“Come – All are Welcome”

Isaiah 55:1-9, March 20th, 2022

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

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Third Sunday in Lent

“Hear now these words, spoken by the Prophet Isaiah, chapter fifty-five, verses one thru nine.”

Isaiah 55:1-9

1 Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 

2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 

3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 

4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 

5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

6 Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near. 

7 let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 

8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 

“Having heard the words of the Prophet, let us consider their meaning to us today, as we seek to move forward in our lives and in our journeys of faith.”

“Come – All are Welcome”

As we begin our reflection of the Prophet Isaiah’s words during ancient times, it becomes ‘rather’ simple to sum up his words to us, as well as his words to the scattered remnants of the people of the ancient tribes of Israel. “The text opens with an invitation to all who are thirsty to come and ends with a reminder that God’s ways are higher than our own.” This summation comes from the words of Stephen P. Riley back in 2016. We begin this discussion as we witness the destruction of a war-torn Ukraine. They, much like the Israelites of old, they are under attack by their enemies and have been battered unmercifully. Millions have sought refuge in nearby nations. The Israelites to whom Isaiah’s words were first addressed, they had been over-run by their enemies and knew all too well the ramifications of war! As we begin this morning’s devotion and reflection on the words of Isaiah, let us open our hearts to the deaths of the innocent – caught up in the horrors of war. Let us also show compassion and mercy for the – displaced – as they adjust their lives – lives which have been dramatically ‘altered’ and ‘changed’!

The invitational words of Isaiah open an extravagant welcome to those that are now without. “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” /Isaiah 55:1/ People ask how we can help in times like these. Last week we talked a bit about the power of prayer. Prayer is always helpful. I urge all believers in the love of our merciful God to turn to prayer. Through prayer our hearts are opened-wide to the channels of the Spirit of God.  The Living Spirit of God’s extravagant welcome portrayed and broadcast by the Prophet Isaiah, tell us that the nourishment which God freely offers is free. Free is a word we hear little of in the retail markets. Free is not what the finance department wants a pastor to tell those that attend church on Sunday mornings. Yet, here Isaiah is, reminding us that God invites all who are thirsty to come to the waters of which God offers for free! Come without money and eat your fill for free. Whether he was speaking metaphorically or not, it is still free says the prophet.

I remember a renowned theologian, Reverend Barbara Brown Tailor, as she spoke at a convention, which I attended fourteen years back.  She was speaking to 6,000 of us Pastors who came to learn more about preaching. She was the key-note speaker and spoke several times during the six-day event. One key thing I remember her saying was about her interactions with students – students just learning the art of preaching. She told us how she expressed the importance of a preacher ‘honestly’ sharing with their congregation: what they ‘really believe’ the scripture is saying! Then she directed her attention to all of us ordained practicing preachers: I am charging you to dare to tell your congregations, who give you a salary, a housing allowance, and many of you an expense account, to tell them the truth! The truth about what you believe the scripture is saying… for this is sometimes hard to speak.  But this is what a preacher is ‘called’ by God, and oftentimes ‘paid’ by their church, to preach!

Having studied the words of the prophet Isaiah, I have come to believe he was one heck of a great motivational speaker.  He was speaking to a broken people. They had endured tremendous loses and hardships.  They were still in one form of servitude or another. They worked for their masters not for themselves. Thankfully, they were permitted their religious leaders to help them keep their faith alive. Even ancient dictators and conquerors knew it was easier to manage and or control those who were now under their rule… if they were allowed to gather for religious practices, including a designated worship leader, such as a prophet.  They seem to know that this helped keep the peace; thereby they did not need to dedicate quite so many soldiers to control them. Look around, and you may see that when folks give up all their freedoms… eventually they begin to fight back. Consequently, Isaiah was there to keep their spirits up with his talks. 

Isaiah, like most motivational speakers, know how important it is to give people hope. Without hope people will either give up or become rebellious. Without hope, workers do less work; plant less wheat, and then harvest it less enthusiastically. When hope is lost – production at all levels fall off – the yield is less. When hope is diminished… we start to only nourish ourselves with the basics, food, and water. And sometimes we do not drink enough fluids, as most any good health care professional will tell you, to be sure to keep yourself hydrated, for dehydration leads to light headedness, and dizziness which can cause us older folks to fall. Falling is not good when you are old and frail. Therefore, it is important to surround ourselves with positive thinking, nourishing ourselves with motivational friends and family and live life knowing that God will provide for us what we need, when we need it.    

