March 24, 2019
Third Sunday in Lent
Isaiah 55:1-9; Luke 13:1-9
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin
God’s Invitation and Our Turning to God
A Spiritual Tank
I have trouble sleeping at night. I always toss and turn over in my bed at least about one hour before I fall asleep. If I fail to sleep within that one hour, I stay awake all night long… What’s wrong with me? Well, it is simply because I drink too much coffee. I drink at least five large cups of coffee every day. If I drank five glasses of water instead of coffee, I would have no problem sleeping at night.
Why can’t I give up coffee or just drink less of it? According to a biology report, the human body is like a water tank; it is filled with about 70% water. Yet we are constantly losing water primarily via urine, tears and sweat. That’s why we are thirsty and have to drink water every day. But instead of water, I fill my body with coffee. That’s my problem.
The human body is also like a spiritual tank in the sense that we are created in the image of God. So we should fill our spirit with God’s grace if we want to feel safe and secure. Let’s say that you have a flower in a vase full of water and take good care of it for days. But you know it will be eventually dried out because it is already cut off from its own root. Likewise, if we are separated from God and enjoy something else than God’s grace to fill our desire, then we must feel thirsty in our soul, no matter how well we live in this world.
Maybe when God tell us to repent, it’s not just about feeling guilty of what we have done, but it actually refers to our relationship; “Am I rooted to God or something else?” If we think we are not rooted to God, we should turn around and come back to God. That is the true meaning of repentance.
The Uncertain World
According to Luke’s Gospel, there are two stories concerning how fragile and tragic human life can be in this world. Some people had come from Galilee to worship in the Jerusalem Temple. Without a specific reason, Pilate’s soldiers suddenly invaded the Temple and killed the worshipers (v. 1). It is such an awful incident that pagans had killed God’s worshipers in God’s Temple. How could it possibly have happened to God’s chosen people? Some people thought that those Galileans committed sins, so that it was God’s punishment.
We often ask those questions when bad things happen. Yes, it may be true that suffering or punishment is the outcome of our personal sin; rob a bank and go to jail. However, it is also true that bad things happen without any apparent reason. In this Gospel story, Jesus said that the slain Galileans were no worse than anyone else (v. 2). They had not done anything wrong to deserve death. And then he reminded them of another terrible accident, a falling tower killed eighteen people (v. 4). Did Jesus say that it was God’s punishment because the victims were bad people? No, not at all! The tragedy just happened to them.
Throughout those terrible accidents, Jesus probably reminded people that the world where we live is an uncertain place; that’s why we experience unexpected things when we only rely on the worldly things. We are all thirsty, but the world doesn’t offer us the living water. Of course, Jesus said that we should repent (v. 5). Repentance means we should stop seeking illusions from the world and turn to God and live in God’s grace.
This morning God is shouting loudly through the prophet Isaiah, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (v. 1). It was God’s invitation to the people of Israel. It’s also God’s invitation to the rest of us in the world today.
God’s invitation in this Scripture is very different from ours. If I happen to have a special event, I would like to invite only someone I know, who is able to celebrate my event. But God invites those who are thirsty, those who do not have money, and those who don’t look like they deserve any attention.
There is another special feature in God’s invitation. It is about God’s anxious heart towards people. When we carefully read the verses 1-3, we can find that God calls out “Come to me” five times. God is begging us to “come to him.”
Why then does God keep on inviting people to him? The answer is that they have never accepted God’s invitations in their lifetime. In other words, God’s invitation has been rejected by their stubborn hearts. Let’s say that you are at your wedding ceremony, but, there is nobody there to celebrate your wedding. How do you feel then? No doubt you will be upset with you friends who simply rejected your invitation, and you don’t want to invite them again and again for other events that you want to celebrate. Likewise, God’s invitation has been rejected, and God’s heart is always broken. How rude we are to the Almighty God!
Yet amazingly, God is not angry with us and doesn’t give up on us. Unlike us, God sends out another invitation, and then another, and then another. Not only just calling us, but God himself came down to the world to bring us to the heavenly banquet. This God is Jesus Christ who became human like us.
The parable of the unfruitful fig-tree is another example to show God’s unlimited love. A man planted a fig tree in his vineyard. After three years, the tree still produced no fruit at all. So, the owner commands his gardener to “cut it down! Why should it go on using up the soil?” (v. 7). This is a very reasonable order, isn’t it? But the gardener answers, “Sir, leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down” (v. 8-9). In other words, “give it time, give a chance again; it may yet bear fruit.” Here in this parable, the owner gives the fig tree another chance to bear fruits. That’s grace! Even though we are quick to reject God’s grace, God gives us another chance, and then another and another… until we finally turn around and receive it.
When I had meditated on this parable again and again, I could apply this to our spiritual journey together as the whole congregation. How can we as the church (the body) grow our ministry? How can we bear much fruit (or more members) in our worship? This is what I am working on as a pastor to our church. This parable teaches us that we should change first and then God will grow us to bear fruit in our worship and ministry!
Change in the biblical point is “repentance.” Repentance in Greek (that is the original biblical language) is “metanoia,” which means a complete and total change of heart, soul and mind. Are we honest about the radical transformation required by the Gospel? Do we love God with all our hearts, minds, and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves? If so, we may see the world differently, find God’s divine image and holy presence in all creations, and accept everything with gratitude. Then we as the church can grow and bear much fruit for the sake of Jesus’ salvation and reconciliation ministry.
Turning to God
Maybe today some of us are feeling that we have run out of time, run out of chance, run out of hope…. Sometimes, we feel like we are walking on a desert full of uncertainties, thirst, and fear. Sometimes, we want to give up our life because it is too painful to endure.
But today’s Scriptures remind us that we are never late to restart our life, for God’s invitation is always given to us. The gracious Lord is still waiting for us, digging around and fertilizing our ways to give us a meaningful life. What we have to do is to take heart and respond to God’s calling right now.
This morning, God is inviting us in our thirst to come to God and drink deeply of the living water of life that we may be healed, restored, and blessed. Amen.