The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire

Sermon - February 28, 2016
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 55:1-13


The Rev. Robert Vodra


     To understand todayís reading, I need to talk a little bit about Isaiah.  Isaiah was a prophet who lived in around the 8th century BCE, before current era.  If you were here a few weeks ago, I gave you the quick and dirty history of Israel.  Around 1000 BCE we had the first temple, around 500 BCE we had the destruction of the first temple, Babylonian Exile and building of the second temple and then just after Jesus the destruction of the second temple.  So Isaiah lived during the time of the first temple.  There is pretty solid evidence, and it is pretty well accepted that the first 39 chapters of Isaiah were written by Isaiah, or someone very close to Isaiah.  Chapters 39-55 were written during the Babylonian Exile, and chapters 56 through 66, which is the end of the book, were after the exile, perhaps when most returned to Jerusalem.  

     The Babylonian exile started in about 597 BCE.  There is plenty of information out there about it, but they did not come into Jerusalem and haul everyone to Babylonia, there were two main waves, one in 597 and then a second about 10 years later.  They hauled off the influential people, the rulers and leaders.  The temple was destroyed, and many were killed, so others fled.  Some when to Egypt, some went to Babylonia, and a few stayed in Jerusalem or the surrounding areas, but really the population was dispersed.  Without a temple, without a house for God, why stay there?  And then in 539 BCE Babylonia fell to Persia and those from Jerusalem were allowed to return.  This return was also not a one day, one time event, but took place over many years, and some never returned.  They had been gone for maybe 58 years.  So many who left had died or were very old.  Their children only knew the new places they moved to, so why go back to your grandparentís homeland?  You have set up a house, had children, had your jobs, did your work, is it really worth picking up all that you knew to go back to a land where your ancestors lived, especially after hearing stories about how badly it was destroyed?

     So this part of Isaiah was written probably toward the end of the exile.  They judgement that the early Isaiah had predicted had come true, and now they were ending that time and would soon be able to return to their homeland, rebuild the temple and start their lives over, at least those who would return. 

     But this is not as easy as it sounds.  Babylon is about 500 miles from Jerusalem if you could go straight, but unfortunately there was not a straight shot, so your trip would probably be about 900 miles.  This would be like taking everything you own, packing up your family and moving to Chicago from here, of course without a car or truck.  So if you left Jerusalem when the temple was destroyed, when your house was destroyed, you went to Babylon as a refugee, not much besides the shirt on your back.  And you probably did the best you could.  Taxation was enormous, and really there was no way to get ahead.  Doing the best you could probably meant putting food on the table and providing a roof over your head.  Beyond that, life was hard.  But we are now a generation into this life in Babylon. 

     My family does not have any deep roots.  My father, and his father were born in Los Angeles.  When my father was young he moved to Portland, Oregon, then to Detroit, Michigan and then to Wooster, Ohio.  My motherís parents moved less.  They moved to Kansas City, Kansas before my mother was born, and lived there until they retired, when they moved across town to Kansas City, Missouri.  My grandmother was born in Missouri, near St. Louis and moved West as the years went by.  My grandfather is from Frankfort, Kentucky.  It was always neat to work where I met people who had lived in one town their whole lives, or even one house.  Both my kids were born in North Carolina, so they will not live in the house they came home from the hospital to. 

     But I also found that in some areas, that living in one place limited people.  I lived in rural Missouri after college, and found many who knew little beyond that hallow.  All had been to town, but maybe a year or more since they had left.  Their parents lived there, their kids lived there, maybe even grandkids.  Many were farmers, or lived off the land somehow.  Most of what they ate and drank came from their land, so they may send someone into town for something, but it was about 25 miles to the nearest town, so you didnít run into town to pick up a gallon of milk.  If you really needed a gallon of milk, you would ask your neighbors and someone either had one, or would be planning a trip into town fairly soon. 

     And I imagine life in Babylon was similar.  They knew that area, that was where many were born.  There was no way that any of these folks in Missouri would pack up and move someplace.  It was not a good life.  One man I ran into one day operated what I would guess was a kind of junkyard.  Maybe it was not an official junkyard, but he had about 50 old cars sitting around his trailer, I donít think any of them ran.  I went down there one day to borrow a radiator for a truck.  We hired a crew to cut wood, and they fell a tree on the front of their truck, destroying the radiator.  We went down, they chatted for a bit, and then we pulled a radiator out of a truck to use on their truck.  We needed a bucket of water to put in after we installed the radiator, and his man had to go out to his well and connect two bare wires to the pump motor in order to get water to flow.  That was the only way he had water, and it was not connected to his trailer. 

     As part of a mobile society I have never experienced that.  Oh, I have lived in some junky accommodations, but they were temporary.  For those in Babylon they were all that they had known.  And the reading this morning is a word of hope.  Not only a ďthings are going to get betterĒ but rather, God is going to provide in abundance.

     It is hard to imagine abundance when you have only known scarcity, or have only known scarcity for a long time.  Today, we live our lives with the idea of scarcity.  Really we are brought up that way.  Flip on the TV and you will hear politicians saying that we donít have enough money to provide food for everyone, or provide a safety net for our retired.  Cut social security and medicare to save money.  We learn it from our parents, and teach it to our children.  If you really want something, you save and save until you have enough to get it.  You create a budget for your house, and live by it.  You can save money by buying less expensive cuts of meat in the stores, and doing things to make it taste better.  You never, or rarely indulge, by buying the best cuts of meat, or lobster, or whatever that thing is that you really would love to have.  You turn down the heat a few degrees, save on that oil bill a little bit. 

