Lent moves toward the Death of Jesus with the surprise and miracle of Easter around the bend. That is just like life – we are all moving toward death yet the surprise and miracle of Life is not only around the bend but with us always. Things change; people change; disasters happen; miracles renew. The following came in an email I receive every week with sermon illustrations.
This notice appeared in the window of a coat store in Nottingham, England: "We have been established for over 100 years and have been pleasing and displeasing customers ever since. We have made money and lost money, suffered the effects of coal nationalization, coat rationing, government control and bad payers. We have been cussed and discussed, messed about, lied to, held up, robbed and swindled. The only reason we stay in business is to see what happens next."
On Wednesday night, at our Midweek Lenten Worship, we will read John 6. Not all of it, of course, but I would encourage you to read the entire 71 verses. It starts with the Feeding of the 5000, has a short interlude involving walking on water, and then the long discourse on the Bread of Life. It ends with some disciples leaving Jesus and a declaration by the writer of Judas’ betrayal.
Our readings for Sunday are:
Isaiah 55:1-9 – Many who have studied the book of Isaiah see several writers within the passages. The tone and message is distinct between three sections of the book. “First Isaiah”, corresponding to chapters 1-39, is all about faithfulness to God before the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem by the Babylonians. “Second Isaiah”, chapters 40-55, is all about hope and expectation just prior to the return of the Israelites from captivity in Babylon. “Third Isaiah”, chapters 56-66, concerns the political and religious turmoil in Jerusalem after the return from Babylon. The writers of Isaiah II and III could have been disciples of the original Isaiah ben Amoz. Our reading is full of hope and joy. A call to join God’s feast and the renewal of the Davidic Covenant. I really resonate with verses 8 and 9 especially when people speak about God and the Bible in absolutes. God’s way are not our ways so why do we think that we can stuff God to our little boxes?
Psalm 63:1-8 – One of the best things about the Psalms is the variety of emotions and feelings that the psalmist brings. Psalm 63 is one such Psalm. Don’t just read the first 8 verses; read the entire 11 verses. (Many have commented that the Lectionary Committee avoids the difficult verses that might give readers and listeners qualms.) The first 8 verses is all praise and joy for God who gives love and protection. Verses 9 and 10 suddenly turn to darker thought about what may happen to the psalmist’s enemies. Verse 11 returns to rejoicing in God but tack on one final thought about liars: their mouths will be stopped!
1 Corinthians 10:1-13 – We seem to be hop-skipping through Paul’s letters during Lent. When reading Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth, remember that he was dealing with a conflicted church, some of whom didn't like Paul. In our passage, Paul references some terrible calamities that are attributed God in the Old Testament. Verse 7 refers to Exodus 32. (Actually, in verse 27 Moses, using the name of the Lord, commands the deaths of 3,000 people.) Verse 8 refers to Numbers 25:1-9 (impaling idolaters and adulterers). Verse 9 refers to Numbers 21:5-9 (poisonous snakes). Finally, verse 10 refers to Numbers 16:41-50 (all of chapter 16 is disquieting, to say the least, with an earthquake that kills some rebels and a plague that kills thousands). Why does Paul hold up these passages? Perhaps verses 6 and 11 will help. They are examples and perhaps Paul wasn’t above using a little shock therapy for this conflicted church. Did God actually kill or order to be killed the thousands of people in those passages? Remember, the Bible is as much a revelation about the nature of humanity as it is about God. The human way would be to kill rebels, idolaters, and adulterers (and blame God for it), but that is not God’s way (Isaiah 55:8). Keep reading . . .
Luke 13:1-9 – Do the worst of sinners get killed by God in accidents or at the hands of others? Not according to Jesus in our passage. We are all in the need of repentance as we all face death. (Do you drive a car? Then you face death.) If we don’t repent or if we do repent, we will die. The point is our need for repentance so that we may bear fruit for God’s Kingdom. God will also keep providing the manure (fertilizer) we need to bear that fruit.
Do we need a little fertilizer this week? Will our roots break out of the boxes that bind us so that we can bear God’s fruit for God’s Kingdom? (I think I’m mixing too many metaphors.)
Remember, God is Faithful.
Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor