I delivered this sermon on Sunday morning, March 7, 2010 at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Augusta, Ga.
Isa 55:1 “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.
Isa 55:2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Isa 55:3 Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.
Isa 55:4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of the peoples.
Isa 55:5 Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.”
Isa 55:6 Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.
Isa 55:7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
Isa 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.
Isa 55:9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
A friend dropped by the church this past week to drop off some stuff for the yard sale. We chatted for a few minutes about the odds and ends that were slowly accumulating in the fellowship hall. And it happened to be lunchtime, so I invited my friend out for a bite to eat.
I tend to go off half-cocked sometimes, so it wasn’t until we were actually in the rear parking lot on the way to the Sunshine Bakery that I thought to check my wallet. I peered inside, and there lay precisely four one-dollar bills. Well, the Sunshine Bakery is an inexpensive place to eat – but it’s not THAT inexpensive.
The situation was complicated by the fact that I’d left my checkbook – with my debit card inside – at home. So, I confessed to my friend what had happened. She reassured me that everything was OK. “Hey, Charlie. I’ve got a 20-dollar bill and a debit card. It’s all good!”
So, I was forgiven for being financially challenged – and we shared a pleasant meal together. It wasn’t until later – when I sat down to consider today’s scripture – that it dawned on me that I had lived out the metaphor that you see in the first few verses of today’s scripture.
Do you, as a congregation, seek to worship Yahweh? You want to celebrate your relationship with the living God? Well, then – come to the feast.
If you’re thirsty, come! You don’t have any money? Well – you couldn’t afford it, even if you did have money. You’re still invited. You’ll have all of the wine you can handle, and the milk will flow freely – and it won’t cost you a dime! It’s already paid for!
Jesus Christ paid for it, and the debt was stamped paid-in-full on the first Easter Sunday morning.
Of course, the prophet Isaiah was writing sometime before Jesus’ earthly ministry – a little over 700 years before, in fact.
Isaiah is writing about the end of a coming period of exile for the Jewish people. In 586 BC, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II will enter Jerusalem. He will pillage the city and destroy King Solomon’s temple. And a sizable portion of the population of Judah will be forcibly uprooted and moved to other parts of the Babylonian empire.
But political tides ebb and flow – and things change. And in time, the Persians will overthrow the Babylonians. And a little less than 50 years after Nebuchadnezzar’s troops destroyed Jerusalem, the Persians will permit the return of the Jews from exile. They resettle the city. And in time – despite rather fierce opposition from their neighbors – they will rebuild the city’s walls and build a new temple.
So, in its original context, this entire section of Isaiah is a long celebration of God’s coming work through the Persian ruler, Darius, to restore Jerusalem following the Babylonian exile. The Jewish people will be forced to leave. But they will return, and they will seek (with God’s help) to rebuild Jerusalem.
You find the complete story in the Book of Ezra, chapters 3-6. It describes how the returned exiles will seek to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, although their neighbors oppose the project. How, although an earlier king, Cyrus of Persia, had given his OK, the neighbors will seek to intimidate those who would rebuild the temple. They’ll even bribe public officials to stop the project for awhile.
But finally, Darius will become king of Persia. And after some back-and-forth, he’ll even offer to pay for the project, funding it with a portion of the tribute that Persia is receiving from the region in which Judea is located.
"Whatever is needed – young bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine or oil, as the priests in Jerusalem require – let that be given to them day by day without fail. I, Darius, decree it!"
So, in the second year of Darius’ reign, they will resume work on the new temple. And after four years of steady working, they will finish it – and worship God there.
Well, Darius is no Jew, not by a long shot. And the first Christian won’t show up for another several hundred years. But God will use Darius, this ruler of the Persians who will provide much that will enable Jerusalem to be reborn.
But you know, as tens of thousands of Jews continue to return from exile, they will need more than building supplies and food. Indeed, those things are inconsequential compared to the most important thing they need. For the restoration of their great city will not happen unless they first connect with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the living God on whom all depends.
