"Seek the Lord"
Message preached March 18,
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon Isaiah 55
Order of Worship
"1..2..3..4..5.......48..49..50.. Ready or not, here I come!" You know the game. Hopefully you can recall a younger year when you and your buddies played it. I hide and you seek out and find me. Or you conceal yourself somewhere and I search for you, until: "Gotcha!" Of course, at some point in the game, we may have to yell out, "Ollie-ollie-oxen-in-come-free!"
You know, donít you, that we never really stop playing that game? It just goes by a different name. Finding a life partner, for instance, is a bit like "hide and seek." Furthermore, a case could be made that even after a mate is found, there still needs to be an element of this game in every marriage, a hiddenness that is discovered and valued and celebrated at every stage along the way. Probably the same could also be said of many of our other ventures as adults, right?
"Ready or not, here I come!"... A lot depends upon what weíre looking for, though, doesnít it? The other day I heard about someone I know and love who recently ended a long-term relationship with another person. To be honest, it wasnít a very healthy relationship, but it was "over" - many of us felt "for the better." Then, in the line at the store a while later, someone new entered the picture. Hide and seek. Love at first sight? "Heís a really great guy," the finder said, "heís got a big house of his own, and a brand new car, and a lot of nice stuff..." Much depends upon what weíre looking for, doesnít it?
"Seek the Lord while he may be found," the prophet Isaiah said long ago. At the time he was speaking to folks who were far from home, many of whom had made the best of a rotten situation and prospered in a land that was not of their own choosing. In "Babylon" they played "hide and seek," after having been exiled there under Nebuchadnezzarís housing policy.
Many felt that God had forgotten them there. They were hidden, though not necessarily in the location they wouldíve chosen had the game been up to them. Why hadnít God sought them out? At first they heard the counting. "1..2..3..4..5 days... 1..2..3..4..5 years." And then, nothing. How could they play the Lordís game in this place? How could they sing the Lordís song in a foreign land? (see Psalm 137:1-4)
But God had not forgotten, something Isaiah repeatedly pointed out. Though the children of Israel had over-and-over forgotten the Lord, the Lord never forgot them. God knew right where they were, and at the right time God called out, "Ollie-ollie-oxen-in-come-free!" Well, maybe not in those exact words, but you catch the drift. In fact, this morningís passage from Isaiah 55 is the invitation back to home base.
Now, weíre not lost in some distant Babylon like Godís children were way back then. However, the territory seems familiar enough that the invitation comes addressed with our name on it, also. On the one hand, when we hear about yet another high schooler shooting dead some of his classmates, we wonder what foreign land weíre dwelling in. What kind of world is this becoming? The one weíve helped to create. For you see, on the other hand, weíve become so very comfortable in this land that weíve forgotten to sing the Lordís song or, to put it a bit more playfully, weíve laid aside the heavenly "hide and seek."
In hide and seek, as I said, a lot depends upon what we are searching for. "Heís a really great guy," that person for whom I care said about Ďlove at first sight.í "Heís got a big house of his own, and a brand new car, and a lot of nice stuff..." Is that what weíre in search of? Is this what we are really thirsting after? To be brutally honest - for many (too many?) of us, it is. We just may not be so blunt about it.
These things do matter, mind you. However, there is so much more to the picture, isnít there? Thinking back to Godís people in exile in Isaiahís day, they actually werenít doing so bad in Babylon. They werenít the virtual slaves their ancestors were in Egypt. Most found their own comfortable niche. Some even prospered there. They werenít lacking in the "water," "bread," "milk," "wine," and "rich food" department. Even in a time of economic down-turns and lay-offs, most of us today can probably say the same. Weíll survive, maybe even thrive.
Still, weíre thirsty. We hunger for something that, to be honest, our money canít buy - even if we had all that we needed to pay the bills (and then some). The foreign land in which we find ourselves today is a place where the stomach may be full, but the "gut" is empty. In matters of "heart, soul, and mind" (Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27) we are famished. In this Babylon we have a smorgasbord of options available to us at our very fingertips (act out flipping a TV remote, typing onto a computer keyboard, playing with a joystick, etc.), but we are really starving to death for the things that really matter. Is it any wonder that children kill children?
"Listen.. listen... listen..." Isaiah said long ago, with words to which we need to "incline our ears" even today. "Eat what is good." "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread? Why do you spend your labor for that which does not satisfy?" The age-old prophet is speaking our language, folks.
