Third Sunday of Lent - RE: "Renew"
This week I am continuing the sermon series that we started a few weeks ago, a series that will take us all the way through the season of Lent. This series is entitled "RE" playing off of the Latin prefix "re" which denotes change or transformation.
Over the course of this series we'll be discovering some important practices for Lent, as we seek to symbolically follow Jesus through this season to the Cross and ultimately to Easter. We'll learn what it means to remember, repent, renew, restore and remain.
Today, let's talk about what it means to practice renewal for the season of Lent. First, let me say something extremely important about renewal--in fact, it's the one thing that I hope you remember from this sermon: Renewal God's way is an inside/outside process.
Let me ask you a question. What did you do this week to make your life better? I am sure that you did something. Even those of us who are walking around morose and miserable tried to do something to make ourselves feel better this week.
What did you buy? Did you buy anything online? I bought a few books this week from Amazon, plus a bunch of stuff for my new house--there's always stuff that you have to buy for a new house, isn't there? Did you go out to dinner at all? Did you go to the grocery store and pick up a few things that you like to eat? Maybe you stopped for coffee at the local Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts.
How about this... Where did you spend your time this week? Did you do things that you like to do? Even if you had work to do, chores, etc., did you find the time to watch some TV, shows that you like to watch, perhaps? Did you go to the movies? Did you hang out with some friends having a beer or three?
Where did you focus your attention and energy this week? What got the most of your focus? Here's a pretty pointed question--What story does your overall budget, and your schedule tell about your desires? The things that you value? The things that give you happiness?
We all want to be better, to be renewed, to find fulfillment. We are created with an inherent need for fulfillment and purpose. God could have created us without this need, but in my mind I believe that God wants us to rely on him in our need.
The sad fact is that for most of us, we don't look to God to find our fulfillment. The story that their schedule and budgets tells is one of a lack of fulfillment. The messages that we receive from our surrounding culture constantly tell us that we will find renewal if we acquire things. If we buy that new car, we will find the happiness we have been seeking.
Or we hear this message: The better your clothes, the more pleasing your appearance, the more lavish your lifestyle--the better you actually will become. Billy Crystal used to play a character on Saturday Night Live named Fernando. Fernando would often say, "Dahling, it is better to look good than to feel good."
The message of our culture is "Your path to renewal begins on the outside, first." If you fix what is wrong on the outside, it will create a path to fix what is wrong on the inside.
Forget that what was wrong in the inside is almost assuredly what caused what was wrong on the outside, am I right?
Our culture constantly affirms the wrong notion that real renewal is an outside/inside process, which is the exact opposite of what we see in the Bible as God's way--an inside/outside process.
The passage of Scripture that we're going to be studying today comes to us from the prophet Isaiah chapter 55:1-9
1 “Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
3 Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.
4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a ruler and commander of the peoples.
5 Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.”
6 Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Let's pause for a moment and consider the audience that the prophet is speaking to here. The people who are hearing this prophecy are the ancient Hebrew people who were conquered and exiled by the Babylonian empire @ 598 BCE. The people hearing this prophecy are wounded, struggling and feeling a great deal of pressure to conform.
The prophet invites them to hear some comforting and inspiring words of hope and renewal. "Incline your ear," it says in one of the translations, "Come and listen...so that you might live." The prophet paints an incredible portrait of a world made new, a blessed community where there is enough for all, and everyone is invited to partake of what truly gives them life.
He reminds the people of Israel of the berit 'olam the sacred and eternal covenant that is connected to YHWH's love for David, the great king of Israel from it's golden age of power and glory. What the prophet is doing here is reminding Israel that it's part in the process of renewal is to stay close to the source of that power and glory--God himself.
The prophet reminds them that renewal is only going to happen when they "return" in their hearts as a people to their first love, to their first priority--to be in loving, covenant relationship with God.
And the reason why the prophet is saying all of these things is because the Hebrew people were in a tough situation. They were being told that the only way they would ever be fulfilled, would find happiness, and have all that their hearts desired was to become Babylonian.
They were being pressured to look like, sound like, act like everyone else in Babylon. They were being told, essentially, if they would just change their outside--they would discover a change on the inside... They were being pressured to find renewal in an outside/inside process.
Basically, there were two kinds of people hearing this prophecy--hearing the prophet's word about anyone who is thirsty coming to drink. And there are two kinds of people hearing it today.
If you are the first kind of person--you know that you are "thirsty" and you want to quench it. You feel it, you can't shake it. There's no getting around the fact that you are in need of something to drink, so to speak.
Living in Florida during the summertime is not my idea of a good time. I've never gotten used to the oppressive heat and humidity. But one thing is certain if you live in Florida during the summer time: you know when you are in need of something to drink. You sweat. You swelter. You find yourself drenched and in need of a huge glass of something.
That's what it's like if you are the kind of person who understands his or her spiritual thirst. You want to quench it, you want to find a way to alleviate that thirst in any way that you can. This is where it can get awfully tempting to give in to an outside/inside path to renewal. But what we quickly find if we choose that route is that we never have enough. We never truly quench our thirst-we only take the edge off of it for the moment.
Or perhaps you are the second kind of person--you don't think you are thirsty and you are fine just the way you are.
If you've ever been to a desert climate like Las Vegas, Palm Springs, or even where I used to live in Colorado you will often encounter signs or warnings about drinking enough fluids. I've seen signs that actually read, "You don't even know that you are thirsty, but you are! Drink something! Stay hydrated!" The dry climate fools you, you don't feel thirsty, but you are.
The same can be true if you are walking around thinking that you don't really need anything to drink--spiritually speaking. Sometimes you don't even know how thirsty you are. The danger with assuming you don't need anything is that you will soon discover that your soul has become dried up and deserted without the Living Water that you need to stay vibrant.
If you've been paying attention the bottom line is that all of us are thirsty. We all long for Living Water. We all want to be renewed inside so that our thirst can finally be quenched.
So what can we do in order to enter into an inside/outside process--the kind that God would have us enter into in order to find renewal of our souls? I find a three-fold answer to that question in Isaiah 55 toward the end of the reading that we shared today. The prophet exhorts the people to "seek" the Lord and "call upon" his name. He encourages them to trust God because God's ways are beyond our comprehension.
Seek--change your priorities to want what God wants. Jesus commanded his followers to seek first the kingdom of God and his justice. God is present in our world, working, moving, resurrecting, making things new. We should not only want the same things God wants, we should actively seek where God is already at work making them a reality and join God in that work.
Call--we should call out to God in prayer and conversation. Acknowledge God's presence in your life and in the world around you. Don't think that you can do this on your own. You don't stand a chance if you want to shoulder all the burdens of your hunger and thirst. You will need God in your life to be the person you were always meant to be, and God's eager and ready to shower you with his grace and mercy if you simply turn to him.
Trust--we need to trust that God actually knows what God is doing. Either you trust God completely or you don't. I meet so many Christians who live in fear, dread and worry. I know it's hard sometimes to break free of the chains of anxiety, I get it. But if we are going to say we believe in God and follow his son Jesus as God desires, then we have to trust God to do what God is going to do, and know that God has our best interests at heart.
Take the challenge this Lent to enter into some inside/outside renewal. Because renewal God's way is an inside/outside process. It starts with renewal of your heart and soul, and will result in the renewal of your life as you seek God, call upon God and trust God.