Sunday, February 27, 2011

A, Epiphany 8 - Isaiah 49:14-16a, Matthew 6:30-33 "Satisfaction Seeker"

There’s an old saying, “It’s hard to get good help!” And in today’s fast-paced consumer driven society, there’s no doubt this saying is true.

We all seem to want it immediately — it must be glossy, it must be cheap, and it must be now! “Fast food, cool clothes, and plenty of possessions!” There’s another saying used in the retail industry, “The consumer is always right.” So, we the consumer, who’s always righteous, gets what we want; we get it fast, it looks cool, it’s so glossy, and it’s unbelievably cheap too! We open it with great excitement and it’s BROKEN!

In our quest for the best there’s no time for rest! Quick! Get in the car, we need instant action. Arriving at the shop in the nick of time, frustrated with the old fogey in his vintage car, but nevertheless getting there just before closing time with our piece of broken expectation, and there’s a cue. Aaaaah!

Still twisted and snaky from swerving through the torturous traffic, avoiding pedestrians who believe they own the road, one finds themself nervously waiting, jiggling anxiously from the not so cool, not so glossy, now expensive piece of junk, that’s caused suffering in the search for satisfaction.

It’s hard to get good help! “You’ll have to come back tomorrow”, says the salesperson who barely looks old enough to count let alone magically fix the faults and fulfil us yet again with our craving for satisfaction. “That’d be right!” is the thought, “It’s hard to get good help these days!”

Have you ever been frustrated by not getting what you want when you want it? Some shops turn into ghost towns when you need help or want to return something. But when you just want to browse, sellers seem to drop from the ceiling seeking to help you spend your savings.

It’s hard to get good help! Will anyone work unless it’s seeking to sell? Why won’t anyone fix the broken stuff any more? Do I have to chuck it out and buy again seeking to restore satisfaction from dissatisfaction?

Most of us, I suspect, will resonate with the deep desire we have to be properly served. Have you ever wished you were a king or queen having slaves appease your every whim and want? You say “jump” and they all joyously reply, “How high, O great one!”

It’s hard to get good help! No one wants to jump in and help any more unless they get something out of it.

In Isaiah 49 we hear the call for the heavens, the earth, and mountains to jump for joy because of the comfort the Lord has for his people. He serves them by showering compassion on their affliction.

However Zion, also known as Jerusalem, the mountain where the Lord dwelt with his people in his temple, doesn’t respond in the way the mountains around it are called to do. But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” (Isaiah 49:14 ESV)

It was as if Zion went into a shop for service and no one was there. They thought God had abandoned them, had he disappeared in their hour of need for service and satisfaction? It’s hard to get good help! And it seemed like God didn’t want to help them either.

But the reply comes, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” (Isaiah 49:15–16 ESV)

Even more perfect than a loving mother nursing her child, is God’s compassion for his children. God will not forget — he was constantly in their presence — within the walls of Jerusalem.

What do you do when you think you might forget something? Have you ever written information on your hand to remind you late? God never forgets yet they’re engraved on the palms of his hands. His hand is not written on, rather his hand rests on those he loves, touching lives, moving with his Holy Spirit to comfort and console.

Israel was engraved on God’s hands not because he forgets, but because they constantly forgot about him! It was hard for them to find good help, because they chose to turn their backs on the fixes God put in place. All they had to do was follow the house rules and be faithful stewards of the Law in his holy house on his holy hill, at the temple in God’s earthly Zion, Jerusalem.

So when they became despondent thinking they were slaves of misfortune and God had abandoned them, he reveals them his hand. They are etched and imprinted on his hands, carried by he who created them.

This is a remarkable thing God does; he’s sovereign and almighty over all things yet he’s got them on his hands. Usually the practice was to tattoo or brand the name of the master onto to hand of the slave, but here God shows he is enslaved to them, just as is a nursing mother to an infant still on the breast.

