June 6, 2016

Isaiah 40-41 -
“Comfort, oh comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak softly and tenderly to Jerusalem, but also make it very clear That she has served her sentence, that her sin is taken care of—forgiven! She’s been punished enough and more than enough, and now it’s over and done with.”...

A voice says, “Shout!” I said, “What shall I shout?” “These people are nothing but grass, their love fragile as wildflowers. The grass withers, the wildflowers fade, if God so much as puffs on them. Aren’t these people just so much grass? True, the grass withers and the wildflowers fade, but our God’s Word stands firm and forever.”

Climb a high mountain, Zion. You’re the preacher of good news. Raise your voice. Make it good and loud, Jerusalem. You’re the preacher of good news. Speak loud and clear. Don’t be timid! Tell the cities of Judah,  “Look! Your God!” Look at him! God, the Master, comes in power, ready to go into action. He is going to pay back his enemies and reward those who have loved him. Like a shepherd, he will care for his flock, gathering the lambs in his arms, hugging them as he carries them, leading the nursing ewes to good pasture....

So who even comes close to being like God? To whom or what can you compare him? Some no-god idol? Ridiculous!... Have you not been paying attention? Have you not been listening? Haven’t you heard these stories all your life? Don’t you understand the foundation of all things?  God sits high above the round ball of earth. The people look like mere ants.  He stretches out the skies like a canvas— yes, like a tent canvas to live under... “So—who is like me? Who holds a candle to me?” says The Holy.  Look at the night skies: Who do you think made all this?  Who marches this army of stars out each night, counts them off, calls each by name—so magnificent! so powerful!— and never overlooks a single one?  

Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying, “God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me”? Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts. He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.  And he knows everything, inside and out. He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts.  For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, they run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind.

“Quiet down, far-flung ocean islands. Listen! Sit down and rest, everyone. Recover your strength. Gather around me. Say what’s on your heart. Together let’s decide what’s right.  “Who got things rolling here, got this champion from the east on the move?... “Who did this? Who made it happen? Who always gets things started? I did. God. I’m first on the scene.  I’m also the last to leave....

“But you, Israel, are my servant. You’re Jacob, my first choice, descendants of my good friend Abraham. I pulled you in from all over the world, called you in from every dark corner of the earth,telling you, ‘You’re my servant, serving on my side. I’ve picked you. I haven’t dropped you.’ Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.  I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you....That’s right. Because I, your God, have a firm grip on you and I’m not letting go. I’m telling you, ‘Don’t panic. I’m right here to help you.’

“Do you feel like a lowly worm, Jacob? Don’t be afraid. Feel like a fragile insect, Israel?  I’ll help you. I, God, want to reassure you. The God who buys you back, The Holy of Israel. I’m transforming you from worm to harrow, from insect to iron.  As a sharp-toothed harrow you’ll smooth out the mountains, turn those tough old hills into loamy soil. You’ll open the rough ground to the weather, to the blasts of sun and wind and rain.  But you’ll be confident and exuberant, expansive in 

“The poor and homeless are desperate for water, their tongues parched and no water to be found. But I’m there to be found, I’m there for them, and I, God of Israel, will not leave them thirsty....Everyone will see this. No one can miss it— unavoidable, indisputable evidence that I, God, personally did this. It’s created and signed by The Holy of Israel....

“I, God, started someone out from the north and he’s come. He was called out of the east by name. He’ll stomp the rulers into the mud the way a potter works the clay. Let me ask you, Did anyone guess that this might happen? Did anyone tell us earlier so we might confirm it with ‘Yes, he’s right!’? No one mentioned it, no one announced it, no one heard a peep out of you. But I told Zion all about this beforehand. I gave Jerusalem a preacher of good news.  But around here there’s no one— no one who knows what’s going on. I ask, but no one can tell me the score. Nothing here. It’s all smoke and hot air— sham gods, hollow gods, no-gods.”

Luke 13 - 
About that time some people came up and told him about the Galileans Pilate had killed while they were at worship, mixing their blood with the blood of the sacrifices on the altar.  Jesus responded, “Do you think those murdered Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans?  Not at all.  Unless you turn to God, you too, will die.   (x2).  Then Jesus told them a story.  “A man had an apple tree planted in his front yard.  He came to it expecting to find apples but there weren’t any.  He said to the gardener, ‘What’s going on here?  For three years now I’ve come to this tree expecting apples and not one apple have I found.  Chop it down!  Why waste good ground with it any longer.’  The gardener said, ‘Let’s give it another year.  I’ll dig around it and fertilize and maybe it will produce next rear if it doesn’t, then chop it down.’

Jesus was teaching in one of the meeting places on the Sabbath.  There was a woman present so twisted and bent over with arthritis that she couldn’t even look up.  She had been afflicted with this for 18 years.  When Jesus saw her, her called her over.  “Woman, you’re free!”  He laid hands on her and suddenly she was standing straight and tall, giving glory to God.  The meeting place president, furious because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the congregation, “Six days have been defined as work days.  Come on one of the six if you want to be healed, but not on the seventh, the Sabbath.”  But Jesus shot back, “You frauds!  Each Sabbath every one of you regularly unties your cow or donkey from the stall, leads it out for water and thinks nothing about it.  So why isn’t it all right for me to untie this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the stall where Satan has had her tied these 18 years.  When he put it that way, his critics were left looking quite silly and red-faced.  The congregation was delighted and cheered him on.

Then Jesus said, “How can I picture God’s kingdom for you?  What kind of story can I use?  It’s like a pine nut that a man plants in his front yard.  It grows into a huge pine tree with thick branches and eagles build nests in it.”  He tried again, “How can I picture God’s kingdom?  It is like yeast that a woman works into enough dough for three loaves of bread--and waits while the dough rises.”  He then went on teaching from town to village, village to town, but keeping on a steady course toward Jerusalem.

A bystander said, “Master, will only a few be saved/”  Jesus said, “Whether few or many is none of your business.  Put your mind on your life with God.  The way to life---to God!---is vigorous and requires your total attention.  

A lot  of you are going to assume that you’ll sit down to God’s salvation banquet just because you’ve been hanging around the neighborhood all you lives.  Well, one day you’re going to be banging on the door, wanting to get in, but you will find the door locked and the master saying, ‘Sorry, you are not on my guest list.’  You’ll protest.  “But we’ve known you all our lives” only to be interrupted with his abrupt “Your kind of knowing can hardly be called knowing.  You don’t know the first thing about me.”  

That’s when you’ll find yourselves out in the cold, strangers to grace.  You will watch Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the prophets march into God’s kingdom.  You will watch outsiders stream in  from east, west, north and south and sit down at the table of God’s kingdom.  And all the time you’ll be outside looking in--and wondering what happened.  This is the Great Reversal, the last in line put at the head of the line, and the so-called first ending up last.”

Just then some Pharisees came up and said, “Run for life!  Herod’s on the hunt.  He’s out to kill you!”  Jesus said, “Tell that fox that I’ve no time for him right now.  Today and tomorrow I’m busy clearing out the demons and healing the sick, the third day, I’m wrapping things up.  Besides, it’s not proper for a prophet to come to a bad end outside of Jerusalem.