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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Thursday, November 23, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

He Heard a Cry

He Heard a Cry
                                                                 
                                                                 Isaiah 5:1-7
                                                                 Luke 12:49-56
 
We can get pretty good at predicting some things. We have learned that weather can be predicted to a certain extent by the colors of the sky at night and in the morning as indicated in the Luke passage read earlier. We also see things that tell us it is going to rain later, the leaves on certain trees turn over, the clouds begin to build, the radar shows a line of storms headed our way. But there are other life lessons we learn simply by being around long enough. Patterns begin to establish themselves and we find enough predictability in events to keep life from getting too chaotic. I have some examples of the simple predictable things I have learned in life. When I lived in Madison I learned that when the tornado sirens go off, one is supposed to run out the door, look to the sky, and fire up the grills for a tornado party. That actually happened on a regular basis in a cul-du-sac I lived in. I have learned that when the dog is silent, he is probably in the garbage. I have learned that if I am speeding and the first or the last in a line of speeders, I am the one likely to get the ticket. I have learned that if there is a squirrel in an oak tree in the fall, I am likely to get hit with an acorn. I have learned that if I am taking a shower and someone else is up, I will get a surprising splash of cold water sometime during that shower. I have learned that if I am with Joe in the same canoe, I am the one who will eventually end up in the water. I have learned that if I leave something in a place so I can remember where it is, I will forget where I put it. I have learned that if Joe settles in for a nap, someone will call. I am sure that we all have other stories of predictable things we have learned through the events of our lives. 
 
The prophet Isaiah keeps telling the people that they are walking a line that has been stretched thin, and will soon break. The people have turned away from God and instead of being good grapes for the world, instead of being a beacon to all peoples, they have become sour grapes, ready to be pruned and re-cultivated to become good again. Isaiah is speaking of the exile and why it happened to a chosen people. God’s promise of security and land and prosperity seems to have failed. The people have found themselves in hard times, captive and in a foreign land, far from the promised land given to the previous generations. They have indeed gone sour and not lived the lives God wanted them to live. Instead of being a righteous people, they have become corrupt and God has heard the outcries of injustice and unrighteousness. The poor suffer, the hungry go unfed, weights and measures in trade have become wrong. Israel has become a nation of people who take advantage of the downtrodden. Israel has forgotten their covenant with God. They have wandered from the path God set them out on. 
 
And so it was in Jesus’ time. The Israelites hadn’t learned their lesson from their history. Once gain they have wandered from the path God set out for them. The Temple officials and high priests have encumbered the people with unfair practices in sacrifice, have burdened them with stringent rules and regulations about how they are to worship, and have used religion to condemn and exploit people. They have settled into the status quo, not wishing to go against the government that has control over them. They have set God aside and followed their own paths. The Israelites in both cases were not good at reading the signs of their times. They could not see themselves as a “chosen people” gone haywire. 
 
In the first instance, God sent the people into exile to teach them a lesson, to draw them back to who they were intended to be. Since the people could not see what they had become, God had to shake them by the very roots of their existence and withdraw, temporarily, part of the Covenant promise. After all, they had broken their part of the Covenant. They had turned from worship of the One true God. 
 
In the second instance, God chose a different path. God chose to show them just how far astray from the path the chosen people had deviated. God chose to come to them and walk among them to teach them what kind of a relationship the people were to have with Him. God chose to show them was a righteous life, a moral life, a faithful life was all about. So God walked among them, teaching, healing, showing by example, the RIGHT way to live. Some got it. Some did not. Some saw God walking among them, others did not. God showed them what the cry of injustice and unrighteousness was all about. God showed them, with a cry from the cross, “Father, forgive them” what He was all about. God showed all of us how sin turns good into evil. A righteous man died an unrighteous death just to show the world how corrupt it could get when sin prevailed. The very people who should have been tuned into God, could not see the face of God among them. They had turned into a “me” generation, filled with thoughts of how they could get ahead, and how they could maintain power. I am sure they didn’t wake up each morning and think about how far they had wandered from God or how their relationship with God had gone lifeless. I also think they did not see themselves as unrighteous and needing to repent and turn to God and hear what God had to say about their behavior. Most of them probably thought they were following God’s will, that they were the righteous people being a beacon of light to the world. They were probably so absorbed in the culture of their times that they failed to see that their lamps had dimmed and could barely be seen.
 
