Isaiah 55.1-11, John 5.36-47
I've concluded this week that I'm a very popular person. I'm popular because people keep making generous invitations to me, usually by post....
(Go through stack of 'junk mail', eg:)
'Come to our great new pizza parlour!' (Seems just like every other pizza parlour);
'Come to Ethel Austin - buy a lovely pink crochet trim coordinate top' (I know I wear white skirts each Sunday but I think I'll pass on that);
'Come to Tesco - we're cheaper than the rest!';
'Come to Kwickie - we're cheaper than the rest!';
'Come to Somerfield - we're cheaper than the rest!';
'Come away with us this autumn!' (I'd love to but I've got no holidays left);
'Come to Homebase for a personal loan' (A personal loan from a DIY shop - seems a bit dubious to me);
'Come to us for a year's free digital TV' (Read the small print - it's not free at all);
I think I've changed my mind - I'm not popular after all. Just put on by all this stuff that assaults my senses every day. All of these seem like generous invitations on the surface. But I know that none of them are.
And you know this too. Because you get the same stuff through your letterbox, and you feel the same about it all.
And how we long for a genuine invitation; one which doesn't try to exploit us. How we long for an offer which comes with no strings attached - really. How we long for a world where all this trivia and grinning dishonesty could be replaced by depth, integrity, decent relationships, real rapport.
We get other kinds of invitations in our lives. Friends, when we are young, call and say, "Come out to play!" Grown-up friends invite us to come out for the evening. There's that famous invitation from Mae West: "Come up and see me sometime!" - which may be a bit vulgar but at least it's to do with real human relationships.
What did your Mum always say around mealtimes when you were outside or upstairs playing: "Come and get it!" Now there's an offer you seldom refused. There are four words which call you to the heart of family life, to the heart of community, the meal table. There's an invitation that has love and care behind it.
We heard an invitation in today's Isaiah reading. It's from God:
- "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."
How I long to learn how to discern the difference between the weasel words of advertisers, and the Word that can be trusted. God yearns for this too:
- "Why spend money on what is not bread [God says], 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. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live."
This Word is alive in the world today, calling out its invitation to us behind the clamour of the marketplace. If we tune our ears we can hear it - the Word of God in scripture, the Word of God among us, the Word of God within us.
We can hear The Word of God in scripture - on every single page. Whether we read the bible carefully each day at home, or have it read to us each week in worship, if we tune our ears to expect words of wisdom, wonder, inspiration, guidance, the scriptures will come alive for us.
We can hear The Word of God among us - because Jesus is alive: "The Lord is here; his spirit is with us" - we say these words each week in church and if we tune in to God we can believe them anywhere. "The Lord is here; his spirit is with us" - at the bus stop, at our workplace, in places of fear and wonder: we can know that Jesus is with us there.
We can hear The Word of God within us - because alive inside us, we have both the scriptures and the Spirit of God. There are scriptures we know so well that they're part of who we are - those bible verses which have been with us from childhood and still sustain us, complete statements like the Lord's Prayer or the Lord's My Shepherd (Psalm 23), and soundbites like "Do not be afraid", or "You are made in God's image" or "I am the bread of life".
And the Spirit who lives in us, connects us to God and makes these words come alive in us, over and over again, if that is our desire.
Today is Bible Sunday, when we are encouraged to rediscover the power of The Word in our lives. And last night the clocks went back reminding us how closely we are tied in to the cycles of time and nature. And this is what God says in Isaiah:
- As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
It's a radical word - it goes against the grain. What are we to make of God's invitation to those who have no money, "come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost"? It has the same sort of power as a Liverpool City Councillor saying to a Big Issue seller - "Get off our streets - and come, come to live in my house for the winter, come and eat my food."
And it's a living Word. The world is full of stories of people who have taken it to heart and made such a difference - people like Mother Teresa who took one step towards sainthood this week. Jesus told people off who diligently studied the scriptures but refused to come to him. Life comes not from the words on the page but from the God they refer to, the living God who calls us to come and experience life alongside him.
As we work through our junk mail looking for special offers, as we travel the streets surrounded by bright billboards, as we struggle with constant pressures to consume and conform, may we learn to trust the Word of God more than any other word to guide, inspire, and fulfil us.