He is dragging himself through the Market Place. He is weighed down by cares, by endless days of work, by the prices of the goods in the stalls and by this … most of all by this:by his inability to bring home to his family what he would dearly love to give them: tender cuts of meat, and exotic spices and yummy sweets.
His eyes scan mountains of goods, but his heart is in a valley of despair for none of this is for him or his family. He will make his way through the merchants and the aromas and the bright colors to the far end of the Market. There he will pick out a few drab potatoes, and there he will lift onto his back a sack of flour.
"Ho! Ho!" The bright cry rises above the commotion of the Market. "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters."
He turns. He scans the crowded, busy, humming Market Place, seeking to lay eyes on the one with the bright voice and the bright promise.
"Ho! You that have no money, come, buy and eat! Ho! Come…"
I know a guy. His name is Juan. Every day, day in and day out for twelve years he got up, showered, dressed, ate breakfast and went to work where he sold men's shoes. All day he'd fetch boxes of shoes, brown and black, in different sizes and styles. He'd kneel, open the box, lace one shoe, then the other. With a metal shoehorn he'd guide a strange, stockinged foot into the shoes: right foot, left foot. He'd encourage the customer to stand. He'd press the toe to check the fit. He'd invite the customer to walk around. Ask: how do they feel?
Every day, day in and day out for twelve years he got up, showered, dressed, ate breakfast and went to work where he sold shoes. He spent his life looking down … looking down at brown leather and black leather. Looking down at feet. At shoes.
But here's the thing. What he hated the most: Sundays. Juan worked six days a week selling shoes.
But he dreaded Sundays. He had nowhere to go. Nothing to do.
One day Juan was fitting one of his customers (burgundy loafers with tassels). While they were both looking down at the customer's feet, the customer told Juan that he was reading scripture at his church on Sunday. The customer told Juan that he was a little nervous and a little excited about reading this passage of scripture. He purchased the shoes - burgundy loafers with tassels - then left the store.
I first met Juan that very next Sunday. Lured by the promise of something to do - and perhaps curious about what caused his customer a combination of nervousness and excitement - Juan came to First Congregational Church in Boise, Idaho on a Sunday in April for the 10:00 am service.
I found Juan staring at one of the bulletin boards after worship. He was shy and awkward. Our conversation was stilted. As soon as he could, Juan slipped out and I expected never, ever to see him again.
He was back the next Sunday. Following worship I found him again stuck to the bulletin board, appearing to read every poster and announcement with studied interest. Our conversation was just as awkward, just stiff as the previous Sunday.
But Juan kept coming back. Slowly, ever so slowly, he came unglued from the bulletin boards and began to engage other worshippers in conversation. Some months later, he was invited to serve on the Building and Grounds Committee. He was the first to arrive for the Annual Spring cleaning; the first to arrive to prune hedges, rake leaves, shovel snow, plant bulbs.
Juan has now been a member of First Congregational Church in Boise, Idaho for about seventeen years. After serving a term on the Building and Grounds Committee, he served on the Outreach Committee, then on the Board of Deacons. Today he is the Moderator.
He has overcome his painful shyness. Weekends, Sundays, are the highlight of his life. He says he loves to hang around God. He loves worship and music and Bible study. He opens meetings with strong, tender prayers of his own creation.
Seventeen years ago, in a men's shoe store, a customer said to his salesman: "Ho! Come and see what feeds me … come, taste the waters of baptism. Come, eat the bread of our common table.
Come, to place where music washes over you and comforts you and gives you courage. Come to a place where prayers ascend to the heavens on the wings of our fluttering hearts. Come to a place where we break open ancient texts seeking the face of God. Come to a place where we tell the stories of Jesus to our children and to each other. Come to a place that causes me both nervousness and excitement."
"Ho! Juan, come to a place where, when the food is bitter… where, when there is an earthquake, a terror attack, illness, death … the community shares it together, so no one has to endure such bitterness alone."
