22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
I usually try to avoid using bumper sticker slogans in sermons … but there was a bumper sticker I noticed this week that has stuck with me.
The bumper sticker said, “Want a taste of religion? Bite a minister.”*
*This bumper sticker really does exist!
I didn’t know what to think when I first noticed it.
As a minister, I wasn’t sure if I should be offended or if I should just laugh. I leaned most toward laughing.
It also got me thinking, if someone were to get their taste of Christianity from me (hopefully without biting me) … if someone were to use my life … my actions … my words to shape their understanding of what it means to be a Christian, to shape their understanding of who God is and what God wants for the world, what taste, what understanding would they walk away with?
At first I was thinking about all the food description words I hear in cooking shows – robust, earthy, savory, or maybe not so positive words like, half-baked, or Violette’s most recent favorite food description, “stodgy” (that one comes up a lot on the Great British Baking Show and means something like dull or uninspired).
After that, I started thinking about more spiritual words, like the words Bailey read to us from James about what he considers the taste of true religion – watching our mouths … caring for people in need.
This question is a good question to ask ourselves – if someone were to get their taste of Christianity from looking at our lives, from experiencing the life of our church, what would they walk away with?
Our Cultivating and Letting Go devotion looks at Isaiah 55 this week. Isaiah is a beautiful and challenging part of the bible. Isaiah’s words have done a lot to shape the ways Christians think about who Jesus is and what Jesus shows us about God’s heart and God’s intentions for the world.
Many bible scholars divide Isaiah into two parts – (1st) chapters 1-39, focusing on God’s judgment on unfaithfulness and the coming fall of Israel, and (2nd) chapters 40-66, focusing on hope that the exile will end, and soon the Israelites will be able to make their way home. Exile was a traumatic, life, and culture shaping event for God’s people … when so many Israelites were taken from their homes to far away and strange new places, they wrestled with painful questions. Could they still be God’s people even when they were not in the land God promised to them? Could they still be God’s people when they weren’t ruled by a king from David’s family, like God had promised? Could they still worship God when they were far away from the Jerusalem temple? On top of all that, they were probably dealing with the question of scarce resources. There are historians who are convinced the Israelites living in exile, and the Israelites who had been left home, were having a difficult time finding the resources they needed, like food and water, to keep their families alive. These were difficult times for God’s people.
As we look at Isaiah 55, I want to ask our bumper sticker inspired question – what taste of religion … what snapshot of what life with God looks like … of faithfulness, does Isaiah offer us?
Isaiah 55 brings us to a market place … imagine a merchant calling out –
“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.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David. (55.1-3)
God calls out like a merchant in an ancient marketplace, offering water … grain, wine, and milk … and there is a surprising cost. Buy all this stuff you so badly need … but, “You will not have to pay anything for it.” God is an unconventional salesperson – offering the things of sustenance, physical and spiritual necessities for free.
And more than that, God’s grace is available in abundance … there is more than enough for all those who are thirsty and hungry and turn to God.
In these verses, the taste of faith Isaiah presents to us is grace.
Isaiah continues (verses 8-11) –
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
God invites people to turn toward God and toward God’s purposes … this is the next taste of faith (similar to what we talked about last week) … turning from our own ways … turning toward God …
aligning our wills with God’s will and embracing God’s ways …
In the last verses of Isaiah 55 (12-13), we see another vivid picture – a hopeful picture of God’s people making their way back home and all of creation rejoicing along with them.
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”
Thees are more pieces that work together to flavor our faith’ they are essential to getting a taste of Isaiah’s faith … hope, joy and celebration … God has acted on our behalf with power … we respond with gratitude and joy.
Today, as we baptize Elizabeth, we will promise as a church to uphold and support her in her life in Christ … we are promising to give her a taste of religion … a taste of what God’s love looks like and a picture of what a faithful life looks like.
Last Sunday we had so many kids in our worship service … as I was at the communion table holding the bread and the cup I looked out and noticed all of these little faces intently watching what I was doing … and I started to think about how grateful I am that these kids are learning about God … learning about what it means to be a Christian … what it means to be Christ’s church from you all … this is the normal for them … this is what they know church is … you all are teaching them that God is loving and accepting … that they have meaningful gifts and abilities to offer to the church and to our world … that as they follow Jesus they can do things that matter and make a difference. This is an incredibly good first taste of faith!
If the people around us develop their taste of Christianity … their understanding of who God is and what faith means from looking at our lives … from looking at our church, what will they walk away with?
I hope they will walk away saying – “Wow, God is good!”