A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Lent
February 28, 2016
(Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-9; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:31-35)
Throughout history people of every culture have raised their eyes to the heavens in wonder and amazement. Perhaps you also take a moment, when beyond city lights, to look up at the night sky. It is, of course, a perspective altering exercise.
In our southern skies the most famous constellation, I would suggest, is the Southern Cross. Five stars – that from our angle – appear as a cross.
The universe, however, is so vast that what we see as a star cluster is actually an illusion. The closest star to earth in the Southern Cross is a staggering 88 light years away. It would take an above-average lifespan travelling at the speed of light to get there.
The next closest star in the Southern Cross is 125 light years from us. The third is 257 light years away. The next closest is 360 light years away.
The stars of the Southern Cross are, in actual fact, so far from one another that there is no relationship between them at all.
And then, if you focus a telescope onto this cluster-illusion, you will find that sitting behind these relatively close stars is an uncountable background of suns so far from us that they appear as a background of white, shining, dust.
All this is simply to say, the universe is unimaginably vast.
Our passage from Isaiah ends with these words:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,
declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
The bigness of the universe speaks of the difference between God’s ways and ours.
Of course, this is much more than an exercise in making us feel small. Isaiah is inviting people to return God. Four times in the first verse the invitation is made: ‘Come’. The opening language used is one we easily relate to: thirst and water; hunger and food. God is inviting people to freely return from the wilderness to God’s richly stocked storehouse. We are being asked to turn from our ways and our thoughts to the vast thoughts and ways of God.
Unlike our earth-way, God’s way is radically gracious, ‘compassionate’, and eager to ‘pardon’. Forgiveness and love are ingrained in God’s DNA.
God’s way is the way of grace.
This same food-language is seen in the first letter to the Corinthians. There we are reminded that Moses’ followers dined on the ‘same spiritual food’ and ‘drink’ that we, as God’s people, have discovered. Yes, Christ was there, guiding and directing the people from slavery to freedom.
Yet many of these fell into lives of idolatry. That is they substituted Christ for something else. Paul’s readers know these ancient stories and are repeatedly urged to take these as ‘examples’. The overriding message: God is faithful – even in your temptation to take the base ways of our world.
God’s way is the way of faithfulness.
Our Gospel reading also points to the vast gap between our ways and God’s. Jesus has, dangerously, set his face to Jerusalem. As he travels he hears of sinister plans: ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you’.
Our way would be to run. God’s way is to head right into the fox-hole. Make no mistake, Jesus knows what is coming. As he insists, history has shown a violent relationship between God’s messengers and this city. Jerusalem the ‘city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it’. His message to Herod calling him a ‘fox’ links alarmingly with Jesus description of himself as a mother ‘hen’. Foxes take hens.
And yet, Jesus still goes. Along the way he will continue to cast out demons and heal the sick. Each act a reminder that this vastly different Kingdom of God has come near.
These miracles, however, will pale into insignificance against the coming God-gift. God suffering in our place. God embraced by death for us. God rolling away the gravestone that we may catch a fleeting glimpse of the vastness of God’s dream for us.
Nowhere this side of eternity is God’s way more clearly seen that in the events of easter. Here we see God-grace. Here we see God-faithfulness. Here we see God-love.
And even though it is way beyond earth-grace, earth-faithfulness, earth-love, God invites you to put aside these earth-ways and earth-thoughts in the belief that., in their place can grow the higher thoughts and ways of God.
This lent don’t miss the invitation to ‘return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on’ you, ‘and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon’. It is a taking of ways vastly beyond our own. A learning to think the infinite thoughts of God.
Church of Jesus the Christ, embrace the vastness of your God.