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No Deal, a free Meal (a sermon for Lent 3)

March 5, 2010

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

Over the last few weeks I have been leading a study group for the senior youth of our parish, and one of the things I have been trying to communicate is the difference it makes to see God as creator of all, rather than as a ‘god’, who is somehow part of the world, caught up in the push and pull of life, open to deals, able to be bought off, dealing out rewards and punishments to those who get him angry or do damage to his property… threatened by us human beings.

One of the things that has become clearer and clearer to me is that as the Hebrew people came back from exile and began to gather together their ancient stories about one God of all the earth whose name was “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be” – Yahweh in Hebrew… they began to realize that God was not ‘a god’ like any other powerful being that we can imagine. God is not a being in the world at all. God is the mystery of the world itself. The imageless, unimagineable one.

It is in that context that I hear Isaiah talking about God’s absolutely unconditioned GRACE. In that context we learn what a true gift really is. It is easy to begin to doubt whether there really is such a thing as a true gift… something that is not a kind of bargaining tool in the interchange of life…

Isaiah, speaking for Yahweh, says

 Hey, everyone who is thirsty… come to the waters. Those of you who have no money… come buy and eat

(“buy?” with no money but Isaiah continues)

Come, buy wine and milk without money, without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy. Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in rich food.


In an era of health consciousness that juxtaposition of ‘rich food’ and ‘good food’ sort of jars a bit, but we know what he means… the true gift comes from God’s freedom. What is truly nourishing of our humanity, what is good food for us, is absolutely FREE of charge. We can do nothing in exchange for it. Thus when we have it we don’t have it as of right, for we have not paid… We don’t stand secure in our payment…(you know the feeling you have when you go into a shop secure in your own rights, a leave having made purchase with the same security) our only security is in God the Free One… God the mystery of the universe. God cannot be bought. To receive this gift is to surrender our independence (or our pretenses of independence). We no longer have the independence of those who pay their own way.

Isaiah continues, to speak for Yahweh,

Incline your ear, and come to me; Listen, so that you may live.


In this vision of our situation we live by listening… we are hanging by our ears from the grace of God.

But the God who speaks so that we might live… is not just interested in us… this is the God of all creation, who holds the future of the universe not just in space but also in time. This is a God for whom all the peoples of the world matter.

Isaiah continues:

I will make with you an everlasting covenant, My steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples,


This is a typical rhetorical technique in Hebrew writing where one person symbolically represents many. David as a witness represents his people. The whole people called to depart from the world of ‘the gods’ in the name of Yahweh will be a witness. They are called to show the whole world trapped in slavery to the gods, what freedom looks like… what it looks like to be a group of liberated slaves….liberated slaves who trust in the FREE ONE, Yahweh, the mystery of the whole universe.

See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do no know you shall run to you, because of the Yahweh your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.


So Isaiah’s is saying that the glory (the beauty we might say) of the people of God lies in our witness to God’s grace. We witness, we share the glory of God, when we show the peoples of the world what it looks like to be free… to be free from the pagan wheelings and dealings of our world … and what it looks like trust in the one who offers us an absolute FREE GIFT… in the words of Isaiah, wine and milk (celebration and daily bread) without price.

Our Gospel reading reminds us that this business of trusting in the Free God who is not one of the god’s did not end with the return from exile, nor even with the New Testament … It is an ongoing challenge in the life of the people of God. We are always tempted to be fearful pagans.

With two great earthquakes (Haiti and Chile) in quick succession we need to listen to the gospel text for today also. They are written with the news of the day in the background. Pilate, the Roman ruler, has killed some Galileans and mixed their blood with their sacrifices… and a shudder of horror has gone through the Jewish community. Jesus asks ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? Is that what God does, dish out punishment in the form of an evil fate like this to the worst sinner? Jesus says, NO! That’s his short answer. And then again neither does he render the religious people somehow immune from the consequences of their own sins. It would be a mistake to link these disasters to God’s punishment, but sin does have its consequences. Unless you repent you will perish.

Jesus next example points in the direction of natural evils like earthquakes. He continues…or those eighteen who were killed when the Tower of Siloam fell on them – do you think they were worse offenders than all the others. NO! … There is no retributive justice which metes out disasters according to the level of sin… Jesus insists. This is not what God is like at all. Nevertheless our life is in danger… unless you repent you will perish. Our sin is destroying us.

There’s two sides to Jesus perception here… God is not punishing us… but our sin is destroying us. We need help to repent. What we need to be afraid of is not God but our own failure to trust in the grace which sets us free. Our life is in danger not from God but from sin.

I find it curious there are some people who don’t distinguish these things as Jesus did. They think that because God is not another big angry “god” like the pagan “gods”, then we should stop talking about sin… and start trying to make people happy about themselves and their situation. Some people would like to eliminate the word ‘sin’ from their vocabulary… I think it’s crazy… fiddling while Rome burns.

There is a crisis! Don’t doubt it. But it’s not a crisis you can buy your way out of, by good behaviour. It’s a crisis whose only solution is a gift… there’s no deal, just the gift of life from the absolutely free God of all, in whose gift our life can change and be free also.

The crisis can be averted… God has made a way! God has established that possibility, that is our good news, that’s what we listen to every time we worship. it’s what we need to hear again and again anew, it is also our witness. It’s the witness of a bunch of liberated slaves (that’s us… children of Israel) hanging by our ears to the grace of God.

Jesus says if we don’t trust God’s gift, if we don’t repent, we perish all the more. Isaiah says, if we don’t witness (along with David and all God’s people) then the world perishes all the more.

Life is not for perishing, it’s for living.

Thanks be to God!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2010 1:35 am

    Very Good! That hit the mark!

  2. July 24, 2011 6:24 am

    I was soeriusly at DefCon 5 until I saw this post.

    • July 24, 2011 6:53 am

      That’s good, so long as you don’t actually work at the pentagon 😉


  1. Some recent wanderings « P e r ∙ C r u c e m ∙ a d ∙ L u c e m

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