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Abundance in the Wilderness

Isaiah 55:1-9
Psalm 3:1-8
Luke 13:6-9

Journey to the Edge! – It was supposed to be just a theme to give structure to Lenten worship. It appears to have been a dangerous choice – for a number of us. Who knew that the movements of the theme thus far would so closely parallel my own personal journey this past week and a half? Week One …Struggling in the Wilderness…Last week, Facing the Hard Stuff,,, and now Embracing Abundance.

This season has certainly been a time of walking on the edge of death and life with my mother in Thunder Bay. Last weekend I was planning a funeral; had even called the church to tell them it was immanent; was sorting through photos for a display at the reception…Mom’s lungs were collapsing, she was too ill to survive the transfer to palliative care at another hospital; too ill to swallow her meds; so was removed from all meds and we were on a death watch…surely a wilderness time…surely facing the hard stuff.

And then came the surprise! the shock of returning health! She was sitting up Monday morning when the doctor arrived, Truly a Lazarus moment.. He could not mask his surprise, nor could we fathom the change in direction that had happened when we stopped treating. At first we thought it was one of those temporary rallies that often happens before a death, but instead it became a steadily progressing well-being which means she is now looking to life and rehabilitation, and she hopes, even to return home… a truly scary possibility! Unexpected abundance in the midst of a devastating wilderness.
 
And the abundance does not end there…

Each of her grandchildren came-from Edmonton, and Ottawa,

She met her great grandson Niko for the first time, though his dad was bringing him to a funeral.

Her great granddaughter Akayla was able to spend time in her “very delicate house, with so many delicate things that she just loved” and she wanted to come more and more again”

My brother and his daughter, who have been estranged for more than 20 years met, spoke, listened, and cooperated lovingly in health decisions. The day I left, mom told me that she had prayed every day of her life for that reconciliation to happen and was so grateful they were finally talking….though she said it was a hard way for it to happen! She told her grandson, when he slept the night there, that if everyone had not come, she was not sure that the outcome would have been as it was.

We were prepared for desert. We had very low expectations. But God made rivers flow in our desert, And at a feast of takeout Chinese food and good wine, family, even those formerly estranged, gathered to celebrate abundance! to laugh in amazement! to feast on what money cannot buy, to delight in the rich food of grace unexpected!

Isaiah really has the corner on the market when it comes to outrageous, unrestrained, unbridled hope. 2nd Isaiah, the book of comfort as it is sometimes called, really says it all. He writes to a people who have witnessed and experienced calamity of almost incomprehensible proportions. Their nation has been defeated; Jerusalem destroyed, They are in exile, in Babylon, far from Israel. cut off from all that has given meaning to their lives. …and it has been a rocky road to get there. They doubt their relationship with God. Surely they cannot be God’s chosen people if this has happened. Maybe God is an illusion if such terrible things have been allowed to happen. And almost worse, they’ve become acclimatized to exile…to wilderness thinking…to being alienated from God. They cannot imagine that things can ever change very much. Their expectations are pretty low.

Into that wilderness time, Isaiah casts an amazing vision of hope that goes on for chapters and chapters. He paints a picture of God’s deep compassion, God has not abandoned you, as you think, Isaiah proclaims. God desires fullness of life for you; abundant life; a new future. God desires that you feast on what truly nourishes, that you drink from the cup of celebration, that you know yourselves to be part of an everlasting belonging, which God, at least, has not forgotten.

God sees beyond the surface of an exiled, defeated, despondent people. God sees through to the hope, to the possibility, to the truth that is in them. Isaiah visions their immanent redemption; their return home.

They are being told their way of thinking about God is too small. They are called to return to God of abundant, overflowing love, to the One who is not made in our image; whose ways that are not our ways, to return to the God whose thoughts are not our thoughts. God is more than all of the ways we can think of God. God can act in ways we cannot begin to imagine. This is a powerful, audacious message shot through with hope. It proclaims God’s goodness and greatness. It proclaims hope in the face of despair. Pretty hard to believe when you are looking around you and seeing no hope. Pretty hard to embrace, when you’ve gotten so used to seeing how bad things are, how things can never change.

Yet Isaiah’s words become reality soon after. Cyrus the Great of Persia, overtook Babylon and in an Edict of Restoration freed the exiled Jews to return home. This restoration, like my mother’s recovery was not without its complications, and struggle. But it is a turning point in the life of the people and there is cause for celebration. Abundance in the wilderness…Abundance where you are not expecting it. God’s ways are not our ways. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.

Jesus, I think, must have been a great Isaiah fan. He read from Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth announcing his life-changing ministry of abundant life for all. His parable of the fig tree, proclaims the faithful, risking, compassionate, newmaking God of Isaiah…God who does not give up…God who can see beyond the spindly, dried out fig tree of the moment; which is not producing very well.…Like the exiles, it was not bearing much fruit. It was barren. But God, the gardener is not willing to give up on it. God sees its potential There will be digging, there will be shaking up the roots a bit, there will be a breaking up of rigid ground, and there will be manure… lots of it … and it will smell no doubt. But there will also be sun and rain, and tending. Many might have chopped it down, written it off as useless, never seeing the possibility of new life it held. God’s ways are not our ways.

So what do you think? Will the tree produce fruit next year? Will barrenness yield to abundance? My money is on the yes vote.

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