Sermon - Brad Brookins

Bible Study

Sermon November 26, 2017 - Brab Brookins
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Text and Questions for 11-26-17

 

Isaiah 55 is a perfectly lovely poem that combines a fundamental hope in the present and for the future with a call to pay attention to your life and the direction your life is taking. 

 

This passage, like most of what we have read so far this year, was written to the Jews in exile in Babylon; but in this case to people who were on the verge of being set free and allowed to return home.  One of the issues Isaiah was dealing with was the reluctance of many of the Jews go home.  They had grown comfortable, and in some instances prosperous, in Babylon.  The way of God described in the Torah was opening again before them and some were resisting.  Isaiah is trying to counter their “thanks, but no thinks” attitude.

1.           v.1:  This water, bread, wine and milk are available for purchase but are beyond price and can’t be bought with money.  Mull over this metaphor for a while.  How does one buy without money?  What does one buy without money?

2.        The old rabbis believed “water” was often a metaphor for Torah—the will and way of God.  “Come to the waters” = “Come to the Torah”.  Re-read vs 1-3 as an invitation to live your life within the constraints of God’s will.  Does the passage suggests anything different to you now?

3.        Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? 

4.        This is an extra credit question, because it will take some careful reflection.  We are reading this passage as an Advent text this year.  What similarities do you see between the exiles on the edge of freedom and Christians on the edge of Christmas.  Compare Isaiah’s call for the Jews to attend to the way of Torah with the gospel call for us to attend to the way of Jesus.  The culture and prosperity of Babylon was threatening to hold many of the Jews captive.  Does contemporary American culture threaten to hold us captive?  How?

5.        Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?

6.       Verses 6-11 form a subsection of the passage, almost a separate poem, and follow a structure—called a “chiasm” (after the Greek letter “X”, pronounced “chi”), commonly used in Hebrew poetry.  Once you know about this form you will see it popping up all over the Old Testament and it will help you get the message being offered.  This particular chasm comes in 3 parts.  In vs. 6 & 7 God describes our need and calls us back to Torah—God’s way.  In vs 10 & 11 God expresses Divine confidence that this call will be answered— “My word…shall not return to me empty”.  The third statement (10&11) flows from the first statement (6&7) because of what happens where the X crosses—vs 8 & 9.  The miracle of repentance and redemption happen because God’s thoughts and ways are higher than our thoughts and ways.  This chiastic structure is illustrated below.  Read these 6 verses several times and be prepared  to describe what they are saying to you this week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7.        Note how in vs 10 the rain comes from heaven but it is the sower’s seed that sprouts and the baker’s bread that is eaten.  Discus the interplay between human and Divine efforts in creating the life God has for us.  Consider this attributed to St Augustine:  “Without God we can not; without us, God will not”

The full text for this week is below:

Isaiah 55:1-13

 

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 labour 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.

 

10 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,

11 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.

 

12 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.

13 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.

vs 10-12  “The metaphor is significant: God sends rain, which inevitably falls to the ground; then it is absorbed by soil and nourishes vegetation.  Humans in turn harvest the vegetation and transform it into food.  Similarly, God’s word is sure to have a series of effects, the most important of which are indirect and involve human input.”  JSB pg 877

 

11-26-17  Advent I

Isaiah 55:1-13

 

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 labour 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.

 

10 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,

11 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.

 

12 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.

13 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.

 

 

Before we sat down to our Thanksgiving feast on Thursday we gathered in a circle around the table and for our blessing on the meal I read Thich Nhat Hanh’s instructions for how to drink a cup of tea.

 

Now you may think everybody already knows how to drink a cup of tea.  But not everyone   knows this way of drinking a cup of tea.  Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist priest who has spent most of his 90 some years teaching people to pay attention to what is right in front of their faces.  In his tea ceremony he teaches us not simply how to drink tea, but how to see it and taste it and smell it and feel it—in other words, how to experience the tea; and in experiencing it, come to a place of deep gratitude for the gift embodied in that expansive little cup.

So, for the benefit of the tea drinkers among us this morning, I’m going to read these instructions for drinking tea.  If, however, your tastes run to coffee or fine wine or clear, cold water or chocolate milk, the instructions still apply.  Just substitute your drink of choice wherever the word “tea” appears.

 

Here is Thich Nhat Hanh’s Tea Ceremony:

“You must be completely awake in the present to enjoy the tea.

Only in the awareness of the present, can your hands feel the pleasant warmth of the cup.

Only in the present, can you savor the aroma, taste the sweetness, appreciate the delicacy.

If you are ruminating on the past, or worrying about the future, you will completely miss the experience of enjoying the cup of tea.

You will look down at the cup, and the tea will be gone.

Life is like that.

If you are not fully present, you will look around and it, too, will be gone.

You will have missed the feel, the aroma, the delicacy and beauty of life.

It will seem to be speeding past you.

The past is finished.

Learn from it and let it go.

The future is not even here yet. Plan for it, but do not waste your time worrying about it.

Worrying is worthless.

When you stop ruminating over what has already happened, when you stop worrying about what might never happen, then you will be in the present moment.