"Come to Godís table, everyone!" Isaiah said way-back-when, and continues to say even today. The food of this covenant relationship isnít just for the few who have somehow managed to find God in whatever exile they have been placed. "Ollie-ollie-oxen-in-come-free!" This table is for you! God never abandoned you. In fact, you have never been lost from Godís eyes. God has found you from the get-go. And now, God will be glorified in you. Not around you, but in you. Not in the person two rows over from you, but in you. Not in the folks who have it all together, but in you. Not in some leader who obviously had or has "the gift," but in you. Why be empty when the Lord has spread a feast right before your eyes? As I said, a lot depends upon what youíre looking for, doesnít it?
"Seek the Lord while he may be found," Isaiah said. "Seek and you will find," Jesus echoed. (Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9) "Come to the water," Isaiah urged. "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me," Jesus echoed. "Out of the believerís heart shall flow rivers of living water." (John 7:37-39). "You that have no money," at least not of the currency accepted for payment at this table, "come, buy and eat ... without money, without price." Thatís what Isaiah said. And with words strangely familiar, Jesus echoed, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for a right relationship with the One who Created them, for righteousness, for they will be filled." (Matthew 5:6)
"Seek the Lord while he may be found," Isaiah invited. God is not distant, but right next to you, so "very near." Just turn in the right direction. Call out. As you turn, however, let go of the "stuff" that gets in the way, the attitudes and actions that ultimately are harming you, keeping you from receiving what the Lord wants to give. But thatís so hard to do, isnít it? To just let go and let God. Everything within us seems to conspire to make us overlook the obvious. How can we, then, just let go and let God? "My thoughts and ways are not yours, says the Lord." That doesnít mean that God is so far beyond us that weíll never get there. What it does mean is simply this: donít underestimate what is possible. God is God, none other. And God says, "Come!"
In the words of Isaiah, "Seek the Lord while he may be found." In the words of Jesus, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you," food for the soul as well as food for the body - that is, what you really need (Matthew 6:31-34).
Along the way of our journey through this season of lent thus far, we have been blessed with a series of paintings by Paul Grout entitled, "Stations of the Resurrection." Todayís installment is on the front of your bulletin. Take a moment to look at it. Biblically, the scene is from that garbage dumb outside Jerusalem, known as Golgotha, where our Lord was nailed to a crude torture and execution device - a cross. (see John 19:25-37)
As you may recall, at that moment most of the disciples of Jesus were playing "hide and seek," but it was no game. They were deathly afraid, for their leader was being crucified, and they were, no doubt, sure the hangmanís noose was coming to find them. They were lost in an exile not of their own making, as surely as their ancestors were lost in Babylon. When Jesus died, Peter and the rest were nowhere near.
[Bulletin cover art by Paul Grout.
From Church of the Brethren Living Word Bulletin series,
copyright 2001. Used by permission of Paul Grout.]
However, there were disciples at the foot of the cross, and here we see three of them. As I said, a lot depends upon what youíre looking at. Later generations would praise these women for their faithfulness as witnesses of the crucifixion. They were looking in the right direction, though at the time it probably felt like the wrong direction. If you think that Godís table always appears like how we think a feast should look, with a fine linen tablecloth, gleaming silverware, and crystal goblets and the best china filled with mouth-watering drink and food, you will not see it. Donít get me wrong, the feast of God is beyond compare - fit for a king. But unless you are able to feast at the foot of the cross as these women, seeking the Lord here of all places, there is some question as to whether you will see what your heart truly desires.
Our faith tells us that Godís table is laid not just in far off heaven, but also is in the most desperate of circumstances, where Godís people really hunger and thirst. Like these women at the cross. You might recall that they were also some of the first to feast at the table when dessert was served (so to speak), when the tomb was found to be empty. "Seek the Lord while he may be found." Empty tomb...full heart.
As we sing our final hymn about "What wondrous love" this is, let me extend Isaiahís invitation to you. Have you come to the living water? Now, during this Lenten journey to the cross and the empty tomb would be an appropriate time. The Lord has found you. In fact, you were never lost from his sight. Whether for the first time, or just now as a moment of reaffirming your faith, I invite you to come forward as we sing. If you do, make sure you bring with you your bulletin, for we will pray together the prayer found there.....
And God says, "Ollie-ollie-oxen-in-come-free!"
In a dry and desolate land
I come to the waters
Of your presence;
I seek your face. (prayer by Paul Grout)
If you would like to talk and pray with someone concerning this new step of faith, please feel free to contact me. Let's come to the Lord together!
©2001 Peter L. Haynes
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