Friday, October 18, 2013

Harvest Sermon: Isaiah 55:1-13 The Great Invitation

I always enjoy seeing the postman arriving, and seeing what has come in the post. Working from home, as soon as I hear the post hitting the mat, I can see what we’ve received. The pile is quickly sorted - letters for Lynsey, brown envelopes (probably bills so we’ll leave those til last), white envelopes, flyers and junk mail... But every once in a while, there’ll be something different. The envelope is fancier than just white paper, the address might be written in calligraphy, it’s much more exciting than the phone bill or whatever.

Opening the envelope, there’ll be a fancy card, probably hand made, lots of effort, with ribbons or bows or hearts or whatever the fashion is for them this year. And on the inside, yes, you’ve guessed it - Mr and Mrs ... invite you to the wedding of their daughter... We’ve all received a wedding invite at one time or another. You’re invited to come along and join in the celebration.

In our Old Testament reading, we find an exciting invitation, not to a wedding as such, but to a great feast. God himself is speaking, inviting us to drink, to eat, to be satisfied in him. Listen to verse 1: ‘Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.’ It’s an invitation to hungry, thirsty, needy people, people who despite having money and possessions aren’t satisfied by them. Verse 2: ‘Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?’

Do you remember when you got your first pay packet? Suddenly you have your own money; you can buy what you like. My first job was after school in a corner shop. Two shifts in the week meant that I got about £10. I literally was a child in a sweetshop! But the things that were bought didn’t really satisfy. I thought I was rich, but the things bought wouldn’t satisfy. The hunger continues to grow, the thirst never leaves us.

What can we do? Will we just continue round the cycle forever and ever, wanting more, getting it, then wanting more? Into our situation, God sends his invitation - to drink, to eat, to live - without money and without cost. Completely free - just come and listen, come and eat, come and be satisfied. The last verses of the chapter give us a picture of the satisfaction available: joy and peace, so that even the mountains and hills and trees join the celebration! Things are turned around, from thorns to pine trees, from briers to myrtle.

The invitation is for all people. David in verse 3 is the kingly Messiah, the witness to the peoples, so that many peoples will be drawn to him, even nations unknown. No longer is the promise just for the Jews; all nations are invited to come and share in the blessings to Abraham. When Isaiah had written this down, if you’d been able to tell him that two and a half thousand years later, people gathered in a wee hall in the countryside of Ulster would be reading and hearing his words, he’d have asked where?! The invitation has come to us, and is for us, and for all people.

You see, the seeking after things, possessions, money, wealth, it’s all foolish and sinful. God the creator wants us to enjoy him, but we just want to enjoy the things he has made, without him. We enjoy wickedness, rather than what is true and good.

The invitation to come and be satisfied also requires us to change (through God’s rich mercy). You see, God is the ‘Holy One of Israel’ (verse 5), the one whose thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways. He is holy, and we are sinful. We must be changed, as we accept the invitation.

Just as you wouldn’t dream going to a wedding in the everyday clothes you would open the post in, so God’s invitation urges us to be changed: Verse 7 - ‘Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts.’ Turning away from sin, turning towards God - this is the essence of repentance, which is how we respond to God’s invitation. And as we do, we find a great surprise: God promises a welcome, mercy, and pardon.

‘Let him return to the LORD, and he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.’ There is no doubt - as we turn to God, he WILL have mercy, he WILL pardon! ‘The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.’ What great news this is! We expect to have to pay for our sin, to make up for the wrong that we do, to bear the punishment, but God declares a free pardon, complete mercy.

When I was growing up, I wasn’t very good with library books. I would get them out, and take them home, read them, but then they would get lost in the mess of my bedroom. Weeks turned into months, sometimes even years. I daren’t have gone back to the library because of the massive fines. But every so often there would be an advert in the local paper declaring an amnesty for overdue library books. The books could be returned, and no fine would be charged. A free pardon. You can imagine my joy - I hunted for the books, and got straight down to the library!

All that to avoid a fine of a couple of pounds (a lot of money to a nine-year old!) - what great news to be offered free pardon for a lifetime of sin and wickedness! It’s free, but it’s not without cost. Say that you owed a friend £100. If your friends says not to worry about it - you get off for free; you don’t have to pay it back; but it’s because your friend has paid the cost of it.

Our free pardon comes because of what Jesus has done on the cross. He has paid our debt as he takes our sin and gives us the pardon. Our sins have been paid - you go free.

The invitation has been made - come and be satisfied. The invitation is for all people - get the word out. The invitation requires change - turn and be pardoned. God then goes on to show that the invitation will be successful. I remember when we sent out our wedding invites, we had no idea who would say they were coming - it was the middle of the holidays, and some people had booked flights etc already. But here, God says that his word is powerful and effective - the invitation will be answered, just as the rain is also fruitful.

Now we’re very familiar with the rain in this part of the world. There was some amount of it fell yesterday. Just as God sends the rain and snow (verse 10), which makes the plants grow, and gives us a fruitful harvest, providing all the crops that we see around us, so God’s word is also fruitful. Verse 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.’ God’s word will do what he wants - those who hear will respond as God wills.

Look back at verses 2 and 3 - The way to respond is to hear God’s word: ‘Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.’ How do we hear the powerful invitation? We listen to God’s word - here, the prophet Isaiah declares the invitation many years before Jesus was born, yet it’s the same invitation that Jesus gives: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11:28)

The invitation echoes down through the Bible as God invites us into his people, in relationship with him. It’s all pointing forward to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, the feasting and joy in heaven.

The invitation has been made - come and be satisfied. The invitation is for all people. The invitation requires change - turn and be pardoned. The invitation will be successful - listen to the call. But there’s one last verse I want to mention. When we get a wedding invite, I’m always very slow to reply. I forget to get the acceptance card, or the invite disappears under the mountain of paper on my desk. Or it sits on the hall table without being posted. I’m slow to reply, and almost missed out on one wedding through a late reply!

Verse 6 tells us the invitation is urgent: ‘Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.’ You have heard the invitation to new life today, don’t leave it too late to respond. We’re called to seek the LORD while he may be found - one day it will be too late - perhaps even tonight for some of you. The deadline will pass, and the LORD will say ‘time’. A wee while back, there was talk of a thing known as ‘Fergie Time’ - where it seemed that Manchester United kept playing until they scored a late equaliser or even a late winner. But there is no added on time. How terrible to leave it too late, and miss out on the great invitation, to miss the rich feasting, the satisfaction, the joy of sins forgiven, of peace with God, of tremendous mercy.

God has given you an invitation today. What will you do with it? ‘Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.’

This sermon was preached at the Harvest Service in Cornafanog Orange Hall on Thursday 17th October 2013.

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