I want my money back

Isaiah 55:1-5 New International Version (NIV)

1 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.

3 Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.

4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a ruler and commander of the peoples.

5 Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Romans 9:1-8 New International Version

1 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

God’s Sovereign Choice

 6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”  8 In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.

            I have been on a bit of a movie kick lately.  Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that it is extremely hot outside and therefore I have no desire to do any physical labor at any time during the day.  I would much rather sit inside and watch a movie.  Every now and then my wife and I sit down and watch a “romantic comedy.”  You know the type of movie that I am talking about.  Boy meets girl, girl isn’t interested in boy.  Boy tries really hard and girl falls for boy.  Boy then does something stupid and girl breaks up with boy.  But in the end, because the girl never stopped loving the boy, they are able to make things right again.  And they all live happily ever after.

            Have you ever seen that movie?  I bet you have.  Most romantic comedies follow this plot line with very few changes.  If you change a few of the actors and the setting you have a new movie.

            I decided that I am going to write and direct a romantic comedy this week.  Hugh Jackman can play the guy and Julia Roberts will play his romantic interest.  Only in my movie, when Hugh Jackman does something stupid and Julia Roberts breaks up with him, she meets a rich doctor played by Patrick Dempsey and marries him and they live happily ever after while Hugh Jackman spends the rest of his life living in his parents’ basement, watching “I Love Lucy” reruns and playing video games.

            Would that work?  I don’t think so.  People would be walking out of the movie theater saying things like “I spent $10 on that?  I want my $10 back!”

            I think that there are a lot of similarities between a romantic comedy and Israel’s relationship with God.  When God called Abraham and told him to go to a place that he would show him and that through him all of the world would be blessed, that is like when the boy meets the girl.  Everything seems to be going fine; they are growing closer and closer together.  God delivers his people from slavery in Egypt, even parts the Red Sea and what do they do?  They make an idol out of gold and worship it.  They grumble about not having meat to eat.  They say that things would have been better if God would have just let them in Egypt as slaves.  They complain about not having a flesh and blood king like the other nations.  Some even go as far as to worship other gods.  And eventually, God allows the Israelites to be taken away into exile.  To the Israelites, this seems like God is breaking up with them, and they cry out, repent, and ask for God’s forgiveness.

God never stops loving the Israelites, even when they are in exile, even though it seems like God has left them and forsaken them.  Even though it feels like God has forgotten all about them and the covenant, the promises that He has made to His people, the Bible is clear that God never stopped loving them.  But they chose to push him away, to push God out of their lives. 

Isaiah 55:1-2 is an invitation to Israel to come back to God.  “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.  Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.”

            Isaiah compares the need that the Israelites have for God to the need that we have for food and drink.  As human beings, we hunger and thirst for our creator.  We can go for a while without food, but eventually we will starve without it.  We can go for a shorter time without water, but soon we will dehydrate.  Isaiah is pointing out that what the Israelites have been hungering and thirsting for is God.  They are hungering and thirsting for a relationship with their creator, their deliverer.  They need the bread and they need the water that God has to survive.  Why spend money on that which is not bread?  Why labor for that which will not satisfy? 

            But notice that what Isaiah is talking about here is not the bare minimum.  We can survive on bread with its complex carbohydrates and water with its hydrating properties.  But God is offering more, much more.  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.  These are not the drinks of commoners.  These are the drinks of those who are blessed.  The sweet taste of wine and the nutrient density of milk provide more than what is needed to simply get by.  What is being offered here through the prophet Isaiah is not simply a relationship with their creator.  What is being offered here is what Jesus will later call The Abundant Life.

            Here is some good news: This abundant life is not just for the Israelites.  It is right there for the taking for anyone that wants to come to God, to eat, drink, and live the life that God has called us to!  Isaiah says in verses 4-5, “See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a ruler and commander of the peoples.  Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.”  Nations, or some translations say “Gentiles” will come running because of the LORD your God.  The Israelites are to live this abundant life and it will be attractive, drawing all people, all nations, all colors, all sizes and shapes to God.  God and his beloved people are being re-united!  This is how a romantic comedy is supposed to go!  They all live happily ever after.

            So we fast-forward a few hundred years and we find Paul writing in Romans chapter nine that he has great anguish, great despair, and great agony.  Paul says that he wishes that he himself were cut off from Christ.  He wishes he himself were cut off from Christ if it meant that Israel would realize that Jesus is the one that they have been waiting on.  In saying this I don’t think that we need to interpret Paul as saying that he is anything but thankful for the life that he has been given in Christ.  No, what he is saying is that he loves his own people so much that he would sacrifice the abundant life that he is now experiencing if it meant that the rest of his people could experience what he has found in Christ.

            Paul notes the history of his people; the covenants, the Torah, the Temple, the patriarchs.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, these are the people that helped to shape the Jewish faith; these are the people that helped steer Paul’s family to God.  And Paul is saying that they are missing it.  The point of it all is right in front of them, and they are missing it.

