Living as a Christian can be a difficult task. Our calling to live as “the light of the world” offers a number of challenges which often seem insurmountable. Just look again at a few of the Beatitudes which we considered this past Sunday:
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the pure in spirit, for they shall see God.
In a recent sermon, I tried to gesture towards the difficulty and tension that we can feel anytime we try to “live up” to the Beatitudes. We are immediately faced with questions for ourselves (Am I meek? Hungry for righteousness? Pure?). I also suggested that some of these tensions can be overcome when we accept our initial vocation, which is to become students of Jesus Christ, our Teacher. We must take our first steps on the road before we can “run the race” which is the Christian spiritual life.
Yet what promise do we have of finishing that race? Is it all difficulty, or do we have some relief?
One of the readings our Church offers today for meditation and prayer is Isaiah 55:1-13. It’s really quite a remarkable passage, and I would suggest reading it, slowly and carefully, if you find yourself in need of encouragement and refreshment today. But let me break off a few pieces of it here, pieces of spiritual bread which I think pertain to our concerns about the spiritual life.
What this passage can remind us is that our teacher, the Lord himself, does not give us words or direction which are powerless. What we learn from our Teacher has an effect. As the passage says,
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
bring forth life and giving growth, seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
You see, God wishes us to live our Christian lives as much (indeed, far more) than we do. When we face the struggle, we should remember that we are not alone. The words which we hear from the mouth of our Teacher have great effect, and we are promised that they will bring about their purpose in us. The newly formed life we are trying to lead will come because God is the one bringing about the new creation in us. And God cannot fail. The word shall bring forth new life, no matter how tentative, and the new life will remain.
To end with the words of Scripture, which vividly portray this promise:
You shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall a sign of the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.