“Empty Calories” Isaiah 55:1-9
– Only Jesus Satisfies! The word behind the word feeds our souls even as bread and water feed our bodies. So why do we go for the easy junk food that doesn’t build us up? Maybe no one told us how to be healthy. Christians need to have a steady diet of the Word.
I am excited about this sermon today because I get to talk about food. Who likes to eat food? Hey I know that we are all Presbyterians… and if Presbyterians are good at anything, we are good at putting on a meal. I know this because have heard glorious stories of old where we would host banquets that would draw out hundreds of people. So I know we like food.
And this morning I get to talk about my favorite kind of food… Food that is super high in calories. You see, high calorie food is the food that fills me up. For example, if I start to get a little hangry (That’s angry because I’m hungry) I will often hit up a local fast food joint to get some high calorie foods.
It makes sense, right. I’m hungry so I try to fill up. Or sometimes I’m feeling a little sad, so I want to get food that tastes great to make me happy!
But I have learned that having a full belly isn’t always what is good for me. I learned that I should only eat about 2500 calories worth of food per day! And in that 2,500 calories of food, I need to get all kinds of nutrients to be healthy. I need fiber, vitamins, protein, and other nutrients in order for my body to work its best.
According to the USDA, fats and sugars are not going to cut it. That makes me sad… So I looked up some of my favorite foods that I like to get around here to see how many calories they are. Let me share a few with you…
Dairy Queen Large Choc. Chip Cookie Dough Blizzard Calories: 1320
Dairy Queen Chicken Strip Basket (6 piece) Calories: 1270
Burger King TRIPLE WHOPPER Sandwich with Cheese Calories: 1230
Taco Bell Fiesta Taco Salad Calories: 840
Subway Double Meatball Marinara Calories: 860
I was sort of shocked. Especially by the Chicken Strip Basket, who knew? Well, a dietician knew. Someone smarter than me knows which foods I should eat. In my quest to fill my belly, I 9 times out of 10 will choose food with empty calories. That means they have lots of fats and sugars, but not many actual nutrients. It would be much better for me to eat foods that a dietician selects for me personally to eat. Then, I would be much healthier, and maybe not as full in my belly, but more fulfilled in my life.
A generic diet might be better for me than my own choices, but it might not actually give me what I need to be my best. And deep down, that is what I want, to be my best.
In our scripture today, God makes a parallel between food choices and life choices. God wants to give us our personalized life diet, because God knows best, and loves us. Most people I know what to live their best life. This is a question that is on lots of people’s minds these days. I often hear people ask… how can I have my best life? How can I be the most genuine? How can I be the most fulfilled? How can I live a life that will please God?
Isaiah the prophet has a word on that subject this morning. Isaiah uses the familiar idea of working to get enough good food to eat to teach us a lesson about our lives. This happens all the time in the Bible. Way back in Deuteronomy chapter 8, “man shall not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” God often uses the things we must consume to teach us about life. In John 7, Jesus says “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
Isaiah tells us to listen to the Lord, who promises us all these things. Isaiah wrote, “Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.”
The Lord is the source of true nourishment in our life. The way we can be the healthiest, and get what we really need in life, is to listen to God’s calling on our life. God knows what things we need to do to live life to the fullest. If we seek what we think will make us happy, and fulfill us in life, we might end up wasting our time with activity that fills up our time but does not give us the spiritual nutrients to be healthy. If we try to rely on our own best judgement, or a generic life plan, we may end up choosing “empty calories.”
Isaiah’s words, we are, “spending money on what is not bread, and laboring for what does not satisfy.” Isaiah is telling is instead of trying to make our own prosperous lives, we should, “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”
I know this sounds strange, but God is trying to tell us not to try to fulfill ourselves by our own understanding, but rather, to let God tell us what to do. Because the spiritual food that God wants to give us is free, and it is packed with nutrition.
To really understand the message, we need a little backstory for our scripture passage. Originally, Isaiah was preaching to Israelites in exile in Babylon. God, through Isaiah is trying to explain to the Exiles that real fulfillment will come by returning to Israel, and restoring worship of the one true God in Jerusalem. You see, The Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, and carried many away into exile in Babylon. But when the Persians bet the Babylonians, the Persians allowed the Israelites to return home. However, there was some reluctance to go back. You see, the Israelites in Babylon had tasted the good life. Babylon was a bustling metropolis. Abundant water, Jobs, trade, money. A good school system. Why should they return to the rocky desert of Jerusalem? Jerusalem was in decline and obscure. It would be like leaving a good life in Los Angeles or New York to move back to Turtle Creek. It would seem like a bad lifestyle decision. That is why the passage ends by God speaking these words through Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” God is reminding the Exiles, and also us, that God knows the best lifestyle decisions, we don’t.
