Isaiah 55:1-3; 8-9 & Luke 13:6-9
Beloved creator, I pray with these words of blessing your prophet once spoke on your people – That as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return back until they have watered the earth, making it bud and flourish, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so may your word, Creator; not return to you empty, but accomplish your deepest purpose among us, the nurturing, healing and liberation of every person and every being. Amen.
In the midst of exile in Babylon, of communal devastation and systemic oppression, the prophetic oracle stands in perhaps a despairing community to deliver a vision and share a dream. His dream calls those who are thirsty, who are hungry and have no money, to come and eat, to be sustained by real nourishing food, free of charge.
These images of abundance don’t reflect the community’s reality, or the prophet’s living situation. The community in Babylon is living in harsh exile after witnessing the trauma of war, of their homes be destroyed, of famine and displacement from ancestral land, of subjugation to a foreign power, of slavery and labor exploitation – a trauma so harsh that the 2nd chapter of the book of lamentations offers such a contrasting image to what we read from Isaiah, listen to this;
My eyes fail from weeping,
I am in torment within;
my heart is poured out on the ground
because my people are destroyed,
because children and infants faint
in the streets of the city.
They say to their mothers,
“Where is bread and wine?”
as they faint like the wounded
in the streets of the city..
Lamentations 2: 11-12
This gives us context for the community to which the prophet speaks, and echoes the reality of many communities living in these United States, at its borders and around the world – to which God still speaks – communities that we in this church may be part of or have relationship to.
So, the author of Isaiah is speaking to a community of survivors, people who experienced recent trauma, who are powerful in their resilience, and who are also depleted, burnt out and exhausted, wondering what can possibly alleviate their pain and living conditions, physical, psychological or spiritual.
And I find it challenging that the prophet makes an invitation that doesn’t really reflect what most people see possible in their lived experience; there is no abundance, there is no bread, there is no wine or milk, and if there is, it isn’t free.
And when I read this question; Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
I remember this sensation, when it feels like nothing is working, at least not immediately.
No amount of commercial or capitalist self-care for those who can afford it
No amount of advice or minimization by well-meaning helpful folk
No amount of thoughts and prayers by those who are so quick to offer them
In the midst of changes and transitions, the stuff of life that we and loved ones go through, our own trauma, grief and pain, or the current tyranny of the political system – sometimes, there isn’t a quick fix.
Yet in reading the text again and again, I noticed there is something about the participatory and collective nature of Isaiah’s invitation.
The prophet is not offering a quick fix. He is calling everyone in the community, to come together to participate in this collective coming, buying, eating, listening and covenanting.
To come together for a collective task, empowered by a prophetic dream, pursued under a common vision of abundance leading to liberation.
To come together as a people who have seen God work before, a people who truly believe in liberation, who truly believe in healing, who truly believe in justice, who truly believe in equity, who truly believe in repair, who are willing to put their lives, energies and resources where their dreams are, no matter how long it takes for the dreams to come true.
To come together trusting that as we nurture and cultivate this dream into a reality with deep patience, God will provide the water, the seeds, and the conditions necessary for this dream to grow into a life-giving tree.
I think Jesus, peace be upon his name, speaks to this, in the parable of the fig tree. Sometimes we are too hungry and thirsty that we need the fruit of this tree now, and if not now, never. Sometimes we’ve waited for too long – 3 years this vineyard owner waited – it makes sense that we are ready to see some results or give up so as to no longer seemingly waste our energy.
Yet the caretaker ask us to be patient, to keep tending the tree of our liberation, to dig around it and fertilize it – to love, caress and nurture it some more, to be more and more consistent in caring for it, to perhaps change tactic or the way we care for the tree when needed, but not give up on it entirely.
In my own journey, there are times when I have felt exhausted or experienced deep grief and felt unable to keep up the things, which sustain me and my community.
I remember my Sheikh or spiritual teacher asking me to continue cultivating my spiritual practice with consistency even when I have little energy, to keep saying my prayers and showing up for Zikir even when the well feels dry, to keep organizing and acting even when it seems futile, to keep building up the practice, to keep tending to the tree of life, trusting that it does indeed grow and give medicine for harvest.. and believe me, this tree has given me so much medicine.
And so Isaiah’s invitation is to come and buy into God’s vision of abundance, healing and justice.
To come and show up for the tilling of the soil in confession and assurance, in worship and communion, in spiritual practice and personal devotion, in learning and growing together.
To come and show up for the planting of the seeds in pursuing dreams and organizing short and long term actions of community care and justice-making together.
To come and show for the long waiting and hard work of caring as we individually and collectively heal together
To come and keep coming when we reap the harvest and cook this feast of abundance, setting again and again a table on which all are nourished together.
And in between coming, and laboring, and loving, and waiting, when we are tired, we take a break, lean on God and each other, and remember the vision that called us to make this dream a reality, and the holy patience required for it.
It is this very vision of a life-giving and healing tree, given time to grow love to be strong, that concludes the Christian scriptures in the last chapter of the book of revelations, a vision that is a dream and a promise that I leave with you this week;
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the heart of God, through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations,” (Rev 22: 1-3).