Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Take a Seat

Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, Daughter Zion, now a captive. For this is what the LORD says: “You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed.” (Isaiah 52.2-3)

Come On Up

When our friend Mark called to invite Walt and me to Macy Gray’s sold-out concert at the House of Blues, we leapt at the chance. Then came one of those “uh-oh” moments that often follow a too-good-to-be-true surprise. We said yes without knowing how much it would cost. If the tickets were brokered, they’d set us back a bit—more than we could comfortably afford. Walt finessed the issue by asking how soon we needed to give him money for tickets. “Money?” he laughed. “Don’t be silly. I’m producing this gig. Just give your name at the door.” After he hung up, it was our turn to laugh. Walt said, “My mind was racing, trying to figure out how we’d dodge that bullet and there was no bullet to dodge!”

Off we went, overjoyed about waltzing through the door for free. An usher wrapped bracelets around our wrists and told us we had “full access.” That sounded nice, but we thought it best not to push our luck. We filed into the hall’s main floor, grabbed two general admission seats, and searched for Mark. Since it was hard to see anyone in the crowd, we decided to look for him during intermission. Then someone tapped my shoulder during the first band’s set and nodded toward the aisle, where Mark motioned for us to come with him. “What are you doing down here?” he shouted over the music. “We’re up there.” He pointed to a box overlooking the stage. “Come on up,” he said. “You’re gonna love it. It’s fabulous.” We did. And it was.

We were simply glad to get into the concert (for free, no less). But that wasn’t good enough for Mark. When he invited us he had something much better in mind than floor seats. Later, it occurred to me we’d done what my former pastor calls “living beneath our inheritance.” Too often, he says, we underestimate what God has in mind for us. We marvel that God would offer us a life of abundance we thought—and may have been told—wasn’t possible for us. We’re stunned that God’s grace and acceptance are free. We’re delighted to find worries about dodging bullets have no basis because there are no bullets to dodge. We’re amazed that all it takes to enter God’s goodness is walking through the door. Once inside, we’re granted full access to everything God wants us to experience. Simply being glad to get in, however, we decide its best not to push our luck. We never consider what seems good enough for us isn’t good enough for God. While we’re content on the ground floor, God points to something better, saying, “Come on up. Have a seat.” This is Isaiah 52’s message to the Jewish people, and to us.

Free Yourself

If ancient musical tastes included an equivalent to modern-day blues, one of the biggest hits of Isaiah’s era probably resembled The Doors’ “Been Down So Long (It Looks Like Up to Me)”. These people have been through the ringer. They’re trapped in a regional conflict that’s kept them under siege. They have no allies to speak of. Their immediate and long-term security hangs in a bizarre balance of royal quirks. How well their puppet king gets on with their occupiers’ monarch determines how well they get along. Nothing is assured, except every day brings more of the same. Jerusalem is in tatters. Its citizens, many living in shambles of wrecked homes, scrape by on subsistence rations. Years of relentless hardship have weakened their hearts and siphoned their imaginations. They’d be glad simply getting their country back. And through it all there’s Isaiah, speaking God’s promises of deliverance and tapping their shoulder, saying, “Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, Daughter Zion, now a captive. For this is what the LORD says: ‘You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed.’”

Isaiah preaches this for 60-plus years. Four kings come and go, but his message stays the same. Page after page of his prophecy tenders God’s invitation. Verse after verse promises too-good-to-be-true surprises. So what’s the hold-up? Well, for starters, the Jews aren’t sure they can afford it. Brokering their liberty is beyond their means. God says, “This isn’t about money. I’m the Producer. Just show up and everything will be taken care of.” Although the people long to experience what God offers them, they’ve adopted a slave mentality that’s alienated them from God’s ways. They’ve lost touch with Who God is and what God can do. They’ve sat in the dust so long they’ve got to shake its mindset before they can comprehend God’s offer. Chains of oppression that once confined them now define them. Until they lose those chains, the invitation is a pipe dream. They’ll never picture themselves where God wants them to be. And it’s essential to note God doesn’t offer to rid them of their dusty defeatism and shackled self-image. That’s their job. God points to something better than they expect—not merely a chair on the ground floor, but an exalted throne—and tells them, “Free yourself and come on up. Have a seat.”

Everything to Gain

One of my all-time favorite lyrics comes from the Janis Joplin hit, “Me and Bobby McGee”: Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. “Nothing left to lose” is just another way of saying, “Everything to gain.” The extent to which we experience the fullness of God’s invitation depends on our determination (dare I say willingness?) to free ourselves from defeatist attitudes and oppressive definitions. That starts by remembering we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Accepting God’s invitation costs us nothing. Like the besieged people of Isaiah’s day, we were sold for nothing and without money God will redeem us. In other words, we are not slaves to harmful habits and hateful ideas. Behaviors and thoughts that alienate us from God hold us hostage. We owe them nothing because they invest nothing to captivate us. That gives us every right to shake off their dust and break their chains. There’s no price for freeing ourselves—nothing to lose. That’s also why God’s grace—and everything we gain from it—comes without charge. Once we’re free to accept God’s invitation and enter God’s goodness, we receive total access to all God wants to give us. We don’t settle for what seems good enough. As fine as that might be, God always has something better in mind, a higher perspective, a fresh renewal, a deeper understanding, a richer opportunity, a fuller experience. The message never changes: “Come on up. Have a seat.”

Once we free ourselves to enter God’s goodness, we don’t settle for what seems good enough. There’s always something better. (This photo was taken from the House of Blues box Walt and I sat in at the Macy Gray concert.)


TomCat said...

It sounds to me like you did the right thing. You chose humble places and the lord of the feast called you up. :-)

Tim said...

Tom, thanks for making me smile. I never thought of that parallel--which is odd, as I just re-read Luke 14 over the weekend.

There is truth in what you (and Christ) say. We do choose the humble places. But so many of us stay put because we're not attuned to the lord of the feast. Missing the call is most unfortunate for us and those who will benefit from our moving on up. I think we all get it, but--like Judah--we don't do it.

It's so good to hear from you. I've been a stranger at your place far too long. Thankfully, January ended a very long spell of time-consuming work and I'll be checking in more frequently!

Blessings, my brother,

Philomena Ewing said...

This has really cheered me up and I needed it badly today. What a treat !
Thanks Tim !

Tim said...

Oh Phil, this does my heart good! It's a small repayment for all the times you've lifted me--as you do here!

I trust joy and fulfillment will be yours always!