Reading Isaiah 55:1-9, part 1

A reading for the third Sunday in Lent: Isaiah 55:1-9

My daughter wrote a song called “Come to the Waters” inspired by this verse. I can hear her singing it on her guitar when I read this passage.

It reminds me how reception of Scripture is often so personal and particular. We talk in church about “reading in community” and often try to impose or inculcate collective interpretations on the Bible. I do that quite a bit myself on this blog in my advocacy for Wesleyan readings.

But the Scripture is not so compliant as we would have it be.

I wonder how the opening verses of this reading sound to different ears.

I can imagine those for whom the call to come to the waters and to buy and eat without money brings relief and refreshing and peace. Here is an oasis of grace in the desert of the world.

I can also imagine those for whom the call mocks their hunger and their dryness.

We say these words in church. They will be read in the congregations I serve next Sunday. And yet, our flawed and frail congregations are often not places of such abundance. People come looking for something and find us there flogging our way through another service. The preacher seems to be trying to make a point, but it is not clear what it is. The hymn singing is uneven. The carpet is stained.

Or everything goes perfectly. The production is flawless. The pastor is inspiring. The music lifts us out of our seats. We cry during prayers. And yet, some people leave finding they are still thirsty and the ache in their stomach that brought them to church still gnaws at their belly.

The church speaks these words and often tries to live into them, but I can’t escape the feeling that we often treat the church as if it should live up to its proclamation in a way that asks the church to be something it can never be. I even dare to say we make the church an idol. We think the prophet is sending out an invitation to attend next Sunday’s worship service.

The prophet does not say “Come to our church, and you will find water.” He says, “Listen to Yahweh.” I did not notice that until now, but that word “listen” is a the heart of the first few verses. Listen. Listen. Listen.

And so, I wonder if the church should view itself less as the dispenser of the water of life and more as the people gathered together with open ears trying to listen.