The Word That Satisfies – August 6th, 2023

Sermon for Pentecost X, 2023, R. L.                                         8/6/23


Texts: Isaiah 55:1-5; Romans 9:1-5; Mathew 14:13-21; Psalm 145

Introduction            “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”  One might ask Isaiah’s question today, as well as he posed it in the sixth century before Christ. We might ask persons about to buy cotton candy or cream puffs at the county or state fairs.  It’s a good question to ask when meandering through the junk food  aisles of Walmart or Pic’ n Save. “ Why do you spend money for that which is not bread?”

                                    Or, why does a person work so much overtime that it destroys the family? The founder of Mercury Marine, which started in Cedarburg, was quite a success in his businesses, but he left his family in shambles.  We could compile a whole list of contemporaries that labor for that which does not satisfy.  Could that be the case with Tom Brady or Elon Musk or other persons you know as celebrities or others you might name?  It’s hard to find satisfaction in one’s work, especially when it is less glorious than sports or other celebrated professions?

                                    Many of us, however, do find our deepest needs met in the Word of God, who gives meaning and purpose to our lives.  We come to worship with our own particular circumstances: perhaps some burdens or worries, maybe some regrets or disappointment. We may harbor a deep-down hunger we might not dare to admit.  But, gathered in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we share a common love and acceptance.  We trust that in our work of worship, our liturgy, we will find THE WORD THAT SATISFIES.

I           Isaiah’s words sparkle with encouragement:

            Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;

            And you that have no money, come, buy and eat!

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

            These words were first addressed to the exiles of Israel in Babylon. Some of them had put down deep roots in this foreign land. They made peace of a sort with their neighbors, prospered in business, and marketed their skills.  Now, after fifty or so years in their family’s new home, they were reluctant to travel all the way back to Palestine.  Others, not so prosperous, felt that they were too poor to make the long trip.  All wondered what they might find after the defeat and devastation of Jerusalem and Judah.

            Yet, the exiles longed for the days when God’s love for David was evident in their society and the temple gleamed on the top of Mt. Zion.  Therefore, to get the reluctant nation moving toward home, the Lord through Isaiah speaks inviting words.  Isaiah pulls out all the stops, playing inviting marching songs, as he proclaimed a new exodus back to the promised land. We hear words of his final chapter in the first reading for this day:

Listen carefully to me and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear to me; listen, so that you may live.

            Isaiah is not a super-salesman. He speaks the Word of God. The Lord remembered his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The Creator of the universe, who freed slaves from Egypt’s dictator, was acting in history again.  The One who once led his chosen people through the Sinai wilderness was now ready to take them through the Arabian desert.  The Lord had taught them a hard lesson by war and deportation, after their repeated disobedience. But now he was ready to bring God’s beloved nation back home to a satisfying life.  The Lord was offering a new covenant relationship not only to Israel but to all nations. Hear the words:

I will make you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast love for David.  See, I made him a witness to the peoples…See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that you do not know shall run to you.

            The Lord planned to satisfy the needs and hungers of all people through the experience of Israel.  Well… Israel was not quite ready.

II          So, in the gospel for today, we meet the Holy One of Israel in Jesus of Nazareth.  It’s a pivotal time in his ministry.  In the first part of this chapter, Matthew tells the sad and gory account of Herod’s murder of John the Baptizer, Jesus’ cousin.  Old Herod, drunk and seduced by the dancing daughter of her conniving mother had to behead the prophet, John, just to save face before his guests—what a king!  He represents the imperial power that takes life, rather than God’s kingdom power that gives life. 

            Matthew pointedly begins our reading after Herod’s sordid action with these words: “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there to a deserted place by himself.”  Then, we find out how the real King Jesus satisfies his subjects.

            Crowds hearing of Jesus’s withdrawal, followed Jesus on foot from the surrounding towns, reminding us of Jesus’ words in response to a Roman centurion who had requested the healing of his son, Jesus was amazed and said, “Truly I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.  I tell you many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…”

            Well, in the gospel reading for today, we see the crowds from east and west eating their fill. Jesus put aside his own need for solitude until later in order to ponder the death of cousin John.  He had compassion for the crowds and cured their sick.   And when, in the late hour, Jesus’ disciples wanted to send the people away hungry, Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.”  Of course, they were flabbergasted.  But King Jesus orders the crowds to sit on the grass and serves them–a preview of holy communion.  Notice the verbs.  Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave the loaves to the disciples and the crowds that followed him.  He enlisted the twelve to serve 5000 men, besides women and children—and then collect the leftover broken pieces—twelve baskets full. [Perhaps for the other nations]  God always provides more than enough without money and without price. He works through the disciples of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  He is the Bread of Life and enlists us to share.

III.       Unfortunately, not everyone is willing to receive the Bread of Life. In the second reading for today, Paul is agonizing over the rejection of the good news by the people of his own nation.  You can hear his pain.

I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. [Paul writes] For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.

            He then catalogues all the blessings of God’s chosen people ending with the coming of “the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever.”  In the next few chapters, Paul expresses the hope that all of Israel will be saved with all the nations who finally come to faith,  Paul trusts the unsearchable riches of God.

            Well, who of us does not grieve for a family member or friend, not to mention the multitudes who seem not to follow the crucified and risen Christ?  Some say they are not religious, others that they are spiritual, whatever that means.  Some don’t even want to talk about it.  We pray for them.  We witness as best we can. We try to set an example of forgiven persons—imperfect though we are.  Paul trusts the unsearchable  riches of God.  And finally, we commend others to God, knowing his amazing love revealed in the cross and empty tomb.

Conclusion               Today, we come to the table for bread and wine.  We sense in the words of consecration the presence of Jesus…taking, blessing, breaking, and giving his life for us.  We hear the voice of Jesus, saying “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” We will go in peace. We will serve the Lord as best we can in the coming days.

                                    We confess the words of the poet:

The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord and you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.

                        We are embraced by the Word of God in our worship.