Now let’s turn to our generation of faith. We have the benefit to see a bigger picture of what happened when God walked the earth trying to set things right. We have the advantage of seeing that Jesus returned to life to show the extent of God’s incredible love for us. We have seen and read about centuries of Christians who have wandered from God’s path, who have turned around from what God wanted to what they wanted. We have seen and read about horrendous things that “Christians” have done in the name of Christ, believing that what they are doing is right. Christianity can be a dangerous religion when what we believe to be the path of Christ begins to deviate and turn toward our own self-interests. And most often we don’t even see it beginning to deviate. We begin to feed ourselves little “untruths” that draw us farther and farther away from the living Christ. Before we know it, we are off the path, far away from Christ. We have gone left when Christ has gone straight. Or we have gone right when Christ has gone straight. Every once in a while we are drawn back and our paths once again intersect with God. But it isn’t long before the paths begin to deviate again. (show drawing of how it looks in the faith journey)
 
Now, when we deviate, we often don’t see what we have done. We are not very different from the Israelites during Isaiah’s time, or during Jesus’ time. Why do we do that? Some would say it is in our nature to do so, and they would be partly right. Some would say the devil makes us do that. And they would be partly right. But an even better explanation would be that sin does that. Sin, (yes that awful 3 letter word we hate to hear about) has a very subtle way of leading us away from God. Before we realize it we feel far away from God, we think God has deserted us. We are unhappy, restless, feeling off-course, disseated, alone. We put our faith practices on hold. We no longer pray or study scripture. We no longer want to be involved or we get overinvolved in church so we can justify our existence within our community of faith. And these are not abnormal things that happen to us. Any of us can get caught in our “wandering away-ness”.  
 
So how do we know when we have wandered away, when we are off course. We don’t want to be sent into exile and we don’t want to kill Jesus again because we don’t see God with us. The good news is that God draws us back. God uses our ordinary surroundings to draw us back to the path. Our hope is that God is always working with us to give us insight into our own misleading. Our faith proclaims that Jesus will lead us and keep leading us until we intersect more and more with the path God has called us to. If we wander into the territory of “I don’t really care” thinking, God has ways of leading us lovingly back into “I better care” thinking. Because we have been named Christian, not in the institutional sense, but in the heart sense, we are cared for no matter where we stand on the distance-from-God scale. God nudges and prods us and moves us back to the path. And Jesus takes our hand and begins to lead us once again. 
 
It was during one of my walks down that quiet, solitary path behind the mother house in Monroe that I discovered that fact. I had been discouraged, probably wandered away from the path I had chosen in faith. I was beginning to think I just didn’t care anymore. I was tired of being God’s spokesperson, tired of answering calls early in the morning or late at night, even tired of reading scripture and saying prayers. I was going through a crisis in faith, wandering if my call to ministry was over. I couldn’t even sense God’s presence with me during that silent, meditative walk. I felt God had somehow abandoned me. I felt, “far from home.” At the very moment of feeling like I wanted to give it all up, I saw an eagle soar overhead. A fox scurried across the road, and a deer startled me as it started to wander onto the road in front of me. I could no longer hold back the tears. As they began to stream down my face, just at the moment I was to make what would have been a regrettable decision, I gave it one last shot with God. “Help me!” I prayed. Suddenly I was filled with a warmth I had missed for a while, and through the tears I saw someone stretched out a hand. I knew whose hand it was. I took ahold of that hand. I had found God again. The image vanished and the rest of the walk was spent in earnest prayer and eagerness of calling. God had drawn me back. I, who am named Christian, was back to the path I belonged on.  
Sometimes we may not be able to read how far from the path we have wandered. But the one predictability we have is that God is with us drawing us back.      

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