Provisions – March 24, 2019
A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
March 24, 2019
Main Idea: God provides.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
For the Season of Lent we are exploring the wilderness using our 5 senses. The first week we used our sense of hearing to ponder the different voices that speak to us and how we discern to whom we listen. Last week we considered how our sense of sight helps and hinders the commitments we make to each other and to God. This week we get to explore taste! What are the physical and spiritual foods that we ingest and how do they nourish us?
The prophet we know as 2nd Isaiah was speaking to a people in need of encouragement. He lived during the time of the Babylonian exile when Jerusalem had been destroyed and the people taken almost 1000 miles away to the capital of their oppressors, where they lived for more than 50 years. Some of them assimilated to Babylonian culture and lived relatively well, but most toiled as servants and longed to return to their homeland. Today, wars push people out of their homes causing them to become refugees and migrants. Back then, wars took people captive and forced them to work in the cities of their conquerors. In both cases, people are displaced and discouraged.
2nd Isaiah speaks to everyone who feels displaced and discouraged, everyone who living in exile, everyone who wonders about life’s meaning and purpose. With poetry both powerful and sublime, 2nd Isaiah proclaims that God provides. God provides all that we need.
Like the grill master at a picnic, the prophet calls out “Hey everybody! Come and get it!” “Come and eat, ‘cause everything is ready!” “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.” (55:1). We are invited to an abundant and all inclusive banquet to assuage our hunger and to quench our thirst. And what the Lord provides is free! We cannot purchase it from our own resources. We can only receive it as a gift. And what an amazing gift it is. The only requirement is that we be hungry.
But it may be that we don’t feel hungry at the moment. We’ve got other things on our mind. We are so embedded in our secular culture that we often don’t recognize that which is burdening us or that which is keeping us from flourishing as a child of God. We have internalized society’s measures of success, of beauty, of value and we know that we cannot stop trying to achieve more. We will never be smart enough, or attractive enough, or rich enough, no matter how hard we try (and we try!). The prophet asks us, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (55:2a) “Why are you wasting your time and your resources on that which will not satisfy or save you in the end?” This question is so very counter cultural because it reveals the intrinsic lie at the center of our materialistic, consumer culture. Stuff will not make us happy! Accolades will not feed us! Contentment can not be purchased! Let’s consider an extreme example of this; Do you ever daydream about winning the lottery? The things you would buy, the places you would go, the debts you would pay off? Did you know that nearly 1/3 of all lottery winners end up declaring bankruptcy? And that they “frequently become estranged from family and friends, and incur a greater incidence of depression, drug and alcohol abuse, divorce, and suicide than the average American.” (http://fortune.com/2016/01/15/powerball-lottery-winners/) Why do we spend our money for that which is not bread, and our labor for that which does not satisfy, when God provides what we need? Another example: imagine a tomato bought at a grocery store in January. It looks beautiful, it is bright red, it is heavy, and perfectly shaped. But in our mouth it is slightly hard, its taste is bland, with a faint hint of chemicals. Imagine now a tomato purchased from a farm stand in August. It looks funny, weirdly shaped but its flavor bursts in our mouth, juicy and sweet and tasting of summer sun and earth.
God says “Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. (55:2b-3a) We may not realize that we are hungry, or we know we are hungry but we are not sure for what. We fill our days with the equivalent of junk food; potato chips which taste good in the moment so that we eat the whole bag and then feel sick afterwards, social media and self-help programs which only increase our anxiety and decrease our sense of self. God provides what we really need; love and grace and beauty and strength. These provisions are riches of extraordinary taste and nourishment. They are provided to us in abundance, we just need to recognize them and accept them.
So, how do we do that? In this text we are called to come to God 4 times; we are called to listen 3 times. We are called to eat what is good and to delight ourselves in rich food. We are called to seek the Lord, and call upon the Lord, and return to the Lord. Not sometime in the future, when we might have some extra time, but right now! God doesn’t want us to procrastinate. God is excited to share these gifts with us right now! God is waiting for us to shake off our inertia, our apathy, and despair so that we may be nourished and strengthened by the provisions of God.
What does this look like in our community of First Baptist? We gather together for worship with excitement and purpose. We minister together in service to our wider communities. We share our lives together; our griefs, our joys, and our challenges. We don’t get hung up on appearances or petty disputes, or nostalgia for the good ol’ days. We recognize our blessings and we are grateful that God provides all that we need.
Now these provisions are not just for our own personal benefit or the benefit of First Baptist. God tells us “I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5See, 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. (55:3b-5). We are to share God’s provisions with the world. We are to invite others to God’s feast. Too much of our world suffers from physical hunger to say nothing of spiritual hunger. Did you know that Americans waste $165 billion worth of food in a year? That is 4 times the amount of food the continent of Africa imports in a year. (www.one.org/us/blog/14-surprising-stats-about-global-food-consumption/) There actually is plenty of food in our world for all to have what they need, if those in power would share it equitably. People are hungry and God provides what we need.
When we invite others to God’s feast, we participate with God’s provision. Our only task is to share it, all the power comes from God who says “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (55:10-11). God’s purposes move forward and we are invited to come along.
As we continue to move through the Lenten wilderness toward the cross and the glory of Easter, may we be fed by the bounteous provision of God. May we recognize the difference between the junk food of the world and God’s nourishing gifts of love, grace, beauty, strength. May our spiritual hunger lead us to closer communion with God and may the physical hunger of so many in this world become a relic of the past. May all have what they need.
Let us pray,
Bounteous God, we thank you for loving us and caring for us and feeding us. Help us to recognize your blessings. Empower us for your service. Amen.
On the table before us is beautiful food for all of us to share. After we sing our closing hymn, I invite you to come up and experience the taste of God’s provision, not only as an individual experience but as an experience of community. So when you come up, feel free to stay up here and speak with your neighbors.
Our closing hymn is # 64 O God Beyond All Praising
– For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
Come to the table, for all is ready. Amen.