Living into God – a Lenten sermon series by The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Lent 3: Theosis – living into God (number 3 of 4)

24 March 2019

The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Isaiah 55:1-9

Psalm 63:1-9

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Luke 13: 31-35

Theosis – living into God. The idea of living into God is one we are following over a four week period during Lent. You will recall that on the 1st Sunday of Lent I invited you to come on a journey with me. It is a journey into the love of God, into a life shaped and fashioned by the stories we read in the Bible, a life that begins with God’s call to Abram to leave his people, his land and to go where God calls. Last week, the 2nd in the series, we found ourselves somewhat disrupted by the awful and tragic killing of worshippers in Christchurch. During the week we have seen, and perhaps been party to, heart-rending scenes of grief and loving care, as people have put aside their differences – real or imagined – and expressed a unity seldom seen these days. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has become the living face of a leadership defined by compassion.

Today’s readings offer us a further step along the journey into God. They offer an invitation, a warning and a reminder. Let’s look more carefully at each of the readings.

The words from Isaiah 55 are part of what is called Deutero, or Second, Isaiah. This section of Isaiah begins in chapter 40 with the well-known words: “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.” After years spent in Exile in Babylon, following the destruction of Jerusalem by the invading armies of Nebuchadnezzar, the time has come for the exiles to go home – back to Jerusalem. A new vision is spelled out in Deutero Isaiah – one where the people of God, those descendants of the slaves rescued from Egypt who spent years in the wilderness with Moses; who looked back to the golden era of King David and defined their relationship with God because they had a king, temple, city and land; a people whose very definition both of themselves and of God had to be radically changed as they sat weeping beside the ‘rivers of Babylon’ (see Psalm 137). The vision is of God’s generous, lavish invitation to all – the Hebrews first and then all people – to come to God. To the thirsty, the hungry, the poor, the forgotten – the lost, the last and the least – God says “Come!” Come and buy – without money. Come and eat and drink – though you can never afford what I offer. Listen to the invitation, bend your ear, be reminded of God’s love and God’s covenant – beginning with Abram and renewed through the generations spanning Moses and David down to the present.

Deutero Isaiah contains some of the most beautiful poetry in the Bible, and the most open imagining of what life lived into God could be like. We are familiar with some of the sentiments from our readings around Holy Week and Easter. The servant of God will suffer on behalf of God’s people; he will take on his own back the sins of the people. The task given to this people, for whom their sins, their transgressions, their turning away from God’s way, are forgiven, is nothing less than the blessing of the whole world. This is the renewal of the promise to Abram centuries before – that he and his descendants will bring blessing to the world.

As the early Christians tried to make sense of Jesus, and especially of his death and resurrection, they found in Deutero Isaiah a vision of a new world order, brought about by someone willing to put him or herself out for others. This, they understood, is what Jesus did on the cross. By praying, as he did in the Garden of Gethsemane – not my will but yours – Jesus so completely humbled himself before God that he became the ‘new Adam’, the one on whom, and through whom, a new vision of living would be founded. This vision is encapsulated in today’s Gospel reading where Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, weeps for God’s people, for those who have so misunderstood, blinded their eyes, deafened their ears to the invitation found in Isaiah. And yet God keeps on loving.

The church in Corinth was young, adventurous, not afraid to define itself against the stuffy over-opinionated people of the much older and more sophisticated neighbouring city of Athens. In some ways Corinth reflects Adelaide in its early days – people who had left their home country to get away from all they did not like, the oppression of those who considered themselves high and mighty, better than others; they sought a new life where the old ways did not define who they were, what they could do, where they stood in society, with whom they could or could not associate. There was no way that an Anglican cathedral was going to be placed in the city centre – with all that that said about power and institution. Corinth was populated by self-made people, freed slaves, foreigners and aliens, those seeking a better life. It was rough, tough, exciting and adventurous. And the church reflected something of this – divided, argumentative, open to new things and new ways, brash, bold and self-confident.

Paul brings a sobering reminder to them that they do have a history in God’s eyes, that they cannot simply ignore the past and the experience of their ancestors in the faith. The stories of origin, going back to Abram and Moses and David, hold a wisdom that should not be ignored. Embedded in these stories is a simple two-fold principal. It is the principal of love – first found in Deuteronomy (Deut 6: 4-7) and Leviticus (Lev 19: 17-18) and defined by Jesus as the greatest of the commands when he brought the two ideas together and said, as we read in Matthew 22:  ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”’ (Math 22: 37-39)

To this new church community in Corinth St Paul brings the reminder that they too can go astray, a new beginning is no guarantee that they will not repeat the mistakes of the past. The way of living into God, defined in the Ten Commandments, worked through by generations of prophets, and lived out in its purest form by Jesus himself, begins with listening. Listening, not to the loudest voice, the most attractive or seductive voice – but to the still small voice of God, heard on the mountain top, the whisper of wind or ripple of water, the cry of the hungry child, the refugee, the grief-stricken children too frightened to go to school or mosque because of what has happened in recent days. It’s one thing not to be defined by the arrogance of the past, but the arrogance of a new generation comes subtly and all too quickly. Trust in God, follow Christ, live out in daily life the commands to love God and love neighbour – this is the way to live into God. This is the way of Theosis.

And so to today’s Gospel reading which begins with a warning to Jesus of Herod’s treachery; is followed by Jesus’s determination to go to Jerusalem – the holy city, the place where God should have been honoured and worshipped, a place and people over which Jesus wept; and ends with this most moving of metaphors of the love of God in Jesus: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13: 34)

Where do we find ourselves in today’s readings? Perhaps standing with the brash bold Corinthians – needing to be warned against an overindulged self-confidence? One of those wayward chicks which does not want to be covered by the protective shielding of the hen’s wings? One of those who hears and responds to the lavish invitation found in Isaiah to “come to the waters … come and buy (without money).”

A people striving to live into God will find something in each of today’s readings that will make us stop and think, wonder and pray, repent and start out again on the journey into God. We do that as individuals and we do it as community; we must each respond to the call of God, and yet we come forward together to receive the blessed sacrament, the Body and Blood of Christ. Timothy Dudley-Smith, a prolific poet and hymn-writer of the 20th century wrote the words with which I will end. They do, I believe, speak into our situation today as, together, we seek to live into God.

Lord of the church, we seek a Father’s blessing,
A true repentance and a faith restored,
A swift obedience and a new possessing,
Filled with the Holy Spirit of the Lord!
We turn to Christ from all our restless striving,
Unnumbered voices with a single prayer-
The living water for our soul’s reviving,
In Christ to live, and love and serve and care.

Lord of the Church, we pray for our renewing

Ancient and Modern 497