A New Thing Springs forth

Lent 5, 2019, Isaiah 43:16-21

            “How are you doing today?” Someone may ask us.  “Oh, all right, can’t complain, same ol, same ol.” Sometimes life is like that.  We get up in the morning, maybe eat breakfast, get ready for the day, go off to school or work or however we who are retired fill our days.  We turn on the news and well it’s the same ol same ol, houses burning down, people shot in the cities, arguing and deadlock among politicians.  Let’s not forget machinery breaking down.  This morning we made it to church, because, that’s what we do on Sunday morning.

So, it was for the people to whom Isaiah was writing.   Tragically for them it was same ol same ol with no way out.  Their world had collapsed around them. Jerusalem, the city of David, city of God’s peace was destroyed. “How lonely sits the city that was full of people,” writes Jeremiah.  The temple, God’s earthy home, where He was enthroned on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of holies was destroyed.  Along with much of the population, the ark and the gold articles connected with worship were carried away.  For us it would be like the baptism fount, the communion ware gone and the rest, hymnals, pews, and church building vandalized and burned.  God promised there would always be a member from David’s family on the throne.  On Nebuchadnezzar’s orders, the last king, had seen his own children killed before his eyes and then he was blinded and carried off to Babylon.

In Babylon, their captors taunted them “sing one of the songs of Zion.”  Which led a Psalmist to write, “By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down and cried as we remembered Zion…How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”  Think of it, if we had been carried away to a pagan land and our captors said, “Sing ‘Joy to the world the Lord has come’ and then they would laugh at us.  Sing ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus.’  Or ‘Beautiful Savior,’ savior indeed.”  We might say, “My way is hidden from the Lord.”

Oh yes, at this time of the year they could celebrate the Passover when God under the leadership of Moses delivered them from slavery in Egypt.  But that was so long ago, 900 years.  Look at us now.  The Lord isn’t making any effort to provide a way out.  We’re trapped and see no way out ourselves.

Trapped with no way out.  Ever been trapped under a pile of bills? I teach a men’s Bible Class with about 15 retirees.  Every week someone is away seeing a doctor.  A former executive at Ralston Purina and past president of CPH who cares for his wife incapacitated with Parkinson’s, said Friday “It’s hard.  I ask for patience.”  Farmers feel the pressure.  My niece is editor of a weekly Ag. Newspaper in Wisconsin where dairy farmers are in dire straits.  One photo summed it up showing a farmer seated on a bucket behind his cows holding his head in his hands.  We may well ask, “When will God make me a way out?”  We wait for the day we can say, “God saw me through.”

Then we read, “Thus says the Lord.” “Thus, says the Lord” alerts us to perk up our ears.  God refers to his deliverance of Israel out from under the heel of the Egyptians. God made a way through the sea, led the chariots and army into his trap. Where they were snuffed out like a candle.

Then we read, “Forget all that.  I am going to do something new. It’s already happening. Do you recognize it?”  God had put into action a new deliverance, one which was in reverse of the Exodus.  God turned the seabed into dry land, now he will fill the arid deserts with rivers of water. The land of death will become a way to life.  The desert would bloom; jackals and ostriches will honor God.  A later psalmist will recall, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, It was like we were dreaming.  Our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues were filled with songs of joy.  The nations will see and hear and say, The Lord has done spectacular things for them.” (Ps. 126)

  When it comes to delivering his people from the burdens under which we live, it’s not the same ol, same ol with God.  God is not limited to acting in the same ol same ol ways.  His hand is not weakened by arthritis.  God’s acts of merciful deliverance from slavery in Egypt and exile in Babylon as stunning as they were, looks ahead to an act of salvation greater and more stunning than any before.  Our gospel lesson hints at it. Hearing his parable of the tenants in a vineyard who would not give the owner his due and finally killed the owner’s son, the scribes and chief priests understood he was talking about them.  They were the ones enslaving people to rules and regulations.  They were the captors who carried people away from God rather than closer to him.  They wanted to arrest Jesus right there and then, but Jesus was too popular with the people, so they watched for their opportunity. We know they found the opportunity. But Jesus outstretched hands on the cross, crippled by puncturing nails, became God’s new way of cutting a path through the sin which enslaved us and the forces of evil, within us and without that would keep us from God.

