Narrative Lectionary Text: Isaiah 55:1-11 and John 4:13-17
Let’s play the fill in the blank game. I’ll say a phrase and you say what comes next.
There’s no such thing as a free _______. lunch.
You can never go ________. home.
If something is too good to be true, it probably ______. is.
Isn’t that interesting how common those ideas are? It’s pretty safe to guess that a vast majority of people operate under those basic assumptions about how the world works.
The fact that we think that way makes today’s lesson really hard for us to grasp. Our text today flies in the face of this common logic. In Isaiah 55 God says there is a free lunch, that you can go home, and that this offer of reconciliation is for everybody.
I want to do two things to open up our imagination in order to get ourselves in the right frame of mind to hear this text.
I have two visuals that I hope will help us.
The first one is this table. It is set for a family to have dinner. In this chair there is a father and a husband. Here sits a wife and a mother. In this chair is a daughter and sister. Then there is this chair. It is empty. Seven years ago there was a fight. The son betrayed the family. Dad became angry and the son left. Seven years they’ve been estranged.
There’s an empty chair.
I wonder, this Christmas–as we approach that time when families gather together–who is not at that table in your network of family and friends? Or, which table are you not at this year?
Hold that image in your mind.
Now I want to show you another image.
I’ve been soaking in this text of Isaiah 55 all week. On Wednesday I woke up with a picture in my head and a wild idea of how to express it. So, I took out my iPad and drew this image. I have this cool app that records all the strokes as you draw the picture and then exports it as a movie. I brought the movie in to Jonathan and asked him if he could write some music for it. He had it done by 5pm.
So, I offer this collaborative piece of art as the second visual to set the stage for Isaiah 55.
Let’s walk through this passage together.
This is where we left things last week. We were in Ezekiel and the nation was a pile of dry bones. They have been in exile for 70 years. It seems like the promises God made to Abraham all those years ago are a distant memory.
This is a bleak and desolate picture. They are in exile, all seems lost.
But then it happens. Today we turn the corner.
We come to this section of the prophet Isaiah.
Let’s take just a moment and find out who Isaiah is and how he fits into the big picture. The book of Isaiah is actually a combination of three books. Book I was written back here in Judah just before the Babylonians came and took everyone into exile. That is chapters 1-39. Book II was written during the exile just before they went home. that’s chapters 40-55. Book III was written after they were established back in Jerusalem.
Our text is the climax of Book II and paints one of the greatest pictures of the Gospel in the whole Bible. It begins like this.
There is light on the horizon.
When we lived in Las Vegas we loved to go down to Southern California. Many times we would drive home at night. That is a long, dark drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas on I-15. It is nothing but desert for hours.
I remember there was one place where the journey always changed. No matter how tired we were, when we came over the last mountain pass we would look down and the lights of Primm and Las Vegas would spread out before us.
We weren’t there yet, but we could see that it was actually going to happen. The dark part of the night was over and the light of dawn was on the horizon.
Do you know that feeling you get down in your stomach when you hit that moment? There is something bubbling up that hadn’t been there before? That’s called Joy.
That is the feeling of Isaiah 55.
God is calling the people to come home and he invites them to a huge feast. He is the father at this table who is reaching out to that estranged son and saying, “It’s time to come home, dinner is ready.”
Let’s look at this feast that God offers. There are three things about this amazing feast.
The first thing is that this feast is free.
Look again at what God says in the first verses of Isaiah 55.
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.
There it is. A free lunch.
Contrast this to what Jeremiah wrote as the first exiles were dragged away to Babylon:
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
our homes to aliens.
We have become orphans, fatherless;
our mothers are like widows.
We must pay for the water we drink;
the wood we get must be bought.
After two generations they had become used to being in exile. Paying for something basic like water was the new normal.
But now, God offers a free lunch.
The second thing about this meal is that it is not junk food.
God continues in Isaiah 55. It says:
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.
I love how The Message translation puts it.
Why do you spend your money on junk food,
your hard-earned cash on cotton candy?
Here’s the interesting thing.
The people weren’t necessarily suffering during their exile.
They weren’t slaves like they were back in Egypt. Many of them had actually become quite wealthy and powerful in Babylon. A new empire took over after Babylon. This was the Persian empire. The Persians were actually kind to the people of Judah.
I think that describes us in many ways.
Remember two weeks ago when I said that the church is in exile. We live in two kingdoms at the same time. We are in the Kingdom of God, and we live in the host culture of Anoka County.
Life isn’t bad here. In fact, life is pretty good.
Compared to the rest of the world we have it made. Most of us have homes and food on our plates everyday, and our kids are getting a good education and are relatively safe. So, when we hear that there is another Kingdom that God wants us to come to, we’re like, “Naw, I’m fine right here.”
Do you know how it is when you fill up on junk food? Your belly is full, but you’re not really satisfied. When you drink soda, you don’t really get quenched. In the end you are actually poisoning yourself with artificial sweeteners, flavors, and fillers.
But, let’s be honest, when you are munching away at that bag of chips and chugging that lightning Dew and somebody says, “Hey, I’d like to give you a fresh, healthy meal of colorful greens, squash, and organic tofu, for free.” You’ll probably say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
I think that’s why it is so hard for us here in the suburbs to really buy into the Kingdom that God invites us into every day. The feast is free, and its healthy. But we’re full and it’s probably too good to be true, right?
There’s a third thing about this meal. It is for everybody.
God reminds them that he made a promise to David that his house would live forever.
God made a promise way back to Abraham, remember. He said the he would bless all nations through his family. Here God says,
“you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you,”
Later he says,
“let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
God’s dream for the world is just that. It is for the world. 1 Peter tells us that God’s will is that none should perish. God has called the church to be that blessing.
The people of Judah heard this invitation. They were invited to come back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple and be a blessing.
But that was just the beginning.
The Messiah was coming. 400 years later a baby would be born. God would become flesh and Jesus would open up God’s feast to everyone.
Here’s my question to you today.
Who is in the empty chair? Is there someone you need to invite home this Christmas? Is there someone who needs to eat the food and drink the water of God’s love and forgiveness?
God is calling you home. Are you eating spiritual junk food, or have you opened your heart to believe, there is a free lunch, I can go home, and, although it seems too good to be true, God does love me, and I can be forgiven and sit at God’s table today. Come, Seek the Lord. Come home for Christmas.