Monday, 25 March 2019

For God so loved the world...

Isaiah 55: 1-9. “Come buy wine and milk, without money and without price” (V1) implies that there is a cost, but that this cost is borne by God. A wonderful poetic description of God’s Grace. The final two verses of our offering this morning describe the thoughts ways and wisdom of God that far surpass anything humans can conceive. A life lesson for us all.
1 Corinthians 10: 1-13. The message for the Corinthians (and for us) is that God’s unconditional love can breed indifference, arrogance and presumptuous ness. We are all subject to being tested and tempted, but we are assured that we won’t be tested beyond our endurance and God will also provide a way out.
Luke 13: 1-9. A passage recalling the universality of sin and the patience of God in waiting for his people to repent and bear fruit. As I have often said, the essential message of the gospel is that we should bear fruit in accordance with repentance.

Today’s readings encapsulate the entire belief system of Christianity – that we are all flawed and separated from God in our humanity – but God has brought us home to him through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the route back or “the way” back to God. It is noteworthy I think that the original name given to followers of Jesus was not “Christians” – that name (which wasn’t supposed to be altogether flattering) was applied to us first in Antioch according to the book of Acts. Before that we were called followers of “the way”, a description I prefer because it implies motion, an active not passive faith.
The way that God chose to bring us back to him we call Grace and we have a beautifully poetic description of Grace in Isaiah today.
“Come buy wine and milk, without money and without price”.
All the good things God wants to give us we can have at no cost to ourselves – we just have to learn to receive as I said last week. But that doesn’t mean there is no cost at all, but it does mean that this cost is born completely by God.
Isaiah’s description of God’s Grace is re-stated in much more stark but nonetheless still beautiful and powerful phrase in John 3:16
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life”
The free gift is eternal life; the motivation is Love; the cost, borne by God was the self-sacrifice of his son.
You cannot buy eternal life; it can only be given and gratefully received.
The message from Paul however is that God’s unconditional love may be received gratefully at first but in many people the very fact that we haven’t had to do anything to receive it, to merit it, can breed indifference, arrogance and  presumptuousness.
We are trained in life to value things that cost us a lot of money rather than things that come free, but take a moment to consider that and you’ll agree that the most important things in life are free – love, relationships, health, and the beautiful world we live in.
Grace presumed upon because it is free has been called by some, cheap grace, but this isn’t a term I like because for God it was anything but cheap. It cost Him everything – the death of his son.
And don’t forget Paul’s great description of Christ, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19)
So God Himself in some mysterious way was present in Jesus Christ as He was crucified that first Good Friday.
Don’t worry if that is a conundrum that makes your brain hurt. This is a mystery that Christians have been trying to comprehend for 2000 years. And I use that word “mystery” in the sense that there is always more to something than we can readily grasp or understand.
Remember what the prophet also said today,
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (55:9)
We cannot ever fully understand or comprehend the ways of God.
Going back to how God’s grace can be treated so lightly. Paul lists how in Israelite history, they too treated God’s love and care with contempt, and displeased God so we  can learn from their example that God does care about our response.
We know as human beings that in life we are always subject to tests and temptations, just as the Israelites were, but to be reminded of them is to prod us, to give us strength to resist.
Stories of how the Israelites were tested, failed, and displeased God  are supposed to be good news to us if they act rather like a smoke alarm warning us about a fire. “Don’t fall away like they did. Keep to the way of Jesus.”
The message for us is that God does care how we react to his offer of divine Grace. He wants us to flourish and have life in all its fullness. The best advert for the truth of the gospel is a full life where we reach the full potential that God has given us.
A full life is one of enhanced horizons, full of hope and expectation, in which our character and emotions and wisdom grow evermore into the likeness of Christ.

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