Today’s Scripture focus: Isaiah 55:1-9

“Won’t you come in?  Have a seat.  Can I get you something to drink?  Some tea maybe?” (Mamaw was born, raised, and lived in the south – Mississippi to be precise – and she always had fresh tea in the fridge.)  “Maybe a piece of pie or cake?”  (Mamaw was known for her pecan pies, made with the fresh pecans she got from the trees in her backyard.  She was also known for an amazing Italian Cream Cake.  Since we usually visited her in the summer and my brother’s birthday is in July, we would always request one of these as a birthday cake.)

There is something undeniable about food and hospitality in the culture of the South.  I come from a long line of good cooks.  My grandparents, my mom, and my wife are all very handy in the kitchen.  Growing up, I remember that going to Mamaw’s house was like living with a gourmet chef.  You knew that you were going to get eggs, bacon, homemade biscuits, grits, and fresh fruit for breakfast.  The thing we all salivated over, though, was the pear and fig preserves made from the pear trees in the orchard out back and the figs picked from the vine that grew up the side of the old chicken house.  Mamaw also made the best creamed corn, chicken casserole, mixed vegetable casserole, and sweet potato casserole you’ve ever tasted.  She never used a recipe, but would use a little of this and a touch of that.  If you went hungry at Mamaw’s house, it was your own dumb fault.

Consequently, I cringe when I look back and remember that there were times that we visited Mamaw that we considered it a great treat when we got to leave her house a few miles out of town and drive in to have dinner (this is what she called lunch) at the McDonald’s.  I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that she needed a break in the kitchen, but my brother and I thought this was the greatest thing ever.  We would pile into her 1979 Ford LTD that was primer gray with maroon vinyl interior.  It had only the factory AM stereo, but was one of the first cars with electric seats (they needed that because Mamaw was merely 5 feet 2 inches tall while Papaw was 6 feet 4 inches in stature).

I couldn’t help but think of this while reading today’s passage.  “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”  Why did we count McDonald’s such a treat when we were missing out on the amazing home cooking of one of the best chefs in the family?  Why did we hunger for a meal that really wasn’t going to fill us?  That really wasn’t going to nourish us?  Why did we prefer the imitation over the real thing?

This is what the prophet Isaiah is saying to the people of Israel (and to us).  We live in a culture that thrives on us not being satisfied.  You shouldn’t be satisfied with your looks – our product can make you look better.  You shouldn’t be satisfied with your job – you should be striving to make more.  You should be satisfied with car – this car can drive faster and has more gadgets.  You shouldn’t be satisfied with your possessions – there is a bigger, better, newer, faster one to replace it.  We live in a consumer world that thrives on disposability.  Isaiah is reminding us that all of these things promise to fill us, but end up only being empty calories.  They don’t satisfy – at least not for very long.

This is what fasting during Lent is about – it reminds us that things we spend so much of our time trying to consume don’t really satisfy in the long run.  Ultimately, God is the only one who provide that which will nourish us and fill us.  God is the only one who can meet that ultimate need, fill that vacuum, quench that thirst.  And the best part about that is that God’s provision come free of charge.“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1 ESV)  God is offering us a true spiritual feast that leads away from the starvation and malnutrition that sets in when we gorge ourselves on sin and the flesh.

Let’s be honest, though.  While some of us are well aware that we have walked away from God – that we have embraced rebellion – many of us don’t even realize it.  It doesn’t even occur to us that the reality is that “life has lost its meaning in pursuit of a promotion or raise, [that] we have gotten buried under the demands of economic and social status” (Daniel Debevoise).  In the midst of all those commercials and all those advertisements telling us what we need to be happy, to be pretty, to be fulfilled, to be satisfied, Isaiah is begging us to wake up: “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6 ESV).  Lent is just such a time.  It is a time to renew a right relationship with the stuff in our lives and acknowledge that God alone can satisfy our deepest hungers.  God alone can truly nourish us.  God alone is the true way to fulfillment and peace.  Let us seek God while God is near, for we never what distraction may come our way tomorrow to get us off track.

Prayer:  God, I repent, asking you to forgive me for the way in which I’ve run after so many things that didn’t satisfy in my life.  I’ve paid te world’s prices for what you offer free of charge.  Free me from my bondage to the consumerist mentality of this world and let me find my true fulfillment in you alone.  Amen.

* Note: This blog post is part of a series of reflections for Lent.  The passages are based on a booklet Steven wrote for Ecclesia, the church he pastors in Fairview, NC.