Monday, July 14, 2008

Bringing the Desert to Life

Pentecost 9
Isaiah 55:10-13
Bror Erickson

[10] "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
[11] so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

The word of God falling like rain, a summer rain amidst the sweltering heat of July. It falls and brings forth life, the desert comes into bloom. There is in my mind almost nothing more beautiful than a desert in bloom, maybe because the contrast with the rest of the time, when it looks so dead, and one has to search hard to find any life in it. But when the rain comes it brings forth life, the plants begin to sprout.
So it is with the word of God, it falls on the desert of human experience; it falls and brings forth light. Nothing is more dead than the shadow of life, that is our experience. We live this death; we live in death, for if there is one thing that rings true in all of scripture it is that we are dead in our trespasses. Death it lingers before us, and sucks the marrow out of life, so there is no real life. Oh we have in many ways duped ourselves. We think we live, we think we know what life is. We breath, we talk, we eat, and we marry, and celebrate. It isn’t all bad, the life we live. Maybe we are tempted to think for the most part our lives have been good. I’m tempted to think that way. Watching the news and seeing people in Haiti selling their kids into slavery and prostitution, because at least it gives the kids a chance to eat. That makes me think maybe I don’t have much to complain about. I have had an immensely good life, and I can only imagine it getting better, as my son gets older, and Laura and I grow closer.
Yet I know that it is only a shadow of life. The life this world has to offer, it really isn’t life. Death has robbed it of meaning, of purpose. The good times always come to an end, followed by pain, suffering, self blame and guilt. It seams it is always feast or famine. But the feast never seems to be that much of a feast. Not when the famine comes. And yet I can’t imagine life any other way, with out the contrast of pain and sorrow matched up against the good times. Maybe this is why the more popular depictions of heaven tend to bore me. Because I do enjoy life, and playing a harp on some cloud just doesn’t seem to be life. I don’t want heaven to be that way. I once saw a painting with heaven depicted as a huge party, and people eating and drinking to excess. I thought to myself, “That is a disgusting depiction of heaven.” Yet part of me was drawn to it. I mean Valhalla, the Viking heaven, now, that is something I could look forward to, sword fighting all day, feasting and drinking all night. Sometimes I wonder how the Vikings were converted at all. Then I realize how depraved I must be to think that heaven is going to be boring if I can’t bring my vices with me. We enjoy our vices don’t we. We probably wouldn’t have them if we didn’t. But we all do, and our picture of what heaven would be like tends to revolve around our vices. For some of us our vice is the pride we take in our ascetic life of denial. The harp on a cloud vision, which must have come to us from American evangelicalism, from Wesley and the prohibition movement, appeals to people like that. Not me. If I thought that is what I was waiting for, I would be driven to despair. A desert life more deserted of life then the one I live now? I like to think of heaven as a place where I will be able to do some of the things I haven’t been able to do here. You know go fishing for enormous Marlin, hunt down an Elephant. Or maybe think of it as the Bible depicts it, “a feast of food rich with the marrow of life, and well aged and refined wine.”
What ever it is, something tells me that the life I live now in this world isn’t all life was supposed to be. Something is missing. You don’t have to be Christian to know that this life is but a shadow. That it is too short, too short. But then in this world a short life is often seen as a blessing. Most of us could not imagine living forever; to some this is hell itself. Life wasn’t meant to be a burden, but it seems that way at times. The rain doesn’t fall enough to give us respite from the hot sun and dehydrating heat.
But the word of God it falls like rain, like the snow from the heavens, it brings life to the desert of our existence. The word of God does this. It is refreshing like a spring rain, a summer rain. Ever walked in the rain, on an otherwise hot maybe even humid day? The rain begins to fall, and you know longer care. You walk right out into it, let it ruin your hair, and get you clothes wet, like a care free child. Oh we used to do that when we were kids, walk and play in the rain. Jump in the puddles. We wouldn’t think twice. Rain, it is invigorating. So is the word of God. The word of God brings to life. It gives us life. It rains down from heaven with life itself from the mouth of God. And so man does not live by bread alone, but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. It does not return Him empty. It accomplishes that for which he purposes. It succeeds in the thing for which He sent it. And send it He did. He sent it, and the word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of man. He brought us life. He brings us to life. He pours it on us in the spring rain of baptism, burying us with him, and bringing us to life with him, in the resurrection, washing away sin from our souls, like so much dust stuck to our sweaty skin in this desert of death. And we wake up in the newness of life, the sleep washed away from our eyes.
Forgiveness it is like that. It is life. And that is what the word of God purposes to do for us, that is why God has sent it. He hasn’t sent it to be burden on us, or to suck life from us. God knows this world is hard enough the way it is. He knows, He lived in this world with us. He knows the burden of sin, he carried it for us in the form of a cross, and it killed him. And this he did so that he could forgive us, and in forgiving us, restore us to life, renew life in us. And he does it through his word. What a wonderful gift he has given us. You know. I know many of you don’t find time for God’s word during the week. I don’t really blame you for that either, but maybe you blame yourself. You think you should read it. Maybe you think you would be a better person if you did. But it just isn’t there, the energy to pick it up. You have questions about it. You don’t even know where to begin. Or you try to read it, and it is confusing to you. You don’t quite understand it. Or you read the law and it leaves you dead. The Gospel wasn’t part of the reading that day.
I might suggest Portals of Prayer, better would be “To live with Christ.” Bo Giertz does an awesome job of separating law and gospel, and it is the gospel, the forgiveness of sins that falls like rain and brings us to life. It is the gospel that brings us to the newness of life, the thing for which God sent it. And it is in that newness of life that we go out in joy, are led forth in peace. It is the newness of life that makes the mountains and the hill break forth in singing, and the trees to clap their hands. That causes the cypress and the myrtle to grow where before only the thorn and the brier were able to grow in the parched soil of our souls. Forgiveness makes a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that is not cut off. It is the word of the Lord that stands forever.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.

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