Sermon preached by Jeanne Gay
March 11, 2007
Yo! Thirsty? C’mon to the water!
No money? C’mon—you can buy without money. C’mon and eat!
Wine and milk without money—no cost!
Sounds like an infomercial, or maybe spam e-mail at first glance, doesn’t it. “Get a $500 WalMart gift card just for answering a few questions!” “Make $6,000 a week, working from home!” “Invest in this financial plan to help Nigerians move money out of their homeland, and make hundreds of thousands of dollars!”
Something for nothing. And our cynicism kicks in: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” “You get what you pay for.”
And that cynicism is a good thing to have when we’re dealing with the schemes and ploys we’re surrounded with day-to-day. We call it “street smarts.” We teach our children to beware of offers that sound too good to be true.
So what do we do with this opening of our Isaiah text? Come to the waters! Wine and milk without money, without cost.
This verse reminds Biblical scholars (and may have reminded the verse’s original hearers) of the beginning verses of Proverbs 9, in which Wisdom (and Wisdom is a female attribute or personification of God), Wisdom “has built and furnished her home … The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted, wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers. … Lady Wisdom goes to town … and invites everyone ‘Are you confused about life, don’t know what’s going on? Come with me, oh come, have dinner with me! I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread, roast lamb, carefully selected wines.”
Wisdom has prepared a banquet for anyone who will attend it. Prepared a banquet. Sound familiar? “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” Psalm 23. Free food—a whole banquet!—prepared by God.
The Isaiah selection continues: “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?” Like spending your money on junk food, your hard-earned cash on cotton candy, as the Bible translation called The Message puts it. And that’s a question for us, isn’t it? Why do we spend our money on things we know will not satisfy us? Why do we throw away the fruit of our labor on the equivalent of cotton candy? What are we looking for?
Verse 2 goes on: “Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” And back in Proverbs, Lady Wisdom says, “Leave your simplicity, your confusion, and live! Walk in the way of understanding, in a life with meaning.” There’s a reward here, folks: food for our souls … a life with meaning.
Sounds good, right? But we’re still stuck in our cynicism. Yeah, but what’s it going to cost? You said it was free, but there’s got to be a cost somewhere – there’ve got to be strings to this gift.
“Your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.” Covenant—promise—this sounds like a contract, so here’s where the cost should be.
We remember the covenants God made with people in the Old Testament, right? Starting with Abraham, the covenant was that the people would keep God as their God and honor God’s commandments, and God would bless them, making them fruitful (descendents numbering more than the stars) and giving them the promised land. But in the Gospels we have a new covenant. And what’s the price we pay for this new covenant? In the old covenant, the men were circumcised as a mark of the covenant. What about us? Honoring the Sabbath? Church membership? Sinless lives? Tithing? What’s the if-then of this new covenant?
At another meal—have you ever noticed how often the Bible talks about eating?—Jesus tells us about the new covenant: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
And that’s the point, isn’t it. There is no if-then in this new covenant. The price that needed to be paid was paid by Jesus: for us this gift is free. That invitation—come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters—it truly is available to us without money and without cost, without any payment at all.
We’re invited to come and eat what is good, soul-enriching food, food of love, in an everlasting covenant like the one God made with David. What a gift! We’ve been given the gift of everlasting life. What a gift!
No strings. Nothing we have to do.
But don’t most of us want to do something in response to such a gift? Don’t we at least want to be able to say “Thank you”? And we don’t want to just say, “Gee, thanks,” and be on our merry way because, hey, we’re being offered good food, soul-filling food, time to hang out and fill ourselves with good stuff. We’d like to stick around and be part of this. It’s free—and it’s good!
We’re tired of spending our money on what is not bread and our labor on what doesn’t satisfy.
A number of years ago I went to a college reunion. I was nervous beforehand. I believe I went on a diet, and I know I bought some funky new earrings. I was trying really hard to make sure I was okay, that people would admire me and want to be with me. I’d been married and divorced since they’d known me, and I really wanted to present a good image—you know, successful, happy, attractive, cool. I imagine you’ve had similar experiences, doing whatever you can to make yourself okay for a group of people. Well, reconnecting with people I’d known in college was a joy, and I remember thinking, “These are good people.” My college doesn’t turn out a lot of really famous people (unless you count Jim Eby’s wife, Mary, or John Dean of Watergate fame!), but it turns out a lot of teachers and ministers and doctors and business people and school board members, and they were good people. No need for me to dress up for them. No need to spend my labor on what doesn’t satisfy. I found myself wanting to stay there, stay connected with these people I hadn’t seen for a couple of decades because they were just good people. I hope you’ve had experiences like that, too.
And if there are people with whom we want to spend time because we know they’re good people, how much more do we long to be in God’s presence, at God’s table?
We know that the invitation and the gift are there for us. But what next?
Later on in our Isaiah passage (verse 7), there’s a clue: “Let the wicked forsake their way and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord that the Lord may have mercy on them, and to our God, for God will abundantly pardon.”
I hate to tell you, folks, but we’re the wicked and the unrighteous. (C’mon – don’t tell me you haven’t had a single unkind thought or made a single snide comment in the last week, or the last 24 hours … or the last 30 minutes?) “Let the wicked forsake their way and the unrighteous their thoughts.”
What’s that saying? It’s saying, “Repent.” Repenting doesn’t mean feeling bad about what you’ve done; repenting means making a turn in your life. It means adopting a different way of behaving, a different way of acting. It means forsaking your ways and thoughts, just like Isaiah said.
But here’s the thing: This covenant is not built on an if-then premise. God hasn’t said, “If you repent, then I’ll love you forever and give you eternal life.” We sometimes think that’s the deal, because that’s the way so much of our human world works. But it isn’t.
Instead, this is a “because – as a result” deal. Because God loves us, we want to please God. Because God invites us to a banquet filled with good and soul-filling food, we want to leave off filling our lives with junk food and cotton candy. Because being in God’s presence is so wonderful, we want to stay in the experience.
And how do we stay in the experience? By following the commandments, by caring for our neighbors … by feeding the poor and fighting for justice … by bringing canned goods on Sundays and giving to One Great Hour of Sharing and turning off lights when we’re not using them … by studying God’s word and coming to church to worship … by loving God’s people and God’s world and God.
It’s not just a free lunch, folks, that God invites us to. It’s a free banquet, a life full of living water and heavenly food. Are you thirsty? Come to the waters! You don’t have money to buy this food, but come and eat it anyway! It’s free! It’s yours. Thank the Lord.