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.
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!”
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
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
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
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!