Rev. Susan M. Hudson, St Pauls Presbyterian Church, February 28, 2016
What is the Food and Drink our Souls Desire?
[Luke 13:1-9; Isaiah 55:1-13]
Let us pray. Gracious heavenly Father – you are the gardener of our souls, who graciously waters the soil of our lives and gives us the spiritual nutrients we need to thrive as your disciples. Forgive us for NOT bearing fruit after all you have done for us. Show us how to absorb the food that truly satisfies. Show us where to seek the living water you freely and abundantly provide. In Jesus’ name, we pray; Amen.
In the New Testament Lesson this morning – some of Jesus’ followers were talking about various “tragedies” of human suffering, such as the cruel and unusual punishment of certain Galileans under Herod’s rule and the collapsing of a tower on 18 other Galileans. Jesus’ followers asked if they were worse sinners than other people. Was God using those events to punish them? People ask similar questions today. Some even dared suggest that tragedies like 9/11 were punishments from God for America’s sins and unfaithfulness. I think Jesus would answer us in the same way he answered those followers 2,000 years ago.
His answer was NO – that was not God’s punishment because they were worse sinners than anyone else. Then he followed up by saying: “...but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” He answered both questions like that and then told a parable about a fig tree. In both cases when the disciples were pointing the finger at other people, asking: “Were THEY worse sinners than everyone else?” Jesus redirected them from looking at the sufferings of other people to looking closely at their OWN LIVES instead. He cautions them:
“Unless YOU repent, you too will perish as they did.” Why would Jesus respond in that way? Why would he say – No, they weren’t any worse than anyone else, but by the way, if you don’t straighten up, it could happen to you! Jesus turned the tables on his followers. He didn’t want them over-analyzing and speculating about the cause of other peoples’ suffering in an abstract kind of way. Jesus wants us all to keep our microscopes focused on our own sins.
It has taken me a long time to get this point, which is really quite simple. There is only ONE PERSON you can change in this world and that person is YOU. When we keep the focus of our attention on what’s wrong with other people or what’s wrong in the world – it’s a smoke screen to avoid facing what’s wrong in ourselves. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And yet, it isn’t. There is a lot of finger-pointing in our world today. Most people are pointing fingers away from themselves, because it is much more painful and humbling to recognize and “name” our own shortcomings and to take responsibility for our own sins. A healthy Christian is a person who sees their own sins and short comings first and REPENTS of them on a regular, on-going basis. A healthy Christian is never holier than anyone else – but rather humbler and more gracious.
The parable Jesus tells is about a fig tree that had 3 good years of the gardener’s love and attention, but it did not bear any figs. The owner was ready to cut the tree down, since it was simply taking up space without providing fruit. The gracious gardener, who represents God and Jesus, replied: “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” How is God like that gracious gardener? The truth is: all of our lives will come to an end, as did the lives of the people Herod killed and the people on whom the tower of Siloam fell, as did the lives of the people who died on September 11th – perhaps not as tragically or shockingly – but all of our days are numbered.
I recently finished a book called Being Mortal by a surgeon, Dr. Atul Gawande. He marvels at how contemporary Americans are completely out of touch with the fact that we will die. We know it, but most of us are in complete denial and doctors are sometimes worse than the population in general, because all of their training and education are focused on curing people. When they cannot “fix” someone, they honestly have trouble admitting it. They are often very poor counselors to patients at the end of life.
If our days are numbered, how do we want to live those days? Jesus calls us to “repent” – because many of us are living lives of quiet desperation or meaninglessness. Many of us live on automatic pilot – doing our jobs, paying our bills, responding to the demands of others – employers, family members and life’s circumstances without bearing the fruit of Christian discipleship that God expects from us.
WHY are we Christians? Are we believers because we need an insurance policy or a “ticket” to heaven when our bodies break down and life unexpectedly ends? Or… are we Christians, because God has given us a unique and urgent calling to “go and make disciples… baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that God has asked us to do”?
