March 17, 2019

Come and Be Satisfied

Passage: Isaiah 55:1-13; Psalm 63:1-8

20190317 Sermon Rev


Throughout the Scriptures for this Lenten season, the condition of human emptiness is contrasted with the satisfaction and fulfillment God longs to provide for us. God’s people endure difficult times—hungry and thirsty, often lost and away from the safety of home.  At the same time, God’s people find their most basic needs met in God’s abundance.  They find their needs fulfilled by means of a feast that only God can provide![1]


Our theme for the season, Blessed Hunger, Holy Feast, expresses the truth found in these passages of Scripture.   It invites us to let go of what gets in the way of growing as children of God.  At the same time, it invites us to hold on to what is most important.  This morning a prophet, a psalmist, and a rock band will assist us in this task.


The beginning of Isaiah 55 mimics the cries of the vendors in the marketplace.  For those of us who have attended a professional baseball game, it might remind us of the people walking through the stands shouting, “Peanuts!   Get your peanuts here!” or “Hot Dogs!” or “Beer!  Ice cold beer!”  Today, I say, “Potluck!  Come to the potluck.  Even if you didn’t bring any food, stay and eat.  There’s enough for everyone.”  This passage also brings to mind biblical stories of messengers being sent out to invite everyone they encounter to come and dine at their master’s table.


We may find it surprising during the season of Lent – a time when people talk about giving things up – to be invited to a banquet—to a feast.[2]  Yet Isaiah issues just such an invitation.  Likely, it would have been even more surprising to its first readers than it is to us.


They would not have been surprised by its first word, which many versions translate as Ho!  In other versions we find Come, Listen, Say there, or Hey there.  This word has occurred twenty times already in the book of Isaiah, and in each previous instance it could be translated as Woe – Woe to you.


The people who first read this text were intimately acquainted with woe.  This section of the book of Isaiah, chapters 40-55, is addressed to the exiles who believed that God had forsaken them when their nation was defeated by the Babylonians, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and they were forced to live in Babylon.  They thought of themselves as abandoned by God, beyond the reach of God's care.  They had serious doubts about both God's faithfulness and God's power.  They were living in a woeful, hopeless situation.  They were used to hearing woeful proclamations and predictions from their prophets.  Yet another message of woe would not have been surprised them,


They probably were astounded, then, by Isaiah's words in chapter 55, verse 1—words, not of woe, but of invitation; an invitation, not to judgment, but to a celebration.  These words of invitation address those who are desperate with hunger but have no money, no resources of their own.  The waters represent the source of all life.  Milk and wine represent the abundance of life.[3]  This life-giving, abundant feast the Lord of the banquet offers is free.


The remainder of the text is filled with exhortations, invitations, and promises.  Exhortations – to listen carefully to God, to seek and call upon the Lord through worship and prayer, and to change behavior.  Invitations – to return to the Lord, to feast on more than mere bread, but on the gracious and life-giving word of God, and to live the abundant life.  Promises – to renew and extend the covenant God made with David, the promise that God’s steadfast love will never depart from David and his royal heirs.  This is true even though the people are no longer part of a kingdom.  Even as exiles in an alien empire, God’s word and love endure.  God makes a second startling promise:  that nations yet unknown will come running to this uniquely royal people when they call—not because of their own power, but because of their God.  God’s kingdom will be extended and expanded.


These exhortations, invitations, and promises have their basis and guarantee in the divine affirmations that end the passage.  They should seek and call on God because God's ways and thoughts are not theirs.  God’s plan for the world is in sharp contrast to human designs.  This difference is already indicated in the previous verses by the human impulse to wrongdoing and the Lord’s impulse to compassion.[4]


Their ways and thoughts, the people's own projects and plans, are governed by the possibilities—rather, by the impossibilities—that lie apparent before them. But God's ways and thoughts are much more exalted, as far as heaven is exalted above the earth.  God's project and plan are not limited by the possibilities apparent either from history or any current circumstances.  In light of these, God's promises may seem both astounding and foolish.


As we read on, we discover that the point is not simply that God has higher thoughts than we do.  The point is that God's word does not return empty; God does not speak and utter promises in vain.  God's word accomplishes what God desires and plans. The whole text hangs on this affirmation.  And the truth of this affirmation is the basis of Christian faith, especially during Lent.


In Psalm 63 we hear from someone who has feasted at the table described by the prophet Isaiah. [5]  The psalm begins with an expression of deep desire for God.  What the worshiper desires most of all is intimate relationship and compassionate fellowship with God.  The psalmist uses images of seeking, thirsting, and fainting for God.  My soul thirsts and my flesh faints are metaphors of imperative need.  For the writer, the sanctuary is the place where God’s glorious presence and power are revealed.”


In verses 3-4, the psalmist promises to praise God because God’s steadfast love is better than life itself.  God will be the object of the petitioner’s worship for the rest of life.


The verses that follow are statements of absolute trust and confidence.  This confidence is probably based on and reinforced by the experience of worship noted earlier.  The psalmist’s soul is satisfied by God’s protective help.  While the hours of night were often regarded as a dangerous time, when demons and evil spirits were active, the writer of these words also considered nighttime to be a suitable time to seek God’s presence in prayer and meditation.


