Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
August 6, 2017
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Psalm 42 says, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Verse 2) When is the last time you had such a yearning for God’s place in your life? When is the last time you ached for His peace and hope, His forgiveness and cleansing? When did you look inside and realize that you needed Him desperately?
Our gem from Isaiah begins, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come buy and eat!” If God is going to do His great work in lives, there has to be a thirst, a desire for Him.
The day that we left on the Mission trip to South Dakota (and by the way, I don’t care what Larry and Flo Westra say about South Dakota being a little piece of heaven – I found it to be a little too hot  and humid for my liking!!) The Denver Post ran an article about an atheist church that meets at East 31st and Downing every Sunday morning. They opened their doors on Darwin Day, February 12, 2013 and now have 225 core members who pledge their support. And they are growing. They are considering moving to a larger property to accommodate their growing population.
This organization called The Secular Hub meets to discuss politics and sports, work and family. They enjoy a meal together and care for each other in times of difficulty or joy. But God is not invited to join them. “New members must pledge to follow only three rules for admission: honoring the separation of church and state; maintaining goodwill among members and avoiding hostility; and not promoting any beliefs in gods or other supernatural entities.” (4B, July 16, 2017) There can be no thirst for God in that place.
But it isn’t just at 31st and Downing that God is shut out. We do it in our lives much too often – and we actually believe that He isn’t made up!! There are too many false substitutes for God that become part of our life. And the substitutes fail miserably!! In this section from Isaiah he asks the question, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2) We can spend our life looking for the fulfillment of life and the joy of life in all the wrong places. And then we find that they didn’t work, they didn’t bring us lasting joy, they didn’t satisfy our desire for something greater in life. They deceived us. They lied to us. Our thirst wasn’t satisfied.
We thought that having more things would be the trick to make life complete, but it failed. We thought if we could just get the attention of others, their respect, we would be satisfied. But we were still looking for more. We thought joy could be ours if we finally didn’t come in second, but in first – but even that seemed to fade. Any substitute, which really is some form of idolatry, leaves us empty. “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?” It doesn’t make sense!!
Thirst for the things that God alone can give, things like peace and joy, contentment usually come when we are at our lowest. When we yearn for another chance, for forgiveness, it comes when we are overwhelmed with our bad choices and our rebellion against God and His ways. We look for forgiveness when we have hurt those closest to us. We yearn for the assurance that we are God’s beloved child when we see that we have run away from the family and abdicated our responsibilities.
It was when God’s people were in the pit of despair that Isaiah provides God’s words to them. The final king in Judah was Zedekiah. This is the horrid end for the people in Jerusalem and for their king. Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon had Zedekiah’s sons brought before their father and in his sight had them murdered. Then they put out the eyes of Zedekiah. The last thing he saw, the last thing he would remember was that murder of his kids!! Zedekiah was taken to Babylon, and the city was destroyed.
Into that scenario are God’s words of grace, “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 your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” (Isaiah 55:1-2)
Why stay poor? Why live in poverty? Why be empty or hopeless or broken? Why live with guilt or are faithless? This is God’s plea to you and me. It is God’s invitation to those who are indifferent to Him, or apathetic, or who have rejected His right ways. “Come!!” Martin Luther offering a commentary on this says, “As I have said, it is difficult to break a habit, and therefore we must cling to the Word, since this teaching is not like any other. In the doctrine we must constantly remain pupils, because practice and custom are always fighting against us. For that reason we must incline our ears. Come, as if to say, ‘You are always looking, listening, and going elsewhere. But I say to you, unless you incline and come in this direction, you will die of starvation.’” (AE 17:252)
One of the great things about God is His constant invitation. In the last chapter of the Bible, only 5 verses before the final amen is spoken, we see an inviting Savior, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17)
God is constant in His plea to us because He has such good gifts for us. In John 4 Jesus speaks to a Samaritan woman, asking for a drink of water from the well. He then uses this to talk about meeting the deep thirst of the soul. “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that ask you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water…Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water that I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:10, 13-14)
In John 6 Jesus feeds the 5,000 with the two fish and the five loaves of bread – the gospel reading that we had for this morning – and afterwards the crowd finds Him. He then tells them this, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty…I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:35, 48-51)
And the best part of all this? It’s free!! We need God. We need His gifts. We need His forgiveness. We need to know that we will enjoy Him forever in heaven. And He gives this to everyone without any cost to us. He paid the entire bill. “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” Free!!
Some of you have heard of the Mission trip and our travels to South Dakota and how the folks in the van I was driving made all of us listen to Johnny Cash’s song, “Ring of Fire” over and over again. What you don’t know is that we also listened to “The Sound of Music” while on the trip. In the movie Maria, who has been hired to care for the children, and the father of the children, Captain Von Trapp, fall in love. In the song, “Something Good”, she sings, “For here you are, standing there, loving me whether or not you should. So somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something good. Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could. So somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something good.”
Baloney!! “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could?” Maria, a nun none-the-less, should have known about grace. The blessings of life are a gift. God, the giver, provides blessings to us, now and even forever, even though we have not deserved such generosity. While speaking about God, Paul writes, “Who has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” (II Timothy 1:9) Grace – unmerited favor – is God’s method of giving us gifts. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…God demonstrates His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6,8)
But while our forgiveness of sin and eternal salvation are completely free, received entirely by faith in God’s promises in Jesus, they were very costly to Jesus. “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (I Peter 1:18-19)
Thirsty for God? I hope you are. I hope that we are thirsty for His truth and His blessings. I hope that we desire His Holy Spirit and His ways in our life. I hope we yearn for His cleansing and His word of favor. As we yearn for Him in our lives He will give us His fullness. “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.” It’s all grace!! Amen!!