Lent 3 A God who cares
The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman
It’s easy to take from our readings today a picture of God as people sometimes seem to see Him in the Old Testament. A God who punishes and a God who condemns. A God who is not pleased with the actions of His people and will make them bear the consequences. Perhaps we even begin to think that God might even be vindictive.
That His ways are not our ways and we can never begin to understand such an awesome being.
Quite a gloomy picture.
And, whilst there is an element of judgement in our readings, which is one of the great themes of Lent which we so often want to skim over as it’s rather difficult to talk about, the underlying theme of the readings is more one of consequences and of hope. Themes of God’s unending provision and nurture for His people if they look at themselves through self-reflection and turn to Him in with repentant hearts.
For the recipients of Isaiah in exile they were being offered a new hope and a fresh start. For many of them this may have been difficult for as much as they would want to return home to their ‘Promised Land’ many of them would have possessions, a career, a community and a safe and secure life which they were now being asked to move on from.
The challenge for Isaiah as it is for us, is to help the people understand that as good as it seemed, what they were experiencing was only second best (at best) compared to the life that God was offering them where possessions, money and financial stability.
In moving back to Judah after the exile God is offering them the chance not to be subjects in a foreign land but inheritors of His Kingdom and a people who can draw and invite others to their home and country.
It’s a chance to move on to something better and offer hope, not just to themselves but to others too.
Like the Corinthians that Paul addresses, they are invited not to just sit on their laurels of safety and security, complacent in the lives that they have, but to live out their faith in a manner in which is consistent with their calling.
They too need to be brought to a proper commitment to the faith in which they are baptised. There can be no ‘going through the motions’ or in Paul’s terms, falling back into idolatry and empty rituals.
But what are we to make of those who do fall short of the Promised Land? Those who seem to be victims of disproportionate reactions or those innocent people involved in disasters?
Jesus seems to be saying that it’s more the outcomes that are important. The consequences of things that happen. We are all invited to come to Christ, to journey with Him or let Him travel the road alone.
And in so doing He turns the questions round from punishment of others to our own self-examination.
God, it seems, will do all He can to nurture His creation but He needs our co-operation. The invitation he offers needs our response through our own self-examination.
In echoes of John 15, ‘My Father is the gardener’, Jesus then speaks about the parable of the fig tree and in so doing gives insight as to how this might happen.
Dig around the fig tree, which the Father has planted and throw on some manure and see what happens.
It’s as if jesus is inviting us to get stuck into the dung, manure and mess of life as we respond to His invitation.
Not to just go through the empty rituals of our religion but to get immersed and stuck into the things of everyday life, as he did Himself.
Jesus spent three years digging around and fertilising the society, community and religion of His day.
He invites us to do the same.
One of the three key elements of the Diocese ‘Living God’s Love’ initiative, along with Going deeper into God and Making New Disciples is Transforming Communities.
We’re invited to get involved with them to help people see, just like the Israelites in exile, that what is on offer is much more than the second best of life which they are currently experiencing.
To work with God to bear fruit and be agents of transformation. That’s quite a challenge! We are called to work with God to help all His people flourish.
Just as Isaiah offered a vision of hope to the Israelites, so we are called to offer a vision of hope, amid all the perceived hopelessness of modern life and events, a hope which transforms lives and communities.
Not to just go through the motions of our religion, but to live it out in practice. Be immersed in the mess of everyday life so Jesus can touch it, and work with us transform it for us, and others. We’re called to be distinctive, be different, and be attractive.
But without our own self-examination, without our own constant turning to God, without our willingness to go Deeper into God ourselves it’s unlikely to make much of a difference. It’s unlikely we’ll realise that there is something better as our lives are enriched and nurtured by God.
As the Israelites were to find, God’s provision for them was beyond their wildest dreams. A home they could call their own.
As the returning exiles were to discover, God had not forgotten them or forsaken them, whatever the circumstances may have looked like.
They, nor the Corinthians, nor the early believers, nor we should be fooled into thinking that what we see and experience without God, however comfortable it may feel, is the optimum for us, it can only ever be second best.
If we just go through the motions, take for granted what God has given us and done for us, never fully engage with the nurturing environment God has for us as we engage with those around us and share His love, we’ll never experience the fullness of life that God has in store for us.
There were some exiles who decided not to return home. In so doing they settled for second best. Let’s not do the same.