Psalm 63:1-8 Isaiah 55:1-13 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 Luke 13:1-9
The appalling conditions in some of Ukraine’s major cities leaving people without the most basic of human needs has left us offering prayers for their safety. Left without basic requirements to sustain life, grace at mealtimes and prayers before turning on the tap, have once more become part of everyday life. (And considering that on average each of us will use 142 litres of water per day, that amounts to a good many opportunities to pray!)
Like the people of Ukraine, many of the Israelites were living in a foreign land when they first heard these words; in their case having been forcibly removed rather than fleeing. No matter the reason for leaving one’s ancestral homes, the sense of yearning for the familiar is strong. And for those in exile in Babylon, came these words in Isaiah 55. It is the final hymn of this part of the book where God speaks and offers water without price:
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.
Astonishingly, these words form an invitation to a feast, which must have come as a huge surprise to those who first heard it. For the people of God had been exhausted by their enemy and also by exile (40:2; 42:21-25), by desolation and death (40:7; 54:6ff). Yet amidst the afflictions which tossed them around like a storm, God was at work on their behalf.
This is primarily an appeal to the Jewish exiles to leave the relative comforts and enticements of Babylon; it is an appeal to trust in God, and make the arduous journey home. The fullness of life (see v 3) offered by God, makes their comparative ‘riches’ seem like poverty; they will receive not only an abundance of blessing but also a sense of mission.
“To the hearer on the edge of exile and in the midst of real displacement from the land which God promised, what is promised here is outrageous. The economy of the promise here reiterated is built not upon the scarcity of exile but upon God’s abundance.” (Samuel Giere, Working Preacher)https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-18/commentary-on-isaiah-551-5-5
The Generosity of God’s Word of Grace
If this is a promise to all in need of physical needs of food and water, this passage also speaks to us who may feel as though we live in a cultural wilderness, in exile from the abundant signs of God’s grace. Here in the UK with dwindling congregations and closing churches, we too need to pay attention to this wonderful gift. Our scarcity is not an issue for a God of abundance. Not only was the offer for free, it is almost as if the feast prepared is beyond the reach of money. Human economic status is irrelevant when it comes to responding to God’s invitation to share in the everlasting covenant (55:3), nor is ethnic origin, since nations unknown to Israel are going to come seeking the Lord your God. This truly is a gift of grace.
I quite like the writings of Matthew Henry, somewhat old-fashioned in style, but I think he offers a good summary of this invitation:
Those satisfied with the world, that see no need of Christ, do not thirst. They are in no uneasiness about their souls: but where God gives grace, he gives a thirst after it; and where he has given a thirst after it, he will give it. Come to Christ, for he is the Fountain opened, he is the Rock smitten. Come to holy ordinances, to the streams that make glad the city of our God. Come to the healing waters, come to the living waters…M Henry
Here Henry uses a fourfold invitation to ‘come’; an invitation inclusive enough for all people, but at the same time, it has a personal quality to it – written for the individual. It brings comfort, confidence and empowering.
The comfort of knowing God who is greater than our problems (walking in a valley as dark as death shadow, I will fear no evil for you are with me and your rod and staff protect me) It is very often when the world is darkest, that the light of true Christian faith begins to shine at its brightest. And Christ’s parable, although difficult to understand reveals that both political harshness and natural disaster may be painful, yet separation from God’s love more painful still.
The confidence that fullness of life can be received regardless of physical or economic well-being; such life includes a future promise, but also nourishment, healing, preservation and restoration
The capability to reach out to others in need: in Isaiah, a witness to the peoples. The best form of witnessing has always been in the practical support given to the community, by the members of the Church (because people remember far longer what you do for them than say to them)
Urgency of God’s Word of Grace
God’s invitation to take part in the life of this new community is open to all
Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;
Time is not unlimited, so there is a note of urgency in this call. Jesus deals with the issue of acts of state terrorism and personal sin of the victims in a straightforward way: God does not bring about suffering because of our sin. The real focus of Jesus message is on repentance and of being in right relationship with God, because as old fashioned as it may sound, we need ‘to live as those who are prepared for death’ (words from the funeral service). And to encourage the audience to grasp the sense of God’s compassion, there is the story of a gardener pleading for an unfruitful fig tree. It is only a small leap to the image of the vine in John 15, where God is the gardener tending the vine to make it fruitful. There is a real purpose to our repentance which is beyond a personal healthy state; it also impacts those around us.
Thus, if sometimes in moments of national crisis people turn to the Lord, they are going to need friends who can guide them in their understanding; people who have already begun to pray for them in their need. In order to be really equipped for this task, we need to first be right with God, so we begin every service with an act of confession to receive God’s word of grace.
Effectiveness of God’s Word of Grace
In C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when the four children enter Narnia, it was always winter but never Christmas. When the great lion Aslan arrives, the thaw begins. New shoots of spring will come, but we may need to be patient. So we look for new shoots in our own lives, in our faith community but also in the whole of creation. For the renewal of God’s people is also will be matched by the renewal of the creation itself: God’s word richly dwelling in our lives will produce fruit – even if at times all seems as barren as a winter’s day
Creation will rejoice again; the regeneration of the land, which brings glory to God, points beyond itself to his eternal grace and power. Harsh realities may seem long and hard, yet God’s people are encouraged to go out with joy and peace to serve the Lord, and we don’t go alone – we go in the power of the Spirit.