Isaiah 55:1-9 – 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. Seek the Lord while he may be found. Return to the Lord… for he will abundantly pardon. (This is also the OT reading for Pentecost 9A.)
Psalm 63:1-8 – O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water… In the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
1 Corinthians 10:1-13 – The results of idolatry and immorality are devastating, so do not fall. No test has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God will strengthen you for your testing.
Luke 13:1-9 – Those Galileans slaughtered by Pilate, were they any worse sinners than anyone else? No. How about those who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them? No. But unless you repent, you will also perish. Jesus likens his ministry to a man who allows his gardener to tend a fruitless fig tree for one year. If it doesn’t bear fruit, it will be destroyed. Prediction of the fall of Jerusalem?
Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.
– Joel 2
March 6 – Ash Wednesday: Dust. Ashes. Mortality. Repentance. Fasting. Don’t show off your piety.
March 10 – Lent 1C: First fruits for the Levite and alien. Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness.
March 17 – Lent 2C: Abram’s call. Faith reckoned as righteousness. Jesus laments for Jerusalem.
March 24 – Lent 3C: Repent, for there is only so much time left for the fig tree to bear fruit.
March 31 – Lent 4C: Lost sheep. Lost sons.
April 7 – Lent 5C: I am about to do a new thing… Mary anoints Jesus’ feet.
April 14 – Palm/Passion Sunday: Jesus entry into Jerusalem as an anti-triumph.
The Prodigal God
For those reading Timothy Keller’s book The Prodigal God: recovering the heart of the Christian Faith, study guide, DVD:
Lent 1 – Chapter 1: The People Around Jesus
Lent 2 – Chapter 2: The Two Lost Sons
Lent 3 – Chapter 3: Redefining Sin
Lent 4 – Chapter 4: Redefining Lostness
Lent 5 – Chapter 5: The True Elder Brother
Palm Sunday – Chapters 6 and 7: Redefining Hope, The Feast of the Father
Isaiah 55: Ho everyone. Listen up y’all. Ripple of Hope
This Sunday’s lesson comes from Isaiah 55:
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.2Why 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. 3Incline 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. 4See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5See, 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.
6Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; 7let 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. 8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10For 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, 11so 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. 12For 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. 13Instead 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.
Ho – Hoy, in Hebrew, means: Hey! Listen up! Pay attention! Like Idou in the Greek. “Behold.” It’s a few snaps of the fingers.
We are at the climax of Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55). Isaiah 55 is the last chapter in Deutero-Isaiah. Proto-Isaiah, chapters 1-39, are pre-exilic; Deutero-Isaiah, chapters 40-55, exilic; and Trito-Isaiah, chapters 56-66, post exilic.
Written, 547-540 BC, these words reflect the end of Babylonian captivity. The Israelites’ dreams had been crushed. Their temple destroyed. Their way of life changed forever. Now comes a word of hope.
The return home is a kind of second exodus. These words will ring in the ears of all who have been displaced. Iraqis. Syrians. Central Americans. All who long for their homeland, from which they have been forever exiled hear these words with force. The restoration of the fortunes of Zion means God’s provision.
Listen to the images:
You poor, who have no money, come to the waters, come buy and eat: Water, wine, milk, grain, bread!
There is a promise of salvation that is very material here. Wealthy societies tend to over spiritualize this. Communities of poverty hear this for what it is, the promise of enough.
As capitalists, we tend to reject the idea of free things. Capitalism creates wealth, but it doesn’t distribute it very well. Today the top 10% have about the same wealth as the other 90%. This is our economy. God’s economy is different than our human economies. You can’t put a price on God’s water. You can’t put a price on the bread of life. God’s economy is one of lavish grace and abundance.
Notice the promises here. First, people are fed. Second, nature is restored. There is a new creation. The mountains and the hills break out in song. Trees clap their hands. I would love to see what Disney could do with this. The cypress and myrtle trees flourish, instead of weeds. Third, faith and hope are renewed, things which money can’t buy.
When we think of prophets, we often think of prophets of doom. One of the jobs of this prophet and many other prophets is to proclaim a message of hope in the midst of calamity. To see the broken world with new eyes. Are we prepared to preach a message of hope when others say the sky is falling?
