Sunday, July 31, 2005

Eleventh Sunday of Pentecost
Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm 145:8-9, 15-22 (or 145:8-9, 14-21)
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Bottled water sales in the United States doubled between 1990 and 2000. The market has continued to steadily increase with most recent figures showing that $35 billion are spent on bottled water around the world. This is a huge difference from when I was young when bottled water was almost non-existent. I can remember when the first designer bottles were introduced. My mom remarked how silly it is that anyone would spend so much money on water.

Of course, we were drinking less water back then. We didn't realize the nutritional and health benefits of eight glasses a day and how unhealthy the other drinks can be. Coffee, soda, tea and liquor actually cause dehydration and mild dehydration can cause fatigue, dry skin, headaches and other health problems. The water we did drink came out of the tap, but we have become so much more aware of the harmful contaminants that are found in tap water.

Now I keep bottled water in the house all the time. My kids carry water with them to school and other activities and I keep a bottle in the car at all times. It is amazing how much money we willingly spend on water, especially since we also have a purifier on our water dispenser in our refrigerator. When we are out at a park or event, we willingly pay as much money for a bottle of cold water as we would pay for a bottle of soda. I grumbled a bit, but paid $3.00 for a 20 oz bottle just the other day.

Many of us might remember when a glass of water was automatically placed in front of us when we went into a restaurant. While most places will still give you water if you ask for it, there are some that will only serve bottled water and of course charge you for it. Remembering my mother's words, I wonder if she ever thought a day would come when we'd pay such a high cost for our drinking water.

We know we can't live without it, particularly on extremely hot days like the ones most of the country have suffered over the last few weeks. Yet, there are a great many people who won't keep hydrated as they should, mostly because of the cost involved. Who can afford $3.00 for a bottle of water when you've spent $40 to get into that theme park? Isn't it better to at least spend the money on something with some substance, even if it isn't as healthy?

In today's Old Testament lesson, Isaiah is speaking to the exiled Israelites with a promise from God. In the previous chapter, God's promise is for the rebuilding of the Temple. The invitation in today's lesson is for the feast that will come after the dedication feast. Isaiah says, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." Isn't it a bit strange that this passage would instruct us to buy while also telling us it is without cost?

Even though there was a time we could not have imagined paying so much for the water we drink, we also know that everything we receive is worth something we are willing to pay the costs to sustain life. Our understanding of the word 'buy' has something to do with exchanging one thing for another, usually money for a product or service. So, we wonder what it could mean to buy something without cost.

The fifth definition for the word 'buy' in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is "to accept or believe" as in "I don't buy that explanation." Can you imagine the people to whom Isaiah is speaking these words and what they must have been thinking? They were still in exile and their future was uncertain. They might have found it hard enough to believe that they would ever be free, let alone to believe that they would celebrate the restoration of Israel, the Temple and Jerusalem. To these people, Isaiah says, "Come, you who are thirsty." And He promises that they will be satisfied, not because of anything they can give to God, but because of His faithfulness.

Part of Israel's problem is that they looked to other gods for their spiritual guidance. They accepted and believed bought the faith of those other gods. Isaiah says, "Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness." The people were like those who seek refreshment with soda on a hot day when only water will really restore the lost water in a body.

Things are no different in today's world. Bookstores are filled with shelves full of books about spirituality. Many people are seeking a connection with the divine, and they are looking for it in all the wrong places. They are seeking a religion that meets their physical needs and are willing to pay for it. They are thirsty for the gift of life, but seek it in religions that require something. How could something as free as the forgiveness that comes from Christ be worth anything?

I can imagine the sorrow of Paul as he considered his own people in the passage from Romans. Just last week we heard him talk about how there is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ, not even our own inability to keep God's Law. Yet his own people were unable to see the grace of God found in Jesus Christ. They believed bought that they had to be worthy, righteous according to the rules and missed out that Christ paid the price for them to come to the banquet. Paul would willingly give up his own life for the sake of his people, for theirs is the promise.