Then you will begin to experience joy in life”.

I read the Tea Ceremony for our table blessing Thursday because I know that, more often than not, I don’t know how to drink a cup of tea.  I am, you see, one of those people who is notoriously bad at paying attention to what is right in front of me.

 

I am painfully acquainted with the past.  And I can lay out for you many possible futures, in excruciating detail.  But this present moment—right now—well, that’s always been a bit hard for me to grab on to.  I will worry about the present before it gets here and regret it once it’s past but to experience the present—now—I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

 

You might be thinking this is a huge confession for me to be making here on a Sunday morning.  And I suppose it would be, except for one thing—and that is that I have just described most of you, too.  Fearing the future, regretting the past and pretty much missing everything in between—that’s just how we do things.  It’s the downside of being human—we have a brain large enough to imagine what’s coming and to remember what’s past; but the space in our soul where we should be cradling the present, is all too often empty.

 

So there we were, anyway—our closest family and a few friends gathered around a table full of beautiful food gathered from many places and prepared with love by many hands.  We learned how to drink tea, then we sat down and got to it.

 

The dishes were passed from hand to hand.  The complex aromas, tastes and textures; the clinking of glasses and silverware; the energetic conversation tantalized and satisfied all our senses.  We laughed.  We told stories.  We tasted almost every bite.  We were paying attention.

 

It occurs to me now that we weren’t so much giving thanks at our meal as we were an expression of thanksgiving.   By attending to our cup of tea—paying attention to what was right in front of us and all around us at the table, we weren’t giving thanks; we were embodying thanksgiving.

 

Whenever—wherever, we come together and talk to each other, feed each other, care for each other we are acting out what is good and abundant in our world.  We are the embodiment of gratitude and thanksgiving; of faith, hope and love; we are a smidgeon, at least, of the grace and gift of God.

 

This is why, by the way, we don’t do the typical church coffee and cookies for coffee hour around here.  We feed each other every Sunday—real good food gathered from many places, prepared with love by many hands and shared around the table.  Every Sunday we embody thanksgiving.

 

I’ve been thinking about something else this week, too.  We’ve come, as you know, to the 1st Sunday of the Advent season.  And I’ve been thinking about Advent as a sort of tea ceremony; a season that helps us pay attention.

 

Here’s what I mean. The commercial Christmas Season began this year back on October 21st.  That’s when Farm and Fleet opened their Toyland and began filling the dreams of kids with presents to wish for.  For the next few weeks “Merry Christmas”, and “Happy Holidays”, will be an many lips and the sentiment will most often be sincere.

 

But there is, as we’ve all experienced, a dark side to that Christmas season.  Because most  of us of also know this as a time when our worries for the days ahead and our disappointments from Christmases past will conspire to create days of intense and unwelcome stress.

Advent comes as a gift to this dis-ease of our over scheduled and under performing holiday lives.  Advent reminds us that it’s not yet Christmas.  It reminds us to focus on what time it is—it is time to wait and to reflect and to trust in the promise of Christmas; the promise of Immanuel—“God with us”.

 

Advent does this weird thing, you see.  It  brings us into the present by anticipating the future while reminding us of the past.  Immanuel will be with us on December 25.  But Immanuel came to us last Christmas, too; and the Christmas before that; and the Christmas before that.

 

Advent is telling us, don’t you see, that God is ever present; ever in the present.  This, too, is the gift of Advent.  Take this time, take this holy space, to breathe and to pray and to rest; to enjoy, in the midst of your hectic hassle, the ever present presence of God.

 

But the Advent text we have for this Sunday also interjects a note of caution into the season:

Ho, everyone who thirsts,

   come to the waters;

even if you have no money,

   come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

   without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,

   and your labour for that which does not satisfy?

 

There will be a lot of giving and receiving come Christmas Day—giving and receiving for which we are preparing right now.  We should take care, the prophet Isaiah is saying, to bring into our homes and give to our loved ones only those gifts that are actually worth receiving.  

         

Take care, he says, not to spend your time and energy and money “for that which is not bread…for that which does not satisfy”.  Think of how often you might have done just that in past Christmases. 

         

What the world is seeking, you see, and what the stores are selling, may not be what you, and those you love, need right now.  Don’t be afraid to question what’s going on all around you.  Consider the possibility of a Christmas slower, simpler, less expensive than you’ve grown accustomed to.

         

To return to the first metaphor—hold this Advent season like fine, hot tea in a precious china cup.  Sip it.  Savor it.  Take your time.  Let the promise of Advent calm and warm your soul.  “Delight yourselves in rich food”, to use Isaiah’s words; food that feeds your soul.

         

Soul food takes time, you know.  It has to be prepared from the best ingredients and consumed slowly and intentionally.  Advent gives us the time—four whole weeks.  The wisdom of Scripture gives the ingredients.  And this place, every Sunday morning, gives us the family with whom we can share the delectable spiritual creations of our minds and hearts.

         

So eat slow—live slow, this Advent season.  Savor the time.  “Listen carefully to me”, God says, “eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.”