One of my favorite things is figuring out how other people see the world. When I read a book, I imagine that it’s a doorway into the writer’s world – as true about non-fiction as it is about fiction. When I listen to others, I catch a glimpse of how they see the world. What a marvelous thing to see the world around me from a different point of view!
But a glimpse isn’t the whole picture. There is much more to see and understand, and that’s a gift. Isn’t it a marvelous truth that there is always more to someone than what I can see?
This is particularly true when I catch a glimpse of God’s world. There’s no way I can see and understand the holiness of the Creator, and I kid myself if I suppose otherwise. The mystery only deepens with every encounter, every revelation. If I’m wise enough to remember this truth, my life will be open to the infinite possibilities of God’s revelation…
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. [Isaiah 55:8-9]
Let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy upon them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. [Isaiah 55:7, NRSV]
Bad habits and destructive patterns can’t be given up easily; they weigh heavy on our hearts, channel our thoughts, and take hold of our very souls. What is monumentally difficult becomes nigh impossible if making the effort only lands us before the judgement seat of an unforgiving God. Why make such an uphill climb to be cast back down into hell?
But the judgement of God isn’t retribution for all past sins, it’s the chance to stop inflicting on the world the hell we hold inside.
If we have the chance to save a soul from torment, why wouldn’t we? If saving that single soul transforms the world, why would we do anything else? If someone can do the same for us, wouldn’t we want them to make the effort?
That’s what God’s mercy and pardon does, transforms hell into holy ground – for us, for those we love, and for those we don’t. Most especially for those we don’t.
Can we find enough grace in our hearts to rejoice in such a change?
Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near… [Isaiah 55:6a, NRSV]
Isaiah didn’t advise us to seek God only on Friday nights at sundown or Sunday mornings at 10am. We are to seek God while he may be found. That means now, and it will mean now tomorrow, next week, and ten years down the road. The Lord may be found at any time, but there’s no time like the present.
Isaiah didn’t ask us to seek God exclusively in a chapel, meditation garden, synagogue, or mosque. We are to seek God while he is near. That means right where we are standing at this very moment, where we will drive tomorrow, and wherever we happen to be after Valentine’s Day 2023. There’s no place better than this one to call on the Lord.
Every where and every when belongs to God; we can come to God any where and any when. We carve out special times and places not because God has limited availability, but because we require a time and place to be available to God.
But if we happen to be waiting in the drive-through for our morning coffee, why not seek the Lord? Why not call upon God while putting that fourth load of laundry in the washer? What are we waiting for?
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.
Isaiah 55:5, NRSV
Brian McLaren quoted an unnamed mentor in Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammad Cross the Road? [New York: Jericho Books: 2012, p. 40]:
Remember, Brian: in a pluralistic world, a religion is judged by the benefits it brings to its nonmembers.
The question we must ask ourselves isn’t how are we serving our own?: the question we must ask ourselves is how are we blessing everyone we cannot claim as our own?
I think this is one of those truths that must be voiced and upheld in every single generation. If it isn’t, our religion is apt to oppress those outside of it to the spiritual damage of those on the inside. It’s a piece of ancient wisdom that is as difficult to understand today as it was in Isaiah’s time.
Living out our faith in a way that blesses outsiders is just living out our faith. After all, Jesus reminded us that everything boils down to loving God with everything we are, and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. We just have to remember that people everywhere are our neighbors.
Nothing new here, just the Gospel truth.
My life isn’t something I brought into existence. My DNA is a gift from my mother and father, who received theirs from their parents. I am one branch of a living vine joining the past of my ancestors to the lives of my children, nieces and nephews, and beyond.
The same is true for you. You came from somewhere and someone. But these genetic strands linking us to some and not others are not all there is to us: the most fundamental truth I know is that we are all God created and God related. We are incarnated with specific genes, in particular families, but our primary identities reside in the love and creative power of God. Our genetic dust will return to the ground, but our true selves will return to God.
It is the love of God that defines us, and endows us with gifts to serve others. It’s a good thing for us to ponder. It’s so easy to idolize David: he both accomplished much and failed spectacularly. But he wasn’t self-made; at his best, he joyfully embraced his God-given and sustained life.
We won’t be modern day Davids, and we aren’t supposed to be. We are created, talents and flaws, to be ourselves; God made us who we are for a reason. This verse is for us as:
See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. [Isaiah 55:4, NRSV]
I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. (Isaiah 55:3b, NRSV)
In William P. Young’s The Shack, whenever God mentions someone, she says she is especially fond of him or her. Every single person, every child, is a favorite. No one is half-loved or a quarter-appreciated in comparison to someone else. Every single person resides in the heart of God, a beloved child.
In a world where competition and favoritism exclude the majority to the dubious advantage of the few, this makes no sense. How can there not be the favorite? But God doesn’t choose favorites: everyone is a favorite, beloved for whom he or she is.
