytime to shield against the desert sun and with a smoking, flaming fire burning bright at night to cheer, protect and show the way.

All the time the Lord God worked and waited with hope—like a girl waits for a man, like a parent waits for a son to come through—like a lover this Almighty husbandman waited in hope for you to grow into trusting and loving him, says Isaiah. He settled you into a promised land full of milk, luscious fruit and honey. He stopped your everlasting wandering around behind the strong walls of Jerusalem. He kept on trimming, weeding, straightening you up, sending prophets like Elijah, Amos and Hosea to tell you his jealous love, that you are his people in his world—

That is how come what the Lord of the An gels does strikes you as harsh, terrifying! when he appears confoundedly angry at your living as if he did not exist. Because God loves you, when he sees you idolizing nothings!—I know, golden calves are out of fashion, says Isaiah, but gilded possessions, affluence and glamorous vacations are in—when you take God’s blessings and idolize them into your successes, what you. got coming to you, enjoy and fondle it, shunting God aside without even thinking! then God, who gave you the very breath of life and every good thing, suffers. Yahweh is a long-suffering God. And after a while his passionate heart can stand it no longer, and the Lord has his angels tear down the protecting bushes around your life and lets a riot of lawlessness and bestial war come in to trample to bits what you hold most dear. Because our God is a lover he is a fire. Not the kind you roast marshmallows in or steal kisses by, but the kind that melts steel and removes impurities (Hebrews 12:29).

God mercifully holds back evil so that you will fear him, and he finally in sorrow sends punishment so that you shall know the truth: He alone is the source of Life and happiness. Everything else pretending to be attractive is a trick or a sham. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Not capriciously, and not in a causal circle connected to our sin, but the Holy One of Israel who is almost prodigal in his creational gifts also lets the anti-creational force of our sin have its comeuppance in our lives. On this hangs the rise and fall of the Israelites (related to the rise and fall of world empires) , the rise and fall of churches…and Christian colleges, where by agonizing Grace God keeps his promises despite all stupid or clever, underhanded maneuverings.

When Yahweh sees the misery of his plundered children, brokcn and stymied maybe for the selfish pride of an older generation, he sickens of the winnowing process and takes a few repentant ones, sets them aside somewhere for healing, and begins again with them together to build up his rule upon the earth. To see the Almighty God bathe away the stinking rot caked on his weakened people: to see God, like a male nurse, wiping, washing clean from excrement and scabs of guilty! blood the bodies of his leftovers is to become sensitive, right to your innards, of the terrible intensity and tenderness of his love for those who call him Father. The Lord did this for the Jews, after sieges when they had eaten their children, after captivity; he has done it for the Church in history after catastrophes of its own making. And he has done it here, among us.

As a matter of fact, the God of the prophet Isaiah, of Israel and especially Judah, is our God too. Yahweh, before whom we stand, is the same Creator of water, woods and crickets, male and female, the same Redeemer of men, families and institutions responding to his Word. Even more so is he our Cod, in Jesus Christ, because this Almighty God scrambled the Jewish nation throughout the Middle East once upon a time to settle for their sin. He brought back a bedraggled remnant after two generations and kept his blooded folk intact until it was time to send his Son rather than prophets, servants like Isaiah. But when the Jewish leaders, instead of hearing the Word become flesh, the law of Moses fulfilled in concrete Grace, got the official papers in order and lynched the Son of God upon a tree, then something ended. The Lord ripped out those Jewish branches and grafted in some with gentile blood. That is where we come in. For since that Day, the First Lord’s Day, those who just even call themselves “Christians,” in distinction from all the other tribes of the earth, they are open to the full privileges and liable to the full burdens of God’s chosen people A.D.

That means God‘s Word spoken through Isaiah‘s parable, judgment and promise arches over the years into our hearing tonight with a terribly direct seriousness. To be confronted with Isaiah 2–5, God’s expectations! and judgment on a social, cosmic, apocalyptic scale, after Christ entered history, is a more severe business than before Mary had a baby, because the Day of the Lord coming now is the last one and settles mankind.

