Meg Peery McLaughlin
May 21, 2023
Isaiah 55, selected verses
Our scripture this morning is a poem
written to God’s people who have been living in exile,
away from home for a long time,
so long that they’ve almost forgotten that they belong somewhere at all,
and forgotten that they belong to God.
Hear, everyone who thirsts; come to the waters;
and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread
and your earnings for that which does not satisfy?
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
6 Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
7 let the wicked forsake their way
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
10 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,
11 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.
12 For you shall go out in joy
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Have you ever been the recipient of a broken promise?
I fear we are a people who are becoming accustomed to broken promises.
Four years ago, right around the time we showed up to serve as your pastors,
Pew Research did a study that showed declining levels of trust in our country,
a lagging confidence in our government and elected officials
and even a feeble trust in one another .
And just think, church, about what’s happened since we’ve arrived.
I wonder what that study would say now.
Too, too many of the promises we cling to feel slippery, tenuous.
All men are created equal,
endowed with inalienable rights, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
In joy and in sorrow. For as long as we both shall live.
Hard work. Fair pay.
We’re a University of the people.
Do these still hold? Sound the same as you first heard them?
Or does it sometimes it feels like we are building our lives on quicksand.
The people who first heard Isaiah’s poem knew that sand.
Everything they once thought was sturdy had shifted away.
It’s hard to imagine that Isaiah’s message went over very well with them–
those people accustomed to empty words, and an empty life .
And yet God seems ignorant of the headlines
and quite oblivious to all the mistrust,
for God promises all manner of things :
a free lunch being least among them—
a lasting peace, an everlasting covenant,
a creation that erupts in joy, a love that is steadfast and sure.
And smack dab in the heart of this promised-packed-poem God says this:
“My word will be like the rain and the snow that come down from heaven
and do not return until they have brought forth life. So shall my word be. It will not return empty.”
God’s Word is the beating heart
and solid backbone of this whole enterprise.
Have you noticed how, when we read scripture in worship,
we conclude by saying “This is the Word of the Lord”
to which, the congregation responds, “Thanks be to God”?
We don’t say:
These are the words of the Lord, as if God took pen to paper.
We use Word of God as if to say language of God.
This is the way God communicates to us,
discloses and reveals God’s self among us.
The Bible is the vehicle by which God gets to us.
Which, by the way, is why we also call Jesus the Word of God,
for Christ embodies the character and nature of God.
Have you ever been asked if you go to a Bible-believing church?
That might mean something different to the person asking, but try responding with this:
“We don’t believe in the Bible – We believe in God.
And we come to trust God’s promises through the gift of Scripture.”
As the late Rachel Held Evans said,
the church is not a group of people who believe all the same things,
the church is a group of people caught up in the same story.
That story, these scriptures, God’s Word—
friends, it bears to us promises,
and it produces in us fruit.
Which is why today, we give it to our children.
The 3rd, 4th and 5th graders here today – members and visitors alike –
will receive a Bible.
Kathleen Norris tells a story about a man named Arlo,
who also received a Bible as a gift.
His grandfather, a Presbyterian,
gave it to him when he was much older than 8,
gave it as a wedding present.
Arlo admitted he liked the Bible because it seemed expensive;
it was bound in white leather,
and he and his wife’s names and wedding date were set in gold lettering on the cover.
Arlo said he left the bible in the box and it ended up in their bedroom closet.
But, he said, “for months afterward, every time we saw grandpa he would ask me how I liked that Bible. My wife had written a thank you note
, but somehow he couldn’t let it lie, he’d always ask about it.”
Finally, Arlo grew curious as to why the old man kept after him.
“Well,” he said, “the joke was on me. I finally took that Bible out of the closet and found that granddad had placed a twenty-dollar bill at the beginning of the Book of Genesis, and at the beginning of every book of that whole dang thing,
over thirteen hundred dollars in all.
Thirteen hundred bucks was a lot of money in those days.
I wish I’d opened it earlier, I could have invested that!”
The Bible is the best-selling, and least-read, book of all time.
Michael Lindvall says that Christians have Bibles in excellent condition because they are nervous about what they will encounter if they actually read the book.
They guess rightly: reading it will demand much of you.
But another reason is because we’ve been made to think we are not competent to understand what we read. It’s ironic really. Because we are Reformed Protestants.
The church used to tell the faithful the Bible wasn’t for them.
It wasn’t available in the language of the common people
and the church said “don’t worry, we will interpret it to you.”
Our ancestors in the faith taught people to read,
translated the Bible in the language of the people,
took out the middle man, put this book in your hands.
But somewhere we’ve gotten it in our heads
that this was written by experts for experts.
It’s like we’ve regressed to the middle ages once again.
That’s all backwards, though, because this is a book is written by pilgrims for pilgrims.
I suppose what I want to say to you church,
whether you be in 3rd grade or some exponent of it.
this collection of stories
of seeds, and weeds, and surprisingly good Samaritans,
of seas parting and exiles returning
of tables turning and life rising.
Read it not because God will love you anymore if you do,
as if it’s some sort of test,
but because in reading it the God’s promises will come alive.
Crack the spine, dog ear the pages,
write big question marks in red marker in the margins,
when you come upon some impossible-to-pronounce name or place
just say BIG WORD and keep going,
spill your smoothie on your favorite pages,
learn a line or two by heart in case you need them later.
You’ll quickly learn that there are no twenties stashed in these books, (sorry kids)
and in fact,
reading these pages will likely change your relationship to money more than it challenges anything else,
but read it anyway.
We may live in a land of broken promises, but there are some that hold.
We may have grown accustomed to standing on slippery quicksand,
but there is a firm foundation on this word.