Sermon - Sunday, 24 March 2019

The following sermon was delivered by the Very Reverend Dr Russell Barr on Sunday, 24 March 2019.

Scripture: Isaiah 55: 1-9 / Luke 13: 1-9

Text:  Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come buy and eat  

(Isaiah 55: 1)

IN THE NAME OF GOD, FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT, AMEN

Come.

Come if you are thirsty.

Come if you are hungry.

Come to the waters and drink.

Come and buy something to eat.

It doesn’t matter who you are, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, male or female, you are invited.

And don’t worry if you haven’t any money for this is a feast like no other.

Why?

The water, the wine, the milk and the bread are not of this world, they are from God, and all who eat and drink will be satisfied.

So come, come and eat, come and drink, come and enjoy, come and be satisfied.

By any standards it is a remarkable invitation and as we read about it in Isaiah, it was extended to the people of Israel in exile calling them to return home with the promise of a new and better life, the new age of God.

Over the years, as the Biblical scholars have reflected upon these extraordinary verses, they have come to realise it is an invitation which takes us to the very heart of Biblical theology where God’s love for all God’s people, the faithfulness of God’s promises and the dependability of God’s word is celebrated as nowhere else in the Old Testament.

And as you hear it today, I hope you hear it as an invitation being extended to you.

Come.

When the Bible speaks about God, it usually speaks about God in one of two different ways.

The Bible will speak about the greatness of God, the majesty of God, the otherness of God, the God who is the source of creation, the God of life and love who is Lord of all, the God whose thoughts and ways are not as humanity’s thoughts and ways.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts[1]

If you ever find yourself in Liverpool, take a moment to visit the Anglican cathedral.

Towering, majestic, awe inspiring with vast columns and ceilings and enormous stained glass windows and a high altar at a seemingly impossible distance from the congregation; this is a building designed to express the transcendent greatness of God.

And according to the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, western culture and western civilization has lost a sense of transcendence.

Sacks thinks the great religions of the world have only themselves to blame because instead of focusing on their core activity – what he describes as the art of bringing heaven down to earth – Sacks fears their energies have been diverted into other activities including the acquisition of knowledge and the pursuit of power.

However, given religion speaks to something essential in the human condition, Sacks remains persuaded there is still a place for faith at the centre of our lives.

Without some sense of the transcendent, writes Sacks, we lose the script of the human story.

We begin to find it hard to say what we are about, what matters and why.[2]

Living at a time of considerable political and economic uncertainty when we often feel life is subject to, and at the mercy of, quite impersonal forces – the policies and decision making of multi-national corporations, fluctuations in the stock market, the impact of global warming, the internet and instant worldwide communication being among the most obvious examples – the concern expressed by Jonathan Sacks’, a loss of transcendence, is one which resonates with many of us.

As Sacks argues, however, whatever their faults one of the most important things the great religions of the world offer is a treasury of meaning which helps us makes some kind of sense of things.

Here is an insight beautifully expressed by the Psalmist who declared;

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it, for He has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers[3]

So when the Bible speaks about God it tells us God is above and beyond, above and beyond all the machinations of humanity, above and beyond light years of time and space, the God who in the words of the well-loved hymn holds the whole world in His hands.

However this is not the only thing the Bible has to say about God.

To find out what else the Bible has to say about God, leave Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral and walk the few hundred yards along Hope Street – it could not be better named – and you will come to the city’s Roman Catholic cathedral.

Smaller, circular, intimate, everything close, everyone able to see one another with everything and everyone gathered around a simple central altar, this is a building designed to express the closeness of God, the immanence of God, the intimacy of God, the God who formed us in our mother’s womb, the God who watches over our going out and our coming in, the God whose Word was made flesh, the God whose love and care and compassion took face and voice in the person of Jesus, the God who is with us in the power of the Spirit.

Hold these two pictures together, the transcendent greatness of God and the intimate closeness of God, and what the Bible offers is this – the profound reassurance that within the bigger picture of time and space and the unimaginable depths of the universe, each one of us matters, each one of us counts, each one of us belongs, each one of us is precious, each one of us is loved – by God.

So come.

Come if you are thirsty.

Come if you are hungry.

Come to the waters and drink.

Come and buy something to eat.

Come to God, God who is great and majestic, God who is also closer than breath itself.

During his time as the wandering preacher, teacher and healer Jesus was often surrounded by crowds of people.

Sometimes the crowds sat listening to him preach and hanging on his every word.

Sometimes they brought people who were sick or blind or crippled so that at Jesus’ word and touch those who were blind or sick or crippled could find healing and new life.

On one memorable occasion he even fed over five thousand with a few loaves and fish.

Yet above all the hustle and bustle of the crowd, Jesus never lost sight of the individual nor his concern for an individual’s need.

He noticed when a woman tugged his cloak and he heard when a blind beggar cried out for help and he stopped when a Roman soldier pleaded for his servant’s life.

Caring, compassionate and personal, Jesus modelled what it looks like not to walk past on the other side of human need and he taught his disciples to follow his example.

Yet whatever else he understood, Jesus understood life is not always easy and is not always fair.

Some Galileans had been murdered by Pilate, their blood mixed with the blood of the Temple sacrifices, an act of deliberate provocation.

Tragically eighteen people had also been killed when the tower of Siloam had fallen on them.

And from our own experience we know only too well accidents happen, malignancies grow, children are abused, wars are fought, cyclones leave a trail of devastation in their wake, people suffer from preventable hunger, disease and poverty and worshippers in Christchurch are gunned down.

Like the people of ancient times we do not need any lessons on how unfair or unjust life can be.

What we need - and what the Bible offers - is the reassurance we are not abandoned to blind fate.

Come, said the prophet, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths [4]

Come, said the Psalmist, come and hear all you who fear God and I will tell what He has done for me. [5]

Come, said Jesus, come to me all you that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. [6]

At the heart of the Easter gospel is the story of a cross and an empty tomb.

If it is a story which speaks of unfairness and cruelty, it is also a story which assures us God is with us even in life’s darkest times, a story which promises God’s purpose will prevail, a story which declares love’s victory over evil and death.

So in this season of Lent come.

Come if you are thirsty.

Come if you are hungry.

Come to the waters and drink.

Come, buy milk and wine without money and without price.

Come to God, God who is great, above and beyond, God who is near, around and within, come and discover nothing in life or death can ever separate you from God’s love for you in Christ.

Now unto him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen


[1] Isaiah 55: 8

[2] Jonathan Sacks Celebrating Life: Finding Happiness in Unexpected Places Continuum, London, 2000, p58

[3] Psalm 24: 1, 2

[4] Isaiah2: 5

[5] Psalm 66: 16

[6] Matthew 11: 28