This is the message that I presented at Walker Valley United Methodist Church for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, 18 March 2001. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 55: 1- 9, 1 Corinthians 10: 1- 13, and Luke 13: 1 – 9
The events of the last week, the fall of the tech stocks on the NASDAQ and the beginning of “March Madness”, bring a striking counterpart to the scripture lessons for today.
The rapid drop in the price of many tech stocks and the demise of companies whose names end in “.com” again show us that you cannot always get something for nothing and that when one seeks quick riches without little effort, the results may not be what they seem.
The opening weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament also reminds us that thinking that we are safe and secure doesn’t always guarantee that we will be. Just ask Iowa State, Virginia, Ohio State, or Wisconsin what safety they had with the seeding they received before the basketball tournament started.
In this day and time we try to find our security in the acquisition of possessions and status. This is not a new phenomenon by any means. Isaiah was speaking out against the consumer mentality of his people when he said, “Why spend money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55: 2) To gain security, meaningful relationships and a purpose in life would seem to be the major tasks of today’s society. But we are quickly learning, as the fall in stock prices might reflect, that these things are not available at any price. How timely is Isaiah’s call to “listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” (Isaiah 55: 2) Isaiah’s call to the people of Israel, held in bondage in Babylon, was to return to their ancient faith in God, where true happiness and security could be found.
Paul was warning the Corinthians not to get complacent with their spiritual security. Some of the Corinthians were so confident that they were spiritually secure that they were cautious about how they lived. Sure, they performed the proper rituals. They had all been baptized and regularly took communion. They had a theology that made them feel nice about themselves and safe and self-satisfied. But in this cozy world that they had constructed for themselves, they forgot to heed the lessons of the past where in similar situations, their ancestors had fallen by the wayside. Paul pointed out that even with their religious experience, they still fell away from God and met an unfortunate end.
Paul wrote “These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us . . . . So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.” (1 Corinthians 10: 11 – 12) Paul is saying that we should not forget the blunders of the people of the past who were sure of their standing but still failed.
Being a Christian is more than simply doing certain things and saying certain things; it is about how one lives. If you knew that you had only one more year to live, what changes would you make in your life? Would your values suddenly change? Would you begin to think about spiritual things. Would you turn to Jesus for salvation? If, as a Christian, you knew you had one more year to bear spiritual fruit, where would you begin? If, as a church, we knew we had but one year to get serious about serving God, where would we start?
When we look at the story in Luke, we read about the mercy of God. The parable of the fig tree points out the patience and forbearance of God. So long as time shall last, God will stand with arms outstretched will to receive all those who would repent of their sins.
During this season of Lent, we are asked to consider where we have been and where we are going. In a world where we seek security and safety, we quickly find that security and safety are not always easily bought. But we also know that God’s mercy is free and that our salvation was bought and paid for on the cross at Calvary. We are called this day to rediscover that God’s love is available to us and that the safety and security that we so desperately seek is available in our relationship to God.
Verses 8 and 9 of Isaiah 55 may have a double meaning for us today. On the one hand, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my way” (Isaiah 55: 8) draws the prophetic contrast between God’s perfection and the imperfect Israelites, who had fallen short of God’s intent.
But these verses also challenge us to seek a better, higher way, something like this: “My thoughts, ways, and even heaven are far beyond your limited understanding: To acknowledge that fact does not condemn us but is the key to ultimate redemption. If you want to get out of Babylon, look up to my thoughts and my ways.”
We can never buy the safety and security that will insure us happiness and we have to be careful to avoid a comfort zone of ritual and words that only gives us a false sense of security. Only by establishing or renewing our relationship with God can we truly gain security and safety. The good news this day is that the security and safety doesn’t cost us anything because it was paid for by Christ at Calvary.