Isaiah 55:1-13, March 24th, 2019
Sermon by pastor Tim Woodard
Third Sunday of Lent
“Listen to the words of the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 55, verses one thru thirteen.”
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.
10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 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.
12 For 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. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
“Having heard the words of invitation from the Prophet Isaiah, let us take a moment to consider how they reach out to us in modern time.”
These past weeks an invitation has been extended to all those whom want to be a part of the voice, the voice which shall shape this congregation as we journey into the future. The invitation is that of the character of the invitation from the prophet Isaiah. An invitation means you have been invited to partake of what has been prepared for you! How many times in our lives have we accepted an invitation to a banquet or a feast and have been thrilled that we did!? Yet, how many other times have we wavered and been undecided as to whether we ought to take the time out, of our busy schedules, to go to yet another function. When we make such choices, we shall never be quite sure what we may have declined and not have been a part of. The sceptic, the doubter within us shall turn down many invitations. Perhaps this is prudent, especially, given the time in which we now live. Not all is as it seems. Yet, what of the optimism we cherish – as we look for the good in all things and hope for the best in all situations. Every invitation has an unknown and each has a potential for something new. How does one choose? Why risk it, some shall say. Others will reject even the best of ivitations prior to investigation! The question, one needs to ask, is when to say yes and when to say no.
If you call my cell phone, and I do not have your phone number in my contact list, I probably will not answer. Perhaps, if I call yours you might do the same. I will return your call, if you leave a message and your phone number, and give me a plausible reason to return the call. I suspect you would do the same. If you text me, I will certainly will read your message, then decide how to respond. Those of us who text, are quite comfortable with this means of communication. If you send me an e-mail, I will open it, only if I know who you are. In making such choices, now and then I miss a call, or a message that I really wanted to take. Now and then I miss an opportunity. Most of us communicate with each other in the manner in which we are most comfortable and have the best results with. There is always the Post Office, takes a bit longer, but most of us still use it, now and then. So, what were the best means of communications way back in the time of the Prophet Isaiah?
The Reverend Brent A. Strawn, Professor of Old Testament, who has taught classes, at Rutgers University and Asbury Theological Seminary, as-well-as at Princeton Theological Seminary and has even taught as a visiting professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, takes us back to that time period. “So, back to the beginning: “Hey, you! Come buy and eat! No money necessary!” It doesn’t need to be the year 600 B.C., before the time of Christ, for this to be an enhancing invitation! In a reflection by the theologian Kate Matthews we are reminded that “This prophet, named Isaiah, knows that the people are hungry for a message of hope.” As he speaks to the displaced people of Israel, he offers them that hope. This need for hope has not dwindled in our own time. As a preacher, I hope you listen long enough to hear the message. As the listener, you are hopeful, I will get to the point before lunch. The homeless man or woman hopes their luck will change. The cancer patient hopes the next treatment will rid their body of their cancer. The student hovering under a desk prays the gunmen will not find them. The grandmother, sitting in her favorite pew, at the Synagogue or Mosque, hopes the unthinkable will end!
Hope is something we all need or will at some point in our lives. Isaiah is inviting his listeners to consider that hope can be found in the invitation which he offers. A closer relationship with the “The Holy One.” To many during his time – that was a hard choice being presented – as they had been overrun in battle by the Babylonians and had been sent to Babylon in exile. Their spirits had been broken. This is why the Prophet uses such an uplifting approach as he tries to ‘instill’ a new message in the hearts of his people. Using commonly understood language of hunger and thirst, offering nourishment at no cost. Mahatma Gandhi once said: “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” In one commentary it is explained in this manner. “Here is a gracious offer of pardon, and peace, and of all happiness. It shall not be in vain to seek God, now his word is calling to us, and his Spirit is striving with us.” The prophet proclaims for all to hear, “Seek God, for the Holy One is near!” /Matthew Henry’s Commentary/
Have you ever headed off on a long walk in the hot Florida sun, and realized you forgot to bring water with you? Or you did, but at the last rest stop you set it down, then left without it. Its importance begins to increase as your thirst builds and builds! The words of caution begin to replay in your head. You begin to realize the journey you are on has altered, simply because of the need for nourishment. To ignore your thirst is dangerous, so you give in, you surrender to the need to change your priorities and rethink what your next step shall be. If you then, suddenly stumbled onto a vendor offering free water, would you not stop and partake? Of course, you would. This is exactly what the Prophet Isaiah was counting on, as he lavishly and poetically called out to the people. He had their attention and thus he proclaimed his message!
