Not Your Thoughts

“Not Your Thoughts”

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways, says the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:3-11 (55:8) – March 20, 2022

            Have you ever listened to children or young people talking amongst themselves? It can be fascinating, to be sure. I am thinking of listening in on a conversation where the young people talked about wishes. “Oh, I wish I had…!” or, “I wish I was…!” Wishing for things we don’t have or can’t ever do. Like, wishing for ten million dollars, or for a unicorn or a flying car. Or young people wishing they could go to a special camp, or make the travel team or do really well in school. I can almost hear the rest of that wish: “if only, if only, THEN I’d be happy!” 

            In our reading today, the prophet tells us “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on God while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” How many people here have thought their own thoughts, not God’s thoughts? How many have gone their own way, and not concerned themselves with God and what God wants, at all? (And I include myself in that number, too! I am guilty, too.)

            Let’s face it. Haven’t we all – at one time or another – wanted stuff that was really outrageous? And, wasn’t at all what God wanted in our lives? “But, if only I could have that cool car – or fancy house – or prestigious job – if only, if only, THEN I’d be happy!”

            But, what about God? What does the Lord want for us? I know I have asked God to show me – periodically. But, not all the time, and not even most of the time. Face it, I am pretty selfish most of the time, saying “I want what I want when I want it!” I have a feeling that you might be in the same boat, wanting the same sorts of things. Not what God wants.

            There’s a problem here in the scripture passage, in Isaiah 55:7. The prophet mentions the wicked, who are pursuing their own wicked ways. They are not following after the Lord. They are not even close to doing what the Lord wants them to do. These wicked people don’t even know about what they’re missing. “Let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts.” So, these wicked people, these unrighteous guys are even thinking bad thoughts, thoughts that are not pleasing to the Lord.

            We’re talking about some pretty negative people, and some pretty negative actions, where some people actively go out of their way to be disobedient and disruptive. Some people are like that. The Bible often talks about those kinds of actions and that particular kind of people. Except – don’t you and I act like that (and even think like that) every once in a while? And maybe more often than that?

            To remind everyone, our sermon series this Lent is on the Lord’s Prayer. This week, we are highlighting “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” With as often as we pray the Lord’s Prayer, I suspect God would be really pleased if we took this part of the prayer seriously. In other words, God would be so pleased if we did – and said – and thought things that were pleasing to God, and that would give God glory!

            We know what many of the things that please God look like. We can even make a list! In God’s kingdom, there is enough for everyone: enough food, enough shelter, enough healthcare. In God’s kingdom, everyone feels loved and loves others. In God’s kingdom, people find ways of settling problems other than war and conflict and fighting. In God’s kingdom, when there are hurting people and abusive problems, people forgive each other and reconcile.

            The Bible tells us, again and again, in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, that ”what is now true every day in heaven will one day be true on earth – especially if we all work to make that happen.” [1]

Sure, we can be disappointed when we finally get the things we have wanted for a long time, those things we think we wanted, and find out after all that they do not make us happy after all. Remember what I said: “I want what I want when I want it!” Except, sometimes it can really be difficult for me – for you – for us to figure out what we truly need, in God’s eyes, and what we selfishly or willfully want, where God is not even in the picture.

This reading from Isaiah 55 as well as the petition of the Lord’s Prayer highlight putting God and God’s will first and foremost in our lives. How can we do that? By putting God’s Word first and foremost in our lives, too. God is a God who works in the lives of people – in your life and mine. Even when we are down, depressed, sick, lonely, or feeling far away from the Lord, we can remember who our God is. The Lord will give us hope even in the most dire, the most sad, the most far-away times. Why? Because our God is a God who keeps promises and works in our lives. [2]

Our reading today urges us all to turn to the Lord. “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon God while he is near;”

The Lord is closer than I thought! God is right here, johnny-on-the-spot! And I have a sneaking suspicion the Lord is right next to ME, right next to you, whenever we earnestly look. And, I know God’ll be right there, immediately, whenever I call.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/01/year-c-third-sunday-in-lent-february-28.html

[2] http://www.word-sunday.com/Files/a/15-a/FR-15-a.html

“God Works!” (Sunday 15A) Larry Broding’s Word-Sunday.Com: A Lectionary Resource for Catholics.

God Is Working Things Out

“God Is Working Things Out”

Luke13-6 fig tree, medieval

Luke 13:1-9 – March 24, 2019

Mother Teresa is sometimes quoted as saying, “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.” Oh, I am often pleased and proud that God gives me such weighty things to be in charge of! But, I sometimes wish God would let someone else be so responsible!