Remembering and reciting God’s past divine acts gave reassurance of God’s present love and protection.  The worshiper clings to God.  God’s right hand, the hand of strength, upholds the worshiper.  God’s steadfast love satisfies the soul.


We’ve heard from a prophet and a psalmist.  Now, you may be wondering how a rock band fits into all of this.  When those of us of a certain age hear the word satisfaction, a song by the Rolling Stones might come to mind.  I didn’t listen to rock and roll in the 60’s and I’ve never owned an album by the Rolling Stones.  Nevertheless, I know I’ve heard this song many, many, many, many times since Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote it in 1965.


I wonder how many of you have the chorus running through your head right now.  I can't get no satisfaction, I can't get no satisfaction. 'Cause I try and I try and I try and I try. I can't get no, I can't get no.[6]


While I could easily remember the song’s chorus, I don’t know that I had ever listened carefully to the verses.  I assumed they were filled with innuendo about satisfying physical desire.  While that is definitely present in the last half of the song, I was surprised to discover that Jagger wrote many of the lyrics as a statement about the rampant commercialism that the Rolling Stones had seen in America.


Verse 1:  When I'm drivin' in my car and that man comes on the radio and he's tellin' me more and more about some useless information supposed to fire my imagination.  I can't get no, oh no no no.
Hey hey hey, that's what I say.


Verse 2:  When I'm watchin' my TV and that man comes on to tell me how white my shirts can be.  Well he can't be a man 'cause he doesn't smoke the same cigarettes as me. I can't get no, oh no no no.  Hey hey hey, that's what I say.


When the Rolling Stones sing about riding around the world, doing this, signing that, being turned down by some girl, not getting any satisfaction, I can almost hear the prophet and the psalmist saying to them (and to us), Hey, why do you spend your money for that which is not the bread of life, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Seek the Lord, call upon him, and your soul will be satisfied.  Disengage yourself from the seduction of the culture around you and drink from the well of salvation. 


In my reading this week, one author quoted a man from Ecuador named Pablo Fajardo. [7]  Pablo grew up poor, working in the Amazon basin for Chevron.  Eventually he became a lawyer committed to securing his people’s economic and environmental rights in the Chevron oil fields.  This is what he said.


One of the problems with modern society is that it places more importance on things that have a price than on things that have a value.  Breathing clean air, for instance, or having clean water in the rivers, or having legal rights—these are things that don’t have a price but have a huge value.  Oil does have a price, but its value is much less.  And sometimes we make a mistake.


I wonder if Pablo is related to the prophet Isaiah.


Confession and assurance are part of our services during Lent.  As we read the words of confession today, imagine that Jesus is standing here speaking the words of Isaiah.  If you are thirsty, come here; come, there’s water for all.  Whoever is poor and penniless can still come and buy the food I sell.  There’s no cost—here, have some food, hearty and delicious, and beverages, pure and good.  I don’t understand why you spend your money for things that don’t nourish or work so hard for what leaves you empty.  Attend to Me and eat what is good; enjoy the richest, most delectable of things.  Listen closely, and come even closer.  My words will give life, for I will make a covenant with you that cannot be broken, a promise of My enduring presence and support like I gave to David.[8]


What might Jesus be asking you to let go of in exchange for the abundant life God offers?  What are you holding on to that ultimately does not satisfy?  Could it be gossip, food, money, prestige, pornography, power, promotions, pride, gambling, adultery, alcohol, or shopping?  Some of these are OK in moderation; others must be given up completely.  Sometimes even good, uplifting, socially beneficial activities need to be given up so that life can be lived to its fullest.  No one person can do everything all the time.


Everyone who is thirsty, come.  Turn away from the emptiness of a life apart from God—an empty life characterized as thirsty and poor, as flesh that faints in dryness and weariness.  Turn toward the satisfaction of a life that seeks God—an abundant life described with images of water, rich food, wine, milk, and rich feasts. [9]  Leave behind all that does not satisfy and drink the water of Life.


Jesus is the host at an abundant table to which all are invited.  Come and be satisfied.  Amen.


[1] “Worship Resources, Lent-Easter 2019,” Leader: Winter 2018-19, MennoMedia, p. 37.

[2] Much of what follows is adapted from the commentary on Isaiah 55:1-11 by Ben Ollenburger accessed through in 2016.

[3] Ivan D. Friesen, Isaiah, Believers Church Bible Commentary, ed. Douglas B. Miller and Loren Johns (Scottdale, PA:  Herald Press, 2009), 345.

[4] Friesen, 346.

[5] Sources consulted include Fred B. Craddock John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, and Gene Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: Year C, Trinity Press International, 1994, pp. 150 and James H. Waltner, Psalms, Believers Church Bible Commentary, Herald Press, 2006, pp. 307-308.


[7] Anita Amstutz, Soul Tending:  A Journey into the Heart of Sabbath, Skylight Paths Publishing, 2018, p. 101.

[8] Isaiah 55:1-3, The Voice.

[9] “Worship Resources, Lent-Easter 2019,” Leader: Winter 2018-19, MennoMedia, p. 42.

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