Isaiah 55

Isaiah 55: 1-9 & John 10: 7-9


Today is the 3rd Sunday of Lent, our 40-day remembrance of Jesus’ post- baptismal wilderness wandering. Contrary to popular belief, the Lenten fast is not a jumpstart to our bathing suit season diet, it is a call to emptiness in route to spiritual fulfillment.

To fill we must first empty, so let today’s call to worship clear our mind and prepare our body and open our heart so that we may fill our soul with

the spirit of God.

“Worship is a spiritual workout,

and you don’t want to pull a muscle! So STRETCH” (Yoga salutation into meditation)

Jesus’ wilderness narrative proved we can go 40 days without food (despite our hunger) and 4 days without water won’t kill us (though we will thirst,) but try going 4 minutes without breathing.

Take a deep breath in growing aware of the air as it passes your lips and

expands your lungs… Exhale everything out, your stresses, cares and worries

In the yogic tradition the sanskrit word for breath, “Prana,” refers to the key nutrient or “life force” of our spiritual and physical bodies. Thus, “Prana,” air, is literally the most important food we consume all day.

Breath in the nourishment of God’s breath:

Ancient Chinese culture uses the word “chi” (a word for air that translates to “spiritual energy”) and in Judeo-Christianity, the word is “Ruah,” literally, “breath of God.”


Across all faith traditions, breathing is much more than the consumption of oxygen, it is our call to life. The Latin word for breath, “spirare,” is the root of the english word, “aspiration.”
Today’s theme is hunger, but hunger goes far beyond hamburgers and breathing life into our existence goes beyond filling our lungs with air.

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Let us pray: God as we prepare for worship today let us exhale all that keeps us from being purely in your presence. Let us experience emptiness so that we may be filled… Let us inhale the inspiration of your living word and aspire to carry your spirit into the world.
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 55:1-9

Prayer for Illumination:

“If you have come to this service craving laughter, may you find it.

If you are here to be offended, may your ire rise and your blood boil.

If you hunger for adventure, may this time be one of blissful escape.

If you entered this sanctuary battling doubts, may you reach comfortable conclusions;
and if you came with too much certainty, may your beliefs be tested.
We all have come here seeking something, craving something, hungering for something…

All words reveal perfection, by what they are or what they are not.

May the words spoken and unspoken today fill each of our souls


RYAN: “Today’s second reading comes from the Gospel of Buffett, Chapter 57: Listen to the word Jimmy:

“I like mine with lettuce and tomato
Heinz 57 and french fried potatoes
Big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer
Well good God Almighty which way do I steer for my, Cheeseburger in Paradise.”

Bobby: “Whoa man, hold on… thats not right at all, You can’t read Jimmy Buffet in Church Ryan, Robbie’s not going to like this at all!”

RYAN: Your right! We should sing it!

Performed “Cheeseburger in Paradise” refrain

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Anyone new to the area? Those first couple weeks as the new guy in town, void of friendships, made for some lonely walks this past fall.
When stricken with change we often CRAVE familiarity, so as a sailor from Annapolis Maryland, many of my lonely walks took place around the Santa Cruz Harbor. (FYI, the Chesapeake, not Monterey Bay, is still the true sailing capital of the country.)


Wow, I thought, taking a deep breath of bbq rich air during my stroll (hows that for taking the concept of Prana, air being food, literally!)
The smell from the grill was intoxifying… It wasn’t the scent of veggie burgers which seem to be the trend in the vegetarian-dominated city of Santa Cruz, someone was grilling a cow… and the aroma was dancing pleasantly from the stern mounted grill of a 40-foot yacht to the musical accompaniment of the afore-sung Jimmy Buffett.

“Man do you have it all figured out” I commented with a twinge of jealousy to the spatula and margarita armed captain, who was tending the cockpit of the large and luxurious sailboat.

To the passerby he most certainly did! It was a gorgeous and sunny 70 degree day and he sat at the tiller of a vessel set to make the most of it! With burgers to fill his belly and a stiff coastal breeze to fill his sails he was ready to voyage alongside the dolphins, venturing blissfully into the sunset. However, his overwrought eyes and hesitant tone told a different story as he muttered:

“Yeah, ‘life is good…’ I guess.”

