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Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, September 6, 2015

Not for Sale

Text: Isaiah 35:4-9

Last week on the internet, I came across the picture on the front of today’s worship booklet. It reminds me of something a Lutheran pastor had told me about long ago. He had been driving through the hills of east Tennessee, and he came upon a relatively flat place with a little farm on it. He could see a ramshackle old, gray barn that was listing to one side. In front of the barn, near the road was an old pickup truck, one that looked like it had been a real sweetie in its time. But it looked like its time was long ago, for the truck was covered with rust. There was a dent in the roof that suggested it had rolled over in an accident. The tires and wheels were missing, and the truck was sitting on its axles. Tall grass was growing all around the truck, for it hadn’t been moved in a long time.

From a ways off, you could see that there was a sign in the window of the old pickup. Before you could read what the sign said, you assumed it was a “for-sale” sign, and you were incredulous. “Who would want that old thing?” you wonder. “Nobody would pay a nickel for that old reprobate. In fact,” you say to yourself, “who would have the audacity to even try and sell it?”

Before we get to what the sign actually said, let me ask you something. Do you ever feel like that old truck?

• Have you ever felt like your wheels have come off, and your life has come to a screeching halt with disappointed hopes and dashed expectations?

• Have you ever felt like you have just rolled over six times and come to rest in a broken condition for which you see no repair?

• Do you ever feel abandoned by the One who is supposed to care for you, so much so that the grass is all grown up around you for lack of attention?

I would be surprised if every one of us hasn’t felt this way at some point in our lives. In fact, there may be someone here today who is feeling a bit like this old pickup truck right now. It is part of the human condition to feel disappointed by life—to feel broken down and abandoned. It is biblical. The passage we read from Isaiah today was spoken to the Hebrew people when they were feeling disappointed, broken down and abandoned. For years, they had watched their magnificent kingdom crumble around them, from corruption, from injustice, from invasion by powerful enemies.

What had happened to the Hebrew people is that they had been in a one-car rollover, and had gone end over end six times. And they were lying in a heap of rust without their wheels. And they wondered, “What happened to our God?” The Hebrew people felt abandoned by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,

• who had promised to be their God;

• the God who had rescued them before;

• the God who had always provided for them in the past;

• the God who said He loved them.

Where was He?

Where He was is where He always is. He was watching over them, trying to get their attention, trying to turn them back to Him. You see, the reason for their one-car rollover was that they had taken their eyes off the road that God had charted for them. They had fallen into sinful ways and had become vulnerable to the power of the enemy. What had happened is that they had abandoned God. They had turned to false gods. And from that idolatry had flowed the worst kind of despicable practices.

The problem wasn’t that God had abandoned them. They had abandoned God. But those promises God made to Abraham were forever. God’s truth does not change. God’s love does not diminish. God continued speaking to the Hebrew people, and some were faithful enough to hear. He appointed prophets, one after another, to come and speak His message of faithfulness and judgment. And that is what the Prophet Isaiah did. In today’s passage from Isaiah 35, we hear these words:

Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, He will come with vengeance; with divine retribution He will come to save you.” [Isaiah 35:4]

Isaiah, the messenger from God, was reassuring the people that their God, who had promised always to be their God, who had entered into a personal relationship with them, who had rescued them in the past, who had always provided for them—their God was coming to save them.

When Isaiah reassured them, he said something they longed to hear, which is, of course, “God will come with vengeance, with divine retribution.” They wanted to hear that God would destroy their enemies. God’s righteous judgment would come upon those who opposed His will for His chosen people.

But listen to what else Isaiah says:

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue shout for joy. [Isaiah 35:5-6]

Isaiah, as God’s messenger, is talking about the complex nature of God’s judgment. For God judges everyone, not only the enemies who oppose His will for His people, but His people themselves, who have opposed His will for them. God’s righteous judgment necessarily implies an opening of our eyes and ears.

• The people of Israel were blind to their own sin.

• They were deaf to the sound of God working in their lives.

• They had become lame because they no longer danced joyfully.

• They no longer sang God’s praises and had lost their voice, because then wanted to blame God for all that had befallen them.

Doesn’t the same thing happen to us? Sometimes our disappointment and our pain consume us, and we lose our vision of ourselves as children of God. Sometimes we are consumed by our own sin and its consequences. Sometimes we are drowned in the wake of someone else’s sin. But often, when we hurt, we feel abandoned. We become deaf to God’s voice speaking to us. We cease to sing His praises and dance for joy.

Where is God at these times? Well, He’s the same place He was for His Hebrew children at the time of Isaiah, and the same place He always is. He is right there watching over us, urging us to open ourselves again to receive Him as our Lord.

Let’s go back to that old pickup in the farm yard, and let’s see what the sign in its window said. That is why I still remember this image after all these years. The sign said, “NOT FOR SALE.”

