Monday, August 01, 2011

Sermon on Isaiah 55:1-5, 7th Sunday after Pentecost, "Beggars All"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. For the one who is desert-dry, parched and thirsty, what words could be more inviting than “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.” For the one who is weary from their journey, staggering from the weight of their burdens, or exhausted from the difficult road, nothing can be more refreshing than the cool, splashing water, quenching your parched throat. For the one who is hungry, starving for food, but flat-broke, what words could be more inviting than “he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price!” Such an offer would be a beggars’ delight. Free food, wine, and milk?! A feast freely offered, of the best and richest food? Would anyone refuse such an offer?

If you were such a person, parched and thirsty, starving hungry, would you not drink deeply and refresh yourself, and eat the rich food and satisfy your hunger? If you were traveling with others through the desert, and they were also thirsty, would you not call them and bring them to the waters to drink? If you were a beggar who discovered a feast, would you not tell the other beggars where to come and be fed for free? Or would you keep the knowledge to yourself?

Well, we should start by asking whether or not you and I are such thirsty persons or are such beggars, with no money and no food. If I came offering you a free meal, how would you respond? Uhh….a beggar? Me, a beggar? Sorry, you’ve got the wrong guy…he’s the one down on the street corner holding the sign. Me? I’m no beggar? Do you see my clothes? My watch? The car I drive? No, you must be mistaken. I’m no beggar. No, I doubt many of you would self-identify as beggars. Probably doesn’t matter how fancy or ordinary your clothes, watch, purse, car, or home…you probably don’t self-identify as a beggar. Safe bet. But what if I were to tell you that it’s all a mirage? An illusion? Maybe the “emperor’s new clothes?” That’s right. What if I were to tell you, that no matter whether you had bought into all the clothes, accessories, and status symbols of the upper class society, or whether you chose the marks, clothes, and symbols of the middle or lower class of society, that these were all a mirage. A disguise that doesn’t cover our real identity. For some, this might take a little convincing. I don’t suspect you are all so ready to admit you really are beggars.

Because, after all, we are pretty good at choosing and wearing our disguises. Society grants us permission to do this, especially through the internet, where we can project “profiles” or “avatars” or whatever sort of identity we want to create for ourselves, for others to see. Of course we get to decide what’s seen and what isn’t seen. So we project what we want to be, or what we want people to see, not our true selves. Especially not our darker aspects or secrets, unless that’s how we want to identify ourselves. But of course we don’t even need the internet to engage in that sort of artificiality. Long before computers, we’ve been told to “invent ourselves.” Any person can “reinvent themselves” by choosing the type of food they eat, clothes and fashions they wear, the products they use or the music they listen to, the sexual lifestyle they prefer, and whatever beliefs they claim to hold. We think of ourselves as the blank canvas on which we paint our lives and make our personality.

But what if all that posturing, whether conscious or unconscious, was exposed? What if somebody saw through it all, and realized that the fa├žade or front wasn’t really who we were? Well, you’ve probably long guessed the direction I’m headed, that God sees through all our postures and disguises. In the second verse of Isaiah 55, it says “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” Is there a more pointed description of our society today? How we work and work to get money, and we buy things that can never satisfy us? Some of you may even work yourself to the point of exhaustion, but the things we buy don’t satisfy our hunger. Not just physical hunger. It’s that we fill ourselves up with things that can never satisfy. We buy and use everything that delights our eyes and senses, with the thought that this will give us the life or the identity that we want. That somehow these things will fill up the emptiness we feel inside.

But we’re trying to fill ourselves with empty calories. And I don’t mean potato chips, candy, and soda—literal junk food—I mean all the things we try to fill up the emptiness with. There are all sorts of reasons for the emptiness in our souls. It could be a lifelong absence from God. We chose our way, and it was our own way—far from God’s commandments and plan. Our choice was that God would be absent from our lives, and we pushed Him far away. Our emptiness could be from grief and tragedy.
There’s no shortage of grief in a world where sin still powers death and all the suffering that accompanies it. Grief from the unexpected loss of a loved one. Or from the prolonged suffering of a loved one. We are left parched with spiritual thirst.

Our emptiness might be a personal loneliness, searching for true companionship and love in a world where our sinful love is so often turned in on itself, with little left to share. Or our emptiness might come from the guilt or shame that we bear, from a terrible sin that we have committed, a relationship broken, or a bitter thing we had done to another. So we bear that guilt and shame, and find ourselves helpless to reconcile, to set things right. We want only to hide our face. In a world swamped in sin, there is much to leave us thirsty, hungry, empty.

And somehow when we try to entertain the emptiness away, filling our time with movies and games, or fill our ears with music or gossip, or fill our wardrobes with clothes and fashions, or fill our homes with furniture and technology, or fill our bank accounts with money—somehow the emptiness doesn’t go away. We can ignore it, cover it up, drown it out, but the emptiness comes back. The emperor’s new clothes don’t cover our spiritual nakedness.

