“Lenten Wilderness, Extravagant God”

 

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.

Why 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.

Incline 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.

See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.

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, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;

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.

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.

Remember the movie, “Oliver!”? Based on Dickens’ Oliver Twist? A young orphan boy in the London poorhouse is sold off as punishment for asking for more food, and after a rough and tumble series of events, is taken in by a well-to-do stranger. There’s a scene in the movie where Oliver, who has grown accustomed to wearing dirty rags and sleeping in the company of thieves in dark and dank places, wakes up to s voice singing, the sounds carried in with birdsong and morning light streaming into his bedroom at the gentleman’s house. Oliver is clean, in a nice place with clean bedding and white curtains, and he looks out his 2nd story window onto the mostly still empty street, where the singing is coming from a woman selling red roses, singing “Who will buy my sweet red roses? Two blooms for a penny?” She is joined by a group of other young women singing a different but harmonious tune querying, ”Will you buy any milk today, mistress?” and still other voices offering “Ripe strawberries, ripe strawberries….” The harmonies blend and lift, the sun streams down, the sky is blue, the grass is green, and everyone is offering….something in great abundance! Oliver is utterly enchanted and wonders “who will buy this wonderful morning…such a sky you never did see! Who will tie it up with a ribbon and put it in a box for me so I can see it as my leisure when

 [Note:  I couldn’t show this film clip in church because we aren’t set up for it, but I made a clip of the clip so I could just upload the beginning part here. However, WordPress tells me the file format is not supported and won’t let me upload it. SO — if you watch this clip, feel free to cut it about 2.39 — otherwise it’s 8 minutes of 1968 Disney musical dancing, which, you know, I love, but I wouldn’t have included it all here if  I could have worked around it!]

 

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.

Of course, the items being offered in Isaiah are without price, while the ones in London cost money – but the essence, the beauty, the spirit on the surface of it all is the same.

This 55th chapter of Isaiah was probably written by someone during the Babylonian exile, for the Israelites who were in exile at that time. That period of time was ending, and they were about to be heading back toward Jerusalem – not knowing that Jerusalem was in horrible shape and unlikely to be able to offer abundant living of any sort to anyone.

But the invitation that is extended transcends time and world events, because it’s indicative of how God works,
and God is not bound by our human conventions and constructs.

I don’t know about you, but my dad taught me that most things that seemed too good to be true usually were, and that nothing was really free.

What’s being offered here? Is it REALLY free? Listen again.

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that hamilk-wine.jpgve no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why 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.

This runs counter to our world. What our experience shows us is that there’s always a catch, isn’t there. There’s never a free lunch. You get what you pay for. What goes around comes around. Time to pay the piper.
But the prophet is promising an extravagant bounty for free. Just pull up a chair and dig in.

The prophet also says, ‘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.

So, maybe, we don’t have to pay money for any of these things. They are free in that sense. But there is still a cost, just not a monetary one.

It’s like any of the choices we make. We can’t do and be everything. We have to pick and choose. If we choose what God is offering, we’re NOT choosing something else. Our choice costs us whatever we didn’t choose.

Choosing to follow Christ means we have to acknowledge our own brokenness. That we’re unable to do it on our own. God’s ways are not our ways, thank goodness.
Sometimes if we’re choosing to follow Christ, we have to sacrifice our egos. Our pride. We have to take ourselves off center stage sometimes and let someone else have the spotlight.

Sometimes the people with whom we share the stage aren’t even people we like at all. After all, everyone is invited to the same feast. Sometimes they have different values than we do, different backgrounds, different issues and opinions. They might even vote differently than we do. They might even have done something to us. They might even be people we need to forgive.
And really, if we manage to come to terms with all those things – our own weakness and brokenness, self-centeredness, self-righteousness, self-importance and fallibility, we’re left with our humble humility that can also be a deterrent to accepting the grace and abundance our extravagant God wants to give us. It’s possible to allow ourselves to become crippled by our own unworthiness. We have to be able not only to forgive other people, but to forgive ourselves too.

Why is it, if we KNOW how much more satisfying and sustaining God’s ways are, from banquets to unnamed.jpgBasic Life Choices 101, why do we have such a hard time staying in a right relationship with God? Why do we forget? Why do we wander? Why do we so easily get wrapped up in things that move us away from God?

It’s all part of being human. Which, in spite of our shortcomings, is a pretty wonderful thing to be. Life is an amazing adventure, different for each one of us even when we walk together in the same direction. Even in those moments when we DO manage to be in a right relationship with God and with each other, we are together, but not the same.   And God has ways to use us all. Each one of us. Every day. All the time. On Tuesdays, in November, in England or Iowa or Western Hills or New Zealand, on land, on the sea, in the air, scrubbing the floor, cleaning out the garage, nearby, far away , when we feel good, when we’re sick, whether we are sad, grieving, full of energy, bored, excited, sleepy, baking bread, during Christmas, driving the car, walking around the block, in the hot summertime, during this season of Lent….God is always there, inviting us, nurturing us, loving us.

Saying, Ho! Hey you! Christian! Follow me.

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