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Another Chance

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Isaiah 55:1-9 & Luke 13:1-9
3rd Sunday in Lent
(3-3-13)

Both our passages speak of being given another chance. It’s important to know that it doesn’t matter how bad we’ve been or what we’ve done God is always prepared to give us another chance.

I went to a clergy meeting in the week where we were reminded of the promises we made at our ordination and we were asked to reflect on how we’ve done. I remembered the morning in the retreat house as I prepared to be ordained in St Paul’s later that day. I promised God that I would do my best to serve Him and the parishes I would be given care of. It is easy to look back and see those areas where I’ve failed and where I’m painfully aware of needing that second chance He offers.

In Isaiah God addresses His people in personal, caring and relevant terms. Not speaking over their heads – but about the necessities of life: bread, water, milk, wine.

His proclamation of salvation is addressed in personal terms to the individual but moves in v.5 to a more general address, no-one is excluded. The terms of the whole passage are to do with blessing. That’s the sort of God we have - one who is continually calling each and everyone of us to blessing. Even when we reject it - He calls again and again.

The people of Israel had been living on substitutes - junk food - that didn’t nourish them. They needed the real thing - which only God provides. And its the same for us today - we all need what’s represented by the bread and wine - the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross. We all need the refreshment of the living water - the Holy Spirit - that wells up in us to everlasting life. We all need the spiritual milk that feeds us - God’s Word, the Bible.

Wonderfully God FREELY offers us these things! People have to work hard to dig wells, care for flocks and herds, plant seed and tend vineyards. But God offers us salvation, refreshment and nourishment free.

He offers them time and time again, even though we’ve rejected them. Israel were being brought back from a captivity imposed on them because they’d rejected God. But He offers another chance.

In the Gospel passage there’s a fig-tree that hasn’t fruited for 3 years. The garden’s owner asks why a tree that doesn’t bear fruit should take up space in the garden. The gardener, Jesus pleads for its mercy - just as He does for us when we don’t bear fruit. The compassion of Christ gives us another chance.

We don’t know if it did eventually bear fruit. It’s left open-ended because its about us. We’re the figtree. Are we wasting space in God’s kingdom by not bearing fruit. Are we someone who only takes? Do we need a second chance.

The gardener says he’ll dig round the tree and feed it. If it still bears no fruit it can be cut down. We need to be aware that there’s another story in the other gospels of Jesus actually cursing a barren fig-tree. When our Christian lives seem to be bearing no fruit, Jesus digs around in our lives. He disturbs us by what we read in the Bible, or hear from other Christians, He feeds us with Himself. Do we respond and take it all in or do we reject it all? There’s an urgency even about these second chances he gives us.

The Isaiah passage says ‘seek the Lord while he may be found’. When God delivered His people from Babylon and took them safely back to their own land it was a witness to other nations. It gave Israel another opportunity to be a light to the Gentiles and bring them to faith in the true and living God. It was important for Israel to seek the Lord and be wholly devoted to Him, but it was also important that they share this invitation with the nations.

Seeking the Lord involves repentance, turning from seeing ourselves as the centre of everything, which is the basis of sin and towards God. Turn in faith and believe His promise that in His mercy He will pardon.

God’s offer of another chance does not mean that we can delay. Not just for our own sakes but for the sakes of others that we may be a light to others around us as Israel was meant to be to the Gentiles. The phrase ‘seek Him while He may be found’ suggests the invitation may cease while we  delay. No-one should delay in accepting the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or any chance for that matter. The urgency should be there for all of us and all the more so when we realize that the salvation of others may depend on it.

What are you like at giving others a secondchance? However good, God is better! He is a God who continually forgives and forgets. 2nd, 3rd, 103rd!

How often do you get anything for nothing? We live in a world where we have to work to get anything.- Everything comes at a price. But not so with God. – And so we have that lovely part in Isaiah where he says that God’s ways are not even remotely like ours. God’s grace is free, God’s grace is offered to us even when we may have rejected and misused it.

And the sad thing is that when we reject or misuse it, it is often because we haven’t really listened, heard and taken on board what God’s ways are.

There’s a story told of Franklin Roosevelt, who often endured long welcoming lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, "I murdered my grandmother this morning." The guests responded with phrases like, "Marvellous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir." It was not till the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, "I'm sure she had it coming."

Have you listened and heard what God requires of you in order to receive all of His marvelous grace?

Jesus' summary of the law is: "The first commandment is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Jesus' summary of the law exposes our failures, our need for forgiveness and for change but do we listen and act? Do we let the words pass us by on Sunday without making a difference to our lives? Do we take seriously the need to reflect, repent, seek forgiveness and resolve to change our ways? In the light of Jesus' words is God calling us to repent of anything individually or as a church during this time of Lent?

We have a God who will one day judge the living and the dead. Those who have not repented will be separated from God for ever. In the meantime God is patient, giving everyone time to change.

This is what the parable of the fig tree is about.

We must be grounded in knowing that we need to be continually coming back to a God who wipes our slate clean and gives us another chance again and again. Because His ways are different to ours.

There is an urgency to our accepting all our second chances because we must do it before the end of time comes. We don’t know when that will be. The very reason for it’s delay is that God is giving His people the chance to seek Him and turn to Him.

We are going to sing ‘Seek Ye First’ and I’d like us to think as we sing about where we may need to take God up on another chance.

We will then have a time of confession before we sing ‘Sing of the Lord’s goodness’. Amen.

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