The shepherd-musician-king, David, is God’s beloved; God surrounded David with love and chose him for a holy life. The very same is true of you and me – and everyone else in this world. God is especially fond of you. You are a delight in the eyes of the Lord:don’t let anyone or anything convince you otherwise.
[Young, William P., The Shack, USA: Windblown Media, 2007]
Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.
(Isaiah 55:3a, NRSV)
One of my graduate school super powers was being able to block out the noise and activity around me. I could write while someone else watched television and read in a noisy, crowded cafeteria. Traffic noise, neighbors arguing, popcorn popping – none of it could break my focus on the academic task at hand. That skill served me well in those years, but it should have come with this warning:
Do not mistake this work skill for a life skill! Taken out of its proper context, it causes more harm than good.
Efficiency in a task at the expense of awareness of those around me isn’t a virtue if the task is trivial. Conversation around the dinner table, listening to my husband and sons talk about their ideas and daily adventures – these shouldn’t be tuned out in favor of doing a Sunday crossword puzzle every Sunday afternoon. There’s a time to focus on a single task, and a time put it away to engage in the world around me.
I think that’s what Isaiah is saying: attend to what is important and life-giving. Listen, don’t just hear the voices of others as background noise. And if this is true about the people around us, isn’t it also true of God?
An abundant, godly life requires active listening to God’s call, the self’s disclosure, and the deepest longings of neighbor. If I incline my ear to these, if I seek God, only then will I truly live my life.
[For the full text, click “Isaiah 55” above.]
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. [Isaiah 55:2b, NRSV]
I didn’t have the time or inclination to make my usual oven fries to go with dinner, so I picked up a bag of sour cream and onion chips. I hadn’t tried the brand or the flavor, so this was a game of potato chip roulette. I lost. The chips were thin and the seasoning not quite right, although I couldn’t say exactly why.
The logical conclusion to this tale is something like after a couple of chips, I gave it up and swapped in my favorite rice crackers and some slices of sharp cheddar. The true outcome was unsatisfied with the chips, I ate twice as many as I usually do. Why would I continue to eat chips that I knew wouldn’t satisfy me, as if a larger quantity of substandard chips would miraculously gain in quality if I just kept eating?
Good food satisfies, bad food doesn’t. A small amount of rich food is plenty, but no amount of junk food is ever enough. Enough of the good stuff isn’t just as good as a feast of empty calories: it’s delightfully, immeasurably better.
If I lived out this truth at every meal, I’d be healthier for it. If I did the same with all aspects of my life, not just the food on my plate, I’d know that what I’ve been given (and what I haven’t) is more than enough.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? [Isaiah 55]
How much of my money do I spend on things that do not nourish me, or anyone else for that matter? Bread in the literal sense, and in the necessities-of-life figurative sense, is anything that is required to support a healthy and holy life. Those things that sustain body, heart, mind, and soul are bread. A quick review of recent receipts and my finances overall confirms what I don’t like to admit: I spend quite a bit of money on things that subtract from my life more than they add to it.
How much of my time, talent, and effort do I give over to attaining or experiencing things that do not and cannot satisfy me or anyone else? It’s not just money I’ve spent on things that lessen my life and the life of the world: the time I’ve devoted to meaningless things can’t be retrieved. The energy I’ve given to feeding anger or resentment isn’t recyclable. I’m kidding myself if I think having one more possession or obsession beyond the food/clothing/shelter basics is going to satisfy my longing for a good and holy life.
The bad news: I can’t earn or buy a good and holy life by spending my limited time and money on additional and unnecessary things.
The good news: I don’t need to buy with my money and life’s time a good and holy life. God grants that gift freely. Once I accept this as the gospel truth, I can devote my inner and outer resources to the bread that feeds this beloved world.
[For more on this series, click Isaiah 55 above.]
“Ho 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. Isaiah 55, NRSV
Wareham as a town does a lot of things poorly. But Wareham gets one life-changing thing right: lunch.
When school children line up to pay for their lunches, they punch in a number and take their food. Buying lunch is the same for full price, reduced price, and free lunch. There’s no way to tell who has the means to pay and who doesn’t: the same milk and the same meals are bought by everyone. The same is true for the summer meals program: anyone can take a free lunch at any of the sites. No names are required or requested, and extra meals are offered without regard to how much or little money they have.
For the past four summers, I’ve had the great honor of seeing this practice in action at the local library. I’ve seen strangers share a meal and a picnic table, forming friendships that wouldn’t have happened any other way. But I’m not just witnessing kindness or a social program success: I’m being given a glimpse of God’s kingdom. In my home town, on an ordinary day at the public library, God’s purpose is fulfilled. Without money and without price.
Thanks be to God! Amen.