     And it happens right here in the church.  This church operates on a tight budget and we always balance between hospitality and doing things to meet the budget.  Our front doors are closed for the winter, to save on our oil bill.  We do serve coffee after church.  I have never looked but guessing it is a decent coffee, not necessarily the least expensive, but not a fair traded really good coffee. 

     And not all of this is bad.  Saving oil not only saves on our bills, but also saves on the amount of carbon we release into the environment.  But it means that we donít use the front doors of the church for several months.  Our regulars know the side door, but it is a balance between welcoming our guests at the front door of your house, or leading them through the garage. 

     Even in our church pledges it shows.  Our church in Concor is going through our annual pledge drive, they operate on a July to June financial year.  Well, this is what we did last year, we can do a little bit more, but what happens when I leave Marlborough?  Will there be another interim or called position available?  Will it be right away, or might I be out of work for a few weeks, or more?  They have also asked for a two year pledge, what you are able to do this year, and what you are able to do next year.  Well, certainly I want to increase it, but hopefully within that two year period Marlborough will find a new minister. 

     So what would it look like if we lived with a sense of abundance rather than scarcity.  I think it is a leap of faith.  We have to say that somehow there will be enough.  This is not wasteful, there is a difference. 

     I think I see abundance in action when we have communion.  If you have noticed, I have a loaf up here that I break into 4 pieces.  The cups are already poured, but we have never run out of either.  There are always enough for everyone, and always more left over. 

     We often go to my parentís house for holidays, or normally right after holidays.  My sister, brother in law and their two children live about 20 minutes from their house, so it is convenient for all of us to gather there.  My mother starts to worry about a week in advance.  Normally she cooks for two, and neither are big eaters.  So when we arrive, she calls us the medium 6.  Glenn has now gotten to the point where he will eat and eat and eat, and never get full, guess that happens to boys about his age.  Collin does OK, but still is smaller and not eating full adult size portions yet, unless it is something he really likes.  Keri and I are both average eaters. 

     And then she prepares for the big 10.  This is where my sister, brother in law, and their two kids, a high school boy and a college aged girl, all join in.  The dining room table, where we rarely ate when we were growing up, is pulled open and all the leafs are put in.  The chairs with the arms are moved around to the side of the table, because there is not enough room to get by without pulling those end chairs out of way or pushing them in, chairs with arms can not be pushed in.  And the table is loaded. 

     Now there are some dietary concerns.  My niece has decided not to eat meat, so we have to make sure that at least some of the food, or at least several of the sides are meat free.  My sister does not do ďbird.Ē  So when we have visited on Thanksgiving, we have had lasagna.  My brother in law does not do margarine, while my father does not do butter, so we have to make sure we have both.  My nephew will not do peas, so if peas are being served, have to remember to have some other vegetable. 

     But despite all that, we have never run out.  Oh, sure, we will finish off something, but everyone who wants firsts and seconds gets those, and then Glenn and Jeff will finish off what is left with thirds.   There is never a feeling of ďOh, I can not have anymore of that, there will not be enough to go around.Ē 

     This is in direct opposition to what happens when I go to Cub Scout camp with my son.  If there are 8 boys are your table, you get 8 cartons of milk.  When you go up, you get 8 piece of pizza, or whatever the main dish is.  There is a scarcity, and you have to share.  Of course that is a valuable lesson, but wonder what we would be teaching if, when you are done, there are always seconds and everyone leaves the dining hall having eaten everything they want to. 

     And what will happen in this Kingdom of God that I keep talking about.  Notice that I donít call it heaven, but I donít think it has to only occur when we die.  Perhaps there are ways in which we can start to bring it about here on earth.  May not come fully before I die, but maybe I can show others a glimpse of it, and we will all move toward what that could be.  What would it be like if we had a way to distribute all the food in the world to places that need it.  We donít have a food shortage on earth, we produce, on a global scale, more food than we can eat.  Our problem is getting it to everyone who needs it.  It is a problem with transportation, not scarcity.  What about preventable diseases.  We have the ability to eliminate many diseases, but requires us to send immunizations to countries that can not afford to pay for them.  We are so close to eliminating polio, but it still exists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Smallpox we were successful in eliminating, we could do the same with many preventable diseases, not only in the US but around the world. 

     There are more than enough houses and apartments for everyone in the US, there is no need for people to live on the streets.  There are enough hospital beds to treat the sick, when they get sick.  When they put it off for fear of not being able to pay, then maybe there is a scarcity of beds since it takes longer to recover from diseases that have not been treated when they start.  But when we get to the point of treating everyone at the start of their problems, that will resolve.  Even the heroin problems we see today could be solved.  There are plenty of beds for treatment, but only a small percentage are affordable, so beds sit empty because people can not afford them, while others are treated for overdoses and sent back into the same situations because we can not find a bed that is available that they or we can afford. 

     These are all things that can be solved, but when we approach them from the view of scarcity we get nowhere.  We hear that there is not enough food in the world, so we accept that people are going to die of hunger.  We hear that vaccines are expensive, so we accept that some people in the world will still be allowed to get Polio.  We hear that there is not enough housing, so we accept that some people will live on the streets.  We hear that there are not enough drug treatment beds, so we allow our youth and young adults to die of overdoses.  These are all still real problems, but the problems are not scarcity as we are lead to believe. 

     As Isaiah promises, God will provide.  And God has provided.  It is for us to realize that abundance live with the knowledge of that abundance and figure out how it can be shared with all.