Without money and without price
Sermon preached at Morning Prayer, 9.00am
by the Very Revd Andrew C. Pearson, Jr.
Pentecost VIII, 2014
Cathedral Church of the Advent
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
The prophet and evangelist Isaiah cries out to us,
Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.1
I DON’T think it’s too far fetched to say that we live in a really thirsty world. No thirstier than any previous generation that has gone on before us, but there are more distractions, more attempts at satisfying the great thirst that we have in our own lives, [more] ways in which we go about forming and knowing that deep down inside that we have acceptance, validation, justification, meaning, not just in our relationship with God, but in life itself – although the root of our thirst has everything to do with our relationship to God.
I doubt very many of us here this morning have ever been close to dying of thirst. I’m sure that we have found ourselves thirsty at times: after a long day working in the yard, or athletic activity, or whatever it might be. And so I sought out to find, What would it really be like to be on the verge of death due to dehydration? And the best article that I read came from the Natural History Magazine in December of 1956, and it was written by William Allen of the Explorers’ Club in New York, and this is what he wrote:
He said, very few people who are lost and afloat at sea or are stranded on a desert island actually die of thirst. They die from drinking too much salt water.2 So desperate is our need to quench our physical thirst that we will drink anything, even if we know that it might actually cause our own demise, our own death.
One doctor described to me that to die of thirst is like being burned from the inside out. We will stop at nothing to quench it.
So how do we try to quench life’s thirst, which we’ve all experienced on the verge of dehydration? Through our striving. Through our accomplishments. Through money. Through power. Through relationships.
I was reminded of my own attempt to satisfy the thirst of my life just this last Friday where I stood: behind the golf shop with a friend, about to play golf. And a man — about 60 years old — came up to me, and he said, “Hi, would you mind going ahead and throwing my golf bag on the back of a golf cart for me?”
Now, I know I look young. I use a daily moisturizer. But my immediate response to him was, “If I worked here, I would be more than happy to put the golf bag on the golf cart for you.” And as he looked at me, dumbfounded and with some sheepishness, I stuck out my hand and introduced myself. At which point, he quietly turned and headed toward the putting green.
It ruined my day, because from that moment on, all I could think about was, “Andrew, you are a grade-A jerk.”
Because what was I really saying? Do you KNOW who I am? I’m not some bag boy! When the thing to do should have been what? Simply put the man’s golf bag on the back of the golf cart. I probably would have gotten a tip!
And yet, my immediate response was to try to help him understand who I was instead of humbling myself — not by much — and simply placing the man’s golf bag on the back of the golf cart without feeling the need to let him know Who. I. Am.
I’m all about merit. One of the most convicting parts of our Communion liturgy is when we pray that God would not weigh our merits but would pardon our offenses. I love merit awards. I love them! They’re ways in which I can tell myself and tell the rest of the world Look at what I have accomplished. And yet no matter how many awards I get, I’m still thirsty.
And you know what? After I told that man I’d be happy to do it if I worked here, I was even thirstier that when I had awoken that morning.
Spurgeon was right when he said, “The day which saw Adam driven out of Paradise blotted the words ‘human merit’ out of the dictionary of truth.”3 We know it’s true, because we see it. We experience its truth every day of our lives. We are still so thirsty.
Yet Isaiah tells us to come and buy: those who thirst, drink. Eat. And come without money and without price.
For someone like me, who wants to bring a whole lot of merit to the table, that is a hard word. Because I take great pride in my self-righteousness. I love people to see my deeds before me. But Isaiah pulls the carpet out from underneath of all of it.
I wish I knew how to put this truth of God into such words that everybody could understand me and that nobody could misunderstand me: Whenever someone is saved they are saved because God freely saves them, not because there was anything in them to deserve salvation, or any particular fitness in them why God should deliver them and not another.
I often wonder, Why am I a Christian and not my neighbor? Why am I a Christian and not my friend? Not my classmate. Not my roommate. Am I smarter? More worthy of God’s attention? More gifted? Maybe just the lesser of two evils?
The gifts of God’s grace are absolutely free in the most unrestricted sense of the term. Nothing good whatsoever is brought by us or is expected from us by way of receiving God’s mercy. Everything is given free and is received by us without money and without price.
In spite of the fact that it is spelled out in the plainest of terms, there are those who hear and cannot believe it, including me.
For years, many hear the Gospel plainly preached, and yet until God the Holy Spirit enlightened them, they did not really understand what was meant by simple faith in Jesus and could not bring themselves to the idea that, then and there, just as they were, they had but to accept the salvation of God, and it would be their own. They were unable to believe that so simple a matter could be the Gospel. They looked for mystery, difficulty, and complex preparation. They understood the words but missed the central sense. The grace and the freeness of the Gospel surpassed their thoughts.
It’s not an unusual thing to find even the children of the most godly and Christian of parents, who have heard the Gospel from their earliest days, still ignorant of the way of salvation, having failed to learn this simple truth of God: that salvation is a free gift and can only be received as such.
Why is it that we don’t see it? And why is it that when we are able to see it that we are so surprised by it?
Because God is not like us.
He doesn’t look at the confused and lost man and say, “I’d be happy to do it if I worked here.” And it may be that you’re not the person who thinks that they bring merit to the table, that they come with pockets lined full of righteous deeds, like me. You may be the person who sees himself as poor and unfortunate, and they bring nothing to the table. Even if the price was set low, in your heart you’d think, But do you know what I’ve done? What I am capable of? Where I have been? I could meet any price!
But God is not like us. He doesn’t judge based on merit, but sets before us a banquet of salvation, and he says, “Without money and without price, come.” Nothing you have done, are doing, or will do will ever earn you the favor of God, nor can it ever separate you from the love of God. You are forever in the strong grip of his grace and mercy, and no power on earth, in heaven, or in hell can ever pry you out. You can’t even get yourself out.
God comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ like a poor peddler in the street with a water cart, crying out, “Ho! and come.” The Hebrew word ho, hoy, is a cry of desperation, of pity. Listen, you who are looking to assuage your thirst — everybody — but where it will be satisfied. Come! Everyone who drinks of that water that you’ve been searching after will be thirsty again, “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”4
Come! An invitation “unto me, all ye that are heavy-laden and travail, and I will refresh you.”5 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.”6 Come, and enjoy what has already been done for you: this banquet of honey and milk and fatted things and wine and water. It has already been set and laid from the foundations of the earth.
My grandfather — full of very helpful things — would remind me as a child that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. He was right. It may be free to you and me, but it costs somebody something.
It is free, and we come without money and without price because it’s already been bought for us — through the death of Jesus Christ upon the cross, who looked down and saw those of us who thought of ourselves as spiritually wealthy and those of us who see ourselves in spiritual poverty, and he says IT IS FINISHED.
Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
1. Isaiah 55:1
2. William H. Allen, “Thirst: Can shipwrecked men survive if they drink sea water?,” Natural History Magazine, December 1956, accessed September 3, 2014, http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/picks-from-the-past/181950/thirst.
3. A Sermon Delivered on Lord’s-Day Morning, March 8, 1874, by C. H. Spurgeon, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
4. John 4:14
5. Matthew 11:28
6. Matthew 5:6