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Duration:17 mins 29 secs

Our Second Reading for this morning comes from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 55, verses 1-11. As we continue “on the way to Easter,” we have moved from the historical stories of creation, Noah, Abraham, and the Exodus; to the wisdom literature of Proverbs, and now to the prophets. This journey through the Old Testament is designed, as Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “show us the inner foundation and orientation of history. [These texts] cause creation and history to become transparent to what is essential. In this way they take us by the hand and lead us towards Christ, they show us the true Light.”

Those who first heard the Word of the Lord from the Prophet Isaiah in our text for today needed to be taken by the hand and shown the true light. These are words spoken to the people of Israel while they are in exile in Babylon. Beginning in Chapter 40 and concluding with our text for today, this second section of Isaiah speaks a word of comfort and hope to those who had lingered in a foreign land for several generations. The prophet promises a return to the land of their ancestors. But the question remains, will the people go or will they stay in Babylon? Let us hear this Word of God.

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.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

I want you to imagine that we are taking a church pilgrimage to Geneva, Switzerland - home of John Calvin. Money is no object on this imaginary trip, so we are going to do it right. A quick internet search yields the top “must sees” in Geneva. So, we make a list with Lake Geneva, the International Red Cross Museum, the Palace of Nations, John Calvin’s home and school, and a bunch of churches because this is a church trip, right? We pick our dates, we make reservations at a hotel in the middle of the city, and we get our plane tickets. Can you feel the excitement building? We are literally going to be on the way!

Well, the day of the trip arrives and we board the airplane and all goes smoothly. Now, we cannot fly direct from Augusta to Geneva, so we change planes in Atlanta. No problems there. Our next stop is Paris and that is a longer flight, so we watch a few movies, read a novel, and explore the guidebooks. In Paris another transfer, a short flight, and finally we arrive in Geneva. We disembark from the plane, make our way to baggage claim and find our luggage. Then together we walk toward the doors of the airport, ready to take in all that Geneva has to offer. Suddenly we stop. The automatic doors open and shut, but we stand still. Taxi drivers outside are waiting for us, waving us forward, but we stand still. Then we turn around, take our luggage back to check-in, and catch the next flight to Augusta.

I can feel your disappointment, and this is just an imaginary trip. So, what’s the big deal? We made it to Geneva, right? Seeing the airport must be good enough. We don’t need to really see the rest of the city. There are pictures online and in the guidebooks. Who knows what might happen if we actually leave the airport? We don’t speak the language, we don’t know our way around, and it’s scary to be in a foreign land. We made it to the airport, so we can still say we went to Geneva, right?

Now, if I had to imagine the people of God who first heard the prophet Isaiah in our text for today, I think they were like those who had the opportunity to take a trip of a lifetime and wanted to settle for something less. I am not sure they even got on the plane in Augusta. Yes, our text for today contains a sharp contrast between a settled, established way of life and a new adventure with God:

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.

In a call similar to last week’s call of Wisdom in Proverbs, the street vendor cries out offering free water, wine, and milk. This is the stuff of the good life and it is all free! You just have to say yes. Once you reach the Geneva airport, step outside!

The contrast is with the life of captivity under an empire. The people of Israel had been forcibly removed from their homeland by the conquering Babylonian army roughly eighty years before. So, several generations had now lived in Babylon. They had bought homes and let their children take Babylonian husbands and wives. The voice of the Lord had grown silent. The people grew comfortable. They felt safe. They became established. They still told stories about how God had delivered their ancestors from Egypt at the Red Sea. There were promises that one day they would return home, wherever that was. But they were not in a hurry. Why would they want to go somewhere else when things were ok as they are? Things were not great, but at least they were ok. The airport in Geneva isn’t that bad.

So, Isaiah asks them: why are you investing in things that do not last? Why are you eating the junk food of the Babylonians when the rich, delicious, nourishing, food of the Gospel is available? Why are you settling for something that looks like life, but is really just a fraction of what God wants you to know and to share?

My friends, do we ever do that? Do we settle for something that is just ok, that is adequate, that is a mild disappointment instead of seeking the life that really is life that God wants us to share? Bob Goff, author of the book Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World that we will be studying together during the season of Lent, tells a story about doing that. Bob was starting a diet to lose a few pounds. On the first morning he stood in front of the refrigerator with the door wide open, just like his teenage son does, trying to decide what to eat. He reached for a bagel and some Philadelphia cream cheese in the familiar silver-wrapped package. He says, “This is not the breakfast of a love-handle-shedding champion, but I spread it a little thinner than usual and thought maybe I’d lose a few ounces anyway.”

He took a bite and it tasted terrible. His family had hosted some guests recently, so he thought perhaps they had brought some low-fat cream cheese. Bob couldn’t imagine why anyone would eat this low-fat junk, but maybe if he put more of the fake cream cheese on his bagel it might take a little more like the real thing. So, he cut a bigger chunk out of the bar and spread it on his bagel thick. Taking another bite, he realized it actually tasted worse!

Unwilling to give up, he doubled down. If this stuff is half the calories, he could use twice as much. Bob cut another couple of big chunks out of the cream cheese, leaving just enough so he could put it back in the refrigerator with some dignity. But there was no salvaging this healthy substitute. Every bite was more awful than the last.
His wife Maria came into the kitchen as he finished force-feeding himself this lackluster breakfast. He told her they could not get this low-fat cream cheese anymore because it was horrible.

Maria agreed with a puzzled look on her face. She then inspected the near-empty package and started belly laughing. After several minutes, when she finally could speak again, Maria informed Bob that he had eaten nearly a whole bar of Crisco lard.

How often do we do that with our spiritual life and our commitment to Jesus Christ? How often do we spend our money for that which is not bread and our labor for that which does not satisfy? How often do we settle for life in Babylon instead of being on the way with God into a glorious future? How often do we double down on Crisco that masquerades as cream cheese? How often do we settle for something that is not good, convincing ourselves that it is good enough?

And it is not just our own spirit; it is the way we Christians tend to engage the world in which we live? Our political leaders are so flawed, all of them, but if they support one thing we like, we decide to excuse the rest. Our economy is growing and the stock market is rising, so we ignore those who are left out. We make decisions not on what is right and true, but based on what will make us sound or look best to our friends. We know our faith is not growing, our prayer life is practically non-existent, we are not really engaged in service or mission, but at least we show up for worship on Sunday - that’s enough right? It’s safe; it’s familiar; it’s comfortable. But it’s not what God intends for us to know, to be, and to share.

God’s word and God’s call to us are the same as they were to the people of Israel in Babylon so many years ago. The life that really is life awaits us. A life of faith, hope, love, and joy with Christ! A life that is free if we will only say yes. If we will only take a step of faith. If we will follow not our own reasonable way, but the way of the Lord.

My friends, will we trust in the Word of the Lord that shall not return empty? Will we trust that the Word of the Lord will accomplish all that it intends to do? Will we answer the call of God to discover a secretly incredible life in an ordinary world? Will we speak the truth, remove the falsehood, and work together for the good of all? It will not be easy or simple, but it is a life that is full and rich and joyful with Jesus. It is to join God in the places where Christ is at work even now redeeming and transforming the world.

My friends, this is all available to you and to me in Jesus Christ. So, let’s take the trip, step through the door, eat and drink the good stuff, and leave the Crisco in the fridge. And in the words of Bob Goff, “Don’t let anyone talk you into settling for a reasonable faith.”

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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