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Come, All Who Thirst!

Rev. Dr. Karin Case
Sun, Aug 03

Text: Psalm 145.8-9, 14-21, Isaiah 55.1-5, and Matthew 14:13-21

This past week I did something special. I stopped in to visit a friend and her six-day-old baby. I knew it would be a high point of the week—this week filled with horrible news from Gaza. The tremendous sadness of Peik’s memorial service and the tragic news of Alyson’s death. It was a poignant week as so many of us in this church community came face to face with grief and loss. The kind of week that shoves mortality in your face and takes away your breath.

I suspected that my visit with my friend and her newborn baby would provide a joyful counterpoint. And I was not disappointed! The first words off Christine’s lips were, “would you like to hold her?” Would I like to hold her? Yah I would! Is there anything lovelier than cradling a newborn? I sat next to Christine on the sofa, cuddling Josie and gazing at the little miracle. I feasted my eyes on her minute perfection: tiny fingers, eyelashes, ginger-colored hair.

And I marveled at the miracle of birth. My friend, now a mom! This tiny new being who has just come into the world. It is so awesome it leaves you speechless. I sat, reveling in the mystery. Awesome. Yet, at the same time so ordinary.

Years ago, in Manhattan, I had a friend who was a labor and delivery nurse. Reflecting on her work, Nyla once commented on this very dichotomy. Birth is so amazing and yet so utterly commonplace. This is what struck the seasoned LDR nurse who witnessed the miracle of so many births: women give birth without regard to language, culture, class or race, ability or educational background. This most precious and life-changing event is also one of the most common human experiences.

The prophet Isaiah writes of another such common human experience: our bodily hunger and our spiritual thirst for that which sustains life. Two experiences, really—our physical need and our spiritual need.

“Chapters 40-55 of Isaiah are grouped together as the Book of Consolation.” Written for the Israelites in exile in Babylon, the Book opens with the prophetic words, “Comfort, O comfort my people.” These are words of assurance, a promise of restoration for people who find themselves far from home, in a foreign land, struggling with their faith, wondering how to raise their children in the midst of alien values (see Ref. 1). The prophet Isaiah writes, almost as if he is answering the question from Psalm 137, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?’

Isaiah declares, “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.” The God of Isaiah invites all to come to a banquet, a feast of good things. There are no requirements at this banquet. The guests need not speak the language, know the dress code, or even be particularly righteous (however you might define that!). No money is exchanged. The only requirement is thirst, a hunger for real sustenance.

The promise of rich food and a banquet table—amply set—is good news for those with real material need. Here is a vision of the kin-dom of God, where all are fed and basic needs are met. Isaiah’s prophetic words are meant literally—come and eat, come and drink. Wine and bread, milk and honey! Sup on rich food that gives sustenance to your body.

Or, our First Church version: come all who are hungry, and dine on homemade peanut butter sandwiches or turkey sandwiches, feast on fresh fruit and a chocolate kiss. (These are what we fill the lunch bags with that we prepare for our Outdoor Ministry.) Come all who grieve. Taste the sweetness of homemade cookies, dine on platters of fruit and sandwiches from Roche Brothers. Come, all you who hunger and thirst for a community of generosity and love.

Isaiah is speaking about real food and real feeding. But he’s also speaking metaphorically. Come, feast on the Word of God. Come, partake of the food the world cannot give. Come, fill yourself with that which truly sustains: community and relationship and meaning and purpose.

The generous invitation to the banquet table—to all who thirst—is followed by the suggestion that something is amiss. Isaiah’s got a little bit of a BS meter running on the Israelites. He hears them say that their big problem is that they are languishing in exile. Admittedly, the problem is real. They are in political captivity. But there’s something more.

Isaiah’s words are pointed: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” The prophet invites us all to a deep examination of how we spend our money and our energies.

Why do we chase after that which does not satisfy? Smart phones and SmartCars, more gadgets, more belongings, greater status, and more prestigious titles? Why do we distract ourselves and fill our lives with things that do not matter? Playing electronic games and cruising the internet, tuning out with mindless preoccupations. Isaiah urges us to take stock.

Isaiah’s God declares, “Listen carefully…incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant.”

This is the key for Isaiah. It is the key for Jesus, and it is key for us: being in relationship with God and with a community. This is what truly sustains. The banquet feeds our bodies and the relationships sustain our souls.

There is something special about this place. As a line from our hymn says, this place is “filled with solace, light and grace” (see Ref. 2). But how is this church—this community—different from any other place? You can almost hear it posed as a Jewish liturgical question, like the question from the Passover Haggadah, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

What is special about this place? Why is this place—in particular—filled with grace? You can almost hear it phrased as a Zen koan. “We say that God is present everywhere, that all of reality is saturated with God’s presence. Yet, at the same time, we say this place is special. How is this possible?”

If I were a Jewish rabbi or a Zen master, I might be wise enough to leave the question alone. But being a Christian preacher, I am compelled to give a little bit of testimony. This place is special because it is here that we form community and enter into covenant. Every time we gather to worship God or celebrate someone’s life, or assemble sandwiches, we are building beloved community.

Here, we celebrate a piece of hand-gun legislation. Here we lift our voice in lament against violence in the Middle East. Here we remember the needs of refugee children.

We may not feed 5,000 like Jesus did that day in Galilee, but we might feed 75 or 500. Maybe not with fish and barley loaves, like Jesus. But maybe with seafood sandwiches from Roche Brothers, or grape juice and gluten-free communion bread.

And here, we listen. We listen for God in the silence, in words from scripture and in the stories of God’s people—back through many generations. Here, we open our eyes and our senses to God’s delights. To a banquet table spread with a feast for all who thirst and hunger. Spread for us.

Citations:
1. Stephanie Y. Mitchem, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Feasting on the Word (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), p. 290.
2. Hymns of Truth and Light, “Open Now Your Gates of Beauty,” Hymn #249.

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