“Abundance”

Download a PDF of this sermon here.

 

Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

August 18, 2013

Scriptures:  Psalm 34:1-8; Isaiah 55:1-13

 

After worship last Sunday, as we were all gathered in Harrison Hall, eating cake and watermelon, drinking punch and coffee, Katie Wolf came up to me with a question.  “Can I come and pick you up on Tuesday afternoon?” she asked.  “I want to show you something.”

Well, it sounded a little mysterious, but then, I had just preached a sermon about accepting God’s call into the unknown…  I wouldn’t say no to Katie anyway, or to any one of you who wanted to introduce me to a favorite part of the Quiet Corner—but having just spent fifteen minutes talking about how we are called to set out on the journey of faith without knowing where it will lead in the end, I definitely had to say yes.

Tuesday came, and Katie arrived as promised.  “I’ll have you back within the hour,” she said, and we got in the car and off we went.  We drove up 169, then left onto Old Hall Road, then right onto Pulpit Rock Road, and up to the top of the hill, where we turned down the long gravel driveway of Devon Point Farm.  Have you been up there?

It’s a beautiful spot.  Deep red-brown Devon cows flick their tails to shoo the flies away as they graze beside the driveway.  Rows and rows and rows of vegetables stretch off across the fields.  Flower beds sparkle with color.  And on Tuesdays and Fridays, the big white barn is full of happy people picking up their farm shares.

 

Children laugh as they stick their noses into the bouquets of flowers and look carefully through the bins of zucchini to choose just the right one.  Grown-ups chat over the broccoli and cucumbers and corn.

There are bushel baskets of leafy kale and crisp pac choi.  Crates of purple summer turnips.  Deep red tomatoes, emanating that spicy smell of tomato vines in the sun.  Rainbows of cherry tomatoes, red and orange and purple and gold.  Summer squashes, some yellow, some green, some speckled or striped.  Bags of bright green arugula, with its leafy, peppery aroma.  Rich orange carrots with their frondy tops, great piles of dark green cucumbers, deep purple eggplants, and little, round, softball-sized watermelons.

It is a feast for the eyes and the ears and the nose, the very epitome of abundance.  And although there were no Devon cattle or CSA shares in Isaiah’s time, I think this is a pretty good picture of what Isaiah was talking about in the passage Lib read for us this morning, which I think is some of the most beautiful poetry we have in the Bible.

 

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…

Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,

   and delight yourselves in rich food…

I will make with you an everlasting covenant,

   my steadfast, sure love…

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

   and do not return there until they have watered the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

   giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

   it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

   and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

 

I love that description of God’s abundance.  Water for everyone who thirsts.  Food and drink for all people, without money and without price.  Delight.  Steadfast love.  Seed for the sower and bread for the eater.  The good gifts of a good God, scattered extravagantly and available to everyone.  This is what I want to believe in—what I do believe in, most days.  This is the good news I want to proclaim with boldness and with hope.

 

But those beautiful words stick in my throat like fish bones when I think of the thin, weathered man I saw the other day just a few miles down the road from here, sleeping in his clothes on the park bench that served as his bed.  Has anyone ever invited him to delight yourself in rich food?

Those words dry up on my tongue when I think of the latest drought in Africa, this time in Namibia, where three-quarters of a million people are at risk of starvation.  How can everyone who thirsts come to the waters?

Those words freeze up like a deer in the headlights when I think of the woman who will take her children to a shelter today because her husband came home drunk and angry again last night.  Where is her everlasting covenant of steadfast love?

Sisters and brothers, here is my question—and maybe you’ve wondered this, too:  What are we to make of this promise of abundance in a world where the reality for so many people is scarcity?  What are we to make of this promise of abundance in a world where the waters don’t flow freely, but seem to be bottled up in the hands of a fortunate few?  How are we to understand God’s promise of abundance when it was made to all people but only seems to be coming true for some?

