Sermon February 28: Taking The High Road

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Faith United Methodist Church

February 28, 2016

Third Sunday of Lent

Rev. Kristabeth E. Atwood

Scripture: Isaiah 55:1-9, Luke 13:1-9

Prayer for Illumination:

Gracious God, we thank you for the glimpses of your glory, and the whispered words of your promise, which help us to continue from day to day. As we reflect on your Scriptures may the words that we speak and the thoughts that we form bring glory to your name. Amen.

Sermon: Taking the High Road

You know what they say….. You might be a Methodist if you consider the monthly potluck a sacrament. You also might be a Methodist if “Coffee Hour” actually takes an hour and involves much more than coffee. In Protestant circles we Methodists are known for two things. Anyone have a guess? Yes! Our singing and our food.   And I have to admit that in all my years as a Methodist I’ve come to the conclusion that we are pretty good at both.

In fact, thinking back, some of my best church memories from childhood involve food. Hot Chocolate after Christmas Caroling. Warm cider and donuts following our fall hay ride. Easter Sunrise breakfast in the Fellowship Hall. And one thing about eating at church is there’s always enough for everyone.

And that’s the message in our Old Testament lesson today. “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!” The banquet table was spread and all anyone had to do was show up.

The people of Israel, who were first hearing Isaiah’s words, had lived away from their home, in exile, for 40 years. In fact a whole new generation of Israelites had been born that had never set foot in Jerusalem. The exiled Israelites has been taken through the wilderness road, led along the way to Babylon, and forced to settle at the banks of the river Euphrates. They were prisoners of war. Yet, Isaiah prophesied to them this invitation from God, “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

In fact, those words must’ve seemed too good to be true. In the ancient world food took on sacred significance. Food wasn’t something you bought at the grocery store. People lived much closer to drought and famine than we do today. Milk and wine weren’t staples, but extravagances. To have access to these in the ancient world one had to be a landowner with vineyards and herds or flocks, or have the goods to barter for them.  Living as prisoners in Babylon, the people of Israel had neither.

So in these verses what Isaiah offered the people of Israel was more than a meal. God’s lavish spread was about more than food. It was about extravagance. It was about homecoming. It was about blessing. It was about a journey that would lead them back to feast at their very own tables spread with all good things. As Peter Steinke put it, “The prophet invited the Israelites, now in exile in Babylon, to come to a lavish meal and receive a renewal of covenant blessings.” God was reaffirming the blessing originally given to their ancestor Abraham.

Yet, after all these years would the people of Israel still want to come? It’s probably not hard to imagine that some of the Israelites had begun to doubt ~ to wonder if God still remembered them ~ after 40 years. In fact, some of the people might have thought Isaiah’s words were indeed too good to be true. They had become impatient with God. They could assimilate to the Babylonian way of life, stop waiting for their God, and pay their own way. The question for the exiles became whether to worship the seemingly more powerful gods of Babylon or stay loyal to the God of their past.

And this is where Isaiah really challenges the people. His pointed question was this: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” Here he was inviting the people to take the high road, to think of higher things. Today they might not have wine and milk, but tomorrow God would bless them beyond imagining ~ if they would just be patient, stay faithful. As Isaiah proclaimed, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways.”   If they settled for what they could scrape together that day, they might miss the higher way God sets before them tomorrow.

There’s a funny story in my family of my grandmother bringing us all out to dinner. It was a nice restaurant and a special treat. My Gram was very proud and she was sure to say, “Get whatever you want. It’s on me!” We studied our menus and ordered appetizers and entrees and desserts. But when the check came my Gram looked in her purse to find that she’d left her wallet at home! Of course, we came up with enough money to cover the bill, but we still laughed about it at family gatherings for years to come. And, before future dinners out we would inevitably ask, “Gram, do you have your wallet?”

Yet, the Good News is that none of us have to pay for the grace that God set’s before us, none can afford the gift that is offered to us. What we really need ~ what will satisfy our deepest hunger and thirst ~ is not anything we will find on our table or that we will be able to purchase with our wallets. We are all invited, without price, to the table of God’s grace.

Similarly, in our Gospel lesson, we read a story of an impatient man with a fig tree. The man grew hungry and went to get a fig from his tree, but there were none. In fact, the fig tree had not produced for three years. In his anger he ordered his gardener to cut it down. The gardener, though, took a more measured approach. He suggested, “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 good; but if not you can cut it down.”

Lent is a season to reflect on our impatience with life, our desire to take the easy road rather than the higher road. It is an invitation to recognize our own limitations and turn to God. It is an invitation to put our wallets away and to stop asking what we might be able to buy when the feast has already been laid out before us. “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and you who have no money, come, buy and eat.”

I share in the hope of Rev. Sharon Riessinger Lucas when she writes, “My hope for all of us is that we know a thirst that only Jesus can quench and then seek that living water that pours from the rock of our salvation.” She then continues, “Come on! Quench your thirst in Christ and then go refreshed and with open eyes to serve this world.”   Nourished by the living water, the bread of life, we follow that high way that leads to God. We celebrate the feast already laid out before us, free for the taking. Our covenant is renewed. We are blessed. Let us pray:

Be present at our table, Lord;
Be here and everywhere adored;
Thy people bless, and grant that we
may feast in paradise with thee. Amen.