In the passage from Isaiah, the promise is given to David that will be fulfilled in his son God's Son in the day of the Messiah. Through Him all nations will come to Zion seeking the end to their spiritual thirst. All the promises are theirs and Paul is agony over their rejection of God's grace found in Christ Jesus. They didn't want the free feast, but wanted the faith that required their sacrifice. They refused the Gospel, preferring to pay for the folly of an unattainable righteousness.

In today's Gospel lesson we see another sort of feast. Matthew writes in the first verse, " Now when Jesus heard it, he withdrew from thence in a boat, to a desert place apart: and when the multitudes heard thereof, they followed him on foot from the cities." What was it that Jesus heard about? In the previous passage we hear about the beheading of John the Baptist. This event would have made Jesus want to go into a solitary place to mourn. After all, John was Jesus' cousin and the messenger sent ahead of Him. Jesus' fate was different, but similar, to John's. They would both die. If it was the beheading that sent Jesus into that lonely place, it may have been to mourn.

If, however, Jesus had gone to that solitary place because He heard that Herod thought He was John the Baptist raised from the dead, he may have gone into hiding. The return of John the Baptist would not be good for Herod's rule. Jesus was in danger and it was not His time to die.

Whatever it was that caused Jesus to go to that solitary place did not stop Him from ministering to the needs of others. The people followed Him. They, too, were in mourning. John gave them hope and his death brought a halt to his ministry. They did not know what to do next, except that John pointed to another Jesus. They went to Him for comfort and perhaps some hope. He had compassion on them and ministered to them.

They stayed there a long time and the disciples became concerned for the well-being of the people. They told Jesus to send the people away from that remote place so that they could buy something to eat. They recognized their inability to feed such a great crowd. Even if they had the money to put on a great banquet, there was no where to purchase the food. Jesus said, " They have no need to go away; give ye them to eat." They didn't really argue with Jesus, but showed Him how little they had. How could they feed such a crowd with only five loaves and two fish? It was probably not even enough to feed those who were traveling with Jesus.

Jesus took the bread and fish. He blessed it, gave thanks and gave it to the disciples to share with the crowd. I can almost imagine Him saying, "Come ye, buy, and eat." He was not asking anything of the people in the crowd, only that they would believe. When the feast was complete, everyone was satisfied and there were twelve basketfuls of bread left over. When it was over, Jesus had fed five thousand men plus women and children with just five loaves of bread and two fish.

This feast continues even into today at the Eucharist. Jesus calls to us in His Word, "Come, you who are thirsty" and He gives us the cup of blessing. He invites us to "Come, buy and eat" and gives us His body without cost. Such a sacrifice certainly deserves to be purchased with great cost, but it is not a meal that we can afford to purchase with money or even our flesh. Paul could not even give his own life for the sake of others, that they might receive Jesus and believe. We can only 'buy' this meal with faith a faith given to us as a gift from God.

The Israelites in exile may have found it difficult to believe that their world would be restored. Jerusalem had been destroyed, the Temple was gone and they were far from home. They were even far from their God. They'd turned away, but God did not leave them. He had compassion on them and restored the hope they had in His promises. They would go home in His time and His way, to rebuild and live. They would feast on His promises and fed out of His abundance.

David sings praise to God in today's Psalm and he calls for all of creation to join him in this song. "My mouth shall speak the praise of Jehovah; And let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever." All good things come from God, not from the false gods we would rather follow. We look to God for food and drink, but also for forgiveness and faith. "Jehovah upholdeth all that fall, And raiseth up all those that are bowed down."

He has promised to be with us, in the bread and the wine, in His Word and Spirit. He has promised to deliver us and to prepare a great banquet. We see a glimmer of that promise in the Eucharist and through our Gospel story this week, we can see that there is no end to the promise. There is plenty for all. Come and eat. Thanks be to God.

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