Isaiah 1:10-20 Lent V — Passion Sunday
April 2, 2017
St Paul’s Anglican Church
“God without Thunder”
God’s Voice is like thunder, the Bible tells us (in both the Old and the New Testaments) – and we are called to hear and obey it!
Lent is not just a period of time when we discipline ourselves, as Jesus Christ did! It is also a time when we examine ourselves to see if we are listening to God and obeying His voice… His will… His heart!
Are we just talking the talk? Or are we walking the walk?
In Isaiah’s day – roughly 700 years before our Lord’s Birth — “God’s people” were only talking the talk! They had hit the “low water mark” of their relationship with the One Whom they called LORD. Their sacrifices had devolved to the point of being empty and meaningless ritual!
Instead of worshipping the Ancient of Days in Spirit and in truth – they merely moved through the outward forms as though only mechanical events… the whole while involved in things detestable to the Almighty.
Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah (verse 10).
These are some of the strongest words in the Old Testament! These are some of the strongest words in all of the Bible! God is so upset with His people in their perversion, He calls them “people of Gomorrah” and their leaders He calls “rulers of Sodom.” If we listen carefully, we can hear His voice thunder not just across the land of Israel 2,700 years ago – but across America this morning as well which has grown increasingly perverse and corrupt and contemptuous! Some hate that voice of thunder… some love it! Which are you? Which am I?
Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
Sodom and Gomorrah, of course, were buried under fire and brimstone by the command of God during the days of Abraham (almost 4,100 years ago). These cities were lost in judgment according to archaeologists, somewhere under the Dead Sea… What an infamous burial place!
Believe me, no unbeliever ever likes to receive the thundering Word of God telling them they have misbehaved and are under threat of His Judgment! And very few believers in our day are fond of delivering the word of judgment!
I am reminded that during the “Roaring Twenties” euphoria, a book appeared on the market that sought to recast God in kinder and gentler terms to fallen mankind. It was entitled God without Thunder. A more accepting… more understanding… less judgmental… less “one way” “designer god” suitable for acceptance by all mankind! And I fear that its attempt to remake the Almighty in man’s own image has to a great degree succeeded… for our generation has inherited its end-product – God as a feeble, doting grandfather… tolerant of everything… intolerant of nothing!
Fallen mankind, and all too many in the Church – prefer a god made in their image who would never ever say anything but warm and fuzzy, gentle and supporting words – indulging everyone in their folly and evil! I just used the word “mankind” – which is by today’s academe listed as a sexist word. Fallen mankind is obsessed with micro-aggressions… training a generation of young people now being termed “snowflakes” because they melt at even the thought of anything not politically correct! But what, pray tell, will they do when they hear the thunderous Voice of God?
Modern neo-orthodox writers who have nurtured and developed this concept of “God without thunder!” Men such as Paul Tillich… Karl Barth… Bishop Spong… and others have had their day in the sun… and led their allotted victims into the ditches of life…
But my dear brothers and sisters, upon the authority of the Bible, there still is a very real figure known as the devil who deceives the children of men – and our Lord faced him during His 40-days in the wilderness… There still is a very real place that goes by the name of hell… And there still is the fearful place of eternal torment that will one day gorge itself on its unrepentant occupants. It is known as the Lake of Fire.
And there still is the God of Thunder – and I for one am very, very glad! Why? Because that is how He has revealed Himself — and for good reason – that we might repent and change our ways… obeying Him with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.
If this were all this morning’s Lesson had for you and me, it would be most discouraging, indeed… But we learn also that it is entirely possible to repent – to change unholy ways – to receive forgiveness by the mercy and compassion of our Heavenly Father…
Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes… Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool (verse 16).
What a message of relief we discover in these sacred words! What meaning and peace are discovered for the beleaguered and weary sinners who at the last finally drop their rebellion against the Almighty and in lowly repentance kneel before Him!
It is only by God’s grace this point is reached and we hear His thundering Voice tell us, “That is enough. It is now time to change course. It is truly time to act in a new way – to repent.“
By way of example, we have all seen the footage of the skier whose crash was made famous on the introduction to ABC’s Wide World of Sports 50 years ago.
We can still hear the opening lines… Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport… the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat…
And that is when the skier, shown heading down the ski jump in good form, for no apparent reason tumbles head over heels off the side of the jump – careening into the support structure and spectators…
Most people do not understand, however, what happened that day. The skier, Vinko Bogataj of Slovenia, was making his third run. The snow, coming down lightly at the start of the competition, had by then become quite heavy.
Midway down the ramp, as Bogataj later explained, he realized the conditions had made the ramp too fast, and he realized his increasing speed would cause him to overshoot the landing area below and crash and die.
He thus chose to fall and get off the ramp rather than complete the jump. Instead of the headache and broken ankle he received, he would have perished!
And so it is in life! The longer we abide in rebellion and sin against God, the greater becomes our momentum and velocity towards eventual destruction… and the more difficult it becomes to change course.
When the Voice of the Almighty thunders “It is time to get off this slippery slope; it is time to move to safety,” we had best heed His Word.
We are not called to be “people of Gomorrah!” But people of the LORD God! This Lenten Season we say with the psalmist of old “I will be sorry for my sin.” Lent is when we remember there is a pathway back to the Savior… to His forgiveness… while we have life and breath…
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
This is the Word of the LORD. Amen.