That Which is not Bread – Lectionary 08/02/2020

Isaiah 55:1-5

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? 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. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Sermon Text

There are only so many hours in the day, an obvious statement to begin our exploration of scripture with. We have 23.93 hours in each day, and most of us will spend at least a third of that asleep. The rest of the time will usually be consumed with another third going to work or activity around the house and then another third for us to spend how we like. Of course, in those subsections we begin to make more and more demarcations. There is time to cook and time to eat and time to walk between rooms and time to relieve ourselves and time to restart the coffee pot and time and time and time and time.

The moving hands of the clock are our friends that let us keep track of our life. They are also a constant source of concern for us. As Mitch Albom puts it, while, “A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays. [Humanity] alone measures time. And, because of this, [humanity] alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out.”[1] We know that we only have so much time on Earth, and even with eternity in front of us the pressure to use the time we are given to its utmost still is in our mind constantly, we always worry we may be misusing our time.

As we discussed a few weeks ago, a good use of time is not always the one that produces the most quantifiable results. Being the most effective person in our office can be good but can be debilitating if it is at the cost of our peace of mind or our relationships with our loved ones. The same goes for anything we pursue at length. Even work within churches can become destructive to us if we chase them without consideration of how it affects us and those around us holistically. We cannot declare Korban that which we do not own, that which we owe to our neighbors and loved ones cannot be sanctified to God apart from fulfilling our responsibilities that God has given us.

Beyond our obsessions with productivity is another thing, our obsessions with thing that fundamentally do us harm. For example, do you ever find yourself engaging in “Doomscrolling”? Doomscrolling is a tendency, usually seen on Twitter but possible anywhere we take in information.[2] It is what happens when we find ourselves flooding ourselves with bad news all at once. Those late-night news readings that show headline after headline of bad news, those long hours of evening news programs telling us what we should worry about today, the fixation on the brokenness and evil of the world.

Doomscrolling, like so many of the concerns that we have in life, is born out of a legitimate good. We need to stay informed about what is going on in the world, we need to get information and process what is going on and figure out what part we can play in remedying the evils present in the world. However, when we engage constantly or else all at once, then we risk being consumed by the happenings in the world. Our righteous indignation is only righteous if it affects change, not if it wraps us up in a cocoon of paralyzing rage. Our broken heartedness at the state of the world is only efficacious if it leads to change, not shuts us down in a sea of despair.

Following our trend from last week, we see that it is easy for us to twist the situations and the inclinations we have that can be used for good and turn them into something harmful. This is the kind of tendency that pushes us to seek out relief through confirmation, that makes us justify rather than interrogate our contribution to the world around us. When our habits do us harm, when we use our little bit of time to incapacitate ourselves and overwork ourselves, when our precious resource of time is squandered in a misguided attempt to steward it well…

The call of our Scripture today, “everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat,” is one that comes to us today as well. On one hand this proclamation is a literal one to those who first heard it. Having faced the Babylonian exile, having seen their cities destroyed and their farms turned into pseudo-fiefdoms, the people of Judah would need food and water. Thus, the proclamation promises them a restoration to a time before their scarcity, a time when they can keep the food the eat and use the water they pull from their own wells. However, as we follow through the passage we see a passage relevant to our limited resources of time, of money, of focus.

The proclamation ends with a series of questions, one that is particularly relevant is the question, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” The question, rhetorical in nature, is meant to be answered with a simple negation – there is no reason we should do this, there is no reason not to seek after sustenance and to pour our life into the unsatisfactory. We are compelled to invest all we have in truly sustaining activities – not simply to things that we have close at hand or that we have always done up to this point.

Now, satisfactory here does not mean, “pleasing,” it is not simply that we should do the things that make us feel good. Anyone who has worked in an office or any workplace will know that a great deal of what we do is not, “pleasing.” Yet, we can get something out of the work we do, not just money to sustain ourselves, but labor can be its own reward alongside the material reward we receive for it. Likewise, in our daily duties we can find fulfillment in those we work with, in being a good coworker or administrator, in striving in all things to do the utmost – not in terms of volume, but quality and sincerity of the things we do.