People seem more in fear of terrorism, immigrants, and war than ever. Yet, by every measure, we are living in the safest time in human history. We hear of wars and rumors of war, but we live in fear. Can the preacher speak a word of hope and vision?
This message is addressed to those who have been torn from their homeland. Their houses bulldozed. Their Temple has been destroyed. Their city has been left in ruin. Their aristocracy dragged into slavery, in exile. Although people may treat you like garbage, God loves you.
We speak the word: whatever you may think of yourself, whatever others may think of you, God loves you. You are of inestimable value. The gospel means telling people they are beloved. They are loved with an everlasting love. It means treating people like it is true as well. People need a community where they can be somebody. When you preach that word, stuff happens.
10For 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, 11so 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.
God’s word does not return empty handed, Isaiah tells us. It accomplishes stuff. God’s word creates the world in Genesis. In Romans, Paul describes the word of the gospel as a “dunamis,” an explosive power. The word of God is not the Bible. It is not ink in a book. The Word is Jesus, the Word made flesh.
A few years ago, after 50 years of trial and error, folks at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced that they had finally detected what Einstein predicted: gravity waves. Einstein believed gravity was not an invisible force, but actually waves in the fabric of space/time. Imagine two standing people stretching out a blanket, with a grapefruit in the middle. Now roll marbles on the blanket. They will circle around the grapefruit, following the dipping contour of the blanket. Gravity. Now imagine the grapefruit rolling across the blanket, making waves, like a boat in the water. Gravity. It is an utterly new way of thinking about space and the universe. I suspect we will never quite be able to change our mental picture of the universe to this, just as our ancestors could not imagine a round earth. It is beyond our understanding.
For 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 my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts…
I like to think of the Word as a wave in space/time. It emanates invisibly accomplishing things. This wave in the universe is not death, but life! It is not hatred, but love. It is not chaos, but the coming together of things in the future, by God who is gathering all things together. We come and go, the grass withers and flower fades, but God’s word lasts forever. It is built into the fabric of the universe. Isaiah is not talking about a book. He is talking about a reality.
What images might help us proclaim this ripple of hope?
Come and eat for free? How about the potluck? As a broke college and seminary student, I was always on the prowl for a free meal. For many, the struggle for food is a daily enemy. Economic inequality is a national conversation these days. What if the kingdom of God is a free banquet. Could we have some free barbecues to give the world a foretaste of the feast to come? Are our Lenten meals open to all? Do they know it?
The men at a former congregation decided to cook a full breakfast once a month. They chose the second Sunday of every month. It became known as the Second Sunday Breakfast. They cooked eggs, pancakes, sausage, bacon and biscuits, with orange juice and hot coffee. One gentleman often picked up the entire cost himself, then set out a donation basket. Everyone was welcome, money or not. Some paid; some couldn’t. Newcomers were always free.
you that have no money, come, buy and eat!
We always collected more than we spent, like the loaves and fishes in the Feeding of the Five Thousand. The money was used to support student scholarships. Each Second Sunday we ate until the food was gone. I loved coming early to church on the second Sunday. The parking lot smelled heavenly. The aroma of love. And bacon. And guess what. Attendance on the the second Sunday of the month was always the highest of the month. I asked the council, “Why do you think that is?” It wasn’t the preaching.
Welcome isn’t as hard as we think. Everyone eats. Ho! Come! Eat! You have no money. Our church suppers should be for the poor. No, they should be for all, to eat together. A potluck just for us is an abomination. Just us, isn’t justice. How are you inviting those who really need it to your feasts?
Then the language shifts. “Why do you spend your money on that which does not satisfy?” This question should be directed to the congregation. Why are you spending money you don’t have, on things you don’t need, to impress people you don’t like? Why? We have a spiritual hunger that we try to satisfy with things, and with entertainment. Seek something more substantial, Isaiah says.
This is the same shift that Jesus often makes, from the material to the spiritual. Jesus: You cannot live by bread alone. Echoes of Ash Wednesday’s gospel reading from Matthew 6: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal. Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…
The gospel points to our spending habits. You are spending your money on the wrong stuff. You are caught in the trap of materialism. Free yourself! You can’t put a price on God’s water. This is living water to quench your spiritual thirst. This is The bread of life.
Too much? God’s economy doesn’t make sense to you? Of course not. “My thoughts are not your thoughts,” saith the Lord.
Of course, the Eucharistic table is the ultimate weekly sign of the open table of our Lord. It is not just bread and wine we crave, but Christ himself, the spiritual nourishment he brings. Maslow was right. Get the bread thing out of the way for people and they will be able to focus on their spiritual hunger.
Ho! Come to the waters of baptism. You hungry, empty-handed people, come to the table and eat bread and drink wine. Find life!
Our Eucharistic table must extend to the potluck, the Second Sunday Breakfast, the congregational barbecue. They must be not for us, but for the world. It is said that the early church took all the left over bread from the Eucharistic table and send it out with teams to the poor. Let it be so today.
Luke 13:1-9 – Deep Thoughts
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
I used to love Deep Thoughts, on Saturday Night Live. Humorist Jack Handey was known for his Deep Thoughts, first seen in National Lampoon in 1984. I learned about these ironic one-liners from SNL in the early 90’s, as a young, irreverent pastor. This Sundays’s gospel calls to mind one of Handey’s Deep Thoughts:
If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is “God is crying.”
And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is “Probably because of something you did.”
The irony is palpable, and yet we give this message to children over and over again. And I suppose it’s human, but we think it every time something happens to us. What did I do to deserve this? If we get sick, we assume that is something we ate, or the result of some bad habit we were unable to kick. People in our congregations carry around an unreasonable amount of guilt and shame. We know we have messed up. We are always waiting for the other shoe to fall. And sometimes our maladies are the result of our actions. The reality is, sometimes life is also random.
Jesus confronts this philosophy in today’s gospel.
The people that were slaughtered by Pilate, do you think they were worse than anyone else? Do you think God was punishing them for their sins? Everybody knows that idea is absurd. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
How about those 18 people that were crushed when the wall of Siloam collapsed? (This may have been a tower that provided water to Jerusalem. Remember the Pool of Siloam mentioned in John 9?) Do you think those who perished in this tragedy were any worse sinners than the rest of the people in Jerusalem? Do you believe that God was punishing them for their sins? When tragedy strikes, we love to assign blame. I will never forget Franklin Graham suggesting Katrina was God’s judgement on New Orleans.
Of course they (in Jerusalem, and New Orleans) were sinners, like every human being. But assuming that bad things happen to people because they sinned is illogical, and blaming the victim. Maybe everything does happen for a reason, however the reason is not usually what you think, and saying so to someone who is suffering is particularly heartless.
Like Eliphaz says to Job (4:7):
Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished?
Where were the upright ever destroyed?
Do the innocent suffer? Yes, of course. This is the point of the cross after all. Innocence crucified.
Make no mistake, Jesus understands that actions have consequences. “You reap what you sow.” If you live violently, you will probably have a violent life. Whoever lives by the sword, dies by the sword. If you so love, you will also be loved. If you give, you will receive much more back, in ways you didn’t expect.
But if you don’t repent, you will perish as they did. The “you“ here is plural. He is not saying, if you don’t stop cheating on your taxes God is going to hit you with lightning. He is saying, if Jerusalem continues down this violent course, the inevitable will happen. This is not because God is trying to get you, or because you’re any worse than anyone else.
He then tells the parable of the fig tree. He shifts from Pilate to the temple. From tragedy to fruitfulness. The fig tree is often a symbol for the temple. The vineyard owner is upset that the tree is not bearing fruit. He orders it cut down. The gardener, however, talks him into waiting one more year. Let me dig around it, put manure on it, and see what I can do. Like a good apocalypse, this is not about what will happen, but about what might happen if we continue down this current road.
It always amazes me how Jesus can speak a word of grace, and also word of judgment at the same time.
So, what do we say to our people? Yes, you are a sinner, but no, disease, suffering, death are not because of something you did. Life is more complex than that. If you are suffering, know that Jesus told the stories today on his way to Jerusalem, where he himself, the innocent one, would suffer greatly. God understands your suffering.
And even if you did lose that job, or receive that sentence, “because of something you did,” remember that God loves you unconditionally, and forgives you. Even if, like Cain, you have done the unthinkable to your brother, and been banished to the land of Nod, know that you have been marked by God for grace and forgiveness. You are loved with an everlasting love. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.