 

Here’s what I don’t think.  I don’t think we can wriggle out of this theological conundrum by pointing to some distant future, to that sweet by-and-by.  Some interpreters would say that Isaiah wasn’t really describing this world, but rather the world that is to come.  Some would say that Isaiah didn’t really mean that here and now there would be food and drink for everyone.  And they could be right…  But I think that lets Isaiah, and us, and God, off the hook too easily.

Here’s what I don’t think.  I don’t think we can escape this theological dilemma by saying it’s all a metaphor.  Some interpreters would say that Isaiah was really describing the spiritual abundance that comes with knowing that we are children of God—beloved, accepted, forgiven.  Some would say that Isaiah was really urging us to feast on the word of God, to let it shape us from the inside out, to make it part of our very bodies, to build our lives on its foundation.  And they could be right…  After all, this is an important truth of our faith—that God’s loving presence transforms our lives, even in the valley of the shadow of death.  But does that metaphorical interpretation tell the whole story?  I don’t think it does.

 

Here’s what I do think.  I think Isaiah was giving a vision of hope to a people who, like us, desperately needed it.  Isaiah was describing the world as it could be, the world as it should be, the world as God intends it to be.  Isaiah was telling them—Isaiah is telling us—what’s possible:  that exile will not have the last word, that hunger will not last forever, that drought will give way to a cup that runneth over.

It turns out that the people to whom Isaiah addressed his words were living lives in which abundance was conspicuously lacking.  More than five hundred years before the time of Jesus, the Israelite people were conquered by the invading Babylonians.  The great temple in Jerusalem was reduced to cinders and rubble.  Homes were destroyed, fields were burned, animals were slaughtered, and the people were taken into exile.

Several decades later, the Israelites were allowed to return to their homeland.  As they made their slow, painful way back, they found destruction and devastation everywhere.

It was into this context—into a people who had lost just about everything—that Isaiah spoke his words.  He brought them a vision of hope, a promise of restoration, an assurance of God’s presence and care.  And he also gave them an inspiration, an aspiration, a motivation to do the hard work of building up the world that was into the world that could be.  He called the people to join together, to take care of one another, to put the resources they had to work for the good of their whole community, and in partnership with God.

Two and a half millennia later, Isaiah calls us to do the same.  He says:

 

In God’s world, no one is in exile;

everyone who thirsts can come to the waters;

and all of you who have no money will be able to come, buy and eat!

So, you who have money—

why do you spend it on that which is not bread,

when your sisters and brothers are going hungry?

Listen carefully, so that all of you can eat what is good

and delight yourselves with rich food.

I will make a covenant with all of you,

and I trust you to uphold it—

so shall my word accomplish that which I purpose,

and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

 

This blend of hope and challenge, promise and call—this is what church is about.  We gather to worship God together, to encounter God’s love together, to be reminded of God’s promises together.  We come to be filled up, to be made new, to be restored.  We come to taste and see that the Lord is good, to feast on the nourishment of God’s word and drink deeply from the wellspring of God’s hope.

And when we do, we find ourselves inspired, moved, challenged and changed, because the love we encounter here is powerful stuff indeed.  We learn to see as God does—to see beauty and abundance, and also to see the ones who still hunger and thirst, the ones who do not yet have a place at that table of plenty.  We find our hearts convicted by inequality, for we know that when our sisters and brothers suffer, so do we, and so does God.  We find our paths bending toward the work of justice, for we know that this world does not yet fully resemble the world as God would have it be.

We hear God’s call to build that world of abundance together until it looks a whole lot more like the Tuesday afternoon farm share pick-up barn at Devon Point Farm, filled to overflowing with rainbows of wholesome, delicious food.

We hear God’s call to build that world together until it looks a whole lot more like a communion table, where all are invited to come, to eat and drink without money and without price… where there is more than enough for everyone… where we are fed in body and in spirit, then sent forth to spend our money and our labor on that which satisfies the soul and the body, to share the good news of such an abundant feast, until everyone can eat that which is good, until everyone can delight in rich food, until what is already true in God’s own heart is true here on earth as well.

If that sounds like a world you’d like to inhabit, if that sounds like a world you’d like to build, then say Amen.