3rd Sunday of Lent
3 March 2013
Elizabeth M. Deibert
Today’s scripture from the prophet Isaiah beckons to us to return to the Lord, who will abundantly pardon. It calls the people of God to hope in a new life of peace, joy, and love. The last 27 chapters of Isaiah prophesy the restoration of the nation of Israel. This section includes the Songs of the Suffering Servant, four separate passages that Christians believe prefigure the coming of Jesus Christ, and which are otherwise traditionally thought to refer to the nation of Israel.
The Israelites felt far away from God in exile. They could blame God for that or blame their captors. They might even blame themselves, which the prophets usually help them to do. Isaiah offers both the challenge and the comfort, calling them to return to the God who will abundantly pardon. Calling them to seize the day. Carpe diem. Seek the Lord, now. Don’t be presumptuous that God’s love and forgiveness is something with which we can trifle, play around. It is too special to be ignored, especially when you are such a bad place. Sure God’s love is certain. Sure God is everlasting, but don’t get presumptuous with God. God’s ways are higher than yours. And God is calling you to a higher way of life, a life of peace, joy, and love. So why do we waste time and money on stuff that doesn’t satisfy? Maybe because we’re slow to recognize or acknowledge our deeper needs.
Let us take some time to prepare ourselves to listen, to delight ourselves in the richness of God’s word to us.
Isaiah 55:1-13Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.
6 Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
12 For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. (NRSV)
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained, To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight, Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.
Lent is a time of turning, turning to come round right. Turning toward Christ, who showed us the right. Turning away from sin, which separates us from God and from one another. Turning to recognize as Isaiah says, that God’s ways are higher than our ways. Believing that God’s word will not fail. It will accomplish what God intends, and what God intends is to nourish us, to nourish us well. All are called to the feast God prepares, to have bread without paying. All are called to the plenteous waters, which for Christians remind us of baptism, which washes away our sin and marks us as God’s covenant people. All are called to come and to listen, to receive the richness of God’s good Word and to trust that God’s good intentions will come to fruition. To feast on God’s love, the words which come from God’s mouth, the reassurance from God that all will be well, that we will have in abundance all that we need. Come all who thirst. Come all who hunger. Come and listen.
Feast on the truth that you are God’s beloved. If you have never felt you measured up, if you have always felt like you were failing in some way, disappointing someone, then stop now, and see yourself as God’s treasured child. Say to yourself, “I am the beloved child of God.” Say to someone beside you, “You are the beloved child of God.” Operate out of that position and everytime we come to the sharing of the peace of Christ, remember that you are greeting children of God.
When guests walk in the door, they are children of God. When that person who irritates walks in the door, he or she is a child of God. When the one in your family who drive you most crazy is sitting on your last nerve, remember she or he is a child of God. Find the love of God a simply gift to you so that you can be the love of God, a simple gift to others.
By seeking God, instead of all the things that fail to satisfy, we discover the peace, joy, and love which restore our soul, so that we too have something to give. Tis a gift to stop striving for all the complicated wants of life, to let go of our incessant need for control, to see that God’s ways are wiser than our ways. It is so easy for us to assume that we know better than God what is best, especially when life is difficult.
Often times God’s ways are not understood by us. Sandy’s wife Gloria died yesterday after three and a half difficult years with Alzheimer’s . We have no explanation for that struggle. We have only the option to trust that God has always loved Gloria even more than her family did and has in God’s good timing now taken her to her eternal rest. With Sandy we thank God now that her suffering is over, that her mind is now liberated from the dark prison of that disease.
God’s ways are beyond our understanding. We are rejoicing in our new home, which came to us as the providence of God just when we most needed such a gift.
But when we think of the Faith congregation that floundered, our triumph is tempered by feelings of sadness for them. Can we explain how the joyful gift we are receiving by the hand of God comes as a result of the disestablishment of another congregation? These are mysteries beyond our comprehension. God’s ways are higher than ours. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.
But the clear message of Isaiah is that God is trustworthy to provide all that we need and more. But we know this message of God’s abundant supply of water, milk, bread, forgiveness, love, peace, and joy comes after a long period of exile, of despair, of judgment. We know that this life is full of suffering – struggles with relationships, with physical limitations, and struggles with sin. We live in a broken world, but God is bringing new life and hope to this world, and if we watch for the glory of God around us, we will see with the Prophet Isaiah, that the trees of the field are clapping their hands when exiles return home, when justice is done, when the oppressed are liberated. If we watch for God’s glory all around us, we will see the mountains and the hills break forth in song when people who have been hungry and thirsting come to God’s great banqueting table to discover that this is home, this is where we are nourished, loved, forgiven, and given strength to continue our the journey, the journey toward the fullness of peace, joy, and love which is ours in abundance when we keep turning to God. Turning and listening to God’s word, turning and tasting at the table, seeing the grace eternal, seeing that God is good.