Sermon, December 17, 2017 “Spiritually Thirsty” Isaiah 55 vs. 1-13
My youngest two granddaughters are both in children’s little theatre productions. We travelled to Alliston one Friday night recently to take in their latest play. Of course they were the two stars of the evening—at least in our eyes! We have developed a post-theatre routine of going out to the Boston Pizza restaurant for dinner. It is not necessarily the best food in town but it has a great children’s menu and the adults never have any difficulty finding something good to eat as well. This time we arrived to find a very, very large children’s birthday party underway. There had to be 15 or 16 kids and every kid seemed to have both parents in tow. They occupied half the dining room of the restaurant in terms of sheer numbers and the whole restaurant in terms of sheer noise. The parents were as loud as the kids! I wondered aloud: “Whatever happened to having your 5 best friends at your house for a party, cake, ice cream and presents?” I was quickly told that the pressure is always on to one up the previous party and this party was nothing compared to some of the extravaganzas my granddaughters have heard about. At the end of the party there was a mad exit and the staff bravely began to clean up the mess left behind.
Keeping up with the Joneses, or the Babylonians, or the Persians is always the same…one really cannot keep up! The cycle always cries out for more, and more, and more. Sometimes it is fun, such as when two of our neighbours got into a game of putting pink flamingo figures on their lawns. Every morning we would wake up and discover that the flamingoes had been moved across the street and that several new ones had been added. The next morning they were back on our side of the street with additional ones having been added. Finally, as it seemed there was more pink than green on their lawns, both sides called a truce and the birds found their way to wherever such birds go…probably Florida at this time of year. The important thing is that they had realized that they simply could not keep up with the growing demands for ever more lawn flamingoes.
The message that Isaiah had for both the Jewish people remaining in exile and for those returning home was that in all that they did, in all that we do, they are: to listen, to seek and to choose between the path that is really soul destroying and the path that leads to life. Listen so that you may live. Seek the Lord while he may be found near. Choose to return to the Lord that you may know mercy for God will abundantly pardon.
Throughout the whole book of Isaiah one of the recurring themes is that “Israel does not know!” In fact that is said 76 times in the book. It applies to Jewish people as well as to their invaders and is posed repeatedly to every reader and hearer: “Have you not known?” By chapter 55 the Lord has become a most gracious teacher and shows graciousness to those who do not know. The purpose of God’s graciousness though is in fact that the whole world may know. This is part of God’s plan and Isaiah tells his people that the power of the word of God shall accomplish it. It is God’s will. When we pray “Thy will be done…” we are acknowledging that God’s purpose is being worked out and that God’s purpose will be done in order that the whole world may know.
Our reading today has many words and phrases in it that suggests there is more to come as God works out God’s purpose. There is also language used reminiscent of that used by and with David. The whole community is to take on the role of David and receive God’s blessing. God was planning yet one more way so that people could finally know, could finally accept God’s plan, and finally see in the birth of the Messiah the promise of God’s plan. This Messiah would be in the line of David and it was to this community in exile and transition that the promise of a Messiah is made once again. So you invite the thirsty to drink, those without money and who are hungry to eat, enjoy some wine, drink some milk, the very basics which can sometimes seem so out of reach for so many are possible. Even if you are spiritually thirsty that is an invitation to drink from the deep spiritual well that is offered to you in the promise of God, the person of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Return to God and be comforted physically, emotionally, spiritually for God will have mercy and abundantly pardon. An evangelical friend of mine signs all of his letters and many of his e-mails with this closing salutation: “Under the mercy” followed by his name. That’s not an expression I would use but it is one that captures the essence of today’s reading. We live not by keeping up with the Joneses, Babylonians, Persians, or birthday party organizers, we live under the mercy of a loving and caring God that welcomes us home and offers us fullness of life freely, at no cost to us at all.
Isaiah’s wrote: “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, 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.” This sentiment and indeed the idea of God’s word being purposefully set loose upon the earth is echoed in the Gospel according to John, chapter one, which we will read next Sunday morning. In both God is saying my Word produces results just as rain produces results when it falls on the soil. Human words may fail but God’s Word does not fail.
So we are invited to feast—upon that which we need for life and upon the Word of God. We will all experience feasts of one kind or another over the next week or two. God’s invitation is not about how much you can consume but how will you celebrate the new covenant announced through Isaiah and brought to fruition in the birth of Jesus. When we gather at God’s feast table it is not a question of much can I gather for myself rather it is who is missing from the table? God’s message is that it is not about the Brussels sprouts. It is about giving witness to the love of God made known in so many ways: the rain, and snow, that brings moisture to the earth; seed given to the sower that there is bread for the eater; and love of neighbour because our lives have been fed by the Word of God and that word is love.
Then says Isaiah, you will know peace! The hills shall burst into song! Instead of thorns shall come up cypress – tall and elegant in their glory and all this will be an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. For the people caught up in the rat race or struggling to return to a homeland that was in the middle of drought and devastation these words were words of hope. Words which became recognized as the Word of God, a word that indeed God’s Word, God’s love has and will always prevail for it is soon to be fulfilled again this year as we stand at the foot of the manger and receive the food and drink, hope and love that is promised us by God’s own Word.