Isaiah’s question, “Why spend money for what isn’t food, and your earnings for what doesn’t satisfy?” has preoccupied me for the last three years. (As such, my commentary focuses on 55:1-3a). Most of us spend a whole lot of time shopping for food, preparing food, eating food, cleaning up food, but it’s rarely the subject of a sermon. This week, I hope you take the opportunity to preach about food, not abstractly, but regular food, the stuff we put into our bodies daily.
Scholars disagree on where to place Isaiah 55, whether it serves as the closing speech of Second Isaiah or the opening of Third Isaiah. Walter Brueggemann and others persuade me that the passage is an invitation to a feast, a party, homecoming dinner, celebrating the end of the exile. Regardless of where the feast happens and when exactly it is, the invitation stands in stark contrast to the feasts of Babylon, where food, milk, and wine are readily available if you can pay. I recommend the preacher make the exegetical choice about where to place the reading—in Babylon or back home—and work from that point.
Isaiah’s dinner invitation reads—All of you, who are thirsty, come! All of you without money, come, buy food and eat! I don’t care what you’ve heard about never showing up empty handed—this isn’t that kind of dinner. Who cares that your bank account is in the red—just come! All you need to attend this dinner are hunger and thirst.
This is a dangerous invitation, not for Israel, but for Babylon, the empire that holds (or held) them captive. This invite indicts Babylon for their foolishness. “Why do you spend money for what isn’t food and your labor for what doesn’t satisfy?” The preacher can imagine what Babylon might have spent on and what the empire where you find yourself spends on other than food. Perhaps Babylon spent on the best military technology, on building a bigger and more attractive palace, on fine clothes and status symbols, but for what? Are these the lengths they will go to show that that they don’t depend on YHWH for food and water? They’ll stop at nothing, even destroy the earth, to keep from noticing their fragility.
Isaiah’s question, “Why do you spend money for what isn’t food and your earnings for what doesn’t satisfy?” presses the preacher to speak against consumerism. In many church contexts, individuals and entire communities are so captive to consumerism, they can’t even identify or name the consumerism as sinful. They don’t even see it—it’s just the way it is.
But preaching about consumerism is not enough this week, because this is a dinner invitation, so it has to be about food also. Many conversations about food, food justice, eating ethically, locally, or organically go something like this: “I would love to buy better food, but it’s just too expensive.” Except why do you spend money for what isn’t food? Spending more money on food and less money on other goods (i.e. clothes, electronics, or whatever is newer, bigger, better), weaves the anti-consumerism thread with the food thread.
The sermon could head in a number of directions as you talk about food, since the issues surrounding good food are enormously complex. Below are four statements about eating good food that you could engage more deeply in your sermon. Choosing one will allow you to engage the issue more deeply than a surface treatment of all of them, even though there is overlap with each one.
1. Food is good when it’s grown near where you live. In the US and Canada, food travels an average of 1,500 miles from the farm or factory to your home. Almost one-third of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are directly linked back to our food—the distance food travels, refrigeration, production, and packaging.
2. Food is good when it’s good for your body. According to the World Heath Organization, heart disease was the biggest killer worldwide in 2016, a disease that is directly be linked back to our food.
3. Food is good when the bodies of the people who plant, harvest, process, package, sort, ship, and sell the food are treated with dignity. This is especially convicting when you can make it highly local to your community and region. For example, when discussing this topic where I pastor, I watched a documentary about the treatment of migrant workers in sweet potatoes fields in North Carolina. Who is working with food in your region? Is there a chicken processing plant? Are people picking berries? Are they being exposed to pesticides? How much are they being paid?
4. Food is good when we share it. From access to food or hunger in your community, to sharing meals together in homes to foster friendship, the preacher could engage this insight from multiple angles. The Eucharistic overlaps are especially poignant with this statement.
Isaiah’s dinner invitation closes with a plea: Listen carefully to me and eat what is good; enjoy the richest of feasts. Listen and come to me; listen and you will live. Eating good food is not just another issue, it’s a matter of life and death—for our bodies, for the bodies of the people who produce and process our food, and for the planet we share.
 “The Top 10 Causes of Death.” World Health Organization. Accessed January 31, 2019. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death.