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“Grace Beyond our Knowing” 

Lent 3 Common Lectionary Year C

Isaiah 55:1-9

©2013 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

Audio file

Here we are, at the mid-point of Lent.
Some of you may indeed be at that ‘awkward’ phase
of craving the chocolate, or wine,
or the dessert you’ve given up for the season….
and now  here’s Nancy with her sandwich board,
calling you to come on in to Toqué!
or Le Gourmand, for a free  seven course dinner,
completely on the house!!

Too good to be true?
That’s the point! This amazing passage from the prophet Isaiah
is over the top!

In fact to the original hearers,
it’s so outrageously over the top as to be almost insulting,
no, it is an insult.
You see, it’s a word picture  that conjures up tastes and smells of plenty,
variety, indulgence, of sated appetites,
and slaked thirst with choice wine, and honey,
and fresh creamy milk, all made cruel because it is addressed to a population
that has only seen such plenty in dreams and fairy tales.

Israel, you see, is, the landless, jobless immigrant,
the undocumented worker,
the seasonal fisher with no EI,
the Philippino nanny with an expired passport,
the displaced aboriginal,
the overqualified Persian neurologist
who drives your taxi to the airport.
Israel is a conquered, displaced population,
forced to empty the garbage, build the sewers,
wade through rat-infested rice fields in Babylon.

Israel is the immigrant wife whose French is too poor
to get the check-out clerk job at Metro.
Israel is the gay kid whose family kicked him out,
made her feel guilty for being different.
Israel is the recovering alcoholic,
or the juvenile offender,
or cleaned up junkie who still isn’t trusted with
a day job that pays.
Israel hasn’t eaten anything not handed out
by the food bank in months.

And to them, this sandwich board prophet speaks:
Hey!  You!!, Yes, you, Israel!!
Want to taste fresh, cold artesian water?
I have Perrier, Aquafina, Naya, Evian!!
Free, as much as you want!

Would you, if you were Israel, believe that?
Would you trust that there isn’t a catch somewhere?
Some stupid gimmick you have to sign up for,
some sales pitch, some hidden cost?

While you’re working out the water thing,
sandwich board prophet with this spiel:
“Hey! You!! Israel, you the bonded Babylonian lackey!!!
I have duck foie gras on a bed of arugula,
I have Atlantic halibut nestled in
a winter vegetable ratatouille,
with endive, basil and vierge sauce.
And for dessert
a banana pudding with a cocoa waffle,
drizzled with Tanariva chocolate and Jack Daniel crème glacée…

And here’s the thing!
It’s completely free!  Put your money away.
You don’t have money?
Even better, it’s been made just for you!
All of you. No limits, no single helpings,
eat, drink, enough to satisfy!

Why am I belabouring the point?
Because we don’t trust good news much anymore do we?
That’s what we have in common with the
Israel of Isaiah’s day.
We’ve seen too much of the worldly world,
too much of its wars, its market monopolies, its taxes,
its unsatisfying but necessary to pay the mortgage dead-end jobs,
its faltering economies compounded by corruption and small-mindedness,
to hear this billboard prophet with anything but suspicious cynicism.

For we are children of the reasonable gospel,
the protestant work ethic,
and the culture of cost;
The scriptures we can quote verbatim are
“You get what you pay for”
and
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch!”

Except there is!
There’s a lunch given to us, that we can’t ever afford to buy,
no matter how hard we work,
no matter how much we pray,
no matter how much we plan or fundraise, or scrimp,
or seek federal funding for.
There’s a banquet prepared in our honour,
that has nothing to do with how many volunteer hours
we’ve put in, how generous (or stingy) we’ve been,
how dedicated or committed (or not) we’ve been.
There’s a place card with our name on it,
at the head table of the lunch we can never afford,
hand written by the head chef,
the creator of the Universe, my  Creator and yours,
God herself.
And her monogram is this:  Grace.
Grace, the gift of God we cannot earn,
the gift we cannot disqualify ourselves from earning.
Grace just is!

Not for nothing this sandwich board prophet says
“God’s ways are not ours.”
No kidding!
In our world, of no free lunches,
of salvation by sweat of our own brow,
exile is usually punishment for something,
suffering too.
Our world of dog-bites and bee-stings for the bad
raindrops on roses,
and white woollen mittens for the good
is a quid-pro-quo world.
But it’s not God’s way in the world.
God’s ways are not our ways.

God’s way is to give that which satisfies,
to give that which will bring delight,
-like Rivkah’s jars of wine!
to give that which will give life,
to give that which will last, like a promise made in love.

God’s ways are beyond our capacity to dare to dream,
and far beyond our capacity to fear or doubt.
God’s way is this way:  “Grace.”

Gift given, not only to the just, not to the wealthy,
not merely to the saved, not  only as reward, but just because God gives.
Grace is God, giving.Grace beyond our understanding,
Grace beyond our knowing.

And all we need do is
thirst, hunger,come, listen,
taste, bread broken, wine poured,
life given, Grace!

Amen.

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