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Tasting the Goodness of God

Isaiah 55:1-5 (Ps 34:8)
Lent 4 Common Lectionary Year C 
©2016 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

Isaiah – or more particularly the second writer
to bear that name, had a really hard job.
Being God’s prophet, God’s poet, mouthpiece
when God’s people are refugees,
unwanted foreigners displaced by conquest,
pawns on the 6th century geopolitical chessboard,
is a thankless task.
Imagine!
You’re told by God to go stand
in the middle of the workers’ camp,
to shout through the barbed wire
with this message:
“Behold! God says, ‘I’m doing a new thing!’”
“Shout for joy, O earth, burst into song, O mountains,
for the Holy One comforts his people!”
“I will restore the land, and say to the captives, be free!”
“Come you who have no money,
come taste the goodness of God.”

If stale eggs and rotten tomatoes were not needed
to feed hungry childrenI dare say Ike 2 would have had more than a few
thrown in his face!

And yet…. the words of Second Isaiah,
this poet of exile,
were the most popular in Judaism
in every period of forced diaspora,
right up to the present day.
Among Christians, we often call Isaiah’s poetic visions
of a return home, of God’s anointed ushering in a new commonwealth of justice and mercy,as the Fifth Gospel.

What is it that makes this audacity of hope,
the picture of the thirsty quenched,
the hungry poor fed like royalty
so compelling, particularly, ironically,
in times of trouble?
in the Lenten wilderness of long-endured suffering?

You have only to hear the speeches of
Martin Luther King [1]
in the height of the Civil Rights movement,
to know that the cadences of Second Isaiah [2]
which so inflected his speeches,
can indeed forge fidelity to a vision
of God’s future for the world
despite the most dire or intractable of circumstances.

“Come, all who are thirsty, come to the waters and drink,Come,
“Today, I am coming to feast with you!”

Part of Isaiah’s poetic gift is his ability
to make his words so sensual.
It took me working on children’s curriculum
for Lent this year,
and on today’s opening prayer, to realize this.
Of our senses, taste is perhaps the most sensual, the most incarnational.
With sight, touch, and hearing, we can remain observers of something outside ourselves:
mountains clapping hands, waters in the desert,
but with taste, we’re involved! we take food into ourselves,
it becomes intimately part of us.
It’s wild, strange, almost threateningly so,
to realize that Isaiah’s poetry begs us to taste God,
to experience so viscerally, the closeness of God, on our tongue, to let God in…..

to experience God’s healing, loving,
joyful goodness as
the satisfying numbness down our throat of a gelato on a hot day,
to experience God’s gentle strength as the warm glow in the mouth and the chest of a full-bodied cabernet,
to be startled by the complex bitter-sweetness of good chocolate.
(Those are first world metaphors!)
For Isaiah’s refugee people, it was far more basic,
more fundamental, vital even.
Closing their dust-clouded eyes for a moment,
to let his words roll onto their tongue,
like the taste of cold, fresh, clean water,
to taste God’s providence as the supple crumb of bread between the teeth,
its fullness assuaging the achingly empty belly,
God’s comfort like the waxen softness of milk,
God’s delight like the nose-tingling sweetness of honey.

Oh, he was good, this poet of God!
He knew how to bring God home
into the body of God’s people!
Who needed a temple in a far off land,
when God is as close, as real,
as salt from your tears on your lip?
as bread, moistened with wine,
blessed with an Amen, touches your tongue?

Come, thirsty,
Come, hungry.
God is this close.

 

[1] Martin Luther King’s Biblical Epic: His Final, Great Speech, Keith D. Miller
[2] Keith Miller, “Second Isaiah Lands in Washington, DC: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” as Biblical Narrative and Biblical Hermeneutic.” in Rhetoric Review Vol. 26, No. 4, 405–24, 2007. http://www2.latech.edu/~bmagee/212/!internet_course/article_analysis_winter_2010/Amos_Article_Martin%20Luther%20King,%20Jr..pdf

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