Not for sale. As broken down and rusty and dented and seemingly worthless as that old pickup truck was, its owner valued it. Its owner would not part with it. Its owner was telling everyone who passed by not to even bother making an offer. Not for sale. That is how God feels about us.

• We may be broken and wrecked.

• We may be consumed by sin.

• We may be trying to blame God for what we have brought on ourselves.

• We may be blind and deaf to God.

• We may have ceased to sing His praises.

But we belong to God, and we are not for sale.

What that means, my brothers and sisters, is that Isaiah’s prophetic message rings as true to us as it did to those disillusioned, frightened Hebrew children. “Be strong, do not fear. Your God will come.”

Many of us have been there, and have learned first-hand just how true these words from the Word of God are. Let me tell you about just one person who has experienced how much God values him, and how ready God is to save. His name is Troy Haas. Troy was a wild teenager. He was raised in a family that loved him. He had every opportunity to become a respectable citizen. But he chose a destructive path. He started drinking in the sixth grade, and moved on to drugs, including hallucinogens like LSD. He became a drug dealer.

When Troy was seventeen, he was arrested on a DWI charge, was convicted, and given a suspended sentence with five years’ probation. He quit high school a couple of times, finally graduated and enrolled at Texas A&M, where he flunked out after only one semester. In that short time on campus, he met a Nigerian student who told him about Jesus and continued to witness to him over a period of several weeks. No one had ever told him about Jesus before. He didn’t do anything to change his life, but he heard the Gospel.

After he flunked out, he went back to drugs, and ended up in jail, having seriously messed up and violated his probation. It was there, awaiting sentencing in the Harris County Jail, that another Christian witnessed to Troy Haas. This was now the second life-boat God had sent him. One night there in jail, he says, “I realized "I had nothing unless I gave my life to Jesus Christ." His prayer was, "God, I don't know you, but from what I know about you, you are my only hope." A few days later, a local church held a service at the jail, and as they sang, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me,” he knew his eternal security lay in a relationship with Jesus. He was blind, but now he saw.

And then another miracle happened. He was brought before a judge for sentencing. The judge who had sentenced him before had said that if he came back before him, he would “throw him in jail for a very long time.” But he had retired. The new judge heard his case and decided to release him, again on probation. He was moved to give Troy Haas another chance. Troy Haas later asked the judge what caused him to let him stay out of jail, and the judge said,

I'm a Christian, and I pray every day over my docket. On that day, God gave me a clear word to let you go.

Troy Haas joined a church in Houston. He got a job at a Christian bookstore, where he met friends who discipled him. His friends at church helped him get into college again, and he got his degree. And while he was there he met Melissa Brown, whom he would later marry. Then he completed studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

Both Troy and his wife felt called to foreign missions. He says that having heard about Jesus from that Nigerian student, he wanted to go and serve in places where people had never heard about Jesus. Troy and Melissa Haas became missionaries, and went in 1993 to serve among the Turkana people, a nomadic tribe in northwestern Kenya. They and their small child lived as the Turkana lived. Their home was in a tent. They herded 75 goats. They did their cooking over an open fire. And they found these people very receptive to the Gospel. During their six years in Kenya, 1,000 members of the Turkana people became Christians.

I’d like to be able to tell you it was all smooth sailing after that for this young man whom God saved. But it wasn’t. The reality is that he and Melissa ran into marital trouble in the mission field because of his sin. His tumultuous early years had left their scars and unhealed wounds. Troy and Melissa returned to the United States, and entered into intensive Christian counseling. I’m sure they both felt like that old beat up, rusty pickup truck that no one would want. No one except God. For they were not for sale. Their marriage was healed, and they have gone on to fruitful and productive ministries, reaching out to people whose relationships need to be restored.

There is a pattern. Those people to whom Isaiah was bringing good news of impending rescue and restoration—they too crashed and burned. They came back from exile and within a few short years they were living with the same kind of wickedness and the same disregard of the will of God as their ancestors. But God has never abandoned them. They have been through centuries of persecution and hatred. And yet, today, there is a sovereign nation called Israel, right where God promised 3500 years ago. And He still has plans to give them a hope and a future.

And what about the Church? We have built grand cathedrals, and we have written great hymns, and we have built hospitals and universities and brought the world out of the dark ages. And at the same time, we have sinned grievously; we have given our loyalties to all sorts of other things in preference to God; we have gone chasing off after doctrines and philosophies that fly in the face of God’s Holy Word. We may like to see ourselves as a shiny new Cadillac. But the reality is that we are that rusty old pickup truck, derelict and overgrown. Who would want us? Who would offer a nickel for us? Who would give us a second glance?

Who indeed? Who would send His only Son into this rough and tumble world to die on our behalf so that we can be reconciled with the God who made us? Who loves us with unshakeable love? Who forgives our sins not seven times but seventy-seven times?

Take heart, child of God. You belong to the high and holy One, the God and father of us all. And you are not for sale.

© 2015 The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar

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