Can you relate to Mother Teresa’s wry comment? I know I can, sometimes. Sometimes, life sneaks up on us and tackles us. Life can overwhelm us. Work gets beyond hectic; family problems can pile up. And, what about health? A friend of mine is in college, and her father had a sudden catastrophic health reversal earlier this week, and was rushed to ICU. As Katya Ouchakof said in her recent blog post, “The underlying idea is that life gets hard sometimes – almost to the point of being unbearable.” [1]

If we turn to our Gospel reading for today from Dr. Luke, we might scratch our heads, at first reading. We seem to have come into the conversation in the middle of things, and there is seemingly no continuity. Jesus bounces around from topic to topic. From the suffering Galileans, to the eighteen victims of a tower collapse, to a rather stern parable.

Wait a gosh darned minute, Jesus! I know our Lord’s sayings and parables can be deep and sometimes difficult to understand, but this section today is just plain random. Isn’t it? Is there anything that can tie these disparate segments together?

These topics Jesus brings up may seem random, it’s true. Just as random as life catching us unaware, and biting us on the tail. Say, a random downpour flooding your basement and ruining all the boxes—decades of photos and papers you have stored down there. Or, worse, a loved one falling on cement and seriously breaking a dozen bones. Or, worst of all, your favorite relative getting a terminal cancer diagnosis when they were previously the healthiest one in the whole family.

What gives? What on earth is going on? Why me? Why them? Why not someone else?  

Let’s look at the reading from Isaiah 55, verses 8 and 9. “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.”

At first glance, if we add these verses from Isaiah to the random stuff we read from Luke, we may come up with absolutely nothing. “Hey, God! You don’t make any sense! I can’t figure You out, no matter how hard I try!”

Jesus Himself said it. “Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no!” Again, later in this reading: “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!”

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: Jesus Himself said it. God does not work in a quid pro quo fashion. It is absolutely not “if I do good stuff in my life, God simply has to give me good health, good family, lots of money, and long life.” Isn’t that the “Health, Wealth, and Happiness Gospel?” That is unscriptural, plain and simple. If we think and act this way, we make God a vending machine in the sky. God does not want to be expected to perform like some performing seal or dolphin! An immature understanding like that just will not work. When we do seven, or seventy-times-seven good deeds, God does not “have to” give us anything.

Compare the eighteen people killed by the collapsing tower in Jerusalem and the verses from Isaiah 55. At first glance, this does not seem like a very reassuring message. But, both of the passages are communicating to us that God’s ways are incomprehensible to us. God’s ways are so far beyond our ways, we cannot even comprehend the workings of the mind of God. Sometimes, we just do not understand why, or why not, and that is okay.

The sentence from the Lord’s Prayer we are highlighting this week is “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Or, as Eugene Peterson says in his modern translation The Message, “Do what’s best—as You do above, so do here below.”

We are to ask God for God’s kingdom to come—as Eugene Peterson puts it so well, we ask God to “do what’s best.” This is important! We don’t have to have our fingers in every little aspect of every little situation. We do not need to micromanage. I am not God, and I am very glad of that!

Reminder: the next thing we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done.” In Peterson’s modern translation: “as You do above, so do here below.”

If you look at it another way, we do not HAVE to figure out why eighteen people were killed by the tower of Siloam falling on them. I love how commentator David Lose explains this: “in case they miss his meaning, [Jesus] adds his own story of recent calamity and repeats his point: tragedy is not a punishment for sin. Good news. Sort of.

“Because some calamity is a result of sin. What if the wall Jesus references was built by a fraudulent contractor (my guess is they had those back in the first century too)? There are all kinds of bad behaviors, in fact, that contribute to much of the misery in the world.”

“But notice that Jesus doesn’t sever the connection between sin and calamity. He severs the connection between calamity and punishment. “Do you think they were worse sinners than all the others? No. No worse than you.” [2]

Yes, some tragedies are intensely sad, sometimes incomprehensible. I think of things like shuddering earthquakes, massive floods, raging wildfires, and blinding blizzards. People are perpetually caught in the cycle of poverty. Children get terminal cancer. My friend Pastor Joe had a congenital eye disease, and now is completely blind. Jesus reminds us that people are not “punished” through these catastrophes. However, countless people mourn their losses and lament the passing of loved ones and strangers, alike.

Figuring out those catastrophic things is just not in our job description. It’s beyond our pay grade. We don’t need to worry about that kind of stuff. Worry and concern applies to many situations and problems in our lives. Or, rather, NOT being worried or concerned. Maybe it’s us recognizing what is beyond our control, and that is ultimately a beneficial thing.  

Remember the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Perhaps it is best for us to return to the sentence of the day from the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Or, to be more understandable, from Eugene Peterson: “Do what’s best—as You do above, so do here below.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Ultimately, even if we do not understand stuff, God has it handled. God is working everything out. Everything is in God’s hands, and that is the very best place to be—in this world, and the next.

[1] https://revgalblogpals.org/2019/03/19/revised-common-lectionary-beyond-understanding/

by Katya Ouchakof, March 19, 2019

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2461

“When Bad Things Happen,” David Lose, Working Preacher, 2013.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!