Beyond the labor we embark on, whether it be tending to our house or activity in our workplaces, we also have the time we do not spend at work that must be transformed into something sustaining to us. When we read the news or engage with people or in person – we must ask what those interactions are doing for us. Are we seeking out information to be informed and to engage and to produce positive action, or are we reading and engaging so we can feel our five minutes of rage or crestfallenness to feel that we have done our part in the day. I will raise the stakes for those who have social media and ask, are we responding to this post because we want to talk to someone on the site or because we have a zinger to really show either the poster or some third party how really wrong and stupid they are.

The time that we invest into the things around will inevitably shape us. In the same way that the food we eat affects our health, the work we do and the things we take in shape our personality. Are we engaging with things that produce the fruits of God’s spirit within us – peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control to name a few – or are we engaging with things that make us more vicious – vitriolic, impatient, curt, and impulsive? When we invest our time and energy as we presently do are we allowing ourselves rest and for our needs to be met, or simply trying to squeeze the most out of every minute as if that will add a few more minutes to the clock?

There are not many firm things that we could say about this kind of self-evaluation. Partly because different people engage with the world differently. It would be irresponsible to say, as some do, that we should just not engage with the news or with current events to promote peace of mind, because that simply turns us into out of touch and passive inhabitants of the world. Likewise, it would be wrong to say that we should give up our daily work of one kind or another because it is not immediately obvious how it contributes to our growth as persons.

When I was growing up I was part of a youth group that was adamant about us setting ourselves apart through our apparent holiness. We were not to listen to anything but Christian music, to seek out Christian alternatives to media whenever possible, and to generally surround ourselves with people who were like us – Christian in the ways we were Christian, and if they were unlike us our entire life was to be consumed in transforming them to be like us. How many here have ever been part of a CD burning? Who here was alive for the “Satanic Panic” of the 80s and 90s?

The problem with this metric of involvement, this ethic of selective intake of information is that on the surface it was being wise with our investment in time. However, it ultimately was a shift too far in another direction. Our faith was insular, we could not relate to those around us because we did not know the media they did or the worldviews they held. The best we could know was the parody of their life we were told daily, the selective telling of ideas outside our own and the vicious misrepresentations we held of people who were not very different from ourselves. 

 Fulfillment is founded in our pursuit of a Godly lifestyle, and that lifestyle breaks out in the mundane details of our daily life. Wherever we are we are able to shift focus, to alter our consumption, to engage with the world around us in a way that orients us toward God and what God’s kingdom would see us do. It is the sense to not take our work home every chance we get, and instead to invest in rest as communion with our loved ones. It is the sense to take in information about the world, not from highly charged partisan sources all at once, but from objective sources spread out across our day. It the use of resources around us, selective at times, but more often open and engaging, that allows us to know and react to the truth of the world around us.

Take a moment now and think of how you are planning on spending tomorrow. Some things we cannot do away with, but you can change how we are going to do them. When you’re starting your day where will your mind be? When we are checking the morning news or scrolling through your newsfeed how will we engage with it? When we are driving to work how are we going to treat the driver who cuts you off? When we go through each aspect of your day, we cannot always control what we are doing, but we can control the color of the action itself.

When the day comes to an end, will we let ourselves rest? Let ourselves take some time and read some scripture? Talk to our family, call up a friend, take some time and read up on that headline we saw earlier and see what brought someone to type those words into a word processor? We must learn to look at everything we do and ask, “Am I laboring for something satisfying? Am I approaching my actions and my work in a way that brings life?” If we are, then we are given the promise that God will be there to provide the sustenance from the work we have done. When we embark upon this thoughtful path, the time we spend, will not return to us empty.


[1] Mitch Albom. The Time Keeper. (New York, New York: Hachette Books. 2012)

[2] “On ‘Doomsurfing’ and ‘Doomscrolling.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Accessed: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/doomsurfing-doomscrolling-words-were-watching

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