Re-turn to God's Ways

Isaiah 55                                                                               3rd Sunday of Lent

Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                          28 February 2016

 

Today’s scripture from the prophet Isaiah beckons to us to return to the Lord, who will abundantly pardon.   It calls the people to resist assimilating into the prevailing Babylonian culture, and cling to their true identity as God’s people.

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 seize the day.  Seek the Lord, now.  Sure God is everlasting, but don’t get presumptuous with God.  God’s ways are higher than yours.   Turn around and see.   Return home.  God is calling you to a higher way of life, a life of peace, joy, and generosity toward others.   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.    Maybe because our worldview needs to be opened up to include more people.

Isaiah 55:1-13

Ho, 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)

This 19th century hymn by Shaker Christian Joseph Brackett is also the tune of Lord of the Dance, which we often sing at Easter.   It was also used by Aaron Copland in his Appalachian Spring.

'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.

Tis the gift to be loving, and forgiving of all,

Like a quiet rain it blesses where it falls

Sharing grace, hope and peace, we will truly believe

Tis better to give than it is to receive                                                                   

 

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.

(slide - Bible) 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 but not just us, and not just our kind of people.   All are called to the feast God prepares, to have bread without paying.   All are called to the plenteous waters of God and away from the calculating ways of a marketplace world, where everything is commodified.    As it was for those who sold out to the values of the empire of Babylon, so it is in the USA to those who sell their souls to the consumeristic, exceptionalism of a me-first mentality.   All are called to come and to listen, to receive the challenge of God’s good Word and to trust that God’s good intentions will come to fruition.    Come all who thirst.  Come all who hunger.  Come and listen.    God welcomes all, strangers and friends.

(slide - Beloved) Feast on the truth that you are God’s beloved.   Somebody, somewhere, sometime in your life has tried to steal that deep-rooted security from you, and if it was your parents or your siblings or close friends, you have had an uphill battle, but hang on to your beloved-ness.   If you have felt pushed out by the power-structure of our society which values certain kinds of people over others, remember that you too have a deep and abiding security in the God who lifts the downtrodden, the disrespected, the despairing.    Keep returning to this love.   And be generous in leading others there too, by your humility, compassion, and respect.   Recognize in yourself the tendency to write people off, to box them up safely for easy keeping, to measure them against unfair standards.  Find the love of Christ in your soul for those different from you -- different race, different religion, different first language, different way of being in this world.  Keep turning from your ways of thinking to consider another’s perspective.    Christ came to share our perspective on this life and to show us God’s.   Communion is perspective-sharing, having your eyes opened to the present Christ in each of us.

 (slide - pier) Isaiah says, “Don’t sell your soul to the Babylonian market, get the best stuff from the God of plenty, the stuff money cannot buy.”  Walter Brueggemann says, the “wickedness” and “unrighteousness” of which Israel is to repent is related to Israel’s wholesale compromise with the quid-pro-quo of the Babylonian empire that involved a shift away from God’s covenantal commitments. Thus the Jews who compromised with Babylonian practices, values, and procedures of production and consumption are invited back to the generous governance of YHWH who, in the context of the stingy empire, gives the gifts needed for life. To return to YHWH is to depart the Babylonian tight-fisted fearful calculus and reengage the covenantal values of a neighborly kind. - See more at: http://www.onscripture.com/covenant-neighborly-justice-break-chains-quid-pro-quo#sthash.MGA2K0AN.dpuf  

(slide – margin people) God’s ways are beyond our ways.  God’s ways are higher than ours.   God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.   Many talk of returning to God in sentimental ways.  Returning to God is not a return to the former years of this country, where African Americans people were enslaved, where women were silenced, where Native Americans were pushed into reservations, and Asian-Americans were imprisoned.   Returning to God is not time-travel to a simpler, more homogeneous “Christianity assumed” country because that country doesn’t exist anymore.   Returning to God is learning to have a distinctive Christian faith that welcomes all people like God does, that respects and listens to all people of peace and goodwill, seeking to learn something and to share our gift of amazing grace.   Returning to God does not mean winning and being puffed up with greatness and strength.   What did Christ show us when he took the role of a servant, a suffering servant by doing what was right, and just, and true?   Being weak and compassionate is stronger than strong.   We cannot obsess over every detail of an arduously long, naval-gazing, knit-picking Presidential election and forget the real problems of the world that will never be solved by one person in an Oval Office, no matter how great he or she is.   Friends, we need to get on with changing the world, with living authentic Christian faith in our homes and communities.  Returning to God means that integrity matters, prayer matters, compassion matters, vulnerability matters.   

In the public sphere and in private, there are so many convenient lies, so much twisting of the truth, so much unbridled arrogance, and a relentless, stubborn refusal to cooperate with people on the other side, that we are no longer surprised by it.   But we should be shocked and dismayed and all the more determined to return to God’s ways of justice, peace, and love.   God cares about all of the human race, and perhaps what we perceive as a decline, as America’s slippage, may be God’s way of humbling us, until we begin to fathom how much God loves the whole world, not just us, as if we are God’s favorites.

(slide - grasping) Richard and I gave up grocery shopping in Lent.   It is no big sacrifice because we’ve bought milk, and we’ve eaten out with friends, because friends are more important than our Lenten discipline.  It is definitely not something to boast of, because it has not even been really difficult because of our abundance.   But it has made us more thankful for food and more aware of how it feels to have less.  Still so far removed from being a refugee or being Alice (Asset limited, income constrained employed).   But this self-imposed limitation made us more appreciative of the last piece of broccoli and the last banana.  It made me wonder more about the choices that poverty forces.   Food gifts have been more significant reminders of God’s provision. 

But without eating out with friends, without your gifts, without a wedding celebration that takes precedent over this Lenten discipline, we had so much food in our house, we really could have made it without a grocery store for 40 days.   40 days is nothing, unless you really are limited to $30/week.    Some will walk for hunger today and some will give, and we will make a difference for our neighbors near and far away.   But will we identify with those hungry neighbors whose hope is hanging by a thread, cooperating with them to create a better world?   Or will we just pat ourselves on the back for our generosity and move on with policies that push people down instead of up?

 

 

(slide - fog) We know this message of God’s abundance provision 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 know we cannot fix every problem.  We live in a foggy, wasteful, and 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.  

(slide - trees) 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, that even they are welcomed, that this is where all of us together 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 all of us keep turning to God’s ways.  Turning and listening to God’s word, turning and tasting at the table, seeing the grace eternal, turning to recognize that God’s banquet table is abundance for all, not just a few.   Keep re-turning to God, daring to be different from the prevailing noisy, self-centered voices of our culture.