"Ho! Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. Ho! You that have no money, come, buy and eat! Ho! Juan, you who thirst for God, come!"
Is this poetry from Isaiah about real food or is it about spiritual food? Yes!
At Old South Church we deal with real food all the time in lots of ways:
- We support the Alston-Brighton Food Pantry both through the offering from the Jazz Worship Service and with our rolling food drive (this month we are collecting oatmeal);
- We maintain a stock of Shaw's Food Cards for those who are desperate;
- With a combination of dollars and volunteers we support the feeding ministries of the Women's Lunch place, Rosie's Place, the Pine Street Inn and Sunday's Bread;
- Last summer we grew and harvested our Kitchen Church Yard Garden and gave away the produce;
- Congregational Care & Support maintains a stock of homemade foods in the refrigerator, ready to deliver at a moment's notice;
- We stock our Café and Fellowship Hour with foods;
- We are forever cooking and serving meals for which we do not charge.
It's about real food: we grow it, make it, buy it… serve it, harvest it, deliver it, give it away.
Ho! You that have no money, come to God's House and eat what is good…
Is this poetry from Isaiah about real food or is it really about spiritual food? Yes.
Perhaps twice a month I receive a call out of the blue about baptism. A young mother, someone who has never been here before, calls to ask, "How much is a baptism? What would it cost to have my baby baptized?" I tell her it's free … except, it isn't: it's costly … but not in the way she thinks. I say: Come. You who are thirsty, come to the waters, drink, taste and see for yourself.
Did you know that some people put a price on prayers? We have a Prayer Box in the back of the sanctuary and next to it, a pen and slips of paper onto which we invite visitors to write their prayers. Seven days a week we are open and free to the public. People from all over the world come in, write their prayers down and leave them in our keeping. Each week one of the clergy of this church empties the Prayer Box and prays the prayers. Every week we find money in the Prayer Box. Every week there are coins, sometimes dollar bills in the Prayer Box. In the past we locked the Prayer Box to protect the prayers but it kept getting broken into or stolen by people who knew there would be money there. We took the lock off. Take the money. Leave the prayers. We pray the prayers for free. But it's not truly free: the prayers we pray cost us … they cost the pray-er whatever it is the prayer bespeaks: pain, joy, gratitude, terror.
Did you know that people regularly come to the Front Desk asking, "Can I have a Bible?" Did you know we keep a stock of inexpensive, paperback Bibles just for the purpose of giving them away?
Did you know that it costs you nothing to enter this house and home of God? Did notice that a seat in the Sky Boxes is the same as those in the Orchestra Stalls? Nothing. Well, that's not true. Of course it costs! But it is not transactional. Not in the way the Market Place works. There is no price of admission. But if you come often enough, it will cost you your life.
Our God is not a transactional God. This is not a transactional place. The Christian life is not a transactional thing. We're terrible at math. Don't trust us with a cash register!
Throughout the Grand Canyon National Park - a typically southwestern arid climate - there are signs posted which read: "Stop! Drink water. You are thirsty, whether you know it or not."
The voice of the prophet Isaiah is the sign in the Grand Canyon straining to get our attention … reminding us that we are spiritual beings, thirsty for God … whether we know it or not. He is the hawker, the vendor, the bright voice rising above the commotion … inviting us to a life of rhythm and symmetry: of work and of Sabbath, of fasting in repentance and feasting on grace, of days marked both by lamentation and by doxology, by thanksgiving and intercession … days marked by the exertion and concentration of living in the presence of God.
"Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. Ho! You that have no money, come, buy and eat! Ho!"
It caught Juan's attention and peaked his imagination. He turned aside. He cocked his ear, listened. He then followed the voice. It led him to Church, which gave him Sundays, which introduced him to God, which trained him in the practices of Sabbath, prayer, praise, mercy, forgiveness, almsgiving, which slaked his thirst and gave him life.
What has it cost him? Nothing. Everything.