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The Third Sunday in Lent, 03/11/2007

Sermon on Isaiah 55:1-9, by Luke Bouman

Isaiah 55:1 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. 2 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. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. 6 Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.



The Herald Calls


"Hurray, Hurray! Step right up!  Be the next one to take a chance at winning a huge stuffed bear for your gal.  Only two shots for a quarter, Ten shots for a dollar.  Knock down the ducks and win a prize.  Hurray! Hurray! Step right up!"  So goes the patter of a carnival barker.  Who has not heard that familiar sound, either from experience, or relayed in countless movies.  Meredith Wilson captured some of that spirit in the patter of Prof. Harold Hill in "The Music Man" weaving his web of salesmanship to catch the flies of River City, Iowa in his snare.  "My friends you've got Trouble, right here in River City!" The patter is meant to attract attention, to gather the crowd and call them into the service of whatever is being bartered or sold.


Our world talks about this as "creating buzz" for a product or an item.  To get people involved and talking, but ultimately to separate them from their hard earned money by creating a need that they didn't realize that they had.  "Doesn't your gal deserve for you to win her a Teddy Bear?"  Or else, they frighten you into wanting to avoid a problem that only their product will solve.  "River City's got to have a boys' band, and I mean you need one TODAY!"  Sometimes the need will be real, or the product will actually help.  More often, the barker's sales tactics are used only when the product itself does not have the appeal to sell itself. 


In Isaiah's world, though the language is somewhat similar to the carnival barker, such a thing was likely unknown.  Instead, what we have is probably connected to the town crier, or the herald of a king.  These folks were sent out with announcements in an age before newspapers and broadcast media had "public service announcements."  They would declare the general news of the town, or in this case the words of the king.  Often it was not good news.  The people would be commanded to appear, to pay taxes, to assemble for service in the militia or the kings army.  "Hear ye, Hear ye, a message from the king!"  These words would not always be greeted with enthusiasm.



An Unusual Message


In today's lesson, however, we realize something odd is going on with this message.  The herald warns us NOT to buy goods that do not satisfy our real hungers and needs.  More than that, we are told to buy "without money or price."  This is crazy talk from a salesman.  The herald is announcing that the things that we need will be given away.  The cost will be bourne by someone, and the assumption is that the king will be the founder of this feast.  The irony of something offered for sale that requires no money to buy should not be lost on God's people, Old or New Testament.  God has been in the business of giving himself since the dawn of time.


But there is more to this feast than meets the eye.  Our lessons from the Old Testament for the Sundays in Lent this year have been tracing the covenants of God.  Two weeks ago we read in Deuteronomy how the people of Israel were commanded to remember and renew the covenant God made with them at Sinai, each year at the harvest.  Last week, we remembered the covenant that God made (literally cut, as the animals are cut in half) with Abraham sealing his promise from Genesis 12.  This week, we see God renewing the covenant with David, but this time God does not choose a king, instead God is the king.  The covenant is not made with the royal house, it is made with all the people.  All of this is unusual, but then, there's God for you.  He is consistent in acting graciously, but extraordinarily creative in finding ways to gift the people of the earth with grace.


This brings us back to the banquet.  Here God is giving the people a covenant feast, to seal the promises that he is making.  People have been "sealing the deal" with a feast or a drink for many years.  Most of us are familiar with this tradition, even if we don't understand it that way anymore.  Weddings, which in ancient times were covenants between families more than between a man and a woman, were cemented with a feast for the occasion.  There was a feast just two weeks ago to seal the covenant of Baptism for Luke Berry, Ann Siede's new grandson.  God intends to seal the new covenant that he is making with Israel with a feast.



A Free Lunch?


When I was a senior in Seminary, we had a workshop to prepare us all for life in the parish.  One of the speakers, in the course of helping us to understand the ins and outs of ministry said that there were two cardinal rules of pastoral ministry (he was joking).  1.  Never turn down a free lunch.  2.  There is no such thing as a free lunch.  I feel somewhat the same way about God's covenant feast, at first glance.


Like the covenants with Abram and David, like the covenant that God made with Israel at Sinai, this one is not completely a gift.  Abram was blessed in order that he might be a blessing to all nations.  David, at least according to Isaiah in our passage for today, was loved so that he might be a witness and leader for many peoples, not just his own.  God's people are blessed in the new covenant in the same way.


At first this may look like bait and switch advertising.  God looks like a true salesman, after all.  We are invited to a free meal, but then we are told that we have to do something afterwards. But I don't think that is the case at all.  Where God is concerned the meal is not given in order to extract something from us.  It is given in order to offer us something transforming.  Abram is transformed by the covenant last week.  Israel is transformed from a nation of rootless slaves into a people, who exist even today.  David is transformed from an outlaw into a king and leader.  God's meal doesn't require so much as it equips.  It doesn't demand, it sets free.  God's covenant meal, to which we are called by the prophets, and by Jesus himself, makes of us the very servants that we are meant to be.


Thus it is when we gather each week for our covenant meal.  Around the table of the Lord we are gathered and shaped for mission and ministry.  We too are called to invite all nations to the table.  We are called to share the food and the blessing that we have been given.  The meal is free, but it is also costly, in that we leave our lives, as we knew them, behind and are taken up into the body, the very life of Christ.  For the barker knows us indeed, we are all thirsty and hungry for a world in which God's gentle and compassionate reign becomes the reality for all people.  In the meantime, we partake in the covenant meal, knowing that in the process we are freed to offer ourselves in the service of God's reign as it continues to come into our world.


I like especially the words of David Haas' hymn, "Now We Remain":


"Once we were people afraid, lost in the night.

Then by your cross we were saved;

dead became living, life from your giving.


Something that we have known, something we've touched,

what we have seen with out eyes,

this we have heard, life giving Word.


He chose to give of himself, became our bread;

broken, that we might live;

love beyond love, pain for our pain.


We are the presence of God, this is our call;

now to become bread and wine,

food for the hungry, life for the weary;

for to live with the Lord, we must die with the Lord.



We hold the death of the Lord deep in our hearts.

Living, now we remain with Jesus the Christ."  (Evangelical Lutheran Worship #500)

Rev. Dr. Luke Bouman
Rev. Dr. Luke Bouman, Pastor,
Tree of Life Lutheran Church, Conroe, TX
E-Mail: lbouman@treeoflifelutheran.org

For those seeking a sermon on the Gospel text for the day, Luke 13:1-9, please refer to the posting from March 13, 2004 at http://www.predigten.uni-goettingen.de/archiv-6/040314-7-e.html