Sermon Options: March 24, 2019

February 5th, 2019

A SATISFIED CRAVING

ISAIAH 55:1-9

Every day, out-of-town visitors and tourists come into our office seeking information about our historic community, our church, our favorite restaurants, so forth. Shortly before noon one day, a family came in looking for information. As we talked about their church and ours, a senior adult couple rushed into the office carrying food to a covered dish luncheon. As they began to talk with this visiting family, the couple said, "We are having lunch in the dining room, why don't you join us. There is plenty of food, and you must be starving after your drive this morning. Our menu may be a little different from yours but the food will take care of your craving. After lunch we will show you around town. Come on, now, there is a feast waiting on you."

The speaker in Isaiah 55:1-9 announces a feast that is open to everyone. That feast is described as the answer to life's unsatisfied cravings for meaning and significance. Isaiah described the life-fulfilling feast Yahweh is inviting you to attend as a covenant with three courses.

I. An Everlasting Covenant (vv. 3-4)
Yahweh promises to those who will listen and come to the feast a covenant relationship where "your soul shall live." The nature of that covenant is an age-long character. It offers them security and prosperity that will be without end. Isaiah described the purpose of the covenant to be Yahweh's "steadfast and sure love for David." Those who enter this covenant fall heir to salvation, joy, stability: the goals God had maintained through Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and David.

II. An Unfailing Commander (v. 4)
Yahweh provided a new leader to assume the mantle of leading his people, the Persian emperor, Darius. The task of the new leader was to be a witness to the people of God's sovereignty and providence. Because Yahweh was the glory of Israel the leader's goal would be to beautify the people. The triumph of the new leader would be to fulfill God's will and establish a new sense of peace. That triumph was realized. In 49:6-9, Darius was successful because he acknowledged Yahweh as God. In 50:10, Darius' success is attributed to his claim to servanthood.

God satisfies the craving of our lives with his salvation, which establishes a prevailing experience of peace. We fall heir to God's glory when we also acknowledge God as Lord and assume a posture of servanthood.

III. A Summons to Significance (vv. 5-9)
Yahweh speaks directly to Darius. He was to summon unknown nations, or nationalities, to the covenant feast. That summons is to worship Yahweh (v. 6). Participants in the covenant are to worship in the temple, where Yahweh could be found and at the appropriate time, while he is near. The temple was not to be closed or denied to anyone. Covenant participants are also summoned to repentance (v. 7). The troublemakers are invited to abandon their rebellion for covenant living. If they accept the terms of the covenant, God's mercy will pardon their sin and that pardon will be multiplied abundantly.

A recent article suggested three elements to narrow the generation gap between teenagers and their parents: listening, trust, and understanding. Isaiah's message is that there are three elements that narrow the gap for your craving of a life of significance. The three elements are the three courses of a covenant feast relationship with God. Listen to God and trust God. God's understanding will multiply mercy for those who will abandon their present commitments and enter a new covenant with him. (Barry J. Beames)

THE OLD MISTAKES

1 CORINTHIANS 10:1-13

The people in the television, movie, and Internet industries do not think that what they show and what they do makes any difference in the way we live. (They'll have us believe that their programs don't influence us but the advertisements do!) We are supposed to be wise enough, strong enough, smart enough, and ever vigilant enough to turn off the stuff that we don't want. They claim they have no responsibility for showing something worthwhile. Paul has a lot more understanding of the human spirit. He knew that temptation would overpower and destroy us if left on our own.

I. We Won't Resist Temptation on Our Own
Paul points his young and inexperienced Christians back to the days of Moses. The children of Israel had been pretty well familiar with holy things. If ever a people were going to be kept straight and righteous by the events of their lives, it should have been the children of Israel. After all, they had the benefits of the plagues. They were led by Moses through the sea. The cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night continually led them. Surely they should have been able to remain faithful, but God was not pleased with them and struck them down in the wilderness.

If they did not measure up with all that help, what have we got to help keep us faithful and obedient, we who are struggling to be God's disciples now? Paul suggests that the first thing we have is the negative example of the children of Moses. They are examples for us. They will help keep us faithful. "So that we might not desire evil as they did."

Well, it will certainly give us pause to think. If they were not able to resist evil—with all of the power and presence of God with them on the journey in the wilderness—there is no way any of us ought to suffer from overconfidence. This is a serious and difficult journey of faith and we need all the help we can get.

II. Temptations Can Overpower Us
There are three major temptations that Paul says those early followers of Moses highlight for us. They "sat down to eat and drink and they rose up to play. We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did." One of our constant and most difficult temptations is the temptation of pleasure. One has only to look around at the horrible problems of drugs and drink, the crime that is generated by the desire for drugs, the pain and suffering that is caused by alcohol and other drugs, and it is obvious that preoccupation with our own feelings, to get happy or to drown our sorrows, is one source of great problems for us even now. And when you listen to all of the complications and costs and troubles that are caused by irresponsible sexual activity, all the sexually transmitted disease, all the unwanted pregnancies, teenage mothers, and abortions, it is obvious that the stories from the past help us to be on guard against allowing our physical pleasures to become master of our lives.

The stories of Moses in the wilderness remind us how easy it is to start to put God to the test, to begin to set down conditions by which God has to answer to our specifications. Jesus was guided by the Old Testament story of Moses at the rock when the devil came to tempt him, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord your God." When we start trying to set up conditions which God has to meet in order to be God, we have stepped way over the boundaries of being creatures of the Most High God. There is no place for us to demand that God perform for us according to our instructions and there is no faith in whining and complaining when we do not get the things we want.

