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March 14, 2004
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the book of Isaiah, chapter 55, and follow along as I read verses 1-9. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
1 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.
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 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.
4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.
5 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.
6 Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;
7 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.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
We have all seen our kids watching Shrek or Toy Story for the hundredth time, and speaking the dialogue along with the characters, but adults do the same. Michael Booth, writing in the Denver Post [“Recycled movies on cable play into our short attention spans,” August 22, 2003] reports that the most popular cable movie repeats make adults feel comfortable because we immediately recognize the movie. For example, if you see Mel Gibson in a tartan, you know immediately that you are watching Braveheart, and your stored memory can fill in the parts you’ve missed; flip to scene of Vivian Leigh standing on a staircase about to shoot a union soldier, you know you are watching Gone With the Wind, and once again, your mind fills in the rest of the movie.
“Not everybody watches the full duration of a movie,” says cable TV programmer Ken Schwab. “With stop-by movies, it’s instantly familiar to them as they are flipping by. They think, ‘I know this one!’”
This is why some cable channels repeat the same movies. A movie that is on this morning might well be on again this afternoon, and yet again tonight. Lethal Weapon (1, 2 or 3). Beverly Hills Cop. Pretty Woman. Sweet November. Miss Congeniality. Tin Cup. Speed. And so on.
Network executives know that people with a remote control in their hand really enjoy “dropping in” or “stopping by” a movie just to catch one scene. After watching that scene, they surf on to another channel looking for another program to drop in on.
For example, some will drop in on Lethal Weapon just to see the scene where Danny Glover’s character is hot-wired to a commode with a bomb strapped to the tank, and see him and Mel Gibson flying through the window with the toilet seat wrapped around Glover’s neck.
Or, there is the scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts’ character tells off the salesgirl who would not wait on her because of her doubtful reputation. “You work on commission?”
The salesgirl nods. “Big mistake! Big mistake,” says Julia — whereupon she whirls out of the boutique, shopping bags in tow.
Nearly any hour of the day, one can find these movies and others rolling across the screen, and millions drop in to watch no more than 15 minutes — just to recognize the move or catch their favorite scene.
This is sort of the way our culture works. We have a culture of convenience, a culture with a short attention span. We want it now and we want it in fifteen minutes of less.
Now I have to confess that I have done this kind of thing myself. When you are tired and not particularly interested in anything, it is easy to sit down watch a program for a few minutes, when it goes to commercial, you flip to another program—which often means that you never come back to that program.
Now you might say that is a harmless habit that does not hurt anyone, and probably so, as long as we confine the habit to TV. We all need a break sometimes, and watching 15 minutes of TV is as good a way as any to take a break. The problem comes in when our attention span gets limited to 15 minutes for more important things. In other words, if we are only accustomed to paying attention for a few minutes here, and a few minutes there, will we still have the capacity for half an hour of thoughtful reflection on a Sabbath morning?
Maybe, maybe not — but if our attention span is shaped constantly to tuned to 15-minute gulps, it certainly is less likely that we will be able to give our full attention to anyone or anything, including God, for more than a few minutes.
Here then is the lesson for today: Too often we approach Christian discipleship as something we can “drop in” on, or “stop by” whenever we feel like it. The common complaint about Christians is that too many are Sunday Christians, but not Monday Christians. They are Christians for the duration of the sermon, but they leave their faith in the pew when they leave the church.
I do not know if a drop-in TV habit actually crosses over into our spiritual lives. I do know that It is our task to make sure that it does not. We do not want a style of drop-in spirituality or drop-in discipleship where we nod to God for a few quick devotional minutes and then we are on our way, business as usual.
Woodrow Kroll [ “Getting serious when you pray,” Back to the Bible Web Site, April 30, 2003, Backtothebible.org.] tells the story about a multitasking woman whoand thought she could combine prayer and driving and listening to the radio. So, as she drives along, she prays, “Dear God, As I go to the store this morning, please bless — eh, I don’t like that song [changes station]. Please bless my family, my husband, help me, too. [forecast being announced] I already know the forecast. Help me to live the way you want me to, and … [radio reports a six-car pileup]. Oh, that’s right on my way. Maybe I’ll take a different route. Now where was I? Oh yeah. Amen.
A discipleship that consists of a little taste of upbeat worship here, a sip of Bible reading there, and a muttered prayer about something on the way to work, is not much of a discipleship. Such a discipleship may give us a momentary feeling of satisfaction, just like a little movie viewing of our favorite scenes, but if that is all we ever have time for in our lives with God, then that is not much.
We might describe this kind of drop-in, drop-by discipleship as religious consumerism. We run by the drive-in window of the religious fast food shop, and buy a little of this and a little of that, and then we are on our way. This sort of thinking is the opposite to a life spent growing in wisdom and faithful discipleship—which is the kind of life God demands of his people. But this kind of life-long discipleship is not going to happen with just a little dip here and a sip there.
Many Christians are what we might call Laodicean disciples. Laodicea was the seventh church mentioned in Revelation 3. It was a church that Jesus said that he did not like much. In 3:15-16, he says, "I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” He said, I do not like your tepid, lukewarm discipleship. He said, you continue to be spiritual babies, perpetually clutching your spiritual sippy cups. It is time for you to move on to a discipleship with some depth.
The prophet Isaiah presents a vision of this real discipleship. Isaiah invites us to embrace an abundant life in the presence of God. “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! … Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (55:1-2).