Did you even know that there is “FRUIT” God expects you to bear? And what is that fruit? Is it only the pastor of a church who is supposed to make disciples or is it all of us? Whose calling is it – to “bear fruit” for the Kingdom of God? I guess you can anticipate what my answer will be. We are ALL called to make disciples, not just me. How do we do that? Why are so many of us falling short of that calling, as Jesus suggests. Why are there no “figs” on our trees?
This is where I want to flip back to Isaiah’s words in Isaiah 55, where there are some “clues” about how we should live in order to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God. There are some crucial guidelines in Isaiah about how to be “fruit-bearing people-of-God.”
First of all, we need to change our diets dramatically and I’m not talking about food. Isaiah calls out to all who are thirsty and offers water, wine and milk that will not cost a penny. Isaiah wonders: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” Isaiah challenges us to “eat what is good, and delight ourselves in rich food.” What does he mean? Eat more red meat and desserts? Heavens, no! Isaiah calls us to feast on the words of God and on the promises of the One who loves us more than we love ourselves. God’s words have no calories – but as Jesus said to the devil in the wilderness: “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut. 8:3)
The covenant God made with David – that Israel would be God’s beloved people – is the same promise God has given to the Christian Church. Isaiah 55 was written when the people of God were exiles in Babylon – marginalized foreigners who had given up hope altogether that God truly loved them and had a purpose for their lives. Have you given up hope that God has a fulfilling and exciting purpose for YOUR life? The answer for our spiritual hunger and thirst is not PHYSICAL FOOD. We are already full and satiated. People who are addicted to food, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, sex, pornography, gambling, shopping, T.V. or anything else can tell you, the more you eat or shop or watch T.V. the more you want to eat, shop, or watch T.V., because nothing can truly satisfy your hunger and thirst for a spiritual purpose besides God. Everything else leaves us bloated & empty.
When you “seek the Lord while he may be found” – your heart WILL be satisfied. The food and drink our hearts desire is God. We hunger and thirst for God’s love and God’s affirmation, not more Facebook likes, followers or tweets. Seeking God – hungering and thirsting for God’s words in Scripture and in Jesus Christ – satisfies our souls deeply. Doing God’s will helps a person sleep well at night! Loving your neighbor as yourself is fulfilling in a way words cannot describe. Bearing fruit for the Kingdom of God and accomplishing God’s purpose for your life is exhilarating!
To find God’s will for your life and also do God’s will requires that you INTENTIONALLY seek God – & not just live your life on automatic pilot doing what you’ve always done before. The truth is, and Isaiah says it well: “God’s thoughts are NOT your thoughts, and God’s ways are NOT your ways.” God’s thoughts are higher, wider, deeper, broader, and more inclusive than our human thoughts. When we put ANYTHING ELSE above God…we will NEVER find what we desire – because only God is our All in All and God’s will is also our own deepest desire. If we are truly created in God’s image, our hearts cannot rest until they rest in God.
When God’s words and promises are lived out in our lives, they DO accomplish their purpose every time. If we feed and drink from God’s written and living words – we WILL flourish, we WILL be spiritually healthy, we WILL thrive… until we die and forever after.
I met with a family on Friday whose healthy 20-year old daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor 2 weeks ago. Her parents are strong Christians, active in their church. They were two of the Moore Brass instrumentalists who played here last August. On Thursday, Dr. Friedman, one of the world’s finest neuro-surgeons at Duke, removed her tumor and in less than 24 hours discharged Ashtyn from the hospital. The family has grieved the possibility of an untimely death, but also prayed hard and entrusted their beloved Ashtyn’s life into God’s hands. In life and in death, friends, we belong to God. The surgery went well. Ashtyn will have quite a story to tell about God’s grace, but whichever way the story went, her faith and her parents’ faith has been rooted, grounded, and bearing fruit for the kingdom of God for many years. Even when things do not work out as we hope & pray, God brings good for those who are called according to God’s purpose. If your story is grounded in God’s story, it ALWAYS bears fruit.
Savor these words from Isaiah. Feed on them. Let your souls drink and be refreshed. “As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. You shall go out in joy &…the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Let us pray