III. God Will Provide a Means of Overcoming Temptation
Paul will not hear their petty complaints. You can almost hear him tell them: What you are suffering is ordinary suffering. Everybody gets some. What makes you think that you are getting more than somebody else? It is amazing to listen to some people who think life has dumped all over them much more than they deserved. Every life has to have some rain and you are just getting your rain.

But Paul also wants them to hang in there. Remember that God will give you the strength to endure. Not always win but complete the assignment. Not always escape but the strength to hold on to the branches till the flood goes down. God gives the strength to endure and God gives us opportunities to escape. Paul doesn't always say that we will experience a visible, glorious triumph over the temptation, but we will be able to endure and to find a way. God helps us overcome as we remember the stories of the past and pray, "Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief." (Rick Brand )

JUST DESERTS?

LUKE 13:1-9

One December night in 1982 in Westland, Michigan, a man and his wife were driving home. Suddenly a fourteen-pound bowling ball crashed through the windshield, killing the man. Why? That question is almost irrepressible, isn't it? When we face freak accidents or tragic illnesses, the question, "Why?" instinctively forms on our lips. It's not enough to be told that the man was killed by the bowling ball because a nineteen-year-old in the car ahead foolishly flipped the ball out his window.

Jesus faced the same kind of question in his time. Apparently Pilate had some people from Galilee killed as they were worshiping. Just as they were offering a sacrifice, their own blood was spilt on the altar. The questions came, "Why?" Around this same time, the tower of Siloam collapsed, killing eighteen people. Again, the question, "Why?"

"Jesus, were these people more sinful than others? Were they deserving of the tragedy they experienced? Was God singling them out for punishment?" Jesus gave a brief but clear answer: "No!" God was not giving the victims their just deserts. God had not picked them out. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. That's all.

It is hazardous to say whose side God is on simply by looking at what has happened to them or for them. We have heard politicians say, "America is great because America is good." And that claim may make us feel all warm inside. But in the time of the prophets—Isaiah and Jeremiah and others—Assyria was great but Assyria wasn't good by any godly standards. In Jesus' time, Rome was great, but that greatness had nothing to do with goodness.

Are the lottery winners of the world the ones God has favored? I don't know about you, but I always find it gratifying when I read that some man or woman who is out of work and has several small children wins the lottery. "All right!" I think. "That's the way it should happen."

But that's not the way it always happens. Some guy who left his family and hasn't been paying child support won the lottery a while back. Too bad his ex-wife didn't win. I remember several years ago in Illinois when no one claimed the lottery purse for several weeks. Finally someone showed up with the ticket. He found it on the floor of his car while he was cleaning it. The guy was a doctor. It didn't seem fair. Nothing against doctors, but I would have felt better if a custodian or a secretary found that lottery ticket.

God is not at work making sure everything comes out right every step of life's way. There are real injustices. The undeserving gain. The deserving lose. The innocent suffer. The guilty often never account for their actions.

When we don't get the rewards we deserve, we become acutely aware of the lack of justice in the world. I remember a "Calvin and Hobbes" comic strip from several years ago that reminds me of comments I hear from my own children. Calvin says to his dad, "Why can't I stay up late? You guys can!" Then with a wide-mouthed protest he declares, "IT'S NOT FAIR!" His dad replies, "The world isn't fair, Calvin." Walking away with a sour look on his face, Calvin says, "I know, but why isn't it ever unfair in my favor?"

No, the world is not fair. In this present existence, people do not always get what they deserve. But we can overstate the case. Sometimes we go to the opposite extreme. We start thinking that sin is never punished by God and that suffering has nothing to do with disobedience. Jesus certainly wouldn't agree with that notion. It is one thing to say that suffering is not necessarily a sign of the sinfulness of the victim. It is a very different thing to say sinfulness never leads to the suffering of the sinner. According to Jesus, sin has tragic consequences. While Jesus denied that the people Pilate had killed and those who were crushed by the tower of Siloam were being punished for their evil, the Lord went on to say, "Unless you repent, you will perish as they did."

But the world is a morally messy place. The things that happen in the world are not subject to easy answers. Once we recognize the fact that prosperity is not automatically a product of righteousness and tragedy is not necessarily a result of sin, we may be tempted to conclude that God isn't really involved in anything that happens in this world. We may imagine God as a mere observer, passively watching the world, as Bette Midler sang, "from a distance." That's not the way Jesus saw it. God is a real player in the push and pull of life. There is judgment.

In this world that God has made, there are consequences to our actions built into the very structure of the world. The apostle Paul wrote, "You reap what you sow." Jesus said, "If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword." Even in this world, judgment sometimes comes. No, God does not reach down and zap particular people. But disobedience has consequences. Liars soon face the distrust of others. The violent are the most likely to become victims of violence. Where are death rates higher than among gang members?

Belinda Mason, a rural Kentucky native, mother of two, who contracted AIDS at age thirty-two was asked, "Do you think AIDS is a punishment from God?" She replied, "AIDS may be a test, not of the infected, but of those not infected. It tests their ability to respond in love." She is surely right. When we speak about punishment for sin in this world, it is not other people's supposed punishment and sin we should focus on, but our own. As Jesus said, "No, these people were not punished because they were such bad offenders. But unless you repent you will perish like them."

It is not our role to decide the punishment of others. It is, however, our duty to examine ourselves. That can be a sobering exercise. (Craig M. Watts)

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