On the contrary…
March 20, 2022
Scriptures: Luke 13:1-9, Isaiah 55:1-9
As I have shared in the past, the Prophets in the Bible were extremely influential in their day. Both widely respected and at times greatly reviled, they forged their mark on the history of the faith through perseverance, even in light of persecution. They were called by God to serve as a mouthpiece, calling out injustice, seeking to illuminate the pathway back to walking and living in ways of holiness before the Lord.
Contrary to some beliefs, they were not seeking to warn of future events to come, as much as they were trying to share the degree to which the people of God had strayed from God’s plans and purposes. They warned of the consequences of this current behavior, and pleaded with the people to return to ways of justice, love, and mercy.
The words of these prophets gave voice to the cries, as well as to the hopes and dreams of the Hebrew people. For they had long suffered under the boot heel of oppression and yearned for release, yearning for the day when the true goodness of God would be revealed and become their lived reality. Through the words and lives of these prophets, God was extending the promise that in truth there would be a day, there would be a time when all humanity would come together into a new and lasting place of peaceful coexistence, a time when the inner goodness of the true human spirit would finally triumph, rising above petty quarrels and selfish, hurtful motives. And this promise, this day the prophets spoke of came to be known as the ‘Day of the Lord’. It is a promise and a hope found threaded throughout the prophetic narratives…justice finally triumphant over all that runs counter to the love of God.
This promise of the prophets is one of the major storylines of the bible, a theme of hope and promise that finds its completion in Christ, and its starting point, in the lives of those called to follow after and witness the truth which Jesus gave his life to share.
In other words, the Prophets were sharing what was…in an effort to tell the story of what could be, sharing God’s hope for, and vision of ‘blessed human community’. And, it is a vision that we hear Jesus say numerous times had found its day, and in fact, had come to pass ‘in their hearing’.
So if that was the spoken truth some two thousand years ago, then what happened? I must confess that it does not seem as though Jesus’ Temple proclamation had a lasting impact, for we seem to be as far away from a day of ‘blessed community’ as ever. Looking around at all that is unfolding among the human family all across the world, it is hard to imagine that we are any closer to that day, for it seems as though it is still very much an unfulfilled dream, if it is believed at all.
What happened? Why were the Prophet’s words of so long ago not heeded? What happened is that this ‘unveiling’, this full realization of our ‘Lord’s Day’ is a process that is ongoing and still being birthed in spite of human weakness and resistance to it. And the true task of our faith, the purpose of our lives as people of faith, is to live such that we help to bring that vision into focus, bringing loving truth to those words of Jesus through the lives we lead. We are those called to live out the call to love one another in lives dedicated to holiness and service. For step by step, through our words and by our actions human history is being drawn towards the fulfillment of these promises of God, being drawn forward into that time of true human community and abiding peace, in spite of all we may see to the contrary. We are the ones in this moment, and for this time, who have been given the mantle, given the task of lifting up that vision and bringing it to be through the witness and action of our lives.
The book of the Prophet Isaiah is one of the longest prophetic narratives found in the bible, and it is filled throughout with this call back to holiness, and the call to participate in the Godly pursuit of justice and peace. It starts out with a simple call, and a simple response. In Isaiah Chapter 6 and verse 8 we hear the young prophet say ‘Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’’ And I said, ‘Here am I, send me!’ Here I am Lord, here I am in answer to your call on my life, and upon my heart, send me.
Now, when it comes to biblical narratives that seem contrary to our experience, narratives that seem unrealistic or perhaps even outlandish in light of all we know and understand, Isaiah 55 seems near the top of the list. And I think that’s because it seems to be located timewise at least, after the day of blessed human community has arrived, it seems to speak to the day we all are still seeking after, as though our heartfelt cries to the Lord in asking, ‘but Lord, can’t you see that all is hopeless’, are met with, ‘on the contrary my dear…’
Isaiah 55 is the Lord’s response to human hopelessness, the response to worry or fear The psalmist wearily moans, ‘Oh Lord, our God, why have you abandoned us? Why have you forsaken those who love you?’ Isaiah on the other hand reassures us, ‘On the contrary my loved ones, I have never left you and my grace remains sufficient for all your needs in the fulfillment of my will’.
