March 24, 2019 Sermon Ho, come to the River of Grace !
Scripture Passage: Isaiah 55:1-9
Ho, Come to the River of Grace!
Good morning! In 2016, the Presbyterian Women used this passage as their theme for the Horizons Bible Study, which was focused on water. Every class, we began a responsive prayer using Isaiah 55. This passage is a poetic one, with beautiful and meaningful imagery of water and bread. There are several layers of meaning in this passage, as with most scriptures, and my Lectio Divina Group discovered this on Friday! All of my Lectio Divina Group interpreted the first 2 verses from a spiritual perspective, as many people today would. However, there is also a literal perspective. It appears very odd at first, that Isaiah says to the Israelite exiles in Babylonia, that they can buy wine, milk and bread without any money! What does this mean? Is Isaiah saying that we might be allowed to walk into Trader Joe’s and stock up on wine, milk and bread and not have to go through the checkout line? Well, not exactly, but actually in the literal interpretation, there have been some blessed people, who have experienced something like this.
I have heard more than one story of students, who ran into a hard time, financially, but then, something miraculous happened to them, when a generous person gave them a check for just what they needed. This week, I was thinking of my member, Damaris, at the Liberal, Kansas church. Damaris was a returning student at a Presbyterian college in Sterling, Kansas, who was trying to transfer her teaching license from Ohio to Kansas. In the meantime, Damaris had some things come up in her personal life, which prevented her from completing the classes. She had to take a break and work as a long-term substitute teacher in Liberal, until she could afford to finish the program. During all this transition, Damaris’ car died, as misfortunes usually happen in threes! Her budget was tight, like most students, so Damaris could not replace her car. This was so hard on her, because public transportation in Liberal, like in most rural towns is not convenient. So, we tried to help Damaris find a reliable used car. The key word there is reliable, because anyone could find a cheap used car, but the question was, is it reliable, or just a piece of junk? So, months went by, and though everyone in our church was doing their best to locate this used car, and I even had my friend, Buzz, a used car salesman, at the Honda dealer search for Damaris, the search was dry. Finally, our church’s daycare decided it did not need one of its vans, anymore, so we asked Damaris if she was interested. Damaris was so excited that she said, “Yes, thank you!!” We on the session decided to sell the van at a low price to Damaris and asked for $1,500 right away, and allowed her to pay off the rest, whenever she could. For many, $1,500 might not seem like a lot of money, but for Damaris, who was working as a long-term sub, it was significant. She could come up with the amount, but it would strain her savings. The good news is that Damaris is a person of deep faith. I think Damaris might have even been recalling the words of Isaiah 55.
This passage says, in its literal interpretation, that God invites us to buy wine, milk and bread, though we have no money. It sounds strange, but actually God meant it, both literally and spiritually! I think what Isaiah meant was that our God is a provident God, who has power over the universe and all the leaders, who have authority over us. This provident God is also infinitely wealthy, holding all the resources of the universe in God’s hands. This is why Isaiah invites people to buy wine and bread, though they do not yet know where the money will come from. Isaiah is speaking to the poor Israelites, who are under the the authority of mean leaders in Babylonia. Isaiah tells them, that their God is actually more powerful than these unjust leaders, and God will provide for their basic needs. Isaiah does not tell them where they will get the money, but Isaiah asks them to rely on their faith in a provident God.
Well, the words of Isaiah to rely on a provident God, still spoke in 2017, to Damaris in Liberal, Kansas, to not worry about how the $1,500 for the van would drain her savings! And, because Damaris is a deeply faithful person, she listened to the Spirit’s reassurance that yes, the provident God, who took good care of the exiles in Babylonia and gave them all the wine, milk and bread they needed, though they had no money, would also take good care of her!
So, Isaiah says that God indeed promises this if the exiles just believe. Isaiah invites the exiles to come to ‘River of Grace’ with all their thirst, hunger and financial trouble to God, and somehow their God will provide for them, though they cannot yet imagine how. Isaiah assures the exiles that this God is bigger than the powers-to-be in Babylonia, who are holding them in a place of poverty and lowliness. Isaiah invites them to stop acting complacent, as if things always have to continue in the status quo, and start challenging the injustices. Isaiah shares that God invites them to imagine returning home to their own nation! Isaiah stirs up their imagination, by asking them to remember their history of how God was faithful to their ancestor, David. In all these ways, Isaiah invites the Israelites to hang in there, and just listen to this prophetic Word and trust that God will lead them home. Sadly, most of the Israelites did not listen to God’s invitation, and they were happy to remain in captivity. However, a small group did respond to the prophetic Word with faith and imagination and went home!
Well, Damaris listened so well, spent so much time praying, and she believed so much in Isaiah’s prophetic Word, that God would provide, that one day before she picked up the van, she found a check of $500 in her mailbox, from a couple at our church, who just wanted to help! Jonice and Bob Oblander are retired teachers at the Liberal church, who sort of adopted Damaris as a second daughter, because they wanted to see her succeed as a teacher in Kansas. The Oblanders were very generous and they felt they could share some of their wealth to help Damaris. So, because of Damaris’ deep faith in her provident God, and her belief in these ancient words from Isaiah, she finally got her reliable, used car, and still had some extra funds left over in her savings! The God of the exiles in Babylonia, was still providing ‘wine, milk and bread without money’ to Damaris in 2017, literally!
I wanted to focus on this literal interpretation of the passage today, because I think it still applies to our lives and church, as it did to Damaris. Have any of you felt like our ‘well’ at Knox Presbyterian Church might be a little dry? Have you felt like it might be nice to be able to fund some of our ministries without yet knowing where the money will come from? I think Isaiah’s literal message is a very timely one for our church, especially on this Sunday, when we will have our Annual Meeting and discuss the church’s finances. Isaiah reminds us to rely on our faith and the promises in this passage, that our provident God will literally provide for our church, what we need to thrive if it is God’s will for the ministry to continue. I know for sure, from a spiritual perspective, that yes, there is lots of energy at Knox at this time, for the church to continue and thrive! That being said, the rest is about remembrance of how much God has brought Knox through in the last 55 years, and how much imagination we have, that God will in fact provide all the ‘wine, milk and bread’ this church needs to move into its future. Who knows, maybe like Damaris, some generous souls will send us the funds we need, to be more solid, financially. Hopefully, we will listen to Isaiah’s prophetic Word and be inspired by Damaris’ story and have the faith to imagine this could happen.
May each of us remember, as Lin Campbell, reminded us last Sunday, how much this church means to us, as the place where we have sipped that Living Water, which the spiritual interpretation of this passage, tells us we have in Jesus. May we remember how much this church means to us, as the place, where we have tasted the Bread of Life, which this passage refers to as the rich food which satisfies, eternally. May these things be the inspiration for our stewardship to the church. May we have hope and trust that God will provide for all of our needs, literally and spiritually! Amen.