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August 8, 2016: Isaiah 1:10-20 "White as Snow"

I’ve always lived in the south—never in a place where the snow comes and stays forever, where it becomes increasingly dirty brown, where residents wish upon wish that it would go away and never come again!  Instead the snow comes in the south as a wonder and a surprise.  It visits its beauty upon us in ways that we are captivated, held in its mystery! 

I can’t even begin to guess the number of hours I have sat in a window seat watching God’s magic mounding up one flake at a time right before my very eyes!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood outside gazing up into the gray sky with a cascade of flakes falling in my face! 

Our lives oftentimes are anything but blankets of beautiful white snow visiting themselves upon the world.  Instead we visit the world—people around us--with bitterness, anger held onto for decades, resentment, jealousy, a host of negative emotions.  We cling to negative emotions as if they were the last few valuable coins in our pockets.  We tell the same wrong-done-to-me stories as if they were gems of literature the world eagerly awaits.  And sometimes our bitterness and resentment build to the point that we lash out—return evil for evil.  Like blankets of snow that’s stayed too long and experienced too much traffic our lives and our relationships become—dirty, dingy, soiled beyond being recognition.

The words of Isaiah begin without a pat on the back for the nation Israel.  Israel is worshipping God.  She is making sacrifices at the altar—all the right things it would seem to readers of this segment of scripture.  How many modern day preachers wouldn’t be overjoyed at church members SHOWING UP?  How many modern day preachers wouldn’t be ecstatic at church members not only SHOWING UP but also PLACING AN OFFERING IN THE PLATE AS IT IS PASSED?

Yet, God rejects the actions of Israel.  “It’s not enough,” says God, “not enough to show up, to sit on a pew.  It’s not enough to place a check in the offering plate as it is passed.  Instead what is pleasing to me is a heart given to me—a heart for me to remold and to remake according to my plan.  Work of the heart comes first and foremost.  A right heart creates the possibility for right worship!  A right heart creates the possibility for right living one with another!”

Isaiah’s listeners must have had moments of scratching their heads and looking puzzled.  After all they felt that they were fairly good people, doing most of the right things in life—going to work, taking care of their families.  How could God be so disappointed in them and reject much of what they were doing?  But more importantly what were they to do in response to God’s words—work harder, try harder in their relationships, work all the more to forgive and forget?

But then the message clicks.  It’s not about them.  It’s not about working harder.  It’s not something that they can accomplish in and of themselves.  Instead what God is asking is for them to open their hearts up to him.  Open their hearts so he can make them into the people he wants them to be.  And God, through the prophet Isaiah, says, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow!”

It’s ALWAYS a good place to start—with God, in prayer, asking God to do the things in your life you haven’t been able to do for yourself.  You’ve tried and been unsuccessful at forgiving a family member wrong done long ago.  You’ve worked and worked at telling new stories—not the same wrong-done-to-me stories that took place thirty years ago, but somehow you haven’t been able to let them go and to begin to write new stories.  Hear God’s invitation, “Open your heart to me.  Allow me to do the work that I want to do.  Let me make your life as white as the snow and full of incredible new possibilities that are beyond your imagination!”

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