God’s Abundance; Our Role

Isaiah 55:1-9

“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.”

6 Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.

7 Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Luke 13:6-9

6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

There was a man who was becoming more and more out of shape every day. However, there was no question as to what was causing his weight gain. Every evening he would cook an entire turkey, put it in the fridge, and snack on that turkey throughout the next day by pulling hunks of turkey right from the fridge.

Finally the man decided he had enough of this lifestyle and he lost a lot of weight. After shedding 50 pounds his doctor asked him, “How did you lose all of that weight?”

“It was easy,” said the man. “I quit cold turkey.”

I sometimes find myself asking big questions that don’t have easy answers. I ask myself questions about why the world is as it is. Why is there so much poverty? Why do so many people die of treatable diseases every day? Why do people not have access to clean drinking water? Why do we continue to go into battle, seeking to kill our fellow human beings, people created in the image of God?

As I said, these questions do not have easy answers. But I think a lot of these issues come right down to fear — a specific fear. We are afraid that there will not be enough. After all, we know that the earth’s resources are limited. Each time I go to fill up at the gas station I am reminded that there are things that are only available in a limited supply.

So we fight over the oil supply and the land. We hoard our money. We consume more food than our bodies need. We consume food products that are not only unhealthy, but may be “robbing” our “neighbors” around the world of their most basic needs. Remember, it takes about six pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef.

Perhaps worst of all, we even tend to hoard love. We chose whom we will love and whom we will not love. And sometimes we even hoard the love of God as if it too is a limited commodity that we need to distribute carefully. God loves us and not them. We go all tribal: God loves me and my people, not those people.

It is our fear that there is not enough that seems to be at the root of so many of the problems we see in the world today. But as Gandhi once said, “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”

Today’s passage from Isaiah may sound familiar to you. If it does, it is likely because I preached from Proverbs 9 recently and these passages are saying a lot of the same things. They speak of the abundance available to us through 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.”

The NIV uses the word “come” four times in this single verse (though the first usage is actually a different word in the Hebrew). What an invitation! Come! Come to God and come to God’s abundance. Let’s bounce around the Bible a bit here. Are you thirsty? Come to God, who can offer you living water (John 4). Are you hungry? God can feed 5,000 plus women and children with just one boy’s lunch (Matthew 14). Are you tired, weary, heavy-burdened? Come to God and he will give you rest (Matthew 11).

Some of these references can be understood in at least two different ways. They can be taken very literally and they can be understood as a metaphor for our spiritual relationship with God.

Food is often used to help us understand our relational potential with God. God invites us to a banquet, a feast, a wedding celebration. The table is set, the food is hot. All are invited. And as someone who likes to eat, I’m excited to chow down. God invites us to come.

But I think that we would be doing a disservice to this verse and the entire biblical witness if we over spiritualized this passage. This is indeed about the abundance of life, both here and now, and the life to come. There is enough for our need, but not enough for our greed.

Isaiah 55 is often considered the last of the post-exilic literature from second Isaiah, which started with chapter 40’s promise of comfort and concludes with today’s promise of abundance. The Israelites have been in exile for 70 years, uprooted from their families, their homes, their fields, and at times it would seem, their God. They have known hunger in both the literal and metaphorical sense. Now it is time to go back to the land flowing with milk and honey where food and faith are found in abundance. Isaiah 55 is a promise of abundance.

Where is that abundance today?

Experts agree that there is enough food produced each year to feed all 7 billion people on the face of the earth. The reason there are still hungry people today has to do with issues of distribution and consumption.

A friend of mine once remarked how strange it is that we Christians in the US spend money every month on gym memberships – $50, $60, $70 per month? – to burn off the extra weight that we have put on after having eaten more than we need while others go hungry. As a chubby guy with a gym membership, this hit too close to home. It is almost like I am stealing from the starving people twice. There is enough for our need, but not enough for our greed.

In our New Testament reading for today we find a parable from Jesus that, like so many other parables, is rather confusing. There is a man that owns a vineyard where he has planted a fig tree. This man is getting a little bit frustrated because he has been coming to the tree for three years expecting to harvest some fruit. And every year, he finds the tree bare.

So the owner of the vineyard gets a little bit frustrated and orders the manager to chop the tree down. Why should it be taking up space? Remember, the land is a limited resource.

It is the manager, however, who shows mercy. It is the manager that pleads for one more year. Let me prune it; let me fertilize it. If it still doesn’t produce a fruit I will cut it down myself.

We can surely make a lot of guesses as to what Jesus was trying to get at with this parable and we can tire ourselves out by even attempting to figure out who the owner of the vineyard is intended to represent and who the manager is intended to represent. Neither seems to represent Jesus or God to me. Perhaps they were not supposed to. But what is clear is that bearing fruit is important.

As we get closer to the warmer months, I anticipate the fresh fruit that will be growing from our trees and our vines. Strawberries, grapes, peaches, apples, and yes, tomatoes. You can’t beat a fresh, locally grown tomato.

Have you ever wondered about the role of fruit? Why does the tree or the vine produce these yummy things? I’ll give you a hint: they don’t make those things that we love to eat just for our enjoyment. This is how some plants reproduce. A fruit, by definition, contains seeds. I find it interesting that the parent tree or vine does not usually benefit from making fruit. The fruit is intended for the benefit of the next generation of trees and vines. Bearing fruit, therefore, is really a very selfless act. In fact, producing fruit will cost the tree something. It will use energy and nutrients to make that fruit that will go to start another tree. Again, not to its own benefit.

In this parable Jesus is calling his disciples to bear fruit. Live outside of yourself. Don’t just be a consumer, be a producer.

This seems to be a part of God’s plan for abundance. We who call ourselves disciples of Jesus are to be bearing fruit, producing something for others in the name of Christ. I think that too often we get caught up in asking “What’s is in it for me?” and we forget that while indeed there is much to be gained from following Jesus, it isn’t just about what we can get. It is about what we can give. And the more that we give, the more there is to go around. We add to God’s abundance!

Philippians 2:5-8 seems to speak to this idea well. “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

Jesus, in his very nature being equal with God, took on the role of a servant. The original Greek is even more powerful as it says that Jesus took on the role of a slave. Servants get paid for the work that they do. They may not make much, but they get something. A slave works with no expectation of remuneration.

Jesus took on the role of a slave not because he would benefit from doing so, but because we would benefit from him doing so. That is what it means to bear fruit. That is creating and producing, not just consuming.

Bearing fruit; giving of yourself for the kingdom of God. This is how we participate in the abundance God was inviting his people to in Isaiah 55. Come all you who thirst, all you who hunger, and find true satisfaction.

I grew up in rural Ohio, in a place where people never locked their houses or their cars. If someone needed to borrow something like a cup of sugar and you weren’t home, they would come on in, take a cup of sugar, and leave a note.

But as the calendar flips to August a strange phenomenon occurs. Those doors, those houses and cars once left unlocked, are battened down. That’s because August is zucchini season! And if you don’t lock your car when you go to town you may not have room to sit when you get back to your car. People will fill your car with the bags of the stuff.

This has spawned all sorts of creative practices in the buckeye state. The question arises, How else can we use zucchini? Zucchini bread, zucchini cake, fried zucchini. Zucchini parmesan.

The fruit that we bear must be shared. There is an abundance, and as we produce fruit, there will be even more.

Soon the table by the front door of our church will be filled with fresh spinach and lettuce. Then comes the radishes, the cucumbers, the squash, the peppers, and the tomatoes. No, not all are fruits, but indeed examples of God’s abundance. We will line up giving thanks to the gardeners and we celebrate together the goodness of what God has provided.

And I think that it is absolutely beautiful that sometimes there is even more than we need as a congregation. So people take these baskets and bags of fresh fruits and vegetables down the road to the Valley Mission, sharing with those who are less fortunate than we are. And my contacts there tell me that the residents appreciate these fresh fruits and vegetables the most. They don’t always get to enjoy such things.

But remember, while I believe these verses do speak to the abundance of things available to us like food, they can also be understood as a metaphor for God’s love. And as much as our zucchini plants produce, as abundant as this crop can be, we must remember that God’s love is even greater in quantity and quality. I believe we need to share God’s love as freely as the people of Ohio and the people of this church share the fruit of the vine.

The love that God has to offer is abundant, it is infinite. It will never run out. But like the resources of this world, we treat it like a limited commodity. Sure, we say God loves everyone, but we deny them access to God every chance we get. If someone doesn’t believe everything that we believe, we deny them the love of God.

Christian author Anne Lamott writes, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

God loves the Presbyterians; God loves the Methodists. God loves the Catholics; God loves the Lutherans. God loves the Mormons, the Muslims, the Jews, and the Hindus, gay or straight. That isn’t meant to be a statement of soteriology. It is a statement of agape. I don’t believe that every religion is correct and I don’t believe that they are all saying the same thing. What I believe is that God loves us all the same and invites us all to come, to come to the water and drink deeply because there is an abundance in God. And as followers of Jesus, we are not simply called to be consumers. We are called to be producers. We are to bear fruit for the kingdom of God, doing things that are not for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others.

We cannot hoard the goods of this world, because while there is an abundance, while there is enough for our need, there is not enough for our greed. May we share the abundance with all who are in need, including the abundance of God’s love.

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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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