Come to the Water

Isaiah 55:1-13

The written sermon follows below. But seriously, the preached word is meant to be heard. Give it a listen. (Plus, what was written and what gets preached are often 2 entirely different things!)

1 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. 10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 12 For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

 

This is my friend Maggie. She was a pastor in Beckville and rural Cosmos when I first arrived to Hutchinson and then took a 2nd call to St. James, MN. She died in late September and I attended her funeral where I heard an excellent preacher speak directly to Maggie’s two young children, Zoe and Leo. This preacher had been with them at the hospital while their mom was dying and they had gone into the chapel together. In it, they discovered the baptismal fount and before she could say a thing about it, they had both dipped their hands in the waters and made the sign of the cross on their foreheads. Then, they plunged their hands in well up past their elbows. As the pastor and Zoe and Leo actively remembered this together at their mom’s funeral, Leo piped up and gave the overflowing, sobbing church this one sentence sermon: “I wanted to see how deep it was.”

I wanted to see how deep it was.

Now, the water the writer in Isaiah is beckoning people to is not for baptism but instead is the promise of water for a drink to a people who lived in an arid place where pools or ponds of water were temporary and seasonal, and unpredictable. They didn’t have taps that brought water – warm or cold – into their homes. They didn’t have filtered water or bottled water. So this invitation to come and get water? It was an invitation to live. An invitation to abundance they would not be familiar with.

The whole chapter is one of abundant life. It starts off with a beckoning to come to the water and it flows from there. Just listen to this imperatives. Come! and eat! rich foods and drink! milk without paying for it. Listen! so you may have life. An everlasting covenant is promised – not a temporary one that will be broken by God, but one that will endure, even when you break it. All nations are called to before God – to submit to God’s mercy and to God’s judgment. Even the wicked are included in this generosity.

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.

Ah! That’s hard to hear, isn’t it? God’s abundant love and faithfulness is so great that it even extends to our enemies? To the wicked?

And then. Hear these words again. 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. 10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

What a picture of abundant life being set about before us and before the people of Israel. God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts. God’s word will do, will accomplish what God says it will do.

But let’s remember where they are in this story. These people of Israel have been in exile in Babylon and now, some 50 years later, have been told they can return. Maybe some of them were still alive from when they had been carted off. They were headed back to a home perhaps they’d only heard about. Maybe they were intermarried by now, having lived much of their lives in Babylon.

What a picture of abundant life for a people headed into a place that was just beginning to be re-built. I imagine nothing looked like it was in abundant supply except the chaos. The temple would have been in the first stages of being rebuilt. Nothing would have been the same. Abundant life, God? Really?

It’s a miracle, isn’t it, that any of them had any faith left at all. It would seem, by the evidence of their lives and all that was before them that the Babylonian gods seemed pretty powerful to cause all this misery. The best and brightest had been dragged off 50 years before. So for them (or the offspring of them) to return home (and some didn’t) and to rebuild the temple and to try to make a go of it again in the name of God seems, well, miraculous doesn’t it?

It is as if these people believed the word of God. It is as if these people trusted that God had not given up on them or abandoned them. Like God’s word would do what God said it would do. Like they believed they had a future of abundant life in God and trusted that God’s word had the power to do something!

Which is what we’re waiting for right now. The word of God to do something. To be reborn in our nation’s leaders. To be reborn in our community. To be reborn in our own families and homes. It’s a chaotic landscape, this run-up to Christmas. It is safe to say we are not suffering as the Israelites suffered. But the suffering in each of our lives is real.

And so we lean into the promise of waiting for Jesus but knowing he has come, he is already here. Jesus is God’s greatest gift of sending out the Word to do just what God wanted it to do – to embody God’s love in human form. To save us. To forgive us. Do you want to know how deep it is? Do you want to know how deep God’s love is for you? It’s found in this promise of Jesus and we cannot fathom its depths.

So, come, you who are thirsty, come to the waters. In just a few minutes, I’ll invite you to the table where God’s word and bread and wine go out together and actively claim you and forgive you and save you. As you rejoice in this great gift, as you head back to your seats, stop by the baptismal font. Dip your fingers in there or plunge your whole arm in. Then make the sign of the cross on your forehead.  Because that’s how deep God’s love is for you.

For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Come to the water!

 

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