The people of Jerusalem are left looking within themselves for the faith, the vision, and the spiritual connectedness with God to match this opportunity which God has provided. They can rebuild their city now. But without God, it won’t happen.
So, in the eighth century BC, God lets the Jewish people know that there will come a time of exile. And that after the exile, he will invite them into a new relationship with him. Come, he says. Come, all you who are thirsty. Come to the waters. You who have no money – come, buy, and eat! Come, there is plenty of wine and milk – and it costs nothing. Come into relationship with me, and your spirit will no longer be thirsty.
Yes, you have a city that is just waiting for you to come and rebuild it. But more importantly – more essentially – the God of your fathers invites you into a new relationship. You have endured a long period of exile – a period of penance for the sins of your fathers. It was not unlike a 50-year-long period of Lent. But the exile is over now. Come to the water and drink. Come, quench your thirst at the fountain that never runs dry.
It’s a beautiful Old Testament story. But you and I are New Testament people. So, what does it say to us?
Well, several hundred years after Isaiah, there will come a day when Jesus has been walking all morning. It’s getting toward lunchtime. And he comes to a town in Samaria – hated Samaria – to a well that the patriarch, Jacob, had had dug many hundreds of years earlier.
He’s hot. He’s tired. Jesus, our Lord and Savior – entirely divine, yet entirely human – he’s hot and he’s tired. So he sits down to rest for a bit, and there is a woman at the well. And Jesus asks her for a drink of water. And they talk – this Jewish man and this Samaritan woman. The situation was slightly scandalous.
After a bit, Jesus lays it on the line. He says to the woman, “Everybody who drinks (the water from this well) will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The water is freely available. All it takes is that you put aside the ways of evil and turn to the Lord. Do that and accept God’s pardon – accept his grace, which is freely available.
There is hope. For you and I have this promise of a well that never runs dry. So, sweet sinners: confess and repent of your sins, for God’s pardon is freely available. Simply repent and seek a drink of water from a well that never runs dry.
I have told you before about Carson Stewart, a man who taught me how to grow tomatoes when I was a boy. And while he was teaching me about tomatoes, he talked to me about God.
I believe I’ve shared with you before Mr. Carson’s way of reading the 23rd Psalm. He would invite us to replace the first-person pronouns with our own names. In case you weren’t here the first time I did this, let me share it with you again this morning. In those places where I use my name, I invite you to use your own:
Ps 23:1 The LORD is Charlie’s shepherd, Charlie shall not be in want.
Ps 23:2 He makes Charlie lie down in green pastures, he leads Charlie beside quiet waters,
Ps 23:3 he restores Charlie’s soul. He guides Charlie in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Ps 23:4 Even though Charlie walks through the valley of the shadow of death, Charlie will fear no evil, for you are with Charlie; your rod and your staff, they comfort Charlie.
... And then it concludes:
Ps 23:6 Surely goodness and love will follow Charlie all the days of his life, and Charlie will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
It’s one of the main lessons of Lent. God loves ME – even a sinner like me. Can there be any doubt in your mind that he loves you, too? He offers you cool water this morning. Take it – and drink.
God’s grace flows like a cold, clear mountain stream. It refreshes you. It cleanses you. Just step into the water. Let it wash over you.
It’s been a long, hot day – and you’re tired. But that dry, parched place that you thought nobody would ever touch – he touches it. Your deepest wound – the hurt that’s so bad you never talk about it with anyone – God is already there. Open yourself to the relationship. He will heal you.
That place inside that’s so raw you don’t dare to let anybody see it – the place you barely admit to yourself is there – God stands ready to reach out and heal you. Go to him in prayer and seek healing this morning.
Do you love God? Well, you need to understand: he loves you even more. Before the beginning of time, he knew you. Before he created the world, he knew your name. Across the ages, he calls out to you.
Come. Drink of the water this morning.