God Moves…Over the Fence

55 Ho, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
    a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
    and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has glorified you.

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:1-9 NRSV)

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

I believed that in elementary school.  In fact, there were days when I felt as if I was the only child in the whole wide world who had a rough life.

Take my next door neighbor and playmate, Neil.  He had the coolest toys!  We always played at his house because his toys were neater than mine.   And then there was Sharon.  She had a horse.  Not just a pony.  A real live horse!  She rode it in shows and won awards and everything.

Babylon.  It’s a place we go to as captives.  We don’t want to be there.  It’s God forsaken.  “Is God still with us?” we ask.  “Has God forgotten us?”  “Will we ever return to the Land of Promise?”  We gaze over the fence.  The grass is surely greener on the other side.

We get to Babylon by a few different routes.  Sometimes life circumstances just happen.  Despite your careful driving, a patch of black ice sends your car up over the curb.  Sometimes, someone has made bad choices and their decisions inflict the pain on you.  The driver who ran into your car has no insurance.  Sometimes it’s our own bad choices that lead you out of freedom into the Babylon.  You’re the driver without insurance and you’re facing legal charges as well as medical bills.

Isaiah’s charges were more specific.  Judah had lost their focus on God.  The mandate to care for the widows and orphans, to feed the hungry, to do justice had been abandoned.  They believed they no longer needed God and quit depending on God.  While they weren’t looking, Babylon invaded Judah and carted the socially elite and the craftspeople back to Babylon.

Now they stand gazing over the other side of the fence.  The grass appears to be greener.  Where is God?

The truth is, God is crossing that fence to meet us.  God speaks to the exiles and to us through the prophet Isaiah saying, “Turn to me.  My food is spiritual nourishment; my cup will satisfy like no other.  And it costs you nothing.

“Quit wasting your efforts on what can’t provide lasting nourishment.  What God provides is healthy and good.”

God draws us close.  Listen to God’s words.  They are life giving.  God keeps the covenants made so long ago.  God judges and God is merciful.  God will cross those fences.

You see, those fences are what separate us from God.  Those fences are where our gazes should NOT be.  It’s so easy to draw our gaze away from God onto greener pastures and a past we grieve or a future we yearn for or an idol we crave.

God, in Christ, adjusts our gaze away from the impossible, the bright shiny idols, the falsehood of greener pastures.  God, in Christ, adjusts our gaze towards God who nourishes us with truth.  And that is the truth which sets us free.  The truth about our situation and who we are tears down those fences and returns us home to a richer, fuller life.  One that God will help us create.

As I look back on my childhood I realize that those green grass memories aren’t so green.  Neil’s mother had bad nerves and had to have a nap every afternoon.  We had to play quietly or go outside.  Sharon’s father was mean.  We never went to her house to play.  He was scary.  One day he got mad at my Dad and threw our pet dog over the fence for spite.

When the exiles returned to Jerusalem, they found the Temple completely leveled and would have to rebuild it.

The grass only appears to be greener on the other side.  And when we shift our yearning gaze the grass that  we think we need, we turn to God.  In God we seek wisdom that tears down those fences and nourishes us souls.

All honor and glory be to God.

Amen.

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