Let us pray: Lord God Almighty, be with us this morning as we hear your Word. Speak to us; show us what we need to hear. Bless our understanding; send us out from worship to do your will. In your name we pray, Amen.
Letting Go of Indulgence
“You deserve this!” I saw the slogan on a soda can this week. It’s good advertising, I suppose, cajoling people into having a drink because they’ve had a good day or a bad one, because they’ve done this or not done that, and so they deserve a soda as a reward or consolation. And don’t get me wrong, I’ve used the same logic, watching an episode of some show because I’m tired or because I had such a great day, using both as an excuse to do what I really just wanted to do anyway.
Maybe this advertising trick struck me so much because I don’t really drink soda. It’s easy enough, as someone on the outside, to remember that soda isn’t really that good for you. It’s sugary and full of chemicals and leaves a bit of an aftertaste. It can probably dissolve a tooth or a screw overnight. You can’t live off of it, and if you try you’ll be missing some vital nutrients. It’s not nearly as easy to see when I look to my own indulgences, to the TV shows that I go through, say, to remember that it depicts a carefully curated reality, that there are better ways to spend my time even if they don’t have the mindless ease of sitting and watching something. It doesn’t give me joy or satisfaction so much as an immediate nothing-feels-terrible-right-this-second feeling.
It can be hard to face what we’re feeling. It can be overwhelming to look at the reality of our lives. It can be terrifying to look to where God is calling us. Drowning it all out in junk food or sports or books or whatever else you use is so much easier. It’s so much more comfortable.
It’s utterly unsatisfying, of course. It doesn’t solve anything, and probably makes it worse. It doesn’t fill our souls or heal us or bring us closer to God.
As Isaiah wrote, speaking as the voice of God to the people of Israel: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” This is not a new problem, in other words; people throughout time have turned to everything but to dull the ache, to not feel for a bit. Since the beginning, people have turned to all the easy ways to feel better in the moment. But, as Isaiah continues, “Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.” Every thing that we turn to that is easy and available, chocolate or the internet or whatever else, all of it is empty. None of it can heal us or solve our problems. Instead, God invites us to return, to look to God for healing and forgiveness. God satisfies in a way that nothing else does.
In Isaiah’s time, food was a way to talk about the aches and losses of life; the people lived a life of farming, of worrying if there would be enough food to last until the next harvest and of often not having quite enough. A feast was an image of abundance, of joy and carefree enjoyment. Now, of course, most of us can go to just about any store and buy just about any food that we want. Food is not scarce, but other things are. We long for relationships, for trust, and for so much more. In Isaiah’s time, food was a good picture for the abundance of God’s love and care; now there are other images, but it does not change the fact that God offers us abundant love and care.
God is not an easy fix like everything else we turn to. God does not offer us or promise us a one and done deal, a quick fix and then back to how things were before. Instead, we get to face all of the things we wanted to avoid before, all the things we settled for not-satisfying-but-not-terrible in order to not face. God sends us to face our demons, to pull them up by their roots and send them running.
And then, when and as we’re being changed and freed and transformed by God’s love, God invites us to spread it around, to invite others to experience it too. We are told to bear fruit, to love those around us and search for God and face our own sins. Jesus reminds us that this isn’t optional, tells this parable of a fig tree that bears no fruit until the landowner wants to tear it down. The gardener asks for one more chance, for one last chance to help the tree bear fruit with fertilizer and special care, but still the reckoning is coming: the landowner will still cut the tree down if it doesn’t bear fruit after all that.
We must go out and bear fruit. We must go out and love one another, with our time and energy and talents and money, with our prayers and hugs and gift cards, letters to our senators and volunteer hours, with whatever we have. We must face our own demons, our own struggles.
There is no promise that a life of following God is easy. But it is satisfying and healing, filling and joyful like a feast and good like a beautiful day spent with our favorite people.
Forever and ever, Amen.