Isaiah goes on to ask us why we waste our money on things that do not nourish us? Literally speaking, we ought not eat so much sugar and eat more fruit and vegetables. But is this truly what Isaiah was trying to get across to his listeners? “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” /Isaiah 55:2/ Let us consider the metaphorically implications of our reading today. If we listen carefully to the prophet, we may find he has a subliminal message for us to hear. Allegorically, what was Isaiah really trying to say to the people? Was he ‘literally’ speaking of free food and water to nourish one’s body? Or was Isaiah suggesting symbolically, as he talked about the nourishment which we need… beyond the obvious need for food and water? Isaiah says, “listen to me.” Now, it is believed… that the prophet was speaking for God. Therefore, as we listen to his message, we must consider he is telling us what God is communicating to us through his message.  Consequently, when Isaiah say’s to listen to me, he is saying listen to and for the word of God.  “Fill yourself with hope. Hope that there shall be a tomorrow and that the SUN will come up again! Fill yourself with faith passed onto to us by those who came before us. Faith that God will bring us to heaven in the hereafter, therefor do not be timid about ‘fulling’ living into our today’s!     

Just what type of nourishment do you need today? If you need to hydrate, do so! If you need to recharge your faith, pause, and say a prayer to our heavenly Creator and ask for that which you truly need, so that you can continue your journey, helping others along the way.  Doing God’s work, being an extension of the Almighties ministry here on Earth. If you need to talk with someone, because you are lonely, talk with God first. Then get up and call on a friend, neighbor or a relative. When you are standing in line at the store, be polite, friendly even. The cashier, the person in front of you and behind you may need your willingness to acknowledge their needs also. When you get home, or wherever it is you are going next, and partake of the food you bought, or are served in a restaurant, feel good about yourself. You are a full partner in your covenantal relationship with God. Let us become wise as we listen to the words of Isaiah’s motivational talk. Let us take his words literally and figuratively. Either way, it is a win, win, proposition!     

Thursday evening after the heavy rains came, the electricity went off in my neighborhood. Fifteen hundred without power due to damaged FPL equipment. A couple of hours later I looked outside. The rain had stopped. But there was a fifteen-to-twenty-foot length of fire burning just above the transformer across the street, just behind a brand-new house. As I got my cell phone and dialed 911, three neighbors waved and said they had already called. In case you have not done that before, do not ever hang up on a 911 operator. Even as I told her my story and that other(s) had called, she still needed my name address and telephone number.  The neighbors and I chatted together trying to decide if it was the tree on-fire or was it an electrical-fire. The fire went out just as the firetrucks arrived.  It was a case of a fallen branch catching fire from the live wire. But, by talking with the neighbors we nourished one another with the knowledge that we each were there as helping hands in times of emergency. It felt good. That is the nourishment that God wants us to invest in.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” /Isaiah 55:9/ Yes, let us take these words literally! Figuratively or not, the heavens are above us. When we speak of the heavens, we all look to that which is above us. In the same way let us look to the heavens as we consider that, the way of God is higher than our own. When we allow the harshness of our human existence, especially when the unchecked wrath of another is set lose upon us or others around us, whether that be as individuals or as nations, it is easy to see that whatever ways or thoughts that God has… most certainly will be higher and more just, more compassionate, and more loving then that which we are even able to express.

As a local church of the United Church of Christ, we have been ‘encouraged’ to offer an ‘extravagant welcome’ to all who come to us to share in worship, to share in fellowship, and to ‘ultimately’ share in the ministry we are about. Together, we are the representatives of that ‘extravagant welcome’ to all who we serve here in the greater Palm Bay, Florida area! Let us nourish ourselves with the words of God, placed in the mouth of the prophet Isaiah!  Let us go forth and offer others, for free, the same nourishment we have received! For free! Yes! We offer God’s abundant love for free! Freely we have received; and freely we shall give!

Amen.  

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