I think most of you know that I go backpacking once a year. Melissa and I split up the prep work for the trip, but the planning that involves pouring over hiking books and trail maps is something I enjoy doing, so Melissa leaves that task up to me. I look at trail maps and trail books and seek to find the trip that will best fit our needs. Among the many, many things I check for, is where we are going to get our water. Having enough water is an important part of our backpacking trip and we cannot simply carry the amount of water need with us. It would be too bulky and definitely too heavy for us to bring along. As I am tracing our route, I am finding the places we will stop and camp for the night, as well as our entrance and exit points to the trail. I am also carefully going over where all the streams, springs and other water sources can be found. I know how far it is between water sources, so that when we are hiking, Melissa and I know how long we need to make our water last.
Water is important to survival, if we run out of water, we run the risk of dehydration, and a dehydrated person runs the risk of making poor decisions, of losing focus and wandering of trail, of becoming disoriented or even lost. Having enough water is one of the most vital aspects of our trip. So we ration our water when the distance between sources is great. When we come to our water sources we are sure to drink extra before we fill our bottles and continue on our way.
In many ways, water is life. We cannot live without water. It is vital to our existence. Without it, we die. Most of us who live in warm houses, full of all the “good” things with which we fill them. We do not think much about the water that flows so freely from our taps. Sure we pay for it. A bill arrives in the mail each month, which most months we pay without question. Perhaps we lament that this month's bill is higher than the previous, but that is far as it goes. My guess is that few of us think of the dollars and cents that are being spent each time we turn the faucet and allow that water to flow. And I am sure many of us let more, than we would admit, to just go down the drain, without thinking of its worth or value. It may not be free, but it is cheap enough that it is common enough practice to allow the water run while we are brushing our teeth, or washing our hands, that we remind people not to. So although water remains vital to life, it is not costly. And I admit, the only time I think much at all, about where my water comes from is on the trail.
The value of food is a little more evident. We all have weekly or monthly food budgets. All of us know that we have to go to the store and purchase the items needed to make the foods we eat each day. When the cost of something goes up too high, we are likely to stop purchasing it, or purchase it less frequently, or perhaps we even take the extra effort to go to a different store, where it can be found, cheaper.
I only buy berries in the summer when they are cheap, and there is a price over which I will not buy an avocado. We all make our own food choices each time we go to the store based on how much we have to spend and how much we are willing to spend on any particular item. But the cost of these items is rarely something that is not a factor when we make these purchases.
So although the entirety of the impact the offer God is making to the people of Israel in this passage is somewhat lost on us, we can understand the value of what it is God saying to them. “Come to the waters; and you that have no money, come buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” God uses an invitation for everyone to enjoy the things needed to survive, as well as the good things of life, wine and milk, as a way to speak to the people. God calls for them, to acquire these things without money or the exchange of goods or services, but to instead, to just have them - freely. God invites the people to enjoy the needed things, the good things, the great things of life; to be filled; to be satisfied.
We crave satisfaction. We move through this life longing to feel full, to sense that we have enough, to be satisfied. But this feeling, this sense this being, is not really about food or water or any of the other things of which we partake. We want to feel full and satisfied in everything we do. So we work hard. We seek to accomplish something. We strive toward that goal; to make something that will fill us. We seek to create something to which we can point and say, “I did that.” And in that moment know the satisfaction we long for. The feeling of being satisfied in our actions; that we have done something that is right and good; that it matters, has value and worth in this world. Perhaps what we have done has even changed the world even just a tiny bit. But when we have finished doing what is done, when what we have made stand before us, it is not enough. The world is still the same, nobody noticed, or even if they did, it did not matter, not in the way we had hoped. That which we created is flawed or broken, it is not good enough, it fades or dies, is destroyed. And we are once again empty longing to be filled.
We know that we cannot find that satisfaction in our selves. So we look to the world around us, to others. We do not feel good about who we are, what we have done, the work of our hands, our accomplishments, without the approval of those around us. We seek that approval in all aspects of our lives. Because somehow in that approval; in the nod of a superior, the pat on the back of a peer or the thanks of a subordinate, we will feel satisfied with ourselves, in who we are or what we have done. We seek the approval of those around us; of our boss, of our co-workers, the people in our neighborhood, even the strangers who pass through our lives each day. We want to be liked, to be wanted, to be needed by our friends and our neighbors. So we strive to do something, create something, say something, to be someone who is noticed. We want our boss to turn to us and, “Say good job.” We want our co-workers to acknowledge the work we have done among them. We want our neighbors to see us as worthy, our friends to desire to spend time with us, for the stranger who passes through our lives to acknowledge our existence, to see that we were there and to perhaps remember us. We are even willing to put the hard work in, to build relationships with some of these people, in hope that we will find meaning in ourselves in and through that relationship. We hope that the recognition found there, the companionship, the bond that is formed will satisfy, will fill us. But each evening when we lay between the covers, we lay there alone in the dark, continuing to feel empty. We continue to find no satisfaction.
