by Pastor Cherie Johnson
Today’s scripture comes from the prophet Isaiah. It is a part of Isaiah that is talking about the return of the Jewish people from exile. It is an invitation to return to God, as God has returned to them. Like the promise that God made to Noah never to destroy the earth again by flood, promise that we can be reminded about every time we see a rainbow, God promises to never abandon God’s people again. God will love them with an unfailing love and compassion. Then God offers them this invitation…
Isaiah 55:1-9 NIV
1 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;
and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
3 Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.
4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a ruler and commander of the peoples.
5 Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.”
6 Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
This is the third Sunday of Lent, We’ve been doing this Lent thing for a while now. We’ve been redeveloping, renewing our relationship with God. Maybe, where pulled back to our normal routines, addressing the things in our lives that we put aside because we’ve been making an extra effort to make time for God. Maybe, you’re tired of hearing the preacher talk about Lent. What is it all for? Our primary passage tells us, reminds us of the fullness of a life with God, what God is offering. How much richer life can be. Our effort maybe even our frustration hasn’t gone unnoticed, and we are invited to a banquet.
In the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, God’s abundance is often symbolized with a feast. It is the way that God says I love you. If we think about it, that applies to us too. If someone is ill or has been in an accident, a new baby in the family, or someone has died, we often provide food. It is very practical when people may not be able to do it for themselves, but we are also saying I love you.
So part of what God is doing here is singing us a love song. It is a plea for return. Return to the abundance of God’s love.
In this time of Lent we are called to repent, and it sounds like such a negative word. Maybe if we know we’ve been doing things that God wouldn’t like, that’s appropriate, but it can also make us resistant. “I don’t want to think about the past. I want to move in a new direction in the future.” If that’s what you’re thinking, I have good news for you.
Repentance is not about feeling bad or sad. We can feel that way about something and keep doing it. – I’m a terrible person anyway… I’ve gone this far… I hate myself. I might as well keep going. I’m too far gone. There’s no hope for me. There’s no way God could accept me or forgive me…. That’s feeling bad, but there’s no change. Quite the opposite.
If that’s how you’re feeling, I have more good news. Like I said a few weeks ago, it’s God’s job to forgive you. Forgive me. No matter what you think you’ve done, how far you’ve gone, what’s happened to you, God loves you and will forgive you. All you have to do is ask.
Repentance is not about feeling bad. It is recognizing where you are and deciding to go in a different direction with God. It is about changing your way of thinking and considering God’s reality. It’s about recognizing our alienation from God and coming or returning to God.
And, that is exactly what God is inviting us to do today. Come, come to God who is waiting for you. Listen to God and let God give you abundance.
We may not understand the whys of everything. God sees and knows things we cannot from where we are. We have to trust that the Creator God that made us knows more about us than perhaps we do. When we are told to follow God’s ways, understand that God is saying, “I’m not trying to keep something good from you. I’m trying to give something good to you.”
The banquet is prepared. What a tragedy if no one comes because they think what they have is sufficient.
John Oswald tells the story illustrating the illusion of our own self-sufficiency. A natural disaster has occurred, a terrible flood. A mother, a son, and a daughter are cleaning to the upper branches of a large tree surrounded by raging flood waters. The rescue team in a boat cannot get right up to the tree because of debris, but the distance between the boat and the tree can be jumped with effort. The team in the boats out with urgency, “Jump, jump.” But the family members are afraid. Finally, summoning up courage, the son jump and land safely in the boat. And the daughter jumps. She falls into the water, but the rescuers are ready and quickly pull her into the boat. Now the rescuers along with the son and daughter played with the mother, “Jump, jump, you can do it! Will catch you if you fall short.” There is a compelling urgency in the invitation. But she is afraid, and as she debates whether to jump or remain in the apparent safety of the tree, there is a terrible crack, the tree falls, and she is swept away with it.
We think we have what we need, and that we’re safe where we are. But we are not safe. We will get burned or damaged sooner or later. Until we trust God enough, we will cling to that tree branch thinking we have what we need. We have to surrender are right to decide with best for us and let God the side. We have to jump from the appearance of security to reality, from hunger to food, from thirst to water, from death to life. The problem is that until you jump you cannot see that it’s an illusion.
One of my favorite movies of all time is Pirates of the Caribbean with Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush. Action / adventure / comedy / skeletons. There is a scene where Geoffrey Rush’s character, Captain Barbossa, is explaining how when they got what they thought was the treasure of their dreams, it robbed them of living. He explained that as time passed, “The more we came to realize, the drink would not satisfy. Food turned to ash in our mouths. Compelled by greed we were, but now we are consumed by it.”
It struck me that this is what life is like apart from God. We get something, and it doesn’t satisfy us, so we want more, and more. Until we realize that we must break that cycle, and God gives us a way out.
God says, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me: listen that you may live.”
But you have to jump. If you don’t jump, you will never know what God really has for you.
We are in the middle of our Lenten sermon series, It Is Finished: Jesus Road to the Cross, and we haven’t talked about Jesus yet, but we are now. He just talks about a great banquet table in Luke 14. He tells a parable where a man has prepared a great feast, and he invites everyone he knows, but they all make excuses. “I’d love to, but I have to go check out some land on the other side of the county.” Another says, “I have business to do. No time for parties.” And another, “I’ve got a date.” The man told his servants to go out and bring everyone in that he could find so that the table would be full and the banquet enjoyed.
God is not trying to keep something good from you. God is trying to give something good to you.
In the Gospel of John chapter 6 verse 35 Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never go thirsty.” He is the manna or bread that comes from heaven. Just like when Jesus is talking about living water with the woman at the well, he is talking about much more than food and water. But, he is talking about something that is just as important to have a fulfilling life, a life that does not leave us with the question, “Is this all there is?”
And John 10: 10 Jesus says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
Do you know how to take your pulse? Let’s try to feel it. Inside your wrist, on your neck? It can be hard to find, but if our heart is beating, if we are breathing, we are alive, but that doesn’t mean we are living. Jesus came so that we might have life! L-I-F-E!
But we are going to have to jump.
We are going to have hurdles and bumps. Sometimes that’s going to make it harder to keep going with Jesus. We’re going to fall down, but all we have to do is pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start walking with Jesus again. He waiting for us. As it says in Lamentations 3, God’s mercies are new every morning.
As we near the midpoint of the Lenten season, it is important to remember why we want a life with God, what kind of life is God offering us. As it says in Psalms 34: 8, “Taste and see the Lord is good.”
But we are going to have to jump.