Isaiah 55:1-9 – 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. Seek the Lord while he may be found. Return to the Lord… for he will abundantly pardon.

Psalm 63:1-8 – O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water… In the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 – The results of idolatry and immorality are devastating. So do not fall. No test has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God will strengthen you for your testing.

Luke 13:1-9 – Those Galileans slaughtered by Pilate, were they any worse sinners than anyone else? No. How about those who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them? No. But unless you repent, you will also perish. Jesus likens his ministry to a man who allows his gardener to tend a fruitless fig tree for one year. If it doesn’t bear fruit, it will be destroyed. Prediction of the fall of Jerusalem?

Lent at-a-glance

  • February 10 – Ash Wednesday: Dust. Ashes. Mortality. Repentance. Fasting. Don’t show off your piety.
  • February 14 – Lent 1C: First fruits for the Levite and alien. Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness.
  • February 21 – Lent 2C: Abram’s call. Faith reckoned as righteousness. Jesus laments for Jerusalem.
  • February 28 – Lent 3C: Ho! Everyone who is thirsty come. You without money, come and eat. Repent, for there is only so much time left for the fig tree to bear fruit.
  • March 6 – Lent 4C: Lost sheep. Lost sons.
  • March 13 – Lent 5C: I am about to do a new thing… Mary anoints Jesus’ feet.
  • March 20 – Palm/Passion Sunday: Jesus entry into Jerusalem as an anti-triumph.

Ripple of Hope

At the outset of Lent I suggested one of two Lenten series. The first was a hunger theme, as we are focusing this year on the ELCA Hunger Appeal. A second was on the story of the Prodigal Son, which only appears in a Lukan year, and it only appears in Lent 4C (March 6, 2016). I suggested using Timothy Keller’s excellent book, The Prodigal God, as a guide (book and study guide).

I’ve been taking a look at the first lessons for Lent, which come from the Hebrew Bible. This Sunday’s lesson comes from Isaiah 55:

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

Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; 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. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 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. 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. 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.

Ho – Hoy, in Hebrew, means: Hey! Listen up! Pay attention! Like Idou in the Greek. “Behold.” It’s a few snaps of the fingers.

We are at the climax of what my professors called Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55). Written, 547-540 BC, these words reflect the end of Babylonian captivity. The Israelites dreams had been crushed. Their temple destroyed. Their way of life changed forever. Now comes a word of hope.

The return home is a kind of second exodus. These words will ring in the ears of all who have been displaced: Iraqis, Syrians, and Central Americans. All who long for their homeland, from which they have been forever exiled hear these words with force. The restoration of the fortunes of Zion mean God’s provision.

Listen to the images. You poor, who have no money, come to the waters, come buy and eat. Water, wine, milk, grain, bread! There is a promise of salvation that is very material here.

As capitalists we tend to reject the idea of free things. Capitalism creates wealth, but it doesn’t distribute it very well. Today the top 10% have about the same wealth as the other 90%. This is our economy. God’s economy is different than our human economies. You can’t put a price on God’s water. You can’t put a price on the bread of life. God’s economy is one of lavish grace and abundance.

Notice the promises here. First, people are fed. Then, nature is restored. There is a new creation. The mountains and the hills break out in song. Trees clap their hands. I would love to see what Disney could do with this. The cypress and myrtle trees flourish, instead of weeds. Third, faith and hope renewed, which money can’t buy.

One of the jobs of this prophet, and many other prophets, is to proclaim a message of hope in the midst of calamity. To see the broken world with new eyes. Are we prepared to preach a message of hope when others say the sky is falling?

People seem more in fear of terrorism and war than ever. Yet, by every measure, we are living in the safest time in human history. We hear of wars and rumors of war, but we live in fear. Can the preacher speak a word of hope and vision?

This message is addressed to those who have been torn from their homeland. Their houses bulldozed. Their Temple has been destroyed. Their city has been left in ruin. Their aristocracy dragged into slavery, in exile. Although people may treat you like garbage, God loves you.

We speak the word: whatever you may think of yourself, whatever others may think of you, God loves you. You are of inestimable value. The gospel means telling people they are beloved. They are loved with an everlasting love. It means treating people like it is true as well. People need a community where they can be somebody. When you preach that word, stuff happens.

