Blog 20: Isaiah 55 Third Sunday of Lent

The Lord is near

Sunday 3 March 2013 11.00am

In some senses this well known chapter sums up the heart of the whole message of the whole Book of Isaiah. Human plans and power-seeking have brought the nation and worshipping community to nothing. God has offered a solution that costs nothing. He is like a hawker in the market place offering his goods for nothing  – and offering them to anyone who wants them. The whole passage is redolent of the NT Gospel – you cannot purchase God’s salvation – you cannot buy your way into God’s community. The invitation and the community are his.

So he says to the people of Jerusalem following the wrongful execution of Zerubbabel – ‘You have a chance to seek the Lord – to call on him’ – even those who were plotting and whose ambitions are wicked and self serving are invited to turn from their ways and to return to the LORD and he will multiply pardon to them.

They have got to recognize that God’s ways are not at all like theirs – bear no resemblance to what they have thought right or even still do. They have to realize that everything that has happened has been to change their whole understanding of faith. Faith is not a political community holding earthly power as they had sought to do in demanding a King and wanting Israel to rule supreme. Faith is at this moment a community of worshippers open to all[1].

So the invitation is to join in worship with the trees of the field and the mountains and hills – to see what God has done for the myrtle and the cypress are the signs of the cultivated landscape just as the thorns and the briars are the signs of desolation and neglect.

The issues of this chapter are as radically relevant now – as then. Jesus has issued an invitation to the great banquet – and when those first called the Jews do not take up their space he has made it open to all who come accepting free salvation.

The former model was an exclusive community where only the right-doing law- keeping Jew could come, where the outcast and the stranger were not welcome, where salvation and righteousness were the product of conformity to the standards of the community – God has now inaugurated and extended an invitation to create a worshipping community based only on the free acceptance of God’s offer of salvation and inclusive of all.

These are the issues the church still struggles with – in every generation there rises up another set of those who wish to set boundaries of God’s inclusive invitation and to limit the extent of his community. Inclusive communities are messy, have blurred edges, but they are what God in Jesus so clearly intended who spent his time with publicans and sinners and ‘came to call not the (self) righteous but sinners to repentance’[2].

The challenge for us is to ensure that we do not try to buy our way into the kingdom by good works or good living or even right doctrinal stances but accept the free gift of God in Jesus Christ.

And that we do not patrol the doors to keep the church for ‘our sort’ of people but fling wide its doors to all who will come in.

[1] The early verses of Chapter 56 open the temple to strangers (ie non-Jews) living in the land and to eunuchs – both formerly barred from worshipping as of course women and disabled people were – though that too would come.

[2] Luke 5:32