This is the first half of my ‘plan B’ sermon from Sunday.
Do you like nonsense? People have told me that I’m full of nonsense! I hope there’s a little bit more inside but I’m packed with trivia. Did you know that every car has a little triangle next to the fuel gauge showing you which side the petrol cap is on? I found that out on the internet but I’ve checked in every car I’ve been in since and it seems to be true. Did you know that not every language has words for the same set of colours and studies suggest that can change how you perceive colour. Or that less than 100 years ago, pink was regarded as a strong colour, suitable for young boys, while light blue was the choice for girls.
Technically, those are all ‘trivia’ but I’ve got a taste for true absurdity too, like that famous poem by William Hughes Mearns: “Yesterday, upon the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today. I wish, I wish he’d go away…”. But what about our passage? Is that nonsense too? “You, who have no money, come buy and eat…”
Who is speaking
You have to ask who is speaking and what they are trying to say. Our present-day culture is awash with absurdity for the point of entertainment. It might be the patter of a comic, the overblown excitement and undercooked science of a superhero blockbuster or the illusion that a knock-out TV talent show has much to do with talent and value. Behind all of those, there tends to be the pursuit of the almighty dollar and the adulation of ‘success’.
In our passage, though, it is God who is speaking to us through his prophet Isaiah. God doesn’t need our gold and silver. He doesn’t need us to make him feel good about himself. God doesn’t become more valuable because we choose to value him.
In fact, the opposite is true. God gives us value as he chooses to care about us, each and every one of us. In truth, that’s about as much as I can say to explain it, although I could go on using words for hours. In v. 9, God reminds us ‘my thoughts are higher than your thoughts’. I’m asserting God’s love for us because that is what the Holy Spirit has made alive in my heart for many years now. I assert it with my mind because I can see how Jesus has transformed many people, now and over the last two thousand years of history. I assert it in faith because it is the message which comes from this whole library of writings that we call by the shorthand name ‘The Bible’ – or, from it’s Greek roots, quite literally ‘The Book’.
I don’t want to get bogged down this morning trying to figure out who Isaiah was originally speaking to or writing for. Sometimes that is a valuable lens for unpacking the Bible but there has been such a lot scholarly mining — and undermining — around Isaiah that I’d risk breaking my ankle! There are good grounds though for supposing they weren’t that different to us: “Why do you spend your money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy?” (v2). And, of course, the Bible doesn’t let us dodge passages even if we feel they were originally written for a very different place and time. As 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness…”. Isaiah 55 is in a whole chunk of chapters that speak messages of hope. They speak hope to those in times of trouble. That could be us. I don’t have to explain the international and national issues of our time. We can find grief in our fellowship and families; many of us endure infirmities and limitations even in our bodies and minds. Do you thirst for relief? Do you hunger for things to finally be set right? God says, ‘come’. Jesus says ‘blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied’ (Mt 5:6). The Spirit says, ‘come’.