God’s word does not return empty handed, Isaiah tells us. It accomplishes stuff. God’s word creates the world in Genesis. In Romans, Paul describes the word of the gospel as a “dunamis,” an explosive power. The word of God is not the Bible. It is not ink in a book. The Word is Jesus, the Word made flesh.

Last week, after 50 years of trial and error, folks at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced that they had finally detected what Einstein predicted: gravity waves. Einstein believed gravity was not an invisible force, but actually waves in the fabric of space/time. Imagine two standing people stretching out a blanket, with a grapefruit in the middle. Now roll marbles on the blanket. They will circle around the grapefruit, following the dipping contour of the blanket. Gravity. Now imagine the grapefruit rolling across the blanket, making waves, like a boat in the water. Gravity. It is an utterly new way of thinking about space and the universe. I suspect we will never quite be able to change our mental picture of the universe to this, just as our ancestors could not imagine a round earth. It is beyond our understanding.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts…

I like to think of the Word as a wave in space/time. It emanates invisibly accomplishing things. This wave in the universe is not death, but life! It is not hatred, but love. It is not chaos, but the coming together of things in the future, by God who is gathering all things together. We come and go, the grass withers and flower fades, but God’s word lasts forever. Isaiah is not talking about the Bible. He is talking about the preexistent word of God.

What images might help us proclaim this ripple of hope?

Come and eat for free? How about the potluck? As a broke college and seminary student, I was always on the prowl for a free meal. For many, the struggle for food is a daily enemy. Economic inequality is a national conversation these days. What if the kingdom of God is a free banquet. Could we have some free barbecues to give the world, a foretaste of the feast to come?

The men at a former congregation decided to cook a full breakfast once a month. They chose the second Sunday of every month. It became known as the Second Sunday Breakfast. They cooked eggs, pancakes, sausage, bacon, and biscuits, with orange juice and hot coffee. One gentleman often picked up the entire cost himself, then set out a donation basket. Everyone came, money or not. Some paid; some couldn’t. Newcomers were always free. We always collected more than we spent, like the loaves and fishes in the Feeding of the Five Thousand. The money was used to support student scholarships. Each Second Sunday we ate until the food was gone. I loved coming early to church on the Second Sunday. The parking lot smelled heavenly. The aroma of love…and bacon. And guess what? Attendance on the the second Sunday of the month was always the highest of the month. I asked the council, “Why do you think that is?” They liked to respond, “I’m afraid it’s not because of the preachin’ pastor.”

Welcome isn’t as hard as we think. Everyone eats. Everyone loves a free meal. Ho! Come! Eat! You have no money. Our church suppers should be for the poor. No, they should be for all, to eat together. A potluck just for us is an abomination. How are you inviting those who really need it to your feasts?

Then the language shifts. “Why do you spend your money on that which does not satisfy?” The same could be said of us today. We have a spiritual hunger that we try to satisfy with things, entertainment, or sensuality. Seek something more substantial, Isaiah says.

This is the same shift that Jesus often makes, from the material to the spiritual. Jesus: You cannot live by bread alone. Echoes of Ash Wednesday’s gospel reading from Matthew 6: Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal. Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…

Jesus. One minute he’s asking the woman for a cup of water, and the next he’s talking about living water to quench your spiritual thirst. One minute he’s talking about multiplying fish and bread, and the next he is talking about the bread of life, to satisfy our spiritual hunger. This is the enigmatic nature of prophets. One minute he’s talking about blindness, and the next he’s talking about the Pharisee’s spiritual blindness. It’s like some kind of bait and switch.

You are spending your money on the wrong stuff. You are caught in the trap of materialism. Free yourself! You can’t put a price on God’s water. This is living water to quench your spiritual thirst. This is the bread of life.

Too much? Gods economy doesn’t make sense to you? Of course not. “My thoughts are not your thoughts,” saith the Lord.

Of course, the Eucharistic table is the ultimate weekly sign of the open table of our Lord. It is not just bread and wine we crave, but Christ himself, the spiritual nourishment he brings. Maslow was right. Get the bread thing out of the way for people, and they will be able to focus on their spiritual hunger.

Ho! Come to the waters of baptism. You hungry, empty-handed people, come to the table and drink bread and wine. Find life!

Our Eucharistic table must extend to the potluck, the Second Sunday Breakfast, and the congregational barbecue. They must be not for us, but for the world. It is said that the early church took all the left over bread from the Eucharistic table and send it out with teams to the poor. Let it be so today.