(Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8; 1; Luke 13:1-9)
This is lent season; Lent is a special time to grow in our relationship with God and to reflect on our call to live as a covenant community. This is an opportunity to slow down and to reflect upon our rhythms and patterns of life and to seek the Lord more deeply. As we focus on this season of church life, we also experience sorrow for our deeds and secret living and our failure to do and seek to live fully and faithfully for God. St Augustine reminds us that since we are made out of nothing, we strive constantly toward nothingness! On the first day of lent we were marked with ashes a reminder that, “we are dust and unto dust we shall return.” This is a sobering reality but one that I believe is really needed in a world where the self and self-importance reigns! We became living souls because God breathed in us the breath of life. It is to this life giving God that we are invited to return on this lent season.
The psalmist got it right in Ps. 63. “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” (Ps. 63:1-3).
Our God is the God of life! We live in a world marked by death and we are constantly wrestling with realities related to death; diseases, poverty, broken relationships, wars, injustice, greed etc. This lent season when we are supposed to examine our lives in terms of our faith, it is fitting that we focus on the one in whom a lone life abounds. Our God invites us to his abundance but we must respond and decide whether we want to continue to invest in stuff that gives us no life or accept the invitation to his abundance.
Isaiah 55 depicts God’s incredible invitation to generous hospitality. In the context of our text, the LORD calls to his formerly exiled people to come! Make a journey toward life! Why spend so much of our lives and resources chasing after stuff that gives no life? So, God exhorts his people to come to the water, to the banquet; yes without money. To use today’s language, I might say, “Why decide to eat with junk food? That stuff will kill you? Make a life giving choice! Be mindful of our tendency to gravitate towards nothingness and develop practices that help orient us towards God.
This invitation is not only to a healthy meal but also to lifelong covenant living. As we journey toward God, God will reestablish with us the covenant made so long ago with God David, he who was “leader and commander for the peoples” God made a promise to David that the covenant with God would never end (2 Sam 7) that same unending covenant was to be renewed with the returned exiles and with us the new covenant community. Therefore, the same God that called the returned exiles of the covenant is calling us and exhorting us that choosing to follow after him and to enter into a covenant living.
Once we enter this new way of living, we will be empowered by God and we shall call nations that do not know us, and they will run to us, because of our God, the Holy One of Israel, because God has glorified us (Is. 55:5). With the renewal of God’s covenant the whole world will become new! New communities of nations and peoples will form around the renewed people of God, the church. This is the message of the church and is the message EMM continues to share around the world seeking to see transforming communities of worship emerge among all peoples.
As covenant people, we ought to live differently because God’s ways are radically different from our human ways; for God’s thoughts are not human thoughts, hence those who are transformed by God become witnesses for God that is why the nations who did not even know them are drawn to them because God is with them. And even more awesome, our covenant partner is faithful; his words are likened to the rain and snow that comes down and accomplishes their purposes as they bring forth food from the ground.
When we choose to journey toward God, mountains, hills, and trees will join in singing and clapping their hands in celebration! Thorns will grow into cypress and myrtle will come forth instead of brier. This is the great joy for those who choose wisely, they will become a memorial that is established forever that cannot be cut off.
In New Testament text, the theme journey towards God continues and the key word is “repentance” a re-orientation of our lifestyle. Jesus tells two stories about death; one by a leader’s brutality and the other by accident. The first story reminds me of stories from the Rwandan genocide in 1994. In his book “Mirror to the church” (Resurrecting Faith after Genocide in Rwanda) Dr. Emmanuel Katongole writes, “In the case of Rwanda, the blood of tribalism was thicker than the waters of baptism.” We read about stories of worshipers hacking each other to death in the church! It is a horrific scene but much like the one related in this text but Jesus is also leading a pilgrim of Galilean worshippers to Jerusalem what is their fate? Will Jesus continue to journey to Jerusalem after this horrific news? Nevertheless the point is repentance the pilgrims Pilate slaughtered are not any worse. Or the next story about the accident in Siloam, which once again makes the same point on repentance and then the conclusion that in Jesus, a chance is given for repentance.
Will we choose rightly to repent and receive abundant life from the source of all life or will we choose poorly and stay the course on the path to destruction? This the challenge in lent. If we choose wisely, we will bear lasting fruit for the kingdom and hence be God’s missionaries both here at home and around the world!
preached at Landis Valley Christian Fellowship March 3, 2012