Third Sunday in Lent
March 24, 2019
Isaiah 55:1-9, Psalm 63:1-8, I Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9
Grace to you and peace…
The story of Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9), the severely crippled grandson of Saul, the king who sought to kill David… Following Saul’s death, David, the shepherd boy king expressed the steadfast love of God, inviting Mephibosheth to dine with him at the royal table for the rest of his life…
When we come to church, maybe hesitantly, especially knowing in some way we too are crippled in mind or body or spirit, we come invited, indeed commanded, by our Lord to dine at his royal table, to drink the cup of salvation and to eat the bread of eternal life. We come, invited to the table, where in the mystery of Holy Communion Jesus promises to be our host, to be our food. We come to his table where he gives us himself, where we on our earthly journey are made one with him, with all his brothers and sisters, with all of creation. We come so that we will be nourished and spiritually strengthened in our trek in the wilderness of this life until one day we experience the full transformation of our lives and share in the glorious banquet with him when he comes to make all things new. (cf. Revelation 21:1-4)
Almost without exception, I wake up in the morning hungry. My usual, years-long habit is to put on a robe or some old clothes, brew some coffee and make some breakfast, and then do my devotions. But when I got out of bed Friday morning, I was thinking about these texts for today. I thought particularly about these words of Isaiah 55, about another kind of drink, another kind of food, another kind of breakfast. And so I began that day differently, first just quietly but consciously breathing, simply thinking about Jesus coming anew into my body, into my life, then reading some scripture, seeking to listen to what he may want me to hear, to believe, to do...before my regular breakfast.
It was a way for me to be reminded of the truth and meaning of Jesus’ words when he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Often on Friday I thought about these words:
Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near…For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord…
These words speak of a qualitatively different kind of day when our Lord is directing it. Though the changes may be subtle, our thoughts and our actions will be different, deeper and broader, kinder, more courageous, and more patient yet persistent with ourselves and with others. If the Lord is informing our thoughts and actions, then what we think, what we say, or what we do is not solely our own “stuff,” our own ideas, our own biases, nor just a reflection of our own hurts and frustrations and disappointments. They will be shaped by the Lord’s “higher” ways, “higher” thoughts
Isaiah was clear about himself and his nation. In the presence of God he knew himself and his people to be decidedly unholy. When God called him to be a prophet, he owned that he was “a man of unclean lips” who lived “among a people of unclean lips” (cf. Isaiah 6). But in his vision of the Lord in the temple, a six-winged seraph touched his lips with a hot coal and declared that thereby his guilt had departed and his sin blotted out. Now through this gracious touch his thoughts and words and ways would be informed and transformed by his Lord. Now he could speak boldly and authentically about God’s wrath on all that was unjust and evil in his world. He could speak with equal conviction about God’s mercy toward those who would seek him and forsake their wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts.
Our psalm today is ascribed to David while he is in the wilderness of Judah. It is a beautiful love song to God. David recognizes that God being in his life is the highest, richest treasure, his greatest joy.
O God, you are my God; eagerly 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…For your steadfast love is better than life itself; my lips shall give you praise. So I will bless you as long as I live and lift up my hands in your name. My spirit is content, as with the richest of foods, and my mouth praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the night watches…For you have been my helper, and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice. My whole being clings to you; your right hand holds me fast.
My spirit is content. Fine dining at a world class restaurant could bring no greater joy.
At the For the Sake of the World event at ULC yesterday, our speaker, Dr. Lisa Dahill, a professor at California Lutheran University, played for us a speech given by Greta, a young Swedish girl, who has inspired young people all over the world to speak out every Friday about the “fire” that is burning down our planet, our island home. She has deeply stirred the hearts of countless youth to cry out that time is quickly running out to save our world from death, from ecological collapse. Dr. Dahill encouraged us to pray every Sunday that we would have the courage to speak to all decision makers, all people in positions of power at the local, state, and federal levels to renounce our still far too great dependence on fossil fuels which are wreaking havoc on virtually every life form in the air, water, and land. We have deeply despoiled the Earth, this sacred gift of God which from the genesis of the human race was ours to protect.
Maybe especially in this season of Lent, the season of heightened awareness of our need to repent, we should, in the words of Isaiah, return anew to the Lord, that he may have mercy on us…We should return to the Lord that he may give us the courage to join those bold young people around the world to press our leaders in government and industry toward a deep conversion, to renounce all forms of greed which may be the highest and most destructive form of idolatry.
In the language of the Gospel for today, we still have a little time. The owner of the vineyard had been patiently waiting for three years in vain for his fig tree to produce. He was so ready now to cut it down. We have known since at least the 1960’s that the earth was already in trouble. We knew that the oceans were becoming more acidic, that the time would come when they no longer absorb vast amounts of CO2 without dangerously warming. The air and the water in many places was already increasingly fouled. And we could have changed. We could have lived much more simply, given much more respect for our earthly home, but we did too little and were far too wasteful.
But God has mercifully given us people like Greta and credible scientists all over the world, and importantly, the means to radically change our patterns of consumption, to live healthier lives and the carbon neutral mechanisms to produce and store sufficient clean energy. God is like the gardener who said to the owner, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”
Now the crazy, wonderful thing about all of this is that when we seek and discern what God needs us to think and say and do, God will also give us the calm, even joyful courage to stand up and speak out with the prophets of our day. With Isaiah and David and Paul and Jesus, we have yet “one more year” to eagerly seek our heavenly Father, thirsting and hungering for him the very first thing each morning and often throughout each day. Then by grace, we may well live to see that unproductive fig tree bear fruit. We may live to see that the Earth, our sacred home, is becoming healthier again. And perhaps, returning to the Lord with all our hearts, we may give to our children, our grandchildren, and great grandchildren a home not desolate and uninhabitable but still alive and life sustaining, with enough of the essentials of life, of hearty bread and clean water for all. Perhaps, if we delay no longer, we will leave for them a fertile garden, truly holy and sacred, for which they will thank us and which we pray they will more gently till, and plant, and nurture for the glory of God and the well-being of all God’s creatures.