Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 20 March 2022.
• First Reading: Isaiah 55: 1-9 (Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord and He will have mercy on them)
• Psalm 63: 1-8
• Epistle: 1 Corinthians 10: 1-13 (He will not let you be tested beyond your strength … but will provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it)
• Gospel: Luke 13: 1-9 (Parable of the fruitless fig tree)
I think that we all remember times when we made our choices in life – and when we had to cut loose from our homes and families. We were making our choices of what to do in life – what work, where to live and the friends we made.
But then there was another kind of cutting loose – when we decided that our morality was our business and ours alone. When our spiritual bearings and sense of belonging were for us to determine and while guidance and example could be helpful, being bossed around was not.
And the more overbearing the example at home, then the more we were likely to abandon not just the person wanting to guide us but what they had to say and what they represented as well.
Finally we were on our own and had to face us to the challenges and reverses of life on our own. This was when our spiritual and moral resources proved themselves.
But having tasted this kind of freedom, what would we do with it? Where would it lead us? What was going to happen to our deepest and longest spiritual memories? How would they sustain us?
And when faced with trial, sorrow, rejection, would we turn again to our faith in God or would we insist on finding our own way independent of all others and certainly of the church?
Each of us has our own story of how life has led us and equally of how our faith has formed us. Yet our lessons say two things:
- Come to the waters and drink freely, find wine and milk already paid for.
- Turn away from deal lives and dead lifestyles.
These two appeals support and reinforce one another. They offer an alternative to the rat race of moral and emotional self-sufficiency, where the apparently strong succeed and the rest fall by the wayside.
The rewards of success in this area are only too visible: the ostentation of homes, families and positions at work and in the community.
These are the rewards of the here and now and are as easily lost, no matter how hard they were won.
These are the rewards that will diminish as we can no longer hold onto them whether through age, infirmity or death.
This self-sufficiency ethic breeds its own doctrine of survival: defend everything you have with everything you can lay hands on. Let the weak perish and let truth wither. Morality redefines itself in terms of our own interests and is essentially Godless.
The ethic of moral self-sufficiency is self-defeating and self-destructive, and it cannot survive under the gaze of the holiness and justice of God.
Lives of dead works and dead values can only lead to their own destruction.
But there is the other aspect of our lessons: Come to the waters. Come as you are because this is an open invitation.
But come and find life and refreshment. Find the life of God which Jesus Christ has shown us personally. Find the forgiveness of God which He has accomplished as He gave His life for us.
Find the agenda of God which is about life and life in its fulness and not just about survival until weakness prevails and we lose what we had and hoped to keep.
Find the new kind of life which God wants us to live and in which He wants us to thrive and exult.
What we discover is that the deeper we drink of the waters that God has for us then the more we are changed. Life has a new set of priorities and rhythms. There are new perspectives.
Cutting loose from home – choices about life, work, home.
Choices about values and belonging, spiritual and moral bearings.
Coping with the reverses of life – learning just what freedom means after all. Would we return to our sense of and faith in God?
There are new priorities.
Life no longer revolves around us but is defined by God. Our fellow believers are not competitors but fellow members of the same spiritual body.
The blessing that another has is not a cause for resentment but rejoicing.
And yes, God knows our stories far better than we know them ourselves.
The choices before us are real enough: to continue in our self-sufficiency supported by the resentment of life and the assumption that God owes us a living here and now and certainly eternal life in the world to come.
Or to receive life as He gives it, at His hand and with His extravagance, founded on His own desire to give and His love for us as we receive it.
To let go of our own sense of self-determination and self-sufficiency, and to let Him live within us and through us.
Yes there are trials and testing ahead but with His life in our hearts we can dare to meet them.
But the invitation is there – it is the Lord’s invitation to His own feast. And there is nothing in this life that in Jesus Christ, God has not already faced and overcome.
And that includes the question of life in God or without Him.