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Isaiah 1:1,10-20;Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16;Luke 12:32-40
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
August 11, 2019 –Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
Marvin Shaw wrote a small, obscure, important book way back in 1988. He was the Professor of Religious Studies at Montana State University and the book was about how we, as humans, relate to…or interface with, reality.
A good example of the concept, I think, is when you are trying to remember someone’s name. The harder you try to do it…the harder you try to squeeze that out of what you know…the harder it is to remember it.
But three minutes later, after you have walked away, on a different errand, the name pops into your head.
Here is a more powerful example. You have gone to bed for the night and you are relaxing, drifting away. Suddenly, some mystery you have been trying to solve is solved, the solution is obvious, because you have relaxed and let the answer come to you.
You have not seized it and dragged it to you. You have opened up and let it in. Everything has prepared you for this moment. The frustrations have been trips to the gym. Now…it has come to you.
Isaiah has a vision that is a story of how a friend of his managed his crops. Good crops are watered, weeded, pruned and a source of pride to the gardener.
But bad crops that produce bitter fruit, with little nourishment and an insult to the taste embarrass the gardener and they will be cut away, undefended from the invasive weeds around them when the wall is torn down, and they will find themselves forgetting there was ever a vineyard here.
Do good and be good and good will come of it. Become clever and conniving, thinking you are wiser than God…the gardener…and you will reap what you sow…turn your back on God and God cannot shine the surprising truth upon your face.
This is also a metaphor for where Southern Kingdom of Judah finds itself. This is the fork in the road they now face. Isaiah is trying to tell them it is time to make a decision… that will determine their destiny.
Bear good fruit of faith and God will shine on you. Bear bitter fruit and God will tear up your settlements, tear down the wall around you, and you will go back to the Iron Age from which you came.
The Assyrians from the west have over run the Northern Kingdom of Israel and now they press against the Southern Kingdom of Judah. At the same time, the Syrians begin to put pressure on their northern borders.
Do they make a truce with the Assyrians to have them push back against the Syrians? Or do they stand their ground and defend their own borders, relying on God’s help, with the resources they themselves have?
First Isaiah – the portion written during this time – argues that God has protected us and delivered us to this day and we should rely on God and our own resources. King Hezekiah allies himself with the Assyrians, though, and Assyrians invest themselves in Judah, stationing troops and sending settlers.
So I say “First Isaiah.”How many Isaiahs are there? There are three. This is the portion that is written before the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The fact that the Assyrians later withdraw from the area seems to vindicate the faith of the prophet Isaiah, but some structural weakness is created and remains.
Second Isaiah is the portion written while Judah is hard-pressed by the Babylonians and Jerusalem falls after a terrible siege that leads to starvation and disease and great hardship among the people.
There is a great diaspora and all but the lowest of the people are expelled from the Promised Land… again…for three generations. Think of Europe after World War II, or Vicksburg before it fell to Grant.
Third Isaiah is written at the time the people are permitted to return to the land and the second Temple is built.
But we are still in First Isaiah this morning. The storm clouds are still gathering, and Isaiah has been pondering the events of his day, perhaps much the same way we are pondering the events of our day and what it all must mean.
How do we produce good fruit? Why is the fruit so bitter today? What are we ramping ourselves up to do…or to be…or to learn?
Will we be cut back because of our fruit…or our lack of faith in a God that is greater than we are? Will the wall of freedom around us be torn down? Will we go back to the good old days of John Wayne westerns?
Can we be brave enough to believe that it is a wonderful life? Can we find the faith to turn the Pottersville we find ourselves living in back into Bedford Falls?
As Isaiah steps back and tries to see the larger picture, the context in which they live and move and have their being, he, too, thinks of analogies…situations like this… trying to discern what God’s will may bring to pass again.
This is his way of relaxing his mind …thinking about something similar to make what is staring him and God’s people in the face…so he… and they…can see clearly what is right in front of him.
Even in this old, old day, he is practicing mindfulness. He is clearing his thinking so he can see more deeply and act more clearly.
This is one of the benefits of faith. We let go of the hamster cage and we take on the work in front of us.
Life is so simple, but we make it complicated. Like rebooting our computer, when we can find a way to let go of our anxiety…when we can move forward with faith…we can get where we need to go.
That is the paradox of intention. By letting go, we receive. When we cease to grasp, it comes into our hands. This….is a matter of faith.
Paul writes to us about the gift of faith this morning. He points out that none of the founders of our faith knew where they were going, but by surrendering their worries and doing the best they could, they accomplished all that needed to be done.
Faith is letting go…letting our best understanding come to light… moving forward toward a better place.
Abraham leaving his homeland to a place that God would show him.
Rahab saw something honorable and liberating in the men that came to her in need and asked for help. Because she could see the goodness in them and she moved to sustain them, she is remembered today as a good person, even though she was a prostitute.
She did not know. She just had faith…a very ephemeral concept. It’s like humility. When you are sure you have it, you don’t have it. You only have pride.
Humility invites the better angels of our nature in. Pride can only find room for our intentions…our point of view…our demands that the world behave itself.
Faith is letting the knowledge deep inside you come to the fore. You know better. You are better than that. Let your goodness take you by the hand and lead your through the wilderness of the postmodern world.
But…when you think you have faith…you only have knowledge...or your perspective on knowledge. Perhaps you only have misunderstanding.
It was also Paul who wrote to the Corinthians that knowledge puffs up but love builds up. That is the concept that is at work here.
We have gone to the moon, 50 years ago, not because we knew how to do it or because we had a ticket, but because we believed that if we tried we could succeed.
If we can envision it, we can achieve it. First, we perceive, then we conceive.
So be very careful about what you perceive. If you perceive darkness we will create darkness. But if you can see the light in any situation and you can move to the light, you will create more light.
And if everything looks dark around you…it is because…you are the light…or there will be no light. It’s up to you.
But faith gives us a way we can learn how to float. Again, it was Marvin Shaw provides us with another insight. Spiritual awareness is like floating.
If you try to dominate the water, you will sink. If you give in to the water, you will sink. But if you cooperate with the natural buoyancy of the water you can float.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox put it this way over 100 years ago:
You never can tell what your thoughts will do,
In bringing you hate or love;
For thoughts are things, and their airy wings
Are swifter than carrier doves.
They follow the law of the universe - Each thing must create its kind,
And they speed o'er the track to bring you back
Whatever went out from your mind.
The spirit is the wind. No one knows where it comes from or where it will blow. Are we willing to be skeptical enough about our own understanding that we can float on this wind…this water…that is the Spirit?
Jesus exhorts us to rise above our transactional way of thinking to arrive at a relationship with God… with the facts…with truth…with love.
His is the most subversive life in the history of the world because he stares violence right in the face and says, “Come on. Come on.”
Third Isaiah will celebrate him 500 years before his time. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
He confronted our willfulness with his faith. He does not come to bring peace, but a sword. But the sword he brings is the sword of truth. The confrontation he brings is the fact that we have no alternative but to get along and live together…or quarrel and die together.
We can predict the weather by looking at the earth and sky, he chides us, but we don’t really know what’s going on right now…. because we don’t want to know.
We live by our wits, I suppose, but we grow by faith.
Such a large crowd of witnesses is all around us! So we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially the sin that just won’t let go.
And we must be determined to run the race that is ahead of us. If we keep our eyes on Jesus…he will lead us…and make our faith complete.
O Lord, what is it that you want to accomplish in the world this day… through us…through me? Amen.