1) Free Water for Sale (1-2)
Letís think about the questions Donna asked during the childrenís story. How do we know when we are thirsty? If it were summer time that might be easier to answer, right? Our mouths feel hot and dry. Our throats ache and scratch. When we feel like that, we know we need something to drink.
How do we know when weíre hungry? (Some of you might be hungry right now and know exactly how it feels.) But hunger can be hard to describe, canít it? Our stomachs growl. We have this empty feeling... We just know we need to find something to eat.
Now hereís a harder question. How do you know when you need God? In the Scripture, wanting God is sometimes described as being hungry and thirsty for God. (Ps. 42:1-2) So, how do we know if we are hungry or thirsty for God? Hmmm. We may feel restlessness or uneasy. (Ps. 63:1) Hunger for God might present as a physical ache or even as guilt. Sometimes when Iím hungry for God, I feel lonely or sad or wistful or empty. (Ps. 84:2)
When we our stomachs are hungry, what do we do? Wander out to the kitchen? Pull into Wendyís. But, when we are hungry for God, what do we do about that?
Turn to our text for today, Isaiah 55:1-9. It is a winsome piece of poetry that talks about being hungry and thirsty. Letís take a look. (Is. 55: 1)
"Hey everybody, Water, water. Get your free water over here."
The scene is market day in Babylon. The Jews were refugees, prisoners of war, exiles in Babylon. Some of them had lived there long enough to become part of the economy of the place.
On some tables in the market there are stacks of fresh bread. On others, water for sale. Remember the Middle East is an arid climate where water is especially valuable. Just like we buy bottled water when we are thirsty, travelers through the market could have been shopping for something to drink.
The vendor is calling, "Hey, over there, you hungry, you thirsty? Come over here!"
But wait, whatís that? (1b) Itís not just water that is available, but wine and milk too! And whatís that? Without money, without price. Itís free. The invitation is for those who are poor "you who have no money"
The shoppers step closer. (v2a) And the invitation is also for those whoíve made bad choices, those whoíve spent their money on things beside the food and drink they really need. Whoíve wasted their money on things that donít satisfy.
The offer is good for everyone, free food and drinks for the poor and the irresponsible.
But the vender isnít shouting any more. HeĎs got their attention, heís drawing them in. (2b) "Listen, listen, pay attention."
Well, by now they and we, have it figured out. Isaiah is not just talking about folks who are out on the street and want something to eat or drink. Isaiah is talking about being hungry and thirsty for God. He's talking to the Jews of Babylon, but we know what he's talking about too, don't we. Being hungry for God and filling up on things that don't satisfy us.
Is. 55:2 asks the question... Why do we do that? We are hungry for God and we open the refrigerator. We are thirsty for God and we drink a beer. We want God, but instead of turning to God we go shopping. We feel empty for God and so we cram our schedules full. We are like babies who cry because they need something, but donít know how to ask for what they need.
This filling up on what doesnít satisfy is unhelpful and it can be dangerous. Some of us have nearly perished as we have tried to fill ourselves up on other things instead of God. God, like water is not a luxury, God is a necessity. (interpreters) "In every generation, life apart from God proves unsatisfying."
My dad used to love to tell the story of the man who had a mule. Seemed like that mule was hungry all the time. So the man got a great idea. He decided to feed the mule a little sawdust along with his horse feed. Well, the horse ate the sawdust along with the horse feed. So the next day the farmer fed the mule a little more sawdust and a little less horse feed. Oh, this was really going to work! Every day the man fed his mule and every day he fed him a little more sawdust and a little less horse feed. The man was hopeful and enthusiastic.
One day when the farmer was at the store, his neighbors asked him about the project. "Howís that working out for you, switching your mule over to sawdust."
"Oh," said the man, "it was going great. But about the time I had him switched over completely, he died."
Inside all of us is a deep longing for God. This longing for God is as real as being hungry for food and thirsty for water. It can keep our spirits alive, just like being hungry can prompt us to eat and keep us alive. God put the God hunger there, so we would know we need God. And trying to satisfy that hunger with anything but God is dangerous. "You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." (St. Augustine)
2) God isnít afraid of Commitment (3-5)
The caller (now we know it is God) is calling again (3a) Saying in effect, "Iím trying to save your life here." Godís offer. Godís invitation.
"Listen to me," God says, "Turn your head this way so you can hear." Iím going to make a promise with you like the promise I made to David.
Remember the way God felt about King David? God said David was a man after his own heart." David wrote many Psalms. David was a beloved national leader. And, David did some pretty atrocious things. But he repented and God forgave him. God showed his fondness for David by making him an honored king (v4). David was such an important historical figure that when Jesus came nearly 1,000 years later, he was called the "son of David."
I can just see the folks who were hearing these words for the first time smiling. They were in exile, right. "Ah yeah, back in Davidís day. That was the hay day. Those were the good old daysÖ" But look what God is saying to themÖ Iíll make a promise to you just like I made to him. (3b) And even though they were a sorry lot at the time, things would turn around. (v5) Just like he was a witness to the peoples, they will be a witness to the nations. God would give them power and glory. God offered them a covenant of love with no expiration date, an everlasting covenant.