It seems nothing changes much throughout the ages. The Jews were finding it hard to get good help while Jesus walked amongst them two thousand years ago! Yet again they were still seeking satisfaction in all the wrong places.

They were anxious over what they would eat and drink, where they would live and what they would wear. Anxious here in the Greek text literally means “becoming disunited” and “divided within”. They were unable to get good help because in their struggle for satisfaction they were literally coming apart; they were cracking up and breaking at the seams.

The people of God had lost their glossy appearance. And with their backs turned from God, busy seeking satisfaction, their anxiety was not only breaking them open for all to see them seeking a sinful reality, but was also tearing them away from God.

Jesus addresses them, “O you of little faith? …do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:30–33 ESV)

Jesus tells them our Heavenly Father looks after the birds of the air, the lilies and grasses of the field, which come and go with regularity. And he likens their faith to that of short-lived grass.

Their faith was not so much as little, like that of a mustard seed, but rather the phrase is better translated as puny, brief, vain and disappearing like a puff of steam from the mouth on a cold morning. It was slow to grow and fast to fall, lacking perseverance and endurance. Their faith was broken, here today gone tomorrow, like a cheap glossy piece of costly junk.

So Jesus seeks to rekindle their faith as he encourages them to once again seek the Father — as their help, as one who serves, who never forgets, and who is faithful like a nursing mum. However, this time it was different! God the Father was revealing his hand, and engraved on it with love and compassion, is his Son Jesus Christ.

But how were they to see this hand of mercy? Time and time again God had raised his hands to bless. Right from the day God gave his word to Moses and Aaron, the Israelites heard God’s promise. Over and over again God promised to bless them and keep them; that his face would shine upon them and be gracious to them, and they would be looked upon with favour, and given his peace. How were they to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness this time, when every other time in the past they failed to see or seek his help?

If it’s hard for humans to get good help, how hard do you think it is for God to find good help when we can’t even seek the right help for ourselves? Well, it’s so hard God had to send his own Son to be our sole help. The Law, as holy as it is, proved to be no help; we always fail as stewards of the Law, breaking the house rules.

In fact, it’s not the system that’s out of order, we’re out of order. We’re the broken possessions of God, and we need returning to the manufacturer for repair. But God sends his repairer to us! The reality is help is at hand, God’s hands have been lifted up in death and now in victory.

Are you obedient to God’s word and will? Are you seeking his righteousness and his kingdom? Or do you seek a righteousness that seeks to set up a kingdom of its own? Do you wish all around you would fall to your will – give you traffic free roads, service when you want it, solitary, and satisfaction? Do you wonder why no matter what you do, or seek others to do for you, the peace from these deeds never lasts, if it even really starts?

Jesus calls you to seek God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When you stop, when you’re still, you allow him to be the sole source of your help. Then you will know he is Lord, that he jumps to your attention, making his kingdom yours, and so too his righteousness.

Jesus Christ is your righteousness, you are God’s prized possession, like a bride bearing the ring engraved with her husband’s name, and he bearing hers, you have his name written on you, and yours on him.

Our help is now in the name of the Lord, and that name is our Lord Jesus Christ. God the Spirit is given to give you the will to seek his righteousness, by faith alone. You’re righteous before God because of this gift of trust, or faith, by which he seeks to conform you to his will to do his works.

His hands now bear the engravings of your sin, the nail marks of the cross are your reminder. We not only have the written word of God’s blessing and service, we have the Risen Word, the Son of God. He was faithful towards God even unto death, and he is faithful to you today even as you struggle unto death. That’s got to give peace beyond understanding!

So trust him, the work of his Son, the immediate ceaseless activity of the Holy Spirit, who jumps to serves you in your brokenness. There is true satisfaction to be had!

It might be hard to get good help, but that doesn’t mean it’s not available. Seek satisfaction in his righteousness! It will save you from yourself. It will save you from the anxiety within which seeks to have you believe you must work your righteousness. Amen.