Do you get the point? Why should God not destroy us, in North America? Has the Lord Yahweh not already abandoned us, his nominal, believing people and the land we possess? The signs of the prophetic Isaiah‘s time are present

The country is chock-full of idolatry. Not just the primitive adulation for beetlebrowed specialists at incantations, but an older, more tired, easy-going idolatry connected with prosperity. When people hanker to go first-class, when you feel a need for the latest conveniences or get into the habit of being just a mite spoiled, that is, greedy, you are an idolater, says the Scriptures (Ephesians 5:5). Idolizing is to desire, revere, pay undue attention to, covet some little thing to help or flatter yourself. And this covetous idolatry is so unobtrusive, petty, and as common as TV sets.

When a man owns an expensive sports car and polishes its fenders to a sheen, it may express a decent pride of ownership—God shaH judge—but it is true that the dumb thing can’t talk back like the living God through his Word: reflect your own image is the most a polished car fender can do. Not to mention the mirroring done by the comfortable sofas in our middle. class living rooms, the electric carving knives and wall-to-wall carpeting: the costly churches many of us frequent may be Ebenezers—God is judging the congregations—but it could just be that the heavily mortgaged, plush consistory room stinks to high heaven like an idol, reflecting our superficial sense of values.

To hold and seek inert possessions, stuff not actually moving in the world for Cod’s sake, is to be retainer for an idol. And when idolatry is present, says Isaiah, that is evidence of the Lord‘s departure—he brooks no other gods beside himself.

It is no wonder then that a glamor-ridden society is empty of depth. Civil leaders of stature, righteous judges with authority, intuitive wisemen are so rare in the Christian community and Western citizenry at large because the developing secular, social fabric of life, like the one Isaiah exposed, induces men to frazzle themselves in the busyness of polishing idols. There are so few preachers who make you glad to be in church, so few teachers able to give Christian direction in their field, so few parents not fumbling to manage their children because everyone of us today likes to have his fringe benefits and keep on eating them too. A godless, softening way-of-life has crept up on us and robbed us of the singleness needed to grow in faith, the focusing consecration Yahweh uses in men to work his pleasure. Nobody knows anymore what it means to be “holy ones,” saints, marked “for Life”!

So why should Cod not destroy us Americans with all our money in the bank! Why should the Lord not leave us to hell, us “Christians” who give him so much lip, lip service, who are all dressed up on Sunday with no place to go for him on Monday?

There is no reason on earth why not. And Isaiah‘s prophecy has got to make clear to us gathered so primly here that we are contributing to the coming of that awful, final Day of the Lord as well as unbelievers. You and I are actively caught up in the shameless lawlessness that elicits and characterizes the Lord‘s process of judgment anticipating the End.

You girls may not flounce those fascinating miniskirts around the way they do in Europe, but there is more than one way to show off in public what has native charm only in private. And you men may not be rabble rousers, but there are all kinds of collegiate hanky-panky for thumbing your nose at the creational norm of authority. And is there a faculty member born who has no foibles, no ability to grow a pet grievance, a blind spot or coldness that lames a community of love?

These are not questions of morality. It is a matter of disguised pride and not thoroughly knowing the totalness of our anointed nature as Christ-believers. You may not hate the American Negro as some of your elders do, and you may detest the hypocrisy of the established generation; but if we ourselves do not have the humbled guts to show an ope8 kindliness to stranger and fellow at close quarters, and if we are not concertedly reforming the social order and world of thought in some small way because it is dominated by the anarchy of multiple idolatry, if we lethargically make the best of the most decent fashion still left in clothes, decorum and ideas, then we tacitly—with a kiss—further the disintegration of God’s universe. And God gets that bitter taste in his mouth.

You students all came to Trinity—why? Because it is Christian?

James Baldwin lives in Istanbul because, he says with evil penetration, the Turks for all their faults at least are not pretending they are Christian.

To come to Trinity Christian College is to confess one’s sin—then it is right. Then there is the relief from pretence, making-believe we are so good, and teacher and student together can cry out to Cod for mercy and time, direction, together we can ask him to come through with wonders like in the old days when angels destroyed the enemy and mouths of lions were stopped and his people knew what to say before unbelief.