Each day we work, we struggle, we strive, we create things, we take them apart, we build fortunes, and houses, amass wealth and fill up all the spaces of our lives with these things, in an attempt to feel full, satisfied. But no matter how much we work, no matter how many things we build or tear down, no matter how much we own, no matter how full the spaces of our lives are with the work of our hands or the stuff we buy, we are never full, we are never satisfied. Our houses are filled with the things we cling to, that we stuff into the void we know so well. Our lives are full of the things we do, that we accumulate just as surely as anything else, in an attempt to find satisfaction in these things, hoping that eventually there will be enough. There is never enough and in so many ways, enough is never, and will never be enough.
It is into this void in our lives, in to the fullness of this emptiness that God speaks this morning, saying, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for which does not satisfy?” We will never be full with the things which we labor to fill our lives. We will never find the satisfaction we crave. We are indeed laboring for that which will never satisfy.
We are in the middle of what the consumer culture all around us calls “The Holiday Season.” A season that begins the day after Thanksgiving, on a day called Black Friday and ends with Christmas. This is the “most holy” of seasons, for this culture of want and need. They begin preparing for it as early as September. They begin to remind us that it is approaching as we near Halloween, and as Thanksgiving draws near, they begin to call us to their sacred halls of malls and stores, where we will purchase the offerings that are made through the practice of “gift giving.”
This practice of “gift giving” as a practice, in itself, is not a problem. What is the problem, is what the gods of our culture promise in this practice. They promise that we will find our satisfaction in the giving and receiving that surrounds this season. They promise that we can be filled with the joy of gift giving, with the pleasure of gift receiving, but what they are actually saying is that we can fill the void, we know so well, by buying, by purchasing, by spending our money on the things they have to offer. And this season, this “holiday season” is the climax of this consumer culture, it is the frenzied moment toward which its ecstatic experiences are moving all year long. They promise, fulfillment, satisfaction, joy even, knowing that come January 1st, we will once again wake up from our stupors finding our lives meaningless and empty once again. And they do this knowing, for the purpose of creating just this situation, so that we can begin the journey through our year searching for what is missing, seeking what we feel is loss. So that they encourage us to fill it with the things they have to offer, for the price they know we will pay.
God calls us to NOT spend our money or our labor on that which can never satisfy. Instead God offers to us, food that is good and richness that will satisfy. God shows up in the middle of this season and calls to us like a preacher on a soap box on the corner, like a vender at a carnival, like a counter cultural commercial, offering to fill us, to satisfy without money or cost, without labor or effort. God holds out a holy hand and says, “Here take it, eat it, it will do what you want it to do, take this it will fill you, it does satisfy.”
“No amount of work or effort, no amount of stuff or things, no food can fill you, nothing in this world can make you full, nothing can bring satisfaction. Stop trying; stop struggling; stop striving. Close your ears to the siren call that surrounds you, and listen, hear only what God has to say.” We long to be filled, because being filled is obtainable. We long for satisfaction because we can get satisfaction. We seek to find ourselves in relationships, because it is in relationship that we will find ourselves. But it is only in relationship with God. It is only in taking what God has to offer, eating the food of salvation and drinking the living water of sanctification that we will ever be satisfied.
The joy our world promises will not be found in anything this culture has to offer. No amount of work, no labor will be will hard enough or long enough. We can never be filled with anything that can be given or received. We will never be satisfied with anything we can make or break in this world. We will only ever be filled in covenant relationship with the one and only living God. We will only be satisfied when we turn to God with in our great need, with all our longing, in all our brokenness and allow God to make us whole, to fill us to over flowing. Only in God can we close our eyes at night, knowing the peace that we seek each day. True joy is not found in gift giving, or receiving. It is only in the fullness that is found in the Messiah for whom we wait during this season, we call Advent. Wholeness is only known in the baby, we will celebrate on Christmas Eve, in just one week's time. The joy we long for is only found in the one whom we praise when together next Sunday we will sing, “Joy to the world the Lord is come.”
And so we wait remembering that the Word of the Lord has come and is coming, and knowing that the Word, Jesus Christ will not go out from God without accomplishing his purpose, and that he will succeed in that for which he was sent. That we will not remain empty because Christ has come, is coming to fill us, to make us whole to set us free from our labors, to release us from the ternary of our consumer culture, which beacons to us, to spend our money on all it has to offer. God promises to give us relationship with God's-self through Jesus Christ without cost or labor, without money. It is free, it is ours if only we will reach out and take it, because it is only in THIS one relationship that we will ever be full, ever be satisfied, ever find the joy for which we so long.