He didn’t have to say another word, I knew far too well how he felt as I piddled around the harbor alone, preparing to share another beautiful pacific sunset with, well, my dog chewbacca.

And so we found ourselves standing in a sunny paradise, but dancing with

darkness; in the company of a full and sizzling grill, but fighting an

insatiable hunger; and listening to festive happy hour hymns of Jimmy Page 3 of 9

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Buffett, but humming something more along the lines of Lennon’s lonely lyrics of the song “Nowhere Man.”

Performed “Nowhere Man” refrain…

He Doesn’t have a point of view, Knows not where he’s going to, Isn’t he a bit like you and me…”

Hungry. But the question is, “for what?”

Hungry for a change, I moved here this past June from Ky to take on the role of Development Director for the Homeless Garden Project, an organic garden overlooking the city’s West Cliffs that ‘employs’ area homeless.

The program, though it does provide the homeless team a daily lunch, feeds a different hunger, for purpose, by allowing them to grow & distribute produce to amongst the greater impoverished community. Paralleling that work, I recently accepted a call to serve as the San Jose Presbytery’s Food and Hunger Advocate… a role that calls me to reflect on “hunger” in one of the most economically and agriculturally wealthy regions in the world.

In all honesty, it’d be hard to starve in Santa Cruz County. Here in Watsonville we are surrounded by so many berry farms, lemon trees, organic fields of all things green, and orchards that we don’t know what to do with the excess. Recent statistics state that nearly 40% of our food is thrown away!
As a fruit lover, I’ve been so enthralled with the foods that I can pick from neighbor’s trees (with their approval of course) that my skintone has taken on a citrus shade.
On a side note, having heard about a rather unique fruit called the “prickly pear,” I was taught a valuable lesson when I reached out to the top of a Cacti without first asking! I was picking “prickles” out of my hands and lips for the better part of a week. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor!

But I digress.

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My work in program development has allowed me to participate in meetings at FACEBOOK and networking lunches at GOOGLE… and wandering between silicon valley and shelters I’ve come to an interesting conclusion. The homeless seem to have the advantage… they cant afford many “things” (such as 40 foot yachts) to mask their hunger.

Without a television to turn on it is hard to drown out the voices of their deeper cravings, without a home there is no door to shut, so they are forced to live amongst one another in community, and with no job there is ample free time for self reflection… Though being alone with our thoughts can be very scary.

Let me put it another way… In college I took up painting, but my college budget called me to recycle canvases. Our painting a fulfilling life requires a clear the canvas, and the less we have to begin with, the easier it is to empty ourselves.

I recently interviewed one of our homeless gardeners on the subject of hunger, and that ample time of self-reflecting had certain bestowed some wisdom:

“There is more than enough free food” he said. “Between churches, shelters, and food kitchens you could feast all day long, but each free meal leaves me emptier. Standing in that line is painful because I know that, to the person scooping potatoes, I’m nobody.”

His words were synonymous with writer Craig Stone, who recollects on his homeless past:

“I wanted to avoid people, because there’s only one thing worse than being homeless. People who are not, knowing that you are. Without the sleeping bag I’m just somebody up early in the morning, sitting under a tree. With the sleeping bag I’m nobody up early, sitting under a tree: a slight, but important difference in how I’ll be perceived.”

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Hunger doesn’t discriminate… The homeless man on the park bench and the wealthy yachtsman in the harbor share the same root hungers for meaning, purpose, engagement, community, love. However, the cravings we experience are unique to our being.

Today’s passage is from the Prophet Isaiah, and more than anyone else the Prophets of the Bible knew what it was like to be lonely. Their’s was a difficult life and we can see why by read through Isaiah’s opening chapter.

“Rebels and sinners” he labels his audience, “you will both be broken, and those who forsake the Lord will perish.”

“You will be ashamed” he condemns, “you will be disgraced because of the gardens

that you have chosen.”
You will be like an oak with fading leaves,

like a garden without water.”

Try reciting those lines at the next party and see how it goes.

With that precursor, let us walk through today’s text from Isaiah 55:

“Come, All who thirst! Come to the waters! You who have no money, come, buy, eat!”

