Sunday, October 05, 2008

Come One, Come All--a sermon for World Communion Sunday

Rev. Teri Peterson
Come One, Come All
Isaiah 55
October 5 2008, World Communion Sunday

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. 

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

and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

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.

I will make with you an everlasting covenant,

my steadfast, sure love for David. 

See, I made him a witness to the peoples,

a leader and commander for the peoples. 

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.
Seek the Lord while he may be found,

call upon him while he is near; 

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. 

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.
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.

 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.

This, friends, is my favorite passage in all of Scripture. I sometimes think that if I could only have one chapter out of the whole Bible, this would be it. The promises here are so deep, the poetry so beautiful, God’s love so great, that I can’t imagine it can be improved on. I feel like every verse has something wonderful in it, and when you put them all together you get something like a big comforting quilt.

The trouble, of course, is that preaching on one’s favorite passage is extraordinarily difficult. Because I naturally want to make sure I point out for you all my favorite parts—I don’t want to leave anything out. And I want to delve deeply into every verse because they’re all so great. I want to help you all see why this is the best chapter in the whole Bible! But in 10 minutes or less, that’s awfully hard to do. So I’ve been struggling here, trying to figure out the answers to the two questions I always ask myself when planning and preparing for worship: What’s the good news for us here? And what’s the challenge for us here?

Well, the part of me that loves this text more than any other, the part of me that remembers that this is the chapter I clung to when my mother was sick and even more when she died three years ago this month, the part of me that remembers that this is the text my dear friend Calum preached on at my ordination, the part of me that wants you all to love it like I do, says “every single sentence here is the good news for us!” Come, God says. Come and eat. Come and be filled with good things. Come, hear what I have in store for you. Joy and peace and fulfillment. Just like rain and snow come down from heaven with a purpose, so do my words—they will accomplish what I hope. I am nearer than you realize. My thoughts and ways are so much higher than yours—and the things I hope are a still more excellent way. Come, all of you. Come and be filled.
That's good news if I ever heard it.

As for challenge…I think there’s plenty of that here too. God asks us a hard question: why do we spend ourselves—our time, our energy, our work, our money, our worry—for things that do not nourish us? This is the kind of question I don’t like to ask myself—especially in a week where I rewarded myself after a day long meeting with a trip to Ann Taylor. What is it that we need? And why do we try to fill ourselves up with other things instead? God calls us to come to the waters—come and eat, come and drink, come and be filled with good things. Yet so often we try to fill up on work, on friends, on anxiety, on building walls of separation that keep us safe but also cut us off from each other and from God. In essence, we choose empty calories rather than the rich feast God has in mind for us.
That is indeed a challenge.

But the questions are what are the good news and the challenge for us, and that’s where I’m having a harder time.

Where is good news in a week where our economy has come to the brink of collapse, when our leaders and leaders-to-be have argued about self-interest, when the country lost 159,000 jobs, when families in our nation are losing their homes and their a time children around the world are starving, when school kids are getting shot on the streets of Chicago, when bombs are falling, when people are scared to leave their homes because of genocide and war and war-mongering? I’m not sure that the world is actually any more worrisome than it ever was, but it certainly feels a little overwhelming to me.

What is the good news for us? What is the challenge for us?

Come, God says. Come and be filled. Others will come—others you don’t know. There’s room at this table for strangers and friends, for the anxiety-ridden and the care-free, for all who come, a place at the table. For my thoughts and ways are not your thoughts and ways. When rain falls, it waters the earth and plants grow and people eat. When I send out my word, it nourishes all creation and love grows and communities are fed.
There is both good news and challenge here for us, in our time and our place. There is grace, there is love, there is compassion…and there is a reminder that we cannot create God in our own image, we cannot assume God builds walls the way we do, we cannot limit God’s mysterious work to the way we think things ought to be done. Instead, when we leave behind those things that do not satisfy, when we refuse to spend ourselves on things that take rather than give life, then we come to the rich feast. But we bring with us all the needs of a broken world, all the prayers of our brothers and sisters around the globe, all the hope for peace and justice. And as we take a seat at the table, as we break bread and share the cup, we find ourselves turned around and facing a world where the feast here—and I do mean a feast, a nourishing meal with plenty to go around!—is more than enough. No more the mindset of scarcity, no more the small God we have created, no more the little bitty crumbs of bread that fall apart in the juice.

Today, as we come to this table just as people long before us have done, just as people in China and Palestine and Egypt and Sudan and Colombia have done, good news pierces the dark clouds with the tiniest ray of light. Come—here is bread, here is wine and water, here is nourishment for your body and your soul, here is strength for the journey—without money, and without price. This is no mere cliché, this is God’s grace, here at the table, for all of us. As we gather at this table, we gather with those near and far, people around the world celebrating this same sacrament, saying the same words, claiming that something holy happens here, believing that in bread and wine we are all made into one body, the body of Christ, sent for the loving of the world.

Thanks be to God!

1 comment:

  1. Good news and challenges about. And if I knew that we shared the same ordination text, I'd forgotten that. So now remember and doubt I will forget. And I have been praying for you this month, remembering your mom.