Saturday, July 30, 2011

A, Pentecost 7 Proper 13 – Isaiah 55:2-3, Psalm 145:8-9 “Real Rest”

The feeding of the five thousand is an impossible picture for us to comprehend. We could expend much energy trying to work out how it happened — rationalising, justifying, questioning, thinking, defending, explaining, ignoring or even attacking the reality of this miracle written in the Word of God. How did Jesus do it? Five loaves, two fish — 5000 men plus women and children — 12 baskets of leftovers. It all seems to be a bit too much.
Today we are not going to focus on this miracle as such, but use it as a catalyst, to allow God to delve right down into our inner being, and address the toilsome troubles buried in the core of our person. What happens in you when you hear the feeding of the five thousand? Rationalising, questioning, thinking, defending, explaining, ignoring or even attacking? Do you look for a way to comprehend or justify what the word of God says next to your everyday reality of heartache, labour, toil, tiredness, and exhaustion?
You see, what is going on in all of us today, is a deep yearning for rest. We hear pleasant pictures painted in the Psalms: the shepherding, the lying down in green pastures, the table set, and the cup overflowing before us. A place of no worries or concern. A place where no harm can come to us, a place of complete rest, a place where we’re served in tranquil peace having been caused to stop and rest from the frantic pace outside these walls. And even more — the worry, doubt, and pride inside, in your heart.
In fact, it’s not really the frantic pace of our western society that’s the cause of the problem. Each of us could be carried a million miles away and yet once there in an isolated corner of creation still feel the effects of a world out of control. Like the feeding of the five thousand in the word of God, the restless world is also a catalyst to your deepest realities of heartache, work, toil, tiredness, and exhaustion. What’s going on in you? Isn’t it time for some real rest?
I’ve been asked on a number of occasions why we use the Psalms; it’s said, they don’t make much sense and are hard to understand! And this is true if they are gleaned into the vacuum of individualism. You definitely will not get the nourishment that’s truly there. The truth is the Psalms, like all of God’s Word, are very personal, it is there to serve you. However, the noise of our inner being, the rationalising, questioning, pondering, defending, explaining, ignoring and attacking effectively blocks the intent of God, who seeks to address the “whole” of your situation in the most personal way.
The Psalm or even the feeding of the five thousand fills our ears, and straight away our heart blocks by challenging from within with the question, “What’s it mean?” And in this noise of seeking to conform the word to our ways, God’s way is lost.
So let’s not ask “what’s it mean?” for the moment, but let’s just let it “do” to us what God seeks it to do. And in letting God do, there will be more meaning in it for us personally than we can ever consume; there will be an eternity of leftovers, lashings of love and mercy, forgiveness and faith. Baskets of leftovers for us to lavish on others!
The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. (Psalm 145: 8–9 ESV)
God intends you to rest in him. In the Psalm God seeks to serve your innermost being by drawing you out of yourself to look on him. He wants to reveal the greater reality of your hidden depths within. With these verses of comfort he seeks to enter into the place where lies your greatest fears, your most powerful prejudices, and your most sacred of sins, and there let the beauty and peace of his goodness enlighten you with his grace and mercy — his enduring refreshing forgiveness and favour!
We might want to ask “How can this be? Letting God see the reality and rottenness of my darkest depths and desires, as well as the things I’ve done will get me into big trouble with him!” But nothing could be further from the truth! God is rightly displeased with our sinfulness. However, he seeks to rightly deal with it too! After all he is abounding with wave after wave of rich, overflowing, wealthy, generous love focused on you. And he is slow to anger too.
This slowness to anger, is not over who you are, a sinner. But over not allowing him to deal with you and your sin. Nevertheless, this anger is slow in coming, and he patiently waits your lifetime to deal with your sin, be it ever so gently with you personally, having dealt harshly with it on your cross through the crucifixion of his Son, Jesus Christ.
So at the end of this earthly life, those who have rested in God’s steadfast love, Jesus’ death and resurrection, will be given even more. But those who are exhausted from their efforts to find peace in this life, even the mercy they rejected will be eternally out of reach.
So God has brought you this far into his rest. He has been working on you as you’ve been listening. If you’ve been listening and resting? The inner voice of our sinful humanity still seeks to rise up - rationalising, questioning, thinking, defending, explaining, ignoring and attacking. Our sin filled inner self-appointed authority verses the authority of God and his word, second-guessing what’s being said against the more easily seen exhaustion of daily existence in the twenty-first century. The human spirit struggles to subdue the Holy Spirit’s work of bringing the sinner to salvation, into real rest.
Nevertheless, God is patient. The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.
He has made you and he waits for you. In your exhaustion and struggle he asks you, Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? (Isaiah 55:2a ESV) And after we’ve given all our righteous answers, born out of rationalising, questioning, thinking, defending, explaining, ignoring and attacking. He still patiently asks his question.
He does this so we might come to realise it’s not so much about our frantic activities expending energy to make money, or working for satisfaction, but rather the tiring and failing internal activities of the sinful nature trying to live up to our expectations reflected by us and everyone else encouraged on all the more by the father of lies.
So why do you do it? Let this word from God rest on you. Let the word of God, living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of “your” heart. (Hebrews 4:12 ESV with “personal” emphasis). None of us are hidden from God, let’s be honest with ourselves and God, so we might get some real rest now, and forever!
When we allow this to happen, we no longer continue on the self destructive path of rationalising, questioning, thinking, defending, explaining, ignoring and attacking the deeper reality of God, and the hidden truths of our inner being. But we come face to face with Almighty God stopping, resting, hearing, confessing, receiving, trusting, believing, adoring, glorifying, and hoping.
This is the narrow path of God. Those who traverse it know it's not by their energy expended they walk it but rather it's by Christ and his Holy Spirited energy who carries them on it into eternal life.
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. (Isaiah 55:2–3 ESV)
This steadfast sure love for David, is also for you. This love is Jesus Christ. Come, hear, incline your ear, stop and listen. Come to Jesus! Pour your true selves, your depths of sin on him, that you may have real rest, rich eternal food, and your soul may live. Amen.