First Presbyterian Church

of Hemet
God’s Invitation 
Isaiah 55:1-18 
February 28, 2016 
Pastor Sylvia Karcher 
 
We, like the Jews find ourselves asking “Why?” Why did the Galileans have to die? Was it God’s will that Pilate kill them and mingle their blood with their sacrifices? Why did innocent people in San Bernardino and Michigan have to die? Did they or we somehow do something to deserve it? 
 
Jesus’ answer is short and to the point. No. No, the Galileans weren’t any worse than other Galileans. They weren’t being punished for their sins. It wasn’t God’s will that they suffer. We could go on and say, it wasn’t God’s will the Galileans be killed it was Pilate’s will. It was a disturbed couple shot people in San Bernardino, not God. 
 
But Jesus doesn’t let the discussion rest with just that example. What about tragedies that people don’t cause? Why did the tower of Siloam fall? Why do earthquakes kill hundreds? Why do people we care about get sick? Again Jesus’ answer is clear. No. It’s not God’s will that these bad things happen. 
 
I believe in an orderly universe, where natural events like earthquakes and tornadoes happen, where human actions and human errors have consequences, and where people are hurt because of them, not because God wills it. But I also believe that the spirit of God can and does work in the world, calling good out of evil, and that in ways we don’t understand God uses our prayers in this process, and that sometimes the results seem miraculous to us. 
 
I don’t understand the ways of God. As Isaiah says, God’s ways are not our ways. They’re far above what we can comprehend. With all the sin and evil let loose in the world, God didn’t send a band of angels to clean things up, as I would have done. Instead God send God’s son to live among us, as a poor man in a poor country, and then God let him die and from his life and death and resurrection spring salvation and goodness and healing for us and for our world. It seems like taking the long way round but it’s God’s way. 
 
Gilbert Bowen used this example: 
 
Trevor Beeson, a Anglican priest, stood at the high altar on Westminster Abbey to celebrate the marriage of his daughter, Catharine, to Anthony, aged twenty-three. Nine months later he stood before the same altar for Anthony’s funeral. Anthony was killed when his car ran into a wall in East London. Four months later, Trevor returned to the altar beside the coffin of his friend and hero Earl Mountbatten, who died when his fishing boat was blown to pieces by Irish terrorists. Reflecting on the experience, he said he count not blame God for these senseless tragedies. He wrote: 
 
“I should find it impossible to believe in, and worship, a God who arranged for the great servant of the community to be blown up on their holidays and who deliberately turned a young man’s car into a brink wall---This is not the God of love whose ways are revealed in the Bible and supremely in the life of Jesus Christ.”  
 
Beeson found two insights that helped him to cope with his tragedy and to look beyond it. The first is that, although God is not responsible for causing tragedy, God is not a detached observer of our suffering. On the contrary, he is immersed in it with us, sharing to the full our particular grief, and pain. This is the fundamental significance of the cross.” 
 
Second, although we naturally ask, “Why did it happen?” Beeson discovered that the more important question is “What are we going to make of it?” “Every tragedy contains within it the seeds of resurrection.” This is, after all the whole point of our pilgrimage through Lent, to Good Friday, and Easter morning. (Dr. Gilbert W. Bowen, “Empty Tomb—Full of Life,” Lectionary Lab, webpage.) 
 
What are we going to make of it? Perhaps this was what Jesus was trying to say to us in his further response in this passage: Perhaps those who brought up the conversation wanted to have an intellectual discussion—“Tell us Jesus, were all these Galileans evil, or just some of them. Did God arrange for them all to be there at the same time?” If so, Jesus would have none of that. As he often did he moved the discussion from the theoretical to the personal. “No they weren’t worse sinners, but, unless you repent, you will perish just as they did.” Jesus used the tragedies to remind the Jews and to remind us that life is fragile. None of us knows what will happen to us or how long our life will be. So Jesus is taking this “teachable moment” to say this is the only life you’re going to have. What are you going to make of it? Unless you repent, you too, will perish. 
 
To repent means to turn around. If we’re headed in the wrong direction it doesn’t matter how good the road is or what good time we’re making, we’ll still end up in the wrong place.  
 
The good news for us is that God is always ready to forgive us. As Isaiah says, “Let them return to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Not only that, Isaiah points out how joyful and satisfying our life with God can be. 
 
In his book Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis gives us a graphic example of repentance. He tells of arriving by train in Oxford for the very first time. He walked out of the station expecting to see the beauty of the Oxford colleges. Instead, he only saw littered streets and dingy buildings. He began to walk, still looking, but the scene only got worse. Finally he turned around and realized he’d been walking in the wrong direction. There in the distance, no more beautiful since, were the fabled spires and domes of Oxford. “I didn’t know then,” he said, “that this was a metaphor for my whole life.” 
 
Then Jesus tells the parable of the unproductive fig tree--the tree that wasn’t doing what fig trees are supposed to do. The landowner could reasonably have expected fruit the first year, certainly by the second, but he’d waited three years and there’d been no fruit. But the gardener was not willing to give up, even then. Now parables are not allegories. You can’t say of a parable--this person stand for this, and that thing stands for that. If that were true it would be easy to say the landowner stands for God and the gardener for Jesus and we are the fig tree. But that just doesn’t work--at least not for me. Jesus is God’s son--Jesus comes to show us what God is like--to show us God’s love for us and God’s patience with us. The God Jesus reveals to us is also the tender patient one who works with us, who removes our weeds, who nurtures our roots and helps us grow and produce. 
This parable, believe it or not, reminds me of the Dodgers. (How, you may ask, can a fig tree remind you of the Dodgers? Well, when you’re a real fan, everything reminds you of your team!) We had a player named Dee Gordon. He was fast all right, but he couldn’t hit very well. We kept him a second year and he hit a little better. But then we traded him. Then he became the best hitter in the league! Now we have a player named Yasiel Puig. He has great talent, great potential. But he’s arrogant, and he’s prone to injury. How long will we wait for him to turn things around? 
 
Isaiah 55 is God’s invitation to “Come!” reminding us that the initiative lies entirely God. Just as God is the one who nourishes the fig tree, God is waiting to feed and nourish the people. They aren’t lined up at the table, eager to take what God graciously offers. No, God urges Israel to come. 
 
C.S. Lewis gives another example of God’s grace and our perversity. God is like the loving parent who wants to take us to the seashore, he says, and we’re like children who’d rather stay and play in the mud. 
 
Someone has said,  
 
God is inviting us to a great banquet. The Bible often uses to banquet imagery as a symbol of salvation. God, after all, says, “Come and get it!” to all whom our sins burden. To all who are hungry for eternal life, God says, “Come and get it!” To all who thirst for Christ, the Living Water, God says, “Come and get it!” (Doug Bratt, “Isaiah 55” The Center for Excellence in Preaching, February 22, 2016, webpage.) 
 
Sometimes this can mean our situation will change. Joseph did become second only to Pharaoh, Israel was brought back from exile, Jesus was resurrected. But always, always, no matter what our situation we it will mean a personal fulfilling life with God. 
 
What joy we have when we turn around and receive God’s bounty! Not only that: Just a few verses later in Isaiah we find these words: 
 
“Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress, instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle.” (To me this sound like, “The fig tree shall finally be what a fig tree should be and bear figs.”) And right before that we find these familiar words. ”For you shall go out with joy and be lead back in peace. The mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Not only people, but nature itself will be joyful. 
 
Brothers and sisters, listen to God’s invitation. All of you who are thirty, come to the waters, and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. God is waiting.  
 
Amen