THE WORD Isaiah 55:1-9 (The Message) “Hey there! All who are thirsty, come to the water! Are you penniless? Come anyway—buy and eat! Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk. Buy without money—everything’s free! Why do you spend your money on junk food, your hard-earned cash on cotton candy? Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best, fill yourself with only the finest. Pay attention, come close now, listen carefully to my life-giving, life-nourishing words. I’m making a lasting covenant commitment with you, the same that I made with David: sure, solid, enduring love. I set him up as a witness to the nations, made him a prince and leader of the nations, And now I’m doing it to you: You’ll summon nations you’ve never heard of, and nations who’ve never heard of you will come running to you Because of me, your God, because The Holy of Israel has honored you.” Seek God while he’s here to be found, pray to him while he’s close at hand. Let the wicked abandon their way of life and the evil their way of thinking. Let them come back to God, who is merciful, come back to our God, who is lavish with forgiveness. “I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.” God’s Decree.
MESSAGE “Hey There!” Rev. James Renfrew
I usually use the New Revised Standard Bible for preaching. It’s essentially the Bible I grew up with, and it’s what was used at Union Theological Seminary when I was a ministry student there. But today I am reading from a different translation, called “The Message”.
I love how this reading from Isaiah begins in the Message, “Hey There!” Now that’s an attention-getter, isn’t it? Isaiah has something important to say, and we better listen up. Jesus sometimes spoke this way when he was about to tell a story, “let all with ears to hear, listen” it reads in the New Revised Standard Version, but I’m sure that the Message would translate that cumbersome phrase more simply the way you would say it, “Hey, y’all, listen up!”
I remember uncontainable Sandra coming into our youth group on Wednesday afternoons when I worked at a Presbyterian Church along Lyell Avenue in Rochester. “Hey, you guys, listen to what happened at school this morning!” And everyone would drop everything they were doing to listen to Sandra’s jam-packed story. That’s what the Bible is, a book, that tries to get our attention the same way. “Hey There!”
So that’s how our reading for this morning begins. In fact, I think that could be the name of the whole book, not “the Bible”, or the “Old Testament” or “New Testament”, but simply the “Hey There!” book, because the whole point of the Bible is to get our attention, every part of it from start to finish, “Hey There!, Listen up! You in the back, pay attention!” All scripture shouts out to get our attention.
So I like how Isaiah begins this reading, “Hey There!” And, believe me, there’s a lot to pay attention to. “Hey there! Come to the water. Here’s a glass of pure water, take a sip, let it fill your soul with possibility and hope”. There’s even a hint of baptism, imagining that Isaiah also says “don’t just little sip, dive right in! Get wet!” I love how this reading begins.
So I could talk about baptism, after having read this text from Isaiah. But I want to give my attention to the next sentence: “Are you penniless? Come anyway—buy and eat! Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk. Buy without money—everything’s free!”
I like this, too. Priceless things offered to you for free! There’s no better deal than that! It’s what inspired me to create the front page of the bulletin: “Free stuff – come and get yours!”
“Hey there!”, free stuff from God right to you. That’s right, from GOD directly to YOU. A few years ago on Presbyterian Mission Day some of us volunteered at the People’s Ministry in Christ, one of our former mission sites on Dewey Avenue in northwest Rochester. Peoples Ministry was a store front, but they got permission to have a rummage sale in the parking lot next door. All of the mismatched folding tables were set up and they were loaded up with rummage donated from people throughout the presbytery. People from the neighborhood gathered around eagerly waiting for the event to begin, and then it did begin and people loaded up bags and boxes with clothing, kitchenware, household appliances and more. I used to work in that neighborhood when I started out as a Presbyterian minister and I was delighted to see some old friends in the crowd. In that poor neighborhood I was simply glad to see that they were still alive, because many do not easily survive years and years of poverty.
Did we make any money for the People’s Ministry that day? Not a cent! Because it wasn’t a rummage sale at all, it was called a “Blessing Day”, so no one had to pay a Nickle for anything that they found on the tables. It was all free.
That beautiful scene of stuff being given away for free was what came to mind as I read Isaiah. People gathering with excitement, exploring all of the treasures, and even happy children with a new toy to take home, and they even served hot dogs from the grill for free!
In 1995 I attended the Presbyterian General Assembly in Orlando, Florida. In the hotel lobby there was a table that offered free tickets to Disney World. So I approached the table looking for a couple of free tickets, but there was a catch, a big catch. To get the free tickets I had to visit some resort properties, first . Thanks, but no thanks, I have no interest in Florida real estate. I think the guy represented “Underwater Realty”, or something! No thanks! When things are offered to us for free we often suspect that there’s a catch, so we approach it with a great deal of suspicion.
Let’s pause for a moment and think about the things you can get at this church for free, with no catch, no strings attached. Tell me what’s available here for free?
“Hey there!” The biggest freebie in our church is priceless, but it won’t cost you a dime, is something called “grace”. It’s not something that Isaiah talks about directly, but I think it’s implicit in this reading, later made explicit by the Apostle Paul as he served Jesus in his mission travels. It comes down to this: God offers the things that really matter for free. They aren’t earned or rewarded, they are just offered to anyone who needs them. I’m not talking about piles of cash, chests filled with gold and jewels, mansions on the hill, or a red Ferrari. Grace is much more basic than that – God offers you what you need; love, healing, forgiveness, affirmation, friendship, acceptance, community, peace not because you deserve them but because you need them. Hey there! Grace is the most radical notion in all of Christian faith, God’s great gift with no catch.
I want to be totally honest and transparent about this. With God’s grace there is no catch, but there is an effect, an impact on you. Truly embracing this free gift from God changes you. I can’t tell you how you will change, but change you will. If you haven’t changed yet, then I suspect that you haven’t fully embraced the gift of grace.
When I was a young boy my grandfather gave me one of his violins. I think it was the one he had learned on when he was young. I didn’t have to pay a penny for it. It was once his, and now it became mine. I’m not sure I deserved it, because I hadn’t proven my worthiness, and in fact early on I didn’t really like it. My parents would tell you that getting me to practice was like pulling teeth. Yet here I am fifty years later still playing violin. Later, I inherited my grandfather’s best violin and I still play it today. Looking back, this violin has changed my life, I’ll be happy to talk to you about it all day long, even better, I’ll be playing it this afternoon in Brockport. Who knew that a free gift of a violin could impact my life so much?
But it’s not the violin that is my point, or anything that your grandparents gave you. It’s grace, what God offers in Jesus Christ to you, for free, today!