Listen So That You
A sermon on Isaiah 55:1-9 & Luke 13:1-9 by Jill Friebel 11 Mar 2007
Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.... For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. (Is. 55:3a, 8)
"Listen, so that you may live." That's the issue that God most desperately wants us to listen about. Living. Life. "Listen, so that you may live." Yet our ways and our thoughts are so different from God's. We should ask: Are they so different that it is difficult, almost impossible, for us to listen when God is talking to us about life? Do these differences stuff our ears so that we aren't willing to truly hear?
Then we might ask: Can we not hear God about life because our ways and thoughts are actually too much about death? In other words: are we so oriented toward death that we cannot hear God talking to us about life, true life, eternal life? Lent is a time of repentance. Should we take a hard look at ourselves and our orientation towards death so that we will be ready to truly hear and celebrate those words of eternal life that we proclaim on Easter? Is our God desperately trying to get us to hear? "Listen," God pleads with us, "so that you may live!" 1
We have heard just a snippet of Kathy's story tonight. I have had the privilege of walking with Kathy these past couple of years and have listened to her pain. Sometimes I was left really really angry at the injustice of what has happened to her, others times I have felt despair and sadness and other times just a bit frustrated. But overriding all these are the many times I have been overwhelmed and inspired by her beauty and commitment and capacity to love others in spite of her abuse and self loathing. Her longing for life, and her commitment to finding something better than the hell she has been living in has been truly inspiring.
It has been a mutual experience of discovering God in deeper ways together. Today's readings are so beautifully relevant to what has happened for Kathy this week. She is a living illustration among us. And right in the middle of Lent, a time of repentance. God says to us "Listen so that we might live." He comes to offer us fresh water, to stock up on food and wine that costs us nothing. He tells us not to sink our money into things that leave us hungry or bust our gut for things that never satisfy. We know the stuff we do that doesn't satisfy, the additive things we keep returning to where we find temporary relief but it doesn't last and we get drawn into them again.
In the Luke reading some people came to Jesus and told him about the massacre that had occurred in a place of worship while the people were offering sacrifices. But Jesus was more interested in what was going on inside them when they told him about the death squad of Pilate. He asked them if they thought these people copped it because they deserved it? Then he asks about the natural disaster when the Tower of Siloam collapsed. Did they wonder underneath whether these people deserved it too? Jesus is honing in on an underlying assumption they had and we still have today, "that we all get what we deserve" . Evil people are and will be punished with death.
I heard Kathy struggling with this question over and over, but it came out from the opposite perspective. Her husband Alan was preaching the gospel and people were being blessed. People would respond to him and his ministry. His co-workers kept telling him how gifted he was and every time he tried to move out of ministry into business they put pressure on him to stay. So Kathy assumed that God was blessing him because he was so good and godly. Therefore he was the one who had it right. It was proved by the fact that God was on always on his side. The fact that he was violent and abusive at home no matter how hard she tried to please him must have meant that she was wrong and was the evil one. Further more God never answered her prayers to change Alan, which only proved to her more that God thought she was wrong and difficult and worthless as well. She was getting what she deserved - punishment and a life of hell. Death would have been a relief from what she was experiencing and she didn't care what God would do to her.
In the Lukan story Jesus is asking the question of those around him "Do you think they got what they deserved - death and punishment and hell" . While Kathy was asking, well she wasn't even asking because she was sure "I am getting what I deserve - death and punishment and hell." So while the people with Jesus were seeing the evil in others and not in themselves, Kathy was seeing the evil in herself and not in others.
Jesus is telling us that both assumptions are both wrong. Good and evil exists in everyone of us. So if death is a punishment for evil we are all going to cop it. But Jesus is saying to us in the Lukan passage that death is not punishment for evil. Quite the opposite: Jesus came to show us that God absolutely does not bring death to punish sinners. Jesus took our human form of punishment upon himself to show us the foolishness of such things. Our thoughts and ways may be tied to death, but, when God raises Jesus from the dead, God show us once and for all that God is all about life, not death. God is about forgiveness, not punishment. God is about blessings, not curses.
You don't have to wait until you die to discover if this is all true. Heaven or hell, life or death, freedom or fear happens now. What happens when you die is just a continuation to what is happening now. Eternity starts now. Last week Kathy was in hell, this week she is in heaven. Last week she thought she was getting what she deserved, this week she has discovered that Jesus "knew" all along the tragedy of her abandonment. God knew she wasn't perfect but she is precious to Him. The evil in her doesn't condemn her to death and fear and subservience. She can come and eat and live - now and forever, life is just beginning for her.
I can tell by talking to you whether you are living in heaven or in hell. Whether there is freedom or guilt, transparency or superficiality, excitement about life or always struggling with your circumstances and making excuses. Jesus wants us to come now and change our way or thinking. It has nothing to do with whether we deserve it or not. We have got both good and evil within us and God is not going to punish us for any of it. But instead he wants us to REPENT in the middle of Lent and name it and face it and confront and feel it so he can hold us and say "I know" and love us in it and set us free to live right now. It will even make a difference to the way we greet each other in this community. The more we feel God's love and forgiveness the more we will love and forgive each other. We can say a genuine hello and express love and care to one another when we meet together on Sundays or midweek. We don't have to try and change each other, only a desire to let God change us. That will be heaven.
1 Paul J. Nuechterlein (March 14,1998)