Maybe we are beggars after all? You see God doesn’t look at all the outward trappings of man. He doesn’t judge by appearances and all that we do. God judges the heart. And painful as it is to admit, as blushingly embarrassing as it might seem, we really are beggars before God. Martin Luther scratched it down on a piece of paper, nearly 500 years ago, just before he died. The great Reformer, who stood up for the Word of God, and lead a Reformation that forever changed the Christian church, pointing it ever more clearly to the cross of Jesus Christ, penned these dying words: “We are beggars all, this is true.” What Luther was saying, and what I hope is fastening onto each of your hearts, is the knowledge that before God, we have nothing to bring, nothing to offer. We’re the ones who come with no money, but thirsty and hungry. What could we possibly bring to God? Nothing. We are beggars all, this is true.

When we finally come to this realization, and turn out our empty pockets and admit to God that we have nothing to offer Him, then those words can drip into our ears with refreshing joy and delight! “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has 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 labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” Don’t those words just leap into your heart and begin to fill that emptiness inside?

There is a fountain where we can drink so deeply, oh so deeply of the waters of life.
That fountain is Jesus Christ, who proclaimed that He was the Living Water, a water that would well up inside us to eternal life. Welling up inside us! A living source of water! Jesus, the Son of God, is that Living Water that can satisfy an ever-parched and thirsty soul. The only water that can quench our spiritual thirst and emptiness, because it’s a water than never runs dry. The washing, cleansing, splashing water of grace and forgiveness that Jesus pours out for us in baptism, joining us to His death on the cross. The water that flowed in a stream from Jesus’ naked and bleeding side, when a soldier pierced Him with a spear, to make sure that the cross had done its job, and killed Jesus. A stream of living water, that carries away our sins in a cleansing stream. A baptismal washing, not of our bodies, but of our consciences. To take away the guilt and stain of our sin, so that shame would not hide our faces, that guilt would not separate us from God, but so that we would stand forgiven on the level ground beneath the cross. There no postures, no masks, no good deeds stand us higher or lower than any other. Here we’re the beggars, receiving a blessedly good and wonderful handout of God’s undeserved love and favor.

Throats clenched and dry from grief can drink deeply of the Living Water. The Living Water of Jesus that wells up to eternal life. The hope that bears us through our griefs and the tragedies that surround us. Carried by the knowledge that God has appointed a day when all will be set right, and when our lives and the lives of all who have drank of Jesus, the Living Water, will rise up from our graves. To rise up and receive the fullness of that big and bountiful banquet that we’re already tasting now. To come to the heavenly feast where Jesus is our host, and we’re His guests. We who have been baptized in the Living Water and trust in His Word, already get a foretaste of the feast to come, when we eat the Lord’s Supper, and receive Jesus’ body and blood. For those who have been spending their money and labor on bread that does not satisfy, here is a true feast to satisfy.

Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). In a mystery we can’t begin to fathom, Jesus presents His body and blood, the same body and blood He offered on the cross, now presented to you, to eat and drink as wine and bread that do satisfy. He says, “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:55). But though our mind cannot begin to understand it, our faith embraces this truth, and we leave it to God as to how this is possible, and trust simply in His Word (LSB 622 verse 5).

In the loneliness of our life, we come to this banquet where we find true fellowship with God. Jesus feeds us and dines with us, offering the forgiveness and mercy He won at the cross. We begin to know the God who is hidden by faith, but reveals His heart and His compassion for us through His Word and through Jesus’ life. Here we find God reconciling us with Himself, taking our sins to Himself, and giving us innocence in exchange. Here we find a strength and foundation to go and forgive others, and be reconciled with one another.

Fed by such a rich banquet, we go forward uniquely changed and forgiven. It would be unthinkable that we would want to go back to the thirstiness, the emptiness, or the posturing. We belong at the true fountain and feast. For all those who thirst in this life, we also call them to come and drink! Of course we will bring other beggars to the table, to buy and eat without cost. We come as beggars, this is true, but it’s a blessed place to be across the table from the God who is so rich in bounty, and who is the only One who can fill our emptiness to total and complete satisfaction. In the end, we will be glad to admit that we have nothing of our own to bring, but throw ourselves completely on the mercy of Jesus Christ. To Him, beggars belong! Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and
minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1. Imagine yourself parched from a long trek through the hot desert, and discovering a fountain of cool, refreshing water. How would you feel? Imagine yourself a poor, starving beggar, being offered a feast of rich food for free. How would you react?

2. Why would we want to deny the fact that we are beggars? Why might we not want to carry that around as our identity? Who would we rather be seen as? What is the personality or identity that you try to “project” as a person? How do you want people to see you?

3. Why does Isaiah 55:2 expose our disguises and posturing as unable to fool God? Why can material things and earthly pleasures not truly satisfy the emptiness within us?

4. What is the source of the emptiness that we feel in our souls? Why is God the only person who can fill that emptiness and satisfy us? Reflect on this quote from St. Augustine: “You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

5. Apply Luther’s dying words to yourself: “We are beggars all, this is true.” What perspective does this bring?

6. What is the fountain of water to which we are invited to drink? What is the rich feast where we are invited to eat? John 4:10-15; 7:37-39; 6:47-69; Isaiah 25:6-9. What is the price of admission? Who paid for our place at the table? Consequently, we are beggars, invited to the feast!

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