But that was along time ago, Isaiahís time. What about us? The good news is that the offer is still good! God is offering to love us and care for us and honor us. Not because we are brilliant or perfect. God loves us for no good reason, God just loves us because he took a notion to love us. So that we, like David will be a witness. (4) And like the Israelites, so that other will learn about God (5)
So, how do we get in on a deal like that?
3) Look for God, Heís been Looking for You (Isaiah 55:6-7)
Seek the Lord while he may be found. (6) This is the third Sunday of Lent. A good day to look for the God who is calling you. The God for whom you are lonely.
We can turn to God anytime, anywhere, right? We donít need a church service or Lent or a revival to give us an excuse to get right with God. But this is a special season of invitation. Donít put it off. (v6)
Lent is a season, 40 days, when Christians open their lives for Godís spring-cleaning. Weíre having a confession every Sunday morning as part of the service. In a few minutes we will have a healing service when you can come forward and give your life, your illness, your particular needs to God. In a few weeks weíll have revival. Another opportunity to take a step toward God. It is time to call (verse 6) out to the God who says four times (verse 1), "Come."
As I prepared for the sermon this week, I pulled a couple of old sermons I preached on Isaiah 55, just to see if there was anything in there worth repeating. I didnít find too much for us today, but I did find this prayer I prayed back in Lent 2001 that made me smile.
"Iím getting a little tired of all these sermons on repentance, God," I prayed. "I think Lentís going to be a little long this year." And I imagined God saying to me, "You think youíre tired of all this repentance stuff? Just think about me!"
Tozer says, "God waits to be wantedÖ God meant for us to see Him and live with him and draw our life from his smile."
God doesnít wish we felt guiltier for the bad things weíve done. God doesnít hope weíll beat ourselves up! Instead God tells us to stop (forsake) and to turn around (repent) And verse 7 sums up repentance poetically. "Let the wicked, (thatís talking about us friends)Ö" Today, letís turn away from the bad things we are doing "forsake our ways" and the wrong things we are thinking, our evil thoughts, and turn toward God.
And when we seek, call, forsake and turn... Then what? Weíll discover a God who is generous with forgiveness. Lavish with forgiveness. God will "freely" or "abundantly" pardon. ItĎs free. (remember 55:1?)
Letís sum it up 1-7...Look around, God is calling for you. Donít walk away. Donít keep filling up on other things. Seek the Lord. Confess sin and repent. God is waiting to forgive you.
4) God is not a Person (8-9)
At the beginning of todayís passage God was compared to a vender on the street, passing out free water. Thatís true about God, right out there where we live, looking for us. Calling us, making an offer. But take a look at the end of todayís passage, (8-9) This is true about God too. (read) God is God and we are people. That doesnít seem to be a remarkable statement, or does it?
When I was a kid my grandparents had a little dog named Schnitzel. Schnitzel thought he was a person. He would scratch on the front door to be let in. If his paws were dirty my grandmother would say, "Schnitzel, you canít come in here like that. Go around back and wipe your feet." Then sheíd walk the few steps to the back of their little house and there was Schnitzel, wiping his feet on the mat. Friends who saw these type of moments would shake their heads. "That dog thinks heís people," theyíd say.
Well, sometimes, when it comes to God, we think we are gods. But you know what? Weíre not. God is God and we, brothers and sisters, are mere human beings. According to v8, we donít think the way God thinks and we donít act the way God acts. In fact, according to v9, if you could measure the distance between heaven and earth (how far do you think that is?) well thatís how big the spread is between Godís way of acting and thinking and ours.
At times in my life, this has been frustrating for me. At those times my prayers include, "Iím not understanding you here, God. You donít make any sense to me!" I feel angry, small, confused. I suppose it could be said that we are fundamentally incompatible with God, as different as heaven and earth.
But most of the time I find it comforting to have a God that is bigger than me. Iíve already got people. I donít need God to be a person. On my better days, I say, "Thank God that You are bigger than me!"
Of course I donít always understand God. If I did, I would be God. I desperately need a God who understands and sees and can do more than me. At the end of the day, even though I might hope and pray desperately for something, I donít know whatís best. I praise my God, the Lord of the universe, who can do more than I can even imagine.
We need a God that is big enough to offer us the deep satisfaction we are looking for. (v2b) A God who gives us what our souls want, without a staggering price tag. A God who will welcomes and forgives. A God who says, "Hey you, come to me." Then offers us his love that is better than life itself. (Ps. 63:3)
This morning God is making a simple offer. Everyone who is thirsty, come. If you donít have anything to offer in return, come. If youíve substituted other things for God, come.
Thatís what weíll invite you to do in a few minutes during the healing service. Come. There is nothing magic about the oil we will anoint you with, and nothing particularly special about our prayers. This is about God calling you and you responding to God, "while he is near." You can come to ask for forgiven and spiritual healing. You can some to ask God to heal a relationship. We will pray for emotional or physical healing. Donít forget, you can come to ask for prayer for someone else too.
Weíll have two stations for prayer, Jeff and I will be here and Duane and Fern will be here. Whether you are a child, grownup or a teenager, come forward and God will heal and forgive and touch you this morning.