Isaiah 55 marks the end of what scholars refer to as “Second Isaiah.” Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55) is a later writing that is added to the first 39 chapters of Isaiah in order to reflect theologically on the impending Babylonian crisis. Chapter 55 ends with a pronouncement of hope (i.e. God will establishing a covenant with David [and presumably
his decendents since David is long dead]). Our section of Isaiah 55 ends with the famous transcendent statement of God, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” It is likely that this statement of divine transcendence was given to counter those who were questioning God for the suffering at the hands of Babylon. Taken as a whole the text tells us that God’s plan is at work, even when we can not clearly see God’s design.
Psalm 63 is a wonderful psalm of trust. It contains in it many phrases that are familiar to us: “O God, you are my God”, “my soul thirsts for you…as in a dry and weary land”, “your steadfast love is better than life”, “in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy”, etc. Remember that the Psalm reading liturgically functions as a response to the Hebrew bible reading (and sometimes the gospel reading). As a response to this week’s Hebrew Bible reading Psalm 63 is a great statement of faith in God in the midst of a difficult time when many are suggesting that God no longer is protecting Judah.
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Our epistle lection this week is about temptation (a fitting theme for Lent). Paul looks back at the generation of Israel who wondered in the wilderness. Paul recalls that the generation who wondered in the wilderness sufffered from great lapses of judgment and committed many sins against God. Paul tells us that this happened so that we (who live in the last days) might have an example of what not to do! Paul then encourages the Corinthians (it is good to remember that Corinth was a city known for its wild side) that there is no temptation that they face that is not common to everyone, and on every temptation God puts limits and provides a way out.
Sin does not make tragedies come, they just come. This is the message of Jesus in the first part of our gospel reading which tells of two incidents (pilate slaughtering some Galileans, and a tower falling on some unsuspecting bystanders). Jesus rhetorically asks if the people involved in these tragedies were more sinful than other people. Jesus concludes “No I tell you.” Thank goodness, that is very comforting! Except that Jesus continues, “…but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did!” YIKES! Jesus’ somber remarks help squelch the opposite conclusion that those who were not part of these
tragedies were some how spared because of their good favor with God. Jesus brings this whole matter up to get to the point he is wanting to talk about, repentance. Repentance is a universal need shared by random victims and finger-crossing survivors. The parable Jesus concludes with illustrates the way we go about our precarious lives. The tree has been unfruitful for quite some time, yet is has been allowed to go about life as barren tree. Suddenly the owner of the tree notices it and decides it is time to cut it down. The gardener however steps in and asks the owner to consider one more year of intense fertilization. The owner agrees, but gives the warning that if in a year the tree has not produced the ax will find it. If life’s fragility demands urgency, that urgency shows that life itself has carved out opportunity for us to seize God’s graciousness. The parable ends before we would like. We have no idea if the tree survives. Each of us are allowed to see the tree as our own life lived out before our creator. It is a precarious position to find
oneself in the biblical text…but that is the task of the lenten season.
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your prayers, hymns, thoughts, hearts and minds for worship consider the statements of faith in God found in Isaiah 55 and Psalm 63 in the midst of great tragedy. Hear second Isaiah’s assertion of God’s transcendence (God’s ways are not our ways) and
consider what that means for us as we come to worship God, and say things ‘about’ God. Consider how Paul’s understanding of the wilderness wandering transgressions as “examples” for our life fits in with Jesus’ parable of the unfruitful tree that is given a second chance. Consider the warped theology that says in all circumstances suffering is the result of sin, and that success is the result of God’s good favor. Consider the universal need of repentance. Consider your need of repentance. In what ways is the gardener gently digging a trench around your roots and giving you what you need for meaningful growth? In what ways is our church as a whole being prepared with one last round of fertilizer?