Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesday, First Week of Lent

Isaiah 55:6-11 / Matthew 21:10-17

" ... so shall my word be, which shall go forth from my mouth. It shall not return to me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it," says the Lord almighty.

There are words imagined from heaven which leave their hearers unchanged. At the end of the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, the alien Klaatu delivers the people of the Earth a chilling message. The other peoples of space have witnessed the rise of the human race, and have taken note, with alarm, not only of the development of terrible weaponry, but also of their capacity for aggression and destruction. The alien races will not interfere in the affairs of Earth, he says, but should the human race try to export its conflicts and destruction to the stars, then the Earth itself will be destroyed for the safety of the other peoples in the universe. That said, Klaatu returns to his flying saucer and returns to the heavens. Whether the peoples of the Earth will now set aside their conflicts and join the other races of the heavens in peace or fall victim to their self-defensive retribution, the viewer cannot say for sure. Given the unhappy treatment of Klaatu during his stay on Earth, there is not much reason to hope.

We must not imagine that God speaks to us as another Klaatu. We do grave injustice to the power of God and the saving effect of his word is we see it simply as a cross between an aspirational command and a veiled threat. God's word come down from heaven does not leave it hearer unchanged, unaffected. The very command for the sinner to turn to God is already preceded by a softening of the heart so that the command can be heard. The exhortation to change one's thoughts is made good by an illumination of the mind that makes what otherwise seemed impossible appear now altogether, if wondrously, within reach. God does not utter his word in vain, does not demand and command, warn and threaten, where he has not already enabled the hearer to respond in freedom and power to do what he is bidden.

This is our Lenten hope, our hope that we can be free from what burdens us and from our many turnings aside from our pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem. God is near. He is as close as ever to make good our response to his saving appeals. Let us, then, return to the Lord, and he will have mercy on us, and to our God, for he is bountiful to forgive.

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