What Isaiah is proposing is not drop-in discipleship, but stay-by discipleship. Notice the commands in the text
·“Come” (v. 1). God sets the table, but we have to pull up the chair. The disciple has to respond to God’s faithfulness by taking action of her own.
·“Buy” (v. 1). Or buy into. Commit. Take the step, the leap, the plunge.
·“Eat” (v. 1). Partake. Experience. Taste. Savor the goodness of God.
·“Listen” (v. 2). Many people today ask the same question about their lives, “You call this living? Is this all there is to life?” God, speaking through the prophet, has a resounding answer for them, “Incline your ear, and come to me; listen so that you may live” (Isaiah 55:3). Pay attention. Be attuned to the voice of God, and tune out competing voices..
·“Hear me” (v. 3). Be prepared to hear the voice of God. Get rid of the noise and interference in your life. Dig out the spiritual earwax that reduces the voice of God to a muffle.
·“Seek the LORD while he may be found” (v. 6). Pursue God single-mindedly, search diligently for God. Make the presence of God a priority. Take advantage of the opportunities to walk with God while you still have them.
·“Forsake” (v. 7). Abandon whatever doesn’t work for your relationship with God. Decide what is holding you back, and let these things go.
·“Return to” (v. 7). After letting go of the bad, grab the good. Turn to what is right, good and positive. Turn to God for forgiveness and mercy.
Isaiah is aware that most of what he is saying runs counter to what the world says. The wisdom of God is not the wisdom of the world. Thus we read in verses 8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.”
This is the main point. If we order our lives according to conventional wisdom, then none of this talk about serving God is going to make sense. But if we “come” and “buy” into a higher reasoning, a different way of doing business, a divine wisdom, we align our lives with the divine purpose.
The life that God invites us into is not a drop-in relationship or one that involves a few minutes here and there whenever it happens to be convenient. Rather, the mature life of faith with God is one that feasts on the riches of a deep and abiding relationship with him. It is not a fast-food religion that God wants. No, Isaiah tells us it is much more like a long, sumptuous dinner, lingering over the meal, savoring the taste, enjoying the conversation. This kind of deep maturity with God means spending the necessary time pursuing this relationship; the kind of time that we would give to any pursuit that is worthy of our full attention.
“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” Indeed, Isaiah’s question should be hung as a banner over the entrance to our malls and our places of work. The poet Mary Oliver asks a similar question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
What will we do? We will come, buy, eat, listen, hear, forsake and turn to God who calls us to himself. Dropping in or stopping by is not enough. God should be in all our living and doing every day.
There is an old story about the 20th-century violin virtuoso, Fritz Kreisler. Setting out from Hamburg, Germany, one day to give a concert in London, Kreisler had an hour before his boat sailed. He wandered into a music shop, where the proprietor asked if he might look at the violin Kreisler was carrying. He then vanished and returned with two policemen, one of whom told the violinist, “You are under arrest.”
“What for?” asked Kreisler.
“You have Fritz Kreisler’s violin.”
“I am Fritz Kreisler,” protested the musician.
“No you’re not. Come along.”
As Kreisler’s boat was sailing soon, there was no time for prolonged explanations. Kreisler asked for his violin and played a piece he was well known for.
“Now are you satisfied? he asked.
The policemen let the musician go because he had done what only Fritz Kreisler could do. They knew who he was by what he could do.
As Christians, we are not saved by what we do, yet we do show what we are by what we do. We are saved, we are justified, we are made acceptable to God, through Jesus Christ. We live the way of Christ because we are already disciples of Christ. In other words, living a good moral life does not make you a Christian, but Christians do live good moral lives because they are Christians. They are God’s people—and the holiness of their lives serves to confirm their Christianity. Peter 1:15, “As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct.” God is a holy God, he wants a holy people.
Remember that as believers in Christ, we are joint heirs with Christ, we are adopted into the family of God. We have a bond with God. Again, I emphasize that this bond is based on what Christ has done not what we have done, but certainly part of what Christ does is to call us to holy living. Christ was without sin, and Christ calls us into his church which is his body. Thus he calls us to put sin as far away from us as possible, and to live righteous lives.
God has no fellowship with wickedness and uncleanness. A part of our call from God is to depart from any wickedness or uncleanness in our own lives. In Isaiah 35:8, the prophet speaking of the way of God, says, “A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people.” Here is the point, God has rescued us from sin, God has rescued us from the pollutions of this world, does anyone think then that we, like pigs, should continue to wallow in sin and pollution? No, God has called us out of that. God has called us to be his people to dwell with him. In the book of Revelation, John has the great vision of the new heaven and the new earth and the new Jerusalem, and we are assured that God’s people will dwell in this new Jerusalem and that God will be there with them.
We need to live now as if we were in the New Jerusalem with God. That is the kind of discipleship, that is the kind of life, that God calls us to here and now.
In closing then, remember this, God is always ready to give us more than we are ready to receive. God blesses us richly with a love that knows no bounds, with a peace that passes all understanding. Yet the world tells us that we do not need God. The world says that we should trust only ourselves and love only ourselves. The world says that we should be ambitious for fame and reputation, that we should seek more possessions, should pile up things and then lock them up. But none of this really works. In our society, fame and reputation last about fifteen minutes. And possessions can vanish as quickly as internet stocks on the stock market. We need something more than a drop-by discipleship. Our prayer is that God will forgive us and, teach us once again to follow Christ; our prayer is that God will show us how to drink deeply from his well of abundance, that we might trust his divine ways. Our prayer is that God will strengthen us to live joyfully as disciples of love and peace. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 03/23/04