God’s Ways Are Not Our Ways

Rev. Jeff Crews

Sunday, March 3, 2013 - Third Sunday in Lent


Sermon Text

Have you ever been really thirsty?  I mean so thirsty that you hurt and hallucinated?   In survival training as a navy pilot, I was confined to a small cell and given nothing to drink for a long, long time.  I became so thirsty that nothing other than getting a drink really mattered.  All I could imagine was a drink of water.  Then they placed us on a water board and drowned us (all with a doctor with there, of course—but we didn’t know that).  Military pilots are given this training to show each of us how even denial of the simplest things can become all-consuming.  Wouldn’t it be amazing to drink from a well-spring that quenched our thirst forever?

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you couldn’t block it out of your heart or mind?  But then, when you got this thing, you realized it didn’t solve all of your problems like you initially thought, and now you needed something else.  Or have you ever been so hungry that all you could think about was food, but then, after you ate, you became hungry again?

Physical thirst, hunger, and want are like that.  We may eat and drink and be satisfied for a moment or day.  But physical thirst and hunger return, and we are empty again because we are all human .

But Isaiah today tells us there is a bread that satisfies forever, and a wine that provides eternal quenching love.  This wine and bread, this sweet honey of life and love everlasting is freely given to all of God’s children.  Can this be true?  Eternal wine and the mother’s milk of God’s love without price, freely given?  Yes, its true.  God loves us unconditionally at this table.

So today on our Lenten journey, we will think about the difference between human food which leaves us hungry again, and God’s food which feeds us forever; the difference between daily bread and eternal bread.  And we will think about how God’s ways are different than our ways.

Let us join our hearts in prayer, “God of daily bread and God of eternal bread, feed us, your hungry children.  Amen.”

Jeremiah and Isaiah foretold it.  The Babylonians would come and sweep through Israel because the Jews had fallen away from God.  The Babylonians brutally conquered Jerusalem, taking Isaiah and many of the surviving Jews back to Babylon in captivity.  This was in 587 BCE.  The first 42 chapters of Isaiah were written before they Jews were conquered—these chapters are warnings of impending exile.  The next 13 chapters, including our reading today, were written at the end of the Babylonian exile.  And the final chapters of Isaiah were written after the Jews returned to Israel.  Our verses today were written at the very end of the exile, just as the Jews began to imagine being back home.  It was a time of great reflection on what had just happened to the nation Israel.  And a time of repentance.

In our verses, Isaiah calls out to the surviving remnant of the Jews, declaring a glimmer of hope.  He declared the Jews would return to their land and home.  Here Isaiah declares the lessons learned in the exile and captivity.  This is a story of getting back to basics, getting back to what really matters.  We read this passage in Isaiah today because this is also what we are called to do in Lent.  Get back to basics.  Refocus on what is really important.  At the end of the exile in Babylon, the Jews repented, returning to their God.

Isaiah says don’t get distracted by stuff that does not satisfy like you did back in Jerusalem.  Instead, Isaiah says, re-focus on the things that God feeds you.  Listen to, and live, God’s justice, and mercy and love.  Incline your ears, O Israel, and remember your forefather David.  Listen to God’s covenant.  Feed on God’s words and laws.  Let the wicked (like us before we were carried out of Jerusalem) forsake their ways, let the unrighteous give up their ungodly thoughts.  All of you who hear my voice, return to the Lord, Isaiah said.

This is our Lenten call, also.  God calls us to give up our focus on stuff that does not satisfy.  Turn away from unjust actions and unmerciful deeds.  Give up hate, and turn to love.  Turn back toward God, God’s people, and God will receive you into God’s loving arms.

And our passage in Luke repeats this message.  Repent so you will not perish.  Unless you turn away from unrighteous thoughts and deeds, you will end up in captivity in your own Babylon.  Both of our scriptures today are about repenting, turning back to God.  It is never too late to repent.  It is never too late to turn back to God; because God is faithful and will receive us back into God’s arms in grace and love.  At the end of the exile, Isaiah says to the Jews, repent, God will take you back.  But, you must repent.  And then Jesus tells a story of a fig tree that is given yet another chance to bear fruit, another chance, another chance to repent.  If you are alive, God is giving you another chance to repent.

Whoa.  Stop Jeff.  You are saying God always gives humanity another chance?  Really?  What about Judas Iscariot?  What about Adam Lanza?  Or Hitler?  Or Nero, who murdered thousands of Christians?  Each of these people could have repented, changed their minds about God, and God would have taken even these evil people back into God’s loving arms?  Yes.

That’s unthinkable, isn’t it?  Impossible.  They should all be punished for what they did.  The Jews completely forsook God and were judged and sent into exile in Babylon.  They could have repented, and God would have taken them back?  Yes.  Our deepest enemy who hurts us so deeply could repent and God will accept them back?  Yes.  Those who murdered Jesus on the cross, they could repent and be forgiven and taken back into God?  Yes, and that is exactly what Jesus said on the cross, “Forgive them Father, they don’t know what they are doing.”

God’s love and mercy and grace are huge, well beyond our human imagination.  God wants to live in eternal relationship and bliss with each one of us .  God always reaches out to us, even when we are at our worst.  God still loves every single one of us.  God loved Adam Lanza as he pulled the trigger.  God loved Christ’s murders as they nailed Jesus to the cross.  God loves all of us unconditionally .  Unimaginable, but that is the Gospel truth.

This means God loves those people who have hurt you the deepest.  Even they can repent and turn back to God, and God will forgive them.  And our hardest work as Christians is to follow Jesus and forgive them also .  God’s love conquers all hearts if only we repent and turn back to God.

Each and every one of us here can receive eternal wine and the mother’s milk of God’s love.  But unlike our human economy, the economy of God’s love has no money and no price tags.  The only cost in God’s economy is re-turning to God.  This is our calling in Lent:  As Isaiah asked, “Why do we spend our money on that which is not eternal bread, or labor for that which does not satisfy?”

God’s unconditional love and grace are priceless, without limit, and beyond our human ability to understand.  No matter how much we try to understand God’s unconditional love, God loves us even more.  No matter how much we try to understand Gods’ compassion and mercy, God is even more merciful than that.  And so we are offered the grace of this table, a meal of love and mercy and grace that provides food that satisfies us beyond any human hunger.  This is eternal food, given in eternal grace, all served at this table of unconditional love.  This meal satisfies beyond the horizon of human time, it fulfills us beyond our ability to understand, it overflows our cup far beyond our flaws, no matter how we have failed.  At this table of grace, each of us and all of us are always welcome.  At this table of grace, we are offered eternal wine and bread without price that satisfy forever and never perish.  As Isaiah said,

So, let us return to the Lord, that God may have mercy on us.

And returning to our God, God will abundantly pardon even us.

For God says to each of us today

My thoughts are not your thoughts,

Nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

So are God’s ways higher than our ways,

And God’s thoughts more loving than our thoughts.

Thanks be to God for God’s eternal food of mercy, grace and love.  Amen.