He cut a path through the waters of baptism freeing us from all the ways we miss his target for our life and behavior.  Even when our life  seems a hum drum, same ol, same ol, God is present in those desert places with the water of our baptism, assuring us, “you are mine.”

So, we got up this morning not to just a same ol same ol day, but a day blessed with God’s mercies which are new every morning.  We came here this Sunday morning not just because it’s what we do on Sunday morning but as a people whom God formed for himself that we might praise him.  We came here with our burden of sins and troubling wrongdoings and off loaded them onto Christ, because he has carried our burdens, sorrows and griefs. 

And with those mercies in our possession, we will get up tomorrow morning and eat breakfast or not and go off to work or school, or whatever way we fill our day, we may hurriedly throw on our clothes and go out the door or we may have to struggle to get dressed because of arthritic hands and limbs, even though the news is the same ol same ol of one thing after another, we are none the less, God’s people who in Jesus Christ have been delivered and in whose presence we go forth “pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Able to sing anytime and in any circumstance, “Joy oh joy beyond all gladness, Christ has done away with sadness.”  

Killing God

This morning I came across a favorite quote from Dorothy Sayers.

“It is curious that people who are filled with horrified indignation whenever a cat kills a sparrow can hear that story of the killing of God told Sunday after Sunday and not experience any shock at all.”

Sayers words are paired with some words from Matthew 27

“After flogging Jesus, he (Pilate) handed him over to be crucified…they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head.  They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked hi…they spat on him and took the reed and struck him on the head…they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him.  They led him away to crucify him.”

Could it be that people no longer want to hear that story of the killing of God?  Could it be that pastors are reluctant to tell us the truth about ourselves, our lostness and straying from God, and the story of the lengths to which Jesus, the one named “God Saves,” goes to fulfill his name.  Could it be that the story is just too unsavory, too much of a downer or even embarrassing?

Preparing to Preach

I’m preaching this weekend at Ruma and Evansville, Il. I haven’t led worship or written a sermon or preached since the first Sunday in November last year. So I may need to be retrained. Plus I’m figuring out how to wear my readers since having cataract surgery. Do I wear them close to my eyes which would mean I can read fine, but the people will be all fuzzy. Or do I wear them on the bridge of my nose which may make me look as wise as an owl or well, who knows as I look over the tops.

Now I wrote my sermon today on Isaiah 43:16-21 in which God tells the exiles in Babylon about how he made a dry path through water to deliver Israel from slavery in Egypt, but now they are to forget that past event because he is putting into action a new plan to turn the dry desert into a land flowing with rivers of water. God is doing this not only to return his people to their homeland, but also that they might praise him.

All this looks forward in the Gospel lesson to the time the religious teachers of the law and senior priests will arrest Jesus and his subsequent death will be our deliverance from all our wrongdoing and subsequent death.
That I already have my sermon written by Thursday night is good, right? Well maybe, because based on past experience I am going to worry this sermon within an inch of its life by Sunday morning. I just can’t leave well enough alone.

When I’m done I’ll file it and if I go back to it in the future I will wonder what I was thinking preaching such a mish mash.
Life ain’t easy folks.

The Waiting Father and His sons, One a Wastrel and the other Worthy

Jesus’ parable of the “Prodigal Son” (Luke 15) leaves plenty of room for Midrash, the Jewish word for imaginative exploration of the scripture.

Once the wastrel son left to squander his wealth on whores and cheap wine, the father took up his daily watch out by the mailbox looking down the gravel road for a telltale sign of dust.  That he neglected the farm should not surprise us.  In a previous story Jesus told of a shepherd who neglected his flock to search for a lost sheep who showed no inclination to come back to the flock.  The father wasted every day out by the mailbox while the older son had to take over running the farm, overseeing the shepherds, and the olive orchard workers and those the picking of grapes, the olive press and wine vat.

No wonder the son was ticked off when the father killed the prize 4-H calf to celebrate the return of the good – for – nothing.  Don’t you get ticked off at those people who wouldn’t be caught dead in church until they are dead?  And yet God cares for them and died for them?

What was the relationship in that family after the son returned?  Did he buckle down to work even though he had already received his slice of the inheritance?  Or did the father restore his rights to a piece of the future even though it meant the faithful worthy older son would get less?

The story is open ended.  Where do we find ourselves in this story of grace?   Rachel Held Evans writes in her book “Inspired,” that the Bible rarely behaves as we think it should and I would add, nor does God.