Today, believe it or not, is already the third Sunday in Lent! Reverend Kate Matthews, during her years as Dean of the Amistad Chapel, worked to instill in her brothers and sisters within the United Church of Christ and beyond, words to build inspiration and hope. Her commentaries still feed many pastors seeking to instill the same in those they speak to. She speaks to us today about what we may or may not be trying to accomplish as we journey through Lent! She tells us “Many of us may be attempting, with varying degrees of success, one kind of Lenten discipline or another, to learn to act and think in new ways that will transform not just our lives but the world around us as well. It’s hard work, and it requires persistence.” Each of us view the process of moving through Lent from various approaches and with differing attitudes. What is yours? Are you taking this time to reflect on your faith journey? Are you making an extra effort to strengthen your relations with God? Are you, perhaps, praying a little longer each day or reading a new devotional book or preparing to undertake a new approach to study the scriptures – as you journey on? There are many roadways which can lead to renewal or transformation. Change can be good, good for you and good for those around you.
“Maybe the point of Lent is for us to adjust our sights so that we at least understand what it is we ought to hunger for, or in fact what we do hunger and thirst for, in our deepest being: justice, mercy, peace, healing, acceptance, love.” This reflection written by Kate Matthews, encourages us to allow ourselves to consider altering our view as we reconsider what aspects of our ministry we need to strengthen. We shall need to do this as we consider our weaknesses, as-well-as our strengths, as we look toward the future. Lent is the perfect time for this process, as we spend time continuing to reinforce our commitment to follow in the example of the “Holy One,” “The Long Awaited One.” Isaiah’s hope ‘proclamation’ is founded on the ancient understanding that God would send the “Anointed One,” the “Messiah” to save the people. From our modern understanding and perspective that is Jesus, the Christ Child, The Son of God, the Son of Man.
As we reflect for a moment on this “New Beginnings” process we have embarked upon, I pray we will carefully examine the inventory of things we as a church family possess. Some things we will see as precious. Perhaps other aspects of who we are – you will find needs closer scrutiny. This process could raise up new possibilities which you will get excited about and you may wish to pursue! It’s a process to be sure. As you enter into this process consider how, over the years, you, like me and many others, have needed to move from one home to another. If you began in a smaller home, you perhaps needed to buy more furnishings for your new location. Then again if you were moving from a larger home, especially if it was one which had become underused, as the children had all moved out, you needed to downsize. If you are currently getting ready to do either one or the other of these contrasting scenarios, you probably are having some concerns and/or reservations. I think we all have, so know that you are not alone. Whatever choices or decisions you and others make, be sure that your thoughts and concerns are expressed; and be sure that you are heard! Conversely, be sure you also listen to the thoughts and concerns of others. This is how a process evolves: one thought, one discussion at a time.
The cycles of life are much like the cycles of a faith journey. There shall be some joyful moments and some ‘earthier’ harder moments to contend with. When those low points come our way, we all need someone like Isaiah to remind us of the new things yet to come. The new opportunities, the new joys and celebrations yet to be! Let us not miss out. For the future beckons us to come forth with anticipation and an expectation that God ‘will be with us every step of the way’ and around every corner we must turn! Life is in front of us. The Spirit of God pushes us ever forward! Listen to the invitation from the mouth of the Prophet Isaiah! “Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.” /Isaiah 515:3/