            It is kind of like that romantic comedy that I threatened to write where in the end, the guy fails to come back to the girl.  We know how romantic comedies are supposed to end: they get back together and live happily ever after.  Paul knows what God’s intention is for the Israelites.  He knows that they are to see Jesus as the Messiah, that this was always God’s plan.  So as Paul looks at the Jewish people and sees so many of them failing to join in on God’s plan, Paul says, “I want my $10 back.”  This is not how things are supposed to go.  However, this situation is so much more grave and his response is appropriately to show much more remorse than if he were to have just seen a bad movie.  He says, I wish I could be cut off from Jesus if only it would mean that all of my people could be a part of him.

            Paul says in verse 6a “It is not as though God’s word had failed.”  What he is saying is that this is God’s plan.  The Torah, the Patriarchs, the Prophets, the Temple; these things were all meant to point his people to Jesus.  God isn’t scrapping his original plans for his people and instead starting something different through Jesus.  Jesus was supposed to be the high-point of God’s reconciling work of this world.  He is the fulfillment of the prophesy that we heard from Isaiah, the invitation to come and drink milk and wine, to eat bread, to eat even when you cannot pay.  You need not pay because Jesus already has.  The Israelites, the Gentiles, and now we are invited into the abundant life that Jesus has offered to us.

            I speak often about this abundant life, and perhaps I would do well to remind you all of what I am speaking of.  Jesus says in John 10:10b, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  This isn’t a promise of health, wealth, and prosperity.  This is a promise of the life that God intends for us all to live.  A life of loving God and loving our neighbor.  And this is the life that begins when we make the decision to follow Jesus and this life extends into all of eternity; life beyond death in full communion with the triune God.

I don’t think it is too hard for us to see people that are not living the life that God would have us live.  I don’t think that I have fully arrived, so I don’t have to look any further than a mirror.  Anytime we see someone who is not fully conformed to the image of Jesus, we see people that are failing to live the life that God has intended for them and for us.  But it isn’t all or nothing.  Some lives are more conformed to the image of God than others.  It is a process.  Accepting Jesus as your savior doesn’t mean that you are living the abundant life today.  It begins with a decision to follow Jesus and it is a life filled with the daily decision to follow him.

            Look at the world today and it is not difficult to see thing that are not like God intended for them to be.  We hear stories about a young man in Norway who killed 77 individuals, some of whom were at a summer camp…just children.  This isn’t the way that the story is supposed to go.  I hear that story and I say, “I want my $10 back.”  I hear stories of famine and fighting in Somalia where people are starving to death or being killed by other people over food, people created in the image of God killing other people created in the image of God.  I hear these stories and I say, “I want my $10 back.”  And perhaps you have heard a little bit this week about something called a “debt ceiling”.  Republicans and Democrats are arguing back and forth.  And we hear things about how if the House of Representatives passes one bill that the Senate will probably veto the bill (and has).  Republicans want spending cuts, the Democrats want higher taxes for the rich.  And unfortunately I look at the whole thing cynically and think to myself that this is all about politics.  It is about not giving an inch out of fear that someone will take a mile.  I think so many politicians act out of fear as we approach another election year that their party might not be in power and therefore they need to fight for their lives.  But who is it that might suffer?  The poor, the disabled, the elderly; those who might not get their Social Security.  I hear all of this “discussion” about the debt ceiling and I just have to say, “I want my $10 back.”  This is not the way that things are supposed to go.  This world is not the way that it is supposed to be.

            But yet there is that invitation to “Come.”  Everyone who is thirsty is invited to come.  Everyone who is hungry is invited to come.  All nations, all ethnicities, Republicans, Democrats, Somalians, even the killer from Norway who killed those 77 people.  Come, taste and see that the Lord is good.  Come, taste and see that God has not given up on his plan.  It has not failed, it cannot fail, it will not fail.  Though this world might seem at times like a bad romantic comedy that does not end with the boy and girl reunited, living happily ever after, I have to believe that will change.  One day God will set things right and the bride and the bridegroom will be united at the supper of the lamb.  And all of the stuff that seemed to let us down in this life will be gone and we will be left, not only with the bare essentials and minimum needed to get by.  No, we will have wine and milk and honey.  Come, taste and see that the Lord is good.  Come to Jesus.

            2 Corinthians 5:18-20 says, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

            We are Christ’s ambassadors.  When we hear people saying things like “Why is the world so messed up today,” we are the ones who are called to say “It doesn’t have to be this way.”  When the rest of the world notices that things around them seem to be playing out like a bad romantic comedy and they begin to ask for their $10 back, we are not simply called to agree with them and say that everything will be better one day, we are to show them that a better world is possible here and now, starting today.  It starts when we make the decision to follow Jesus.

            Imagine how different the world would be if everyone had committed to following the Prince of Peace, the Lord of lords, the King of kings.  Imagine a world where people don’t kill others because of differing ideologies and political concerns.  In that world, the 77 killed in Norway recently would still be alive.  Imagine if we shared food with one another, even if it meant we had to do with a little less ourselves.  In that world, the many refugees and victims of violence in Somalia would still be alive.  Imagine a world where Republicans and Democrats could actually listen to one another and say, “I am going to put my own personal agenda aside because I realize that other people might be hurt in the process.”  In that world, we wouldn’t hear about the debt crisis every 10 minutes on the radio.  In that world, we would be too busy loving one another to fight, too busy worshipping God to argue.  If we could live like that, then all nations would come.  That invitation is still available to us today, just as it was in Isaiah’s day.  Come, drink and eat, for the Lord is good.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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