October 9, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch. I found this out on my vicarage. (For those who don’t know, a vicarage is an internship for pastors—you’re supposed to learn the ins and outs of parish work, but you also pick up some life lessons as well). One morning, my vicarage supervisor comes in and says, “Hey vicar, wanna get a free lunch?” Well, you’re not supposed to say no to your vicarage supervisor, and he always took pretty good care of me anyway, so I said yes.
We went to the Springfield Athletic Club and the free lunch turned out to be a commercial for an investment opportunity. We didn’t end up exchanging money for the lunch (which wasn’t that great anyway), but it turned out to be less than free. For the next several months, I was regularly contacted by the sales guy, pushing me quite hard to buy this investment vehicle. Fortunately, my time and personal frustration were the extent of the cost; we didn’t do anything foolish with any money—which vicars really don’t have that much of to begin with.
So because of that experience I’ve been wary of free lunches ever since. If someone wants to give you something, it’s probably going to end up costing you. That’s the way of the world. That’s human nature. We can’t stand gifts. Oh, sure we like to give birthday gifts and Christmas gifts and anniversary gifts and pastor appreciation gifts, but it’s all part of a big transaction game. Even the purest gift givers there are—parents providing for their children—will from time to time use their gifts as leverage against their kids. Because those gifts have earned us something. But if they are for earning, then they’re not gifts.
And that’s why the Prophet Isaiah is more than a bit suspicious when he proclaims as a Word from the Lord, “Oh, come to the water, all you who are thirsty! You who have no money, come, buy and eat. Come and buy grain without money, and wine and milk that costs nothing. Why are you spending money for what isn’t bread and your earnings for what doesn’t satisfy? If you will only listen to Me, you will eat good things and enjoy rich food” (vv 1-3). It’s like when you pick up the phone and the recording tells you that you’ve just won a 7 day cruise to the Bahamas. Yeah, right. Too good to be true.
Rather than accept the free gift (which might have some embedded costs), we’d rather pay for it upfront. Sometime it’s money. Simon the Sorcerer saw that the Holy Spirit was given by baptism and the laying on of hands, so he offered money to receive this gift. Peter responds to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” (Acts 8:20). Too many contemporary preachers turn this story on its head and promise that if you just give them money, God will multiply it back to you. Kind of like a divine pyramid scheme.
But more often than people getting duped into wasting their money on that which is not bread, they are convinced that they can spend their toil on something that lasts. It’s the natural way we approach religion and spirituality. We fall under the delusion that if we just invest the right kind of work, or enough of it, we will receive a return of satisfaction in our lives. While not as blatant as Simon the Sorcerer, who literally wanted to buy the Holy Spirit, it runs the same transaction game.
But what happens is that any gains you can manage from investing your work in expectation of God’s reward will only get you something temporal at best. This is the point of the promises attached to the Ten Commandments. If you obey authorities, don’t act out in anger, stay married to one spouse and don’t have children before you’re married, don’t steal, don’t lie, and live contently, your life will be better than if you live recklessly. All self-help and motivational programs are simply variations on these themes. But any improvements these can reap are only temporary. They are not lasting; the satisfaction they return is short-lived. Why do you spend money on that which is not bread, and your toil on that which is not food?
If you had no other information and someone offered you an unbelievable gift at no cost, you’d likely be a bit suspect. There’s got to be a catch. But on the other hand, if you received an invitation in the mail to go to a wedding, you would know by social convention that the occasion is paid for by the bride’s family or a combination of the bride’s and groom’s families and that you are invited to attend at no cost to you. The cost is paid for by another and you receive the benefits.
This is why passages from the Bible should never be read outside of their context. The free gift presented at the beginning of this 55th chapter of Isaiah follows on one of the most marvelous passages of this prophecy that begins in chapter 52—the fourth Servant Song.
Yet the LORD planned to crush Him and slay Him. After He has sacrificed Himself for guilt, He will see those born to Him and will enjoy a long life. And so by Him the LORD will succeed in what He wants to do. Because of the toil of His soul, He will see the light and be satisfied. By His experience My righteous Servant justifies many by taking on Himself the heavy load of their guilt. Because of this I will give Him many people as His share; and He will divide the spoil with the mighty because He pours out His life in death, lets Himself be counted with sinners, while He takes on Himself the sins of many people and intercedes for the wrongdoers (Is 53:10-12).
The work has all been done. The free gift is freely given to you because the Lord’s Servant, Jesus Christ, suffered the great cost. His great toil in body and soul provides an everlasting feast at no cost to you. Following the Servant’s Song, Isaiah then speaks of God’s love for His people. He Who made you is your Husband; His name is the LORD of armies. And the Holy One of Israel redeems you; He is called the God of the whole earth. The LORD calls you like a wife who has been left alone and in grief, like the wife of one’s youth when she has been rejected,” says your God. “I left you for just a little while, but with great mercies I will bring you back to Me (Is 54:5-7).
The invitation to come and buy with no money and without cost is an invitation to a wedding feast! The feast is bought and paid for and offered at no cost to you. St. Ambrose wrote, “For he who paid for us with the price of his blood did not ask a price from us, because he redeemed us not with gold or silver but with his precious blood.” The gift is freely offered, but it’s not offered just anywhere.
The boundary is water. Hey you, come to the waters, you who are thirsty (v 1 alt). This is the same thing Jesus says during the Feast of Tabernacles: If anyone is thirsty, let him who believes in Me come to Me and drink, as the Scriptures said, “Rivers of living water will flow from His belly.” This He said concerning the Spirit, whom He was about to give to those who believed in Him. But the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus had not been glorified (Jn 7:37-39).
The water of which Isaiah speaks is the Holy Spirit, who is your gift in the water of Holy Baptism. The washing of water and the Spirit gives you access to the treasuries of heaven and the feast that can be bought for no cost. Come to the waters, you who are thirsty. Believe the Scriptures, you who are doubtful. Receive forgiveness, you who bear guilt. It is a gift freely given.
And it’s a gift that leads to a gift. Jesus clearly points to His own crucifixion as the source of Isaiah’s stream of water. And so also the cross of Christ is the foundation of the feast. The bread that can be bought at no cost is the Bread of Life—Christ’s flesh. And that gift is offered for you today on the altar. This Bread is true food. Eternal food. And it satisfies eternally. If you will only listen to Me, you will eat good things and enjoy rich food.
The Free Feast of God’s Kingdom Was Prepared and Paid for by the Sufferings of Jesus Christ
Come to the waters. Come, buy without cost, and eat.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard