Sermon Commentary for Sunday, February 28, 2016
Isaiah 55:1-9 Commentary
“Come and get it!” is a phrase that traditionally resonated with hungry North Americans. After all, we generally link it with an invitation to eat what someone has prepared. So when we hear “Come and get it!” we may think of Mom, standing on the front steps, hollering for us to come home for supper. Or we may think of the crusty cook on the wagon trail, summoning hungry cowboys to eat the grub he rustled up.
Sophisticated folks may have more refined ways of saying, “Come and get it!” We may think of the butler standing in the foyer and announcing, “Dinner is served!” Or we may think of June Cleaver telling Wally and the Beaver to “Wash up and get dressed for dinner.” It was little more than her polite way of saying, “Come and get it!”
While there’s much to be said for a kind of Christian asceticism that vigorously tries to keep food and drink in its proper place, asceticism has not traditionally marked most expressions of the Christian faith. Many Christians see food and drink as among God’s greatest gifts. In fact, some of us suspect that not celebrating such wonderful gifts may be a sign of profound ingratitude to God.
Isaiah 55 is one of those passages that imagery of food and drink fill. “Come and get it,” the prophet invites, in fact, urges us there. “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen to me, and eat what is good . . .”
This invitation may not sound especially appealing to well-fed Christians. Many of us, after all, have all the wine, milk and bread we need. Some of us would probably much rather have a good salad or juicy hamburger, thank you very much. That’s why Isaiah 55’s preachers and teachers must remember the context in which Isaiah speaks these words. The prophet’s Israelite audience is not well fed. Her enemies and exile have exhausted and decimated her. Desolation and death have wreaked havoc on Israel. God has punished her double for all her sins, turning God’s face away from her.
God, however, refuses to give up on Israel. God does not break God’s covenantal promises to her. Even though Israel turns her back on God, God refuses to abandon her or break the promises God made to David. God is determined to graciously turn his face back toward Israel. So, God urges Israel, “Come and get it!” Come, you who are hungry and thirsty. Come, you who are poor and miserable. Come, share, and delight in the richest of fare, the best food and drink.
Of course, Isaiah 55’s summons to “Come!” suggests the initiative lies entirely with the Lord of heaven and earth. It suggests Israel is hardly lined up at the table, eager to partake of what God graciously offers her. No, God feels the need to urge Israel to come eat and drink what the Lord offers her.
Yet it’s a bit hard to know what exactly God offers here. Is God literally inviting Israel to partake of wine, milk and bread? Or do those material goods point to a deeper, more spiritual reality? As my colleague Scott Hoezee, has noted, it’s sometimes hard, not just here but throughout the Scriptures, to know just where God’s offer of material goods ends and where God’s offer of things like salvation begins.
Clearly the spiritual food that is God’s Word is a vital aspect of God’s invitation in our text. After all, the Lord calls to us listen to God and eat what is good. What God offers to us is a kind of “soul food” that nourishes us as fully as any real piece of bread. What’s more, God says rain and the production of wheat is an analogy for the effectiveness of God’s Word. As surely as the rain falls and the crops grow, Isaiah says, God’s Word affects God’s children in the way that God desires.
Further, the Bible often uses to banquet imagery as a symbol of salvation. God, after all, says, “Come and get it!” to all whom our sins burden. To all who are hungry for eternal life, God says, “Come and get it!” To all who thirst for Christ, the Living Water, God says, “Come and get it!”
Yet while it cost God in Christ virtually everything, this meal costs you and me nothing. When it comes to our salvation, even the most materially wealthy people are like the materially poor people who line up outside soup kitchens and food pantries. In fact, the meal God offers in Isaiah 55 isn’t even available for money. Someone Else, the God of heaven and earth, has picked up the tab because we could never have paid for it anyway.
And so in Christ God announces that the great meal of God’s people’s salvation is ready. He brings God’s children the tasty food of forgiveness and the water of eternal life. Christ invites worshipers to extend to him our open hands of faith by which we simply receive God’s great grace. Even Jesus’ modern disciples’ celebration of the Lord’s Supper in some ways reminds us that the food and drink God offers us is both spiritual and material. For in the bread that we eat, chew and swallow, God is somehow present, by God’s Spirit. In the wine and juice that we drink and swallow, God is somehow present by God’s Spirit.
The bread of the Lord’s Supper in many ways, however, remains what God makes it to be. It’s the stuff of soil and sunshine, of wheat, flour and oil, of yeast and salt. This wine and juice is the stuff of rain, warmth and grapes. So in Jesus’ followers effort to be spiritual about the Lord’s Supper, we don’t ignore the wonderful flavor of this bread or the way it makes us salivate. We savor this wine’s taste on our tongue and the sensation of it sliding down our throats.
In fact, my colleague Scott Hoezee suggests, Jesus gave us real bread and real wine precisely to help us understand that salvation is as real and true as food we eat and liquid we drink. Yet the material reality of the banquet the Lord invites us to share also has implications for our daily lives. It invites us to give thanks to God, not only for communion’s bread and wine, but also for things like pizza and hamburgers, soda and milk, mashed potatoes and pasta. After all, that to which God invites us in Christ to come and get isn’t just the spiritual food of salvation, forgiveness and eternal life. It’s also the very food and drink of our daily lives.
Some strains of Christian theology almost turn up their noses at the invitations offered in Isaiah. Mark Salzman’s novel, Lying Awake describes a Carmelite monastery just outside of Los Angeles where the nuns spend their lives praying and contemplating. They try to so bend all of their thoughts to the Lord that they ignore anything that might distract them.
The nuns assume that food and drink threatens their worship of God. So when they gather for meals, they don’t speak even one word to each other. The only who speaks is the nun who reads from the Bible and classical Christian devotions while the others silently eat and drink. The goal of this convent’s nuns is to do anything but pay attention to the food. A human skull sits near the head of their table, reminding the nuns that since everyone will die anyway, food and drink are only minimally important.
The nuns in Lying Awake obsess about experiencing God’s real presence. So when one of them seems to bear some of Christ’s marks on her body, they’re, at turns, fascinated and horrified. The nuns so focus on feeling God’s presence that they see eating as a distraction from God.
While eating and drinking may distract us, it shouldn’t. It can be for God’s adopted sons and daughters a means of grace, a gift by which God strengthens our faith. After all, not just our salvation, but also the food and drink which God invites you and me to come and get is indeed a gift from God’s generous and gracious hand.
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