Meditation on Isaiah 55:1-9
Third Sunday in Lent
March 24, 2019
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH
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.
“You are what you eat!”
I saw that slogan every day as I waited in line to buy lunch at my elementary school cafeteria. Posters with “You are what you eat,” and pictures of fruit and vegetables were taped to the walls and doors. So we saw the slogan going in. And we saw it going out.
I remember on more than one occasion looking down at my cafeteria tray, with foods chosen and served up by cafeteria staff, and thinking that must mean that I am spaghetti, garlic bread and cookies! Looking back, many of the lunches we were served tasted pretty good, but I doubt that they were actually good for our health.
I was thinking about “You are what you eat” standing in CVS on Friday, excited about my 25% off coupon and stocking up on candy for our children’s messages. I must have stood there a long time in this huge aisle, now full of spring-themed confections—all those pastel colors; bunny, chick and egg shapes; marshmallow, chocolate, and malted milk.
I stood there so long that I caught the attention of a store clerk, who asked, “May I help you find something?” I didn’t know how to answer, I was so overwhelmed. Should I buy jelly beans; well, what kind? I actually had them in my hand and then put them back—cause my husband and I would eat them before I would have the opportunity to give them to kids on Sunday morning.
“No, thank you,” I finally said. “Just so many choices.”
And that’s my problem—maybe all of our problem! We go to the grocery store and we have aisles of foods to choose from—and many of the foods are not good for us! Some of them aren’t really food, but we want them anyway. They aren’t fuel for our bodies and minds. They aren’t satisfying; they don’t fill us up. I’m still hungry after eating a package of marshmallow peeps. Aren’t you?
We eat–and are hungry for more.
I hear echoes of “You are what you eat” in today’s reading, the first 9 verses of Isaiah 55. The prophet is making a connection between the food that we eat and the spiritual nourishment we need for the health of our body and soul.
Isaiah says, “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.”
A lack of spiritual nurture and nourishment have led to unrighteous living for the Israelites in exile in Babylonia. Years have passed since the walls of Jerusalem were breeched in 587 BC, the temple and palace destroyed, and the city set ablaze by the Babylonian army. For the few survivors who remain in the ruins of the city, it means suffering and hunger—spiritual and physical deprivation. “My soul is bereft of peace,” says Lamentations 3:17. “I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘Gone is my glory, and all that I hoped for from the Lord.’” The Israelites believe, after the desolation of their city and their people, that God is punishing them and has abandoned them for mocking and persecuting the prophets when they urged them to turn away from the sins of oppression, injustice, greed and deceit—and turn back to the Lord. “Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to aliens…” says Lamentations 5. “We must pay for the water we drink; the wood we get must be bought. With a yoke on our necks, we are hard driven; we are weary, we are given no rest… We get our bread at the peril of our lives, because of the sword in the wilderness.”
In contrast, those living in exile become integrated, assimilated into Babylonian society as the years slip by. They adopt the lifestyles and idols of their conquerors and give up their faith in the one true God. They have jobs and money to spend; they’ve been captured by the lure of wealth. God’s children have become materialistic, stirring Isaiah to ask them why they are spending their money on that which does not satisfy, that which is not bread? He means that which is not food for body or soul; bread is a metaphor for the Word of God. Water or Living Water is a metaphor for the Spirit of the Lord.
Isaiah calls out like a peddler marketing his wares, “Ho, everyone who thirsts!”
“Come to the waters! You that have no money,” Isaiah cries to anyone with ears to hear. “Come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
He offers the promise of spiritual nourishment for those who may not even be aware that their soul hungers and thirsts for God—and that their exile is not just from the Holy City, but from the Lord. The prophet offers abundant life—symbolized by the delight of rich food—with a gracious and merciful God who waits and longs to forgive those who have turned away! This is the God of not just second chances, or forgiveness 70 times seven, as Jesus tells Peter when he asks in Matthew 18 how many times they must forgive each other. This is the God whose steadfast love never ceases, says Lamentations 3:22. “Whose mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.”
Isaiah urges God’s children to pray and change. “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.”
Friends, here’s reason for us to rejoice on this third Sunday in Lent. The Lord never abandoned the Israelites! And the Lord never abandons us! It’s we who wander away, maybe not in anger or intentional rebellion, but in distraction or weariness or because we have become too comfortable with the things of this world, like the exiles long ago. We might not even know that we are hungry and thirsty for a deeper faith, for more of God!
We might make the mistake of over-intellectualizing our faith. In our quest for knowledge and pride in our own learning, we may become disconnected from the one who is speaking life-giving words. “Listen,” Isaiah says, “so that you may live!”
God’s Word should compel us to respond in love and generosity—not with angry debates and drawing lines in the sand. Don’t fall into the trap of reading the Bible with an agenda, looking for evidence to support what you already believe! Come to God’s Word with an open heart and mind! Prepare to be amazed. Prepare to be changed!
Today’s passage in Isaiah should humble and inspire us! He reminds us that we can’t begin to think like the Lord! Just when you think you have all the answers to life’s questions and can figure everything out on your own, remember you are NOT the Lord. Take comfort in that! You’re not in control! Isn’t that great? Praise the Lord! Just imagine the mess we would make of everything if we were not inscribed, as Isaiah says in 49:16, on the palms of God’s hands.
God’s thoughts are not our thoughts! God’s ways are not our ways! His ways and thoughts are higher than ours!
And yet, we have the assurance of Psalm 139 that the Lord knows all our thoughts and is familiar with all our ways. And in Eph. 2:10, that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
The Lord wants to teach us, mold and use us, bless and keep us.
Open your heart to hear God’s Word! Eat what is good!
Friends, in Isaiah 56, we will read that God’s everlasting covenant has been extended to all who obey, to those who “maintain justice and do what is right.” “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.”
I hear Isaiah in John 10:16 when Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
God’s love penetrates geographical, political, social and cultural boundaries! Isn’t it wonderful to think that the Lord knows every language—every word before it is on our tongues, as the psalmist declares?
Isaiah says in 55:5,“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.’”
Those who respond to the call to leave their spiritual exile and return to the Lord are not to hoard God’s gracious benefits. God’s love is meant to be shared.
The invitation to come to the waters, you thirsty souls, is for all.
The invitation to you who hunger for a deeper faith, for more of God, is for all.
So go and tell others about God’s mercy and compassion.
Tell them, “Seek the Lord while he can be found! Open your heart.”
“Eat what is good.”
Let us pray…
Holy One, We come to you for your Living water, for spiritual refreshment and renewal. Forgive us for our sins, for loving the things of this world too much and for not spending enough time with you in prayer each day. Thank you for your love and compassion, being ever so patient with us who may have wandered into a spiritual exile. Draw us nearer to you and open our hearts so we may hear you as you speak to us in your life-giving Word. Stir in us a hunger and thirst for a deeper faith, for a closer, more loving relationship with you and one another. Help us to break bad habits and make good choices for our bodies, minds and souls, for ourselves, our families, our church and community. Strengthen us to eat what is good and to offer your love, mercy and compassion to our neighbors in need. In Christ we pray. Amen.