The comfortable lives that the Exiles were building for themselves in Babylon were actually full of “empty calories.” The calories were empty because at that time, they could not live the way God wanted them to live without returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple. Sure, they had Synagogues in Babylon, but that was not where God wanted them to worship.
Isaiah is calling them back to Jerusalem, back to the Lord their God, back to righteousness. Isaiah knows that apart from God’s plans, the comfortable lives the Exiles have built pretty empty. Isaiah is telling them not to settle for what is not bread and ultimately will not satisfy. Don’t stay as a second class people in Babylon, return to Jerusalem and work toward the ultimate blessed life, being involved in the plan that leads up to Jesus Christ. God knew the plan, the exiles did not get it fully.
Working hard to build up a nest egg for retirement, and to be active in our local congregation, seems like exactly what God wants us to do. Right? If you give to the church and the poor, pray, worship God together, and serve others in Jesus name, that is a good Christian life, right? Certainly it is fulfilling. But if we don’t listen to God’s specific plan for us, it would be like eating three meals a day at Dairy Queen. We would be full of empty calories! Our time and lives would be full, but there might be little spiritual nutrition to keep us healthy and blessed. Remember, our Spiritual health with stay with us for all eternity!
God wants us to be totally healthy, body, mind, soul, and spirit. So God wants us to follow Him! The good news for us is that unlike the Jewish Exiles, we don’t necessarily need to move to Jerusalem! Jesus made it possible for us to live a Godly life wherever we are, and wherever we go.
To get our personalized spiritual diet, so we can avoid empty calories and make good life choices is free. All we need to do is ask God, “Lord, what is the specific plan you have for my life?” And then, as Isaiah is begging the exiles to do, we must listen to God and obey God’s commands.
I believe that God has a plan for each and every person. It’s a best practice plan for us to maximize our spiritual health, and our blessings in eternity. We are all unique, and have a unique role to play. We can choose to listen, or not. But we might miss out on health and blessing.
For example, Pittsburgh is cold. It makes sense to retire somewhere warm, like Florida. There are churches in Florida. And many people to serve and evangelize there too. But what if God wants you to stay where you are? What if there is some plan? I’m not saying that God doesn’t want people to retire to Florida, I’m simply saying that God wants us to listen, and follow the plan that God gives each one of us.
I’m going to give you a catchy way that you can practice this process of finding out what God wants you to do with your life. A way to find out God’s spiritual food plan personalized for you.
All you have to do is Ask, Listen, and Act. That’s it Ask, Listen, and Act. The ask part is easy. Just pray to God, “God, what do you want me to do with my life right now?” I recommend praying this at least daily. That way it becomes integrated into your thoughts.
The second step is Listen. Listen for God to speak an answer to you. I have talked about listening in sermons over the past few weeks. To listen to God, read the scriptures daily, worship God regularly, and study and speak with other Christians about what you think God may be saying to you.
The third step is Act. This is where most people I know falter. How can we be 100% sure we are hearing God’s perfect plan for our lives? Short of a burning bush speaking to us, we can’t. We have to do our best to listen and then, when we think we have an answer, and other believers in Christ agree, we need to act on it.
I was sure that my wife and I were called to be life-long missionaries in a different country. But, after spending a few years in New Orleans, we heard God calling us to congregational ministry here in the U.S. Then I thought God was calling me to be a military Chaplain… and the list goes on and here I am. Testing what we hear from God requires faithful action. If we are off base, God will correct our course… if we continue to listen.
So you see that Ask, Listen, Act is an ongoing process that repeats over and over throughout our lives. Much like our nutrition needs change over time, so may our spiritual needs. God may call us to somewhere God needs us.
God may be calling you to something that will bless you beyond all you could ever imagine. Maybe you will be ministering to the poor. Maybe God wants you to make blankets for those who are in hospitals in need. Maybe God wants you to preach the gospel to the world.
Everyone’s call is unique. As we prepare for Easter this year, I challenge you to see what God is telling you to do. Just going through the motions of life may not be healthy.
Just like God was telling the exiled Israelites to return to Jerusalem, rebuild the temple, and worship me as you await Jesus, the Messiah, God is telling you something too. And all the good things you can fill your life up with may be nothing more than empty calories if they are not what God knows is nutritious for you.
After all, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.” Amen.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” – Psalm 34:8