We think we know.
We think it might be a righteousness that we can produce with a little more effort. It might be a holiness that requires that we say just the right words and do just the right things.
We might imagine it to be a secret recipe for ecstasy or a prescription for pleasure.
Could it be some mystery that we can discover by squinting our eyes more strenuously or reciting deeper and more profound incantations?
Or could we do some sort of harm to ourselves in penance for our wickedness and exact revenge upon ourselves to prove our sincerity before God? What can we pay or produce to bring us closer to God and satisfy the longing in our souls?
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Big question here: Why do you waste time, energy, and money on those things that bring you no relief and satisfaction? Why do you expend yourself for no added value?
Don’t you know that you have been invited to shop at a market where there is no charge to your account? Don’t you know you have been offered genuine and first quality wine, milk, and bread by grace and grace alone?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.
The invitation is to freely partake.
It is to receive.
It is to come and eat what is good. God’s delight at God’s table is our delight. He does this because of our relationship with the one in whom he delights.
For Isaiah’s listeners, it was David. But we can claim our place at the table because of our relationship with the Son of God, Jesus. Those things that are said about David can be said even more of him.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.
What was it about David, the leader and commander?
It is this: He was a witness. God rose him up for that purpose and sustained him for that reason.
He has called all of His chosen people to be such witnesses.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.
It is not a futile thing.
We shall call and the nations shall come. It is God’s doing and God brings it about.
Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
This message is for us to hear and for us to deliver.
Seek the LORD. Do it now. Do it quickly. Do it while He is near.
Indeed, He is near.
He is near now. Call upon Him.
There are ways for us to forsake, ways and thoughts that have led us astray. We are not hopeless. We can turn because we have been invited and admonished to return.
When we turn, we find mercy because mercy is all that we find when we turn to God, mercy and pardon in abundance.
Why would we not turn?
Why would we not invite all to turn.
There are two options in life. One is to turn away from God and that is to turn away from mercy and pardon.
The other is to turn toward God. That is the way of grace, love, and abundance.
It makes no sense to us. It is beyond our understanding. It baffles us. That is because of this truth that God expresses:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
God thinks and acts differently than us.
Mercy, love, grace, righteousness, truth, and holiness are His domains. Eternity in His dwelling place and nothing less except that He comes to dwell among and within us.
As such, He can place eternity within us that we might catch a glimpse of His purpose and find enough of His thinking to be radically transformed in our own.
This word is powerful. It changes things:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
When God speaks, everything shakes. Existence is watered and nourished. Truth blossoms. Life is created. God’s purposes are accomplished in time and space.
And the people rejoice:
For you shall go out in joy,and be led 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. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
What more can we say than,
This is true freedom and Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles tries to translate it into our thinking and understanding:
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you.
Grace is not, as we have seen, a New Testament invention.
It is the eternal nature of the Eternal God, known more and more through the progressive process of revelation as God discloses Himself.
Grace frees us from bondage so that we may clap our hands like the trees of the field and go forth in joy, song, and peace.
To make our faith a dark and dismal burden is uncalled for. To translate our song of joy into a dirge is an offense. To take the dance out of our steps with a message of gloom, salvific uncertainty, and doom is to deny the nature of God as Love.
Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
We take a beautiful message of liberation and corrupt it when we announce it as a new legal system of obligation to an impossible letter of law.
We are called to a righteousness that comes from faith, a righteousness that begins on the inside and changes our behaviors and thinking through our connection with Christ.
It is a spiritual work.
For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.
We do not dread this. We are eager for it. We have been made for this relationship which informs and creates our lifestyle of hope.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
Faith working through love – that is what counts, nothing more, nothing less.
You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? Such persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. I am confident about you in the Lord that you will not think otherwise. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty.
All good things are subject to the potential for denigration.
Movements become institutionalized and the things we once did for love, we start doing for credit and recognition.
Our hearts grow cold, but we keep repeating the behaviors that we think produced the joy. Then, we wonder what happened to the joy.
Paul knew joy and operated from a baseline of joy. Yet, he was persecuted.
It did not rob him of joy. Nor did it cause him to revert to a teaching that would claim that we had a chance to impress or please God with empty formalities.
But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!
It just would not make sense.
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
We were called to freedom.
That freedom was not a license to revert to selfish, hurtful, indulgent, competitive, and bitter behavior. No need!
We have one commandment, and it is all-encompassing.
It is love.
It is the love that God expressed to the people in Isaiah, the love that took Jesus to the cross, and the love that God has bestowed upon us and nurtured within us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
And that is the contrast. To argue and fight over who is a “better believer” is to do and to be the antithesis of what grace produces in us through faith.
It is faith that acknowledges that God's way of brining us into His fold is grace, expressed in His mercy, flowing from His love, freely given and freely received.
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets."
He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah."
And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
He said all this quite openly.
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
And he said to them, "Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power."
We come to Jesus, the Son and delight of the Father.
He knows who he is.
He knows why he has come.
He knows what people say and it does not matter.
He knows what he must do.
He wants his followers to know and, to some extent, Simon Peter does.
But Simon is also an “accuser,” who, those his motives are to spare Jesus rejection and death, would terminate his mission by diverting him from it.
Grace, mercy, peace, and love do not come without a price and God pays the price.
To turn to God by turning to Jesus is to face the way of the cross.
It is to deny self which is to deny self-indulgence as well as self-righteousness and self-sufficiency. It is to deny both the pleasures of a God avoiding life and responsibility of setting ourselves up as demi-gods.
Jesus knew how difficult it would be for Peter and the friends to understand this.
His ways and thoughts were not theirs, but theirs would be transformed and enlightened. They would see things that would amaze them and give them a new perspective.
And so, shall we if we follow.
Let us pray with the psalmist this morning and receive the mercy that God so deeply wants to bestow upon us.
Psalm 70 Deus, in adjutorium
1 Be pleased, O God, to deliver me;
O LORD, make haste to help me.
2 Let those who seek my life be ashamed and altogether dismayed;
let those who take pleasure in my misfortune draw back and be disgraced.
3 Let those who say to me "Aha!" and gloat over me turn back,
because they are ashamed.
4 Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you;
let those who love your salvation say for ever, "Great is the LORD!"
5 But as for me, I am poor and needy;
come to me speedily, O God.
6 You are my helper and my deliverer;
O LORD, do not tarry.