In spite of the rotten taste, because Jesus Christ is our common Lord, come through now, Almighty One, and treat us . like leftovers, sophomores, freshmen, teachers needing repair and a touch of beauty, glory...

Do you have any idea of how solidly your faculty are leftovers? Left over from the high pressured rat-race American industry, castoffs from other institutions too good for them, misfits here and there because of a biblically reformational faith: what a motley group of teachers God has mysteriously brought together, counter to any human plan—With you students, hardly imaginable, from Japan to Africa, British Columbia to Mississippi, transfers from Swarthmore to Santa Barbara, Roman catholic and Baptist, graduates from Christian highs and secular schools—leftovers!? willingly or unwillingly, uncannily, leftovers for Christ‘s sake? found now near Chicago Trinity is a college for leftovers. Not in the proud sense of being reserved for those few who have not yet bowed the knee to Baal, but as an academic workshop for those who have decided “for Life”! and then been baptized by fire, by ridicule, misunderstanding, and yes, by the burden of carrying along the indelible marks of past sin, forgiven, but in the open. Trinity is there for those who have had enough of the lukewarm stink of nominal Christianity that deserves and gets Yahweh’s judgment, and who, however weakly, have decided to be busy the hard way of praising God by faithful, daily exposition of his revelation. Nobody gets transfigured, but there is a rough joy in helping one another learn to be “holy ones” all the time. We have got to recapture the Old Testament sense of picking out a skirt and putting on your earrings festively for God’s sake! to realize the Triune Gods name spread on our faded cross-country sweat shirts is only a feeble exercise in preparing for the day coming when Zechariah says even the horses’ bridles will be emblazoned with the name “Holy be YAHWEH” (Zechariah 14:20) because everything belongs to him!

The faculty is together as one man on that: we mean to master creation, reform the traditions of men and show Life-direction for culture that reveals the Holiness of Yahweh, disclosed by the eye and hand and heart of a biblical faith. This unreserved commitment is what sets Trinity apart. No philosophy or theology, teachers or chance perfection distinguishes us: solely the communal faith decision to choose Life with the jealous God rather than stay halting between service and idolatry in study.

That is not a hard decision to make, says Moses; it is not difficult to grasp (Deuteronomy 30:11–20): it is as simple as knowing who your father is. But to sacrifice your “reason,” your “feelings” on twentieth century matters in order to bow exclusively before the Way, the Life the Lord commands—single-mindedly finding out his ordinances—this approach on earth, plagued by all our stumbling, comes hard to a man until he is truly broken by the powerful Word of God into a “leftover.”

So now we go, teacher and student, into a year that shall never be repeated. Teachers always plant students, and students—if you know the expression pot teachers. You freshmen are the first at Trinity who we hope shall be fouryear graduates, but for however much time God gives us so intimately together, because we are fighting not flesh and blood so much as wily powers, we shall need to pray hard for one another, through tiredness and tedium, mistakes as well as laughter; and God shall have to do a lot of weeding.

There is the fearful possibility that the Lord has left our nations and us as a people, a so-called “Christian” civilization. And there is always the shadow that someday Trinity will become secularized the temptation to idolize sport and glory in winning over a rival, forgetting our first love; the temptation to scholasticize a human thoughtpattern, to produce successful graduates, to cut religious comers because of the constant lack of money, and polish it all to a sheen with pious public relations men: these temptations are real. But this possibility and shadow only underscore the urgency of our being faithful now before the Lord with everything he has given us.

And this year, if the Lord has truly spoken tonight

through his Word, which we still have had the time and Grace to hear, then we may demand in faith, not doubting, that Yahweh hang his cloud of love and fire of reforming power over all our convocated meetings. Because the Scriptures say so, we may believe that someday the whole earth shall be refreshingly filled with his glory, but that now at least, the Grace, Word, Holy Spirit, Presence of the Lord God Almighty is held like an umbrella over Trinity Christian College, over all us leftovers, an umbrella, like a grape arbor giving shade against the weltering heat, like a retreat, a place to run and hide from the thunder and pouring rain.