The NRSV translation in this case is closer to the original Hebrew, using the imperative, “HO!” (“Imperative” is a fancy way of saying it comes with an explanation mark)
Thus the passage reads with explicative urgency:

“Ho! All who thirst!”

The command, “Ho,” was actually used during funeral laments to call to the deceased back to life. Thus, “Ho, all who thirst,” is a call to us (you and I) to wake up to life, because though an empty belly is indeed unpleasant, an empty soul is deadly!

“Come, buy wine and milk

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without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and labor for that which does not satisfy?”

Spoiler alert, we aren’t talking about literal wine and bread here… This is a foreshadowing of the eternal body and blood of Christ.
This Isaiah passage, often referred to as the “Call to Abundance,” sets the stage for Jesus’ ministry and call in John 10:10: “I came so that they may have life, and have it in abundance.”

Isaiah asks a simple, but difficult question. “Why fill ourselves with that which does not serve us?”
Food and breath keep us alive, but we hunger we aspire, for something much more. For as is written on many a bumper sticker and poster, “life is not measured by the breaths we take, but the moments that take our breath away.”

The call to “Come, buy wine and milk without money” tells us that we are not talking about food that can be handed through a drive-thru window. The concept of fast food in our society is actually a great reflection of our understanding and approach to hunger.

Instead of sitting with our emptiness and understanding our deeper cravings, we seek instant gratification, the quick fix, the value meal mcnuggets to temporarily fill the voids in our lives.
This sermon wasn’t easy to write because I am a master of instant gratification. As a runner, I am literally an expert at running from, instead of facing my hungers.

As a friend of mine told me just yesterday, “anything short of acceptance is avoidance.”

“Listen carefully to me” the passage continues,
 “Eat what is good, delight yourselves in rich food.”

Isaiah doesn’t merely say “eat what is good,” he calls us to DELIGHT in

that which is rich!

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Again we gind a parallel to Jesus’ “I came so that they may have life” (life is good), and have it in abundance!” Delight in a rich life.

Linguistically, Hebrew can be an incredibly difficult language, frustrating even. It is written from right to left, there is no punctuation, little word order, and the lack of vowels throws off any attempt at proper pronunciation.

(That said, if ever asked to publicly read an Old Testament passage with a name or place that you cannot pronounce, just speak with confidence knowing that we actually have little clue of what the real word sounded like!)

For as difficult as Hebrew can be grammatically, its lyrical nature can make the message quite simple. When an author wants to make a point, they simply repeat it!
Building off the previous verse’s call to “Listen carefully,” the passage continues, “Incline your ear, and come to me.” Listen,” it repeats “so that you may live.”

Turn down the radio and free yourself from the distractions. Though we fear the silence, we are called into the desert to come face to face with our temptations.

When Christ entered the wilderness those 40 days he was met, tempted, by a figure we refer to as Satan. You may have heard the word before; however, “Satan” is not necessarily a name. “Satan” is translated as adversary, and if you are anything like me, the adversary that we fear the most may well be our own thoughts.

Our adversary tempts us with any number of things to keep us from “inclining our ear,” and “listening so that we may live.”

Some fall to the temptations of alcohol, some to food, some battle temptations or addictions, to drugs, exercise, shopping. An addiction is merely a temptation, a quick fix to a misunderstood hunger, that we let control us.

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Until we mute the voices of, and stop surrendering to, our temptations…

until we sit with the hunger that they mask, we cannot fill our souls with what is rich. We cannot have abundant life when we have given our life to our adversary.

I close today with this: Our hunger is the most powerful of blessings. We hunger because, through God’s gracem we have tasted eternity and will forever crave its beauty. We glimpse abundance here in this world; a child’s birth, a perfect wave, a first kiss, or a rainbow lit dance in the rain. Embrace our hunger as a call to seek, share, and reciprocate the “faithful love” and “everlasting covenant” of God which precludes our passage from Isaiah. Crave it, and fill your soul with nothing less.

You will never be more ready than right now to enter the wilderness, face your adversary, and clear your canvas so that you may start your masterpiece… and know that you are never alone. Thus we communally inhale in the nourishing “prana” of God’s breath, divine Ruah, to fuel our journeys; and exhale the healing word, Amen.