Easy to say, but does this passage from so, so long ago really say all that? Does it really apply to our lives, here in the 21st Century, beset with all of the problems now consuming most if not all of our attention, and surely much of our treasure? What is the Lord actually asking his Prophet to share…
Listen, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters…
Who is thirsting for water…for that refreshing water found only at the hand of our God? Who is thirsty, and also willing to do whatever it takes to be in an ever-renewing relationship with our Lord Jesus?
…you that have no money, come, buy and eat. You that have no money? Is it possibly true that the Lord’s refreshment and the Lord’s provision are without price and without cost? Yes, they cannot be bought, traded, sold, or otherwise stored up, for they are a part of a living and vibrant relationship which provides the needs for the moment…in the moment of need. Without price, and yet of great value.
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Come buy the wine of joy and happiness, and the milk of true and lasting sustenance without any money. For in truth they cannot be bought, but must be received directly from the gracious hand of God with a believing heart.
Why spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy. Why spend money for something that is fleeting and shall not last, why surround yourself with things which please only for the moment, but then become yet another weight to be carried around?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Listen to the sure and clear call of our Lord, seek after that which endures, that which truly sustains. Join together as one community of faith, enjoy the hospitality of our Lord while surrounding oneself with loving community. Drink deeply of the joy of our Lord, and take from the provision that will never run dry.
Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. Turn your head to the voice of the Lord that is deep within. For in doing so you will find the doorway that leads outwards from there into a life of fullness of meaning, and holy purpose.
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. Our task is to say ‘yes’ to the One who calls, not fearing our own limitations or shortcomings, but rather standing and proclaiming along with Isaiah, ‘Here I am Lord, send me.’ Truly the truth proclaimed and lived out in freedom without restraint shall draw others in, bringing them to a fuller knowledge of our God.
Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near. Indeed, the Lord is near to us, his Spirit ever knocking on the doorway of our heart, and her whisper ever within our hearing. Ours is to listen and respond to that gentle and persistent call to discipleship, offering each day up in loving service to others.
…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.
If our God is anything…he is merciful and forgiving. None of us need to be reminded that we are less than perfect and far from being all we wish to be before God. But by grace, God knows us, and still loves us with a love that knows no end and a patience that remains ever steadfast. We need only allow the Spirit to weigh in on our life and let her guide our actions and our thoughts.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. It is as humbling as it is important to remember who we are when it comes to serving our Lord. For in the larger picture of God’s purposes, we are merely vessels, privileged to carry a message of hope and love. We are not the creators of that message, nor are we to take credit for its effect. Rather, we are simply asked to live out our witness and to dwell in the blessings that is holy relationship.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts…
In the end, God’s ways and plans are so far beyond our comprehension and understanding. We only get partial glimpses from time to time of the magnitude of our Lord’s compassion and grace. And blessed are we if we can discern the ways our pathway has been traced out in advance, and of the miraculous provision right at the point of need. And yet, God still beckons us into deeper understanding and wonder each day, taking pleasure at our creative imagination, and in our attempts to reflect his love to others.
This is what Isaiah was sharing with the people of his day, and what our Lord still wants us to hear today. So, let us celebrate that this God of ours seeks to be in partnership with us. Empowering us both to hear and to do his will, teaching us not to fret over the outcomes of our efforts, but rather simply to put all our energy and strength into the work of serving one another in love. For God’s good purposes will come to pass in our sight and hearing, and through the work of our hands and hearts. God will not let human weakness triumph and carry the day, but rather will redeem that weakness and heal those who injure, or are injured, that one day we might truly join together in faithful community.
Our journey, our travels within the service of the Lord will always be adventures of the highest order…tough and arduous at times and light and carefree at others. However, through it all we will be sustained by a joy that defies explanation, and a peace that gives others pause in its very presence. There is a day towards which we are all being drawn, in which God’s love will be our song and glad rejoicing will be Creation’s refrain. A day where once there was strife and bitter feud, now filled with peace and harmony. And, where once there was great injury to all and to the earth itself, there will be purity, new life, and everlasting joy.
This is the call upon our lives as followers of our Lord. It is a call, as well as a vision of what is possible, and what we can and must work towards. A day that is no longer just imagined and hoped for, but a day that by grace and by the word we live, can become reality.
It is what God wants most for us, and what Jesus asked most from us. And it is a vision that is contrary to all that we see currently unfolding throughout God’s Creation.
We are called as individuals, so let us each say, ‘here I am Lord, send me’. However, the task has been given to all of us together, so let us also proclaim, ‘here we stand Lord, send us all’…