“An Invitation to Something More”
February 28, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: Isaiah 55:1-9 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 Luke 13:1-9
We are nearing spring, and have already entered the time when many of us will find special envelopes in our mailboxes. You’ve seen this kind of mail before and you recognize it instantly. Most of you will know what I am talking about even as I begin to describe them. The mail we will receive is not your ordinary cheap white paper but a thicker, richer, more expensive kind of paper with visible fibers in it. The addresses are often not just typed, but are handwritten, sometimes with rich script and calligraphy and occasionally with special raised lettering. The enclosures are just as special. Inside is not just a piece of paper, but a notecard printed on heavy bond cardstock, often with special embossed seals pressed into the paper and colorful printed stickers to seal the flaps. There are also included, on another piece of cardstock, printed directions and also a stamped, pre-addressed return envelope that also includes yet another piece of embossed and printed cardstock.
Whew. Just describing it is almost enough to make me tired.
Of course, by now most of us have clearly recognized that what has arrived in our mailboxes, often just by the weight and feel of the envelope, is an invitation to a wedding or to a graduation of some sort. These can both be grand events, and even when they are done inexpensively, they are moments of celebration as young men and women mark important moments in life as they transition from student to working adults, or from singles to couples and families. These moments are so important to us that we invite our family and friends to share and celebrate them with us.
And that brings us to our message from scripture today. There are moments in scripture that are much like those embossed envelopes that we receive in the mail. Special moments and special invitations like these are intended to get our attention and to ask for our attendance and participation. We begin in Isaiah 55:1-9 where God invites the thirsty…
55:1 “Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
3 Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.
4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a ruler and commander of the peoples.
5 Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.”
6 Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
This entire passage is an invitation from God and is not just an invitation to the thirsty. Over and over again, God invites us to come to him, to listen to him, and to seek him. God invites us to buy what is good without cost instead of wasting our money, time and sweat on useless things that never satisfy us. In this invitation, God tells us that there is more to life than money and struggle and if we take the time to listen to him, we will find life.
Throughout this entire passage, in many different ways, God invites us… to belong.
But belonging can come at a price and in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Paul warns the church that there is a difference between participating and following.
10:1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.
11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
Paul reminds the church that there were a great many people that travelled with Moses through the wilderness. They all witnessed many miracles, they ate God’s manna, they saw the Red Sea divided and walked through the middle, they ate together, drank together, learned from Moses together, and heard God’s voice together, and yet, God was not pleased with many of them because they did not do what God asked them to do.
In the movie Apollo 13, the flight director for Mission Control, Gene Franz, famously says, “Failure is not an option.” But in this letter to the church in Corinth, Paul is saying quite the opposite. Paul wants the people to know that failure is an option. It is entirely possible to show up in church, to participate in church, and yet still not do the things that God wants us to do. Even so, failure is not certain. We each have the opportunity to choose whether or not we do the things that God commands us to do.
And finally, in Luke 13:1-9 we find two more invitations.
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
Luke begins with Jesus answering a question about men who had been murdered by Pontius Pilate while they were in the Temple making sacrifices to God. The question in many minds was what horrible things these men must have done in order to be punished so horribly by God but Jesus turns that thought in a completely different direction. Jesus says that neither the men that were murdered by Pilate, nor the eighteen men and women who were crushed when a tower collapsed upon them were killed because of their sin. But all the same, we will all, sooner or later, end up dead.
Well, that’s an encouraging message.
Sooner or later we will all be dead.
You wouldn’t find that on any office walls or motivational posters outside of a funeral home.
But that isn’t the end of Jesus’ message. Jesus says that sooner or later we will all end up dead… unless we repent. Of course our repentance will not make us immortal in this life, but this is, from the lips of Jesus, an invitation to life. An invitation to something more, a life that is more, a life that is more than anything this mortal life has to offer.
And then Jesus tells a story about a fig tree.
In that story, a parable, a tree is growing but although it is in the garden, and although it is green and has leaves and seems otherwise healthy, it is not producing figs. The owner of the tree is understandably upset. He planted the tree, watered it, and cared for it with the expectation that it would produce fruit. When it does not, he is ready to cut it up and use it for firewood so that perhaps another tree can take its place. The gardener begs for one more year, one more year in which he will give it special care and attention but if it does not produce fruit after that, then the tree is doomed.
What Jesus is saying is that he has planted us in his garden with the expectation that we will produce fruit. He plants us, waters us, and cares for us so that we can accomplish what we were intended to do. Even if we do not initially do as he expects, he gives us extra time, he pours out blessings on us and fertilizes us but, after a while, he will eventually plant someone else in our place.
Jesus invites us to repent, but true repentance reveals itself in fruitfulness.
And so, Jesus invites us to produce fruit.
Life on earth is predictable. We are born, we live, and we die. But God wants us to know that there is more.
God invites us to come to him, to listen to him, and to seek him.
God invites us to…belong.
But there is more to belonging than just showing up.
God invites us to do more than take up space, God wants more for us than that.
God invites us to repent and live.
God wants us to have a new kind of life, a life that lasts forever.
But true repentance is more than just living in the garden, soaking up sunshine, and drinking up the water that God is pouring out.
God invites us to fruitfulness.
All of this is a journey and all of it together teaches us that there is more to life than living and dying. There is more to life than taking up showing up and taking up space. God wants more for our lives than that. God wants us to follow him, to live for him, and to produce fruit for him.
Our invitation may not come in a fancy envelope or have embossed lettering, but God invites us to a life that is richer and fuller than what we had before. God invites us to a life that continues beyond the boundary of death. God invites us to share what we have with others so that we can produce fruit.
God invites us to… something more.
How will you answer him?
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