“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” That ought to be the classic Lenten question. Actually, that is one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves any time of year. Why do we give our best energies to that which does not finally satisfy our greatest needs? Why are we seduced into thinking our jobs, our status among our peers, our wealth, or any other cultural measuring stick can give our life meaning?
That question was originally asked to people in exile. Israel had been defeated by Babylon and taken into captivity. No doubt many of the captives were literally hungry. The promise of wine and rich food must have been very welcome. But Isaiah was not just talking about food here, or things that money can buy. He gives us a hint he is getting at something deeper when he says to those who have no money that they should come and buy. What he is offering cannot be bought. It was without price.
Those in captivity hungered and thirsted for freedom. They wanted a place to call home where they could worship in their own fashion and raise their children to follow the values and customs of their Jewish tradition.
Those of us who read this passage today have our own hungers and thirsts. We thirst for meaning when life seems absurd. We hunger for adventure when life gets boring. We thirst for purpose when we grow older, when circumstances change and we wonder what this stage in life means. We hunger for justice and peace in a world that knows far too little of both realities.
How can we get those most basic hungers and thirsts met? Isaiah says first of all, be careful where you spend your energy. Don’t give your best energies to things that will not satisfy your deepest needs. And then Isaiah says listen, look, and seek.
Listening is critical. Isaiah has God say, “Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.” Our very lives depend on how we listen, and to whom we lend our ears. The life we have is deeply affected by those to whom we listen. Lent is a time to ask ourselves to whom do we give our ear? Whose words do we value? What do we fill our heads with as we go about our days?
Some fill their heads with music that has violent or mysogynistic lyrics. Others listen to talk radio or read material from a slanted and distorted political perspective, whether right or left in its leanings. Some of those commentators make those who come from a different perspective out to be idiots, at best. Many of us have a critical inner voice, maybe a voice from a parent, that feeds our heads and hearts with negative messages of how we don’t measure up.
Whom we listen to is critical to the kind of life we will lead. I am not suggesting the Bible is the only word to which we we need to listen. It is not a bad place to start, but setting up a disciplined Bible reading schedule is a tough sell for many. Some of the words we read in the Bible are not all that helpful if taken out of context. God’s word can be detected in other places and persons. Choose carefully whose voice you give your best attention.
Look carefully at your life so that you might see evidence of God’s presence in surprising places. Look beneath the surface of things to a deeper level. This is a particularly hard suggestion for those of us who have a hard time noticing things, who are so preoccupied with details or lists of things to do we are blind to what is right in front of us.
I remember coming home after Sandy decorated the house for Christmas and not noticing that anything had changed. Sandy asked me, “Did you notice anything different about the house?” I said no. She said-look again. I think she even said I needed to find ten new things before we could sit down to dinner! Then I really looked and lo and behold, there were all kinds of new Advent and Christmas things all over the house.
Many of us fail to see evidence of God’s presence right in front of us. If we don’t look, we will not see. If we don’t see we will not find things that nourish our lives. Lent is about taking the time to look carefully and notice reminders of God’s presence in ordinary things as well as surprising places.
Finally, Isaiah says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near. . .” When I first read that I thought, isn’t God always near? Are there only certain times that God can be found? Of course, God is always near. We live and move and have our being in God’s Spirit. But, there are particular times in our lives when we are best able to find God. Isaiah says we need to seize those moments. Don’t let them slip away.
Many have found that in dark moments of despair or depression seeking God feels impossible. The best we can do is just gut our way through those times with the love and help of family and friends, and our church community.
Often it is after those dark times lift that we are in a position to seek God’s presence. The God that felt so absent when we were in deep pain, now feels palpably close. Don’t waste those moments. It is in seeking God that we can experience grace and forgiveness.
Isaiah ends this passage recognizing God is so far above us and so different than us. Therefore our intellects cannot possibly grasp God’s essence. We can’t think our way into a relationship with the Holy Mystery. But that does not mean it is impossible.
One commentator ends his remarks on this passage writing, “The prophet does not point to God’s otherness in order to crush mortals into complacent dust but to infuse them with confidence. God has more in store for us than we can either ask or imagine. The passage summons its hearers to a vision of a new universe of goodness and plenty, summons us with the assurance that God’s love has no limits. There is enough love to go around, even enough to change the wicked.”
As we take communion in silence this day, let us commit ourselves to listen, look and seek God in our everyday lives so that we might find what truly satisfies. May this little symbolic meal remind us of the feast that is available when we take the time to focus on things that really matter.