Seek True Satisfaction
August 28, 2011
Grace and peace to you, in the name of God the Father, Son (X) and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Isaiah 55:2 raises the huge issue of personal gratification and individual satisfaction. And it does so by telling us that the way we’re going about trying to be satisfied is all wrong. And because this matters so much to us, we want to know more from Isaiah.
Isaiah 55:2 tells not to labor for that which doesn’t satisfy. But we do it all the time anyway – not heeding this holy, divine word of wisdom. That famous rock-n-roll band, The Rolling Stones (est. 1962) famously sang about getting satisfaction in their 1965 hit recording – but there it was mostly construed in erotic terms [contra Keith Richards, Life (2010) p. 180]. But that’s the way we usually look for it – in sensual and materialistic ways.
Very often this includes drugs – all the way from benign alcohol, as most of us think of it, to opium, cocaine and heroin. Andrew T. Weil has outlined the prevalence of this search for satisfaction throughout the generations and in every place on earth, in his best-selling book, The Natural Mind (1972, 1986, 1998, 2004). He even notes in his book how little kids naturally long for this mood-alteration when they whirl around to get dizzy – altering their consciousness in ways that are funny and pleasing to them.
But for Christians this is only laboring for that which does not satisfy – something even Jesus joined Isaiah of old in warning us against (John 6:27)! Now it is true that all of these efforts may give us some momentary relief and benefit – but nothing that can carry and sustain you throughout all of your days, whatever may befall you. And so we pray instead that we might “share in the joys that are eternal” [Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) p. 21]! That eternality is missing from all of these alternative routes to satisfaction – which Luther derisively called salvation of the flesh:
Since the Word of Christ is the Word of salvation and peace, the Word of life and grace, and since it works not in the flesh but in the spirit, it must suppress and cast out the salvation, peace, life, and grace of the flesh. When it does this, it appears to the flesh harder and more cruel than iron itself. For whenever a carnal man is touched in a wholesome way by the Word of God, one thing is felt, but another actually happens (Luther’s Works 14:335).
The fundamental reason why this shift away from these fleshly modes of satisfaction is so painful is because we cling so tightly to them when God is faithfully working to free of from them – to draw us kicking and screaming to himself (John 6:44; Acts 14:22, 26:14; Philippians 2:12; 1 Timothy 6:12).
You are great, Lord, and…. you stir man to take pleasure in praising you…, and [so] our heart is restless until it rests in you [inquietum est cor nostrum, donec requiescat in te] [trans. Henry Chadwick, 1998].
This restlessness is not abated by way of vacations, exercise or exquisite restaurant parties. Neither will education, wealth or social and political power bring it about. And neither will the joys of the family – as Janet Fishburn has trenchantly pointed out (Confronting the Idolatry of Family, 1991)! For
there is nothing substantial in the… silly delight that people take in beautiful clothes, in the accumulation of money [and] pleasure…; for this delight endures but a moment and leaves the heart uncertain, disquieted, and apprehensive…. Even though people do not feel this now in the mad whirl of worldly pleasures, unrest begins when the last hour comes (LW 24:178).
So our peace, such as the world cannot give (John 14:27), is through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord – which brings “a good, fine, and peaceful heart,…. even though… all the world [is] set… against [us] with [its] strife and… adversity (LW 24:178, 182)!
Seeking God’s Kingdom
So do not labor for that which perishes, but “delight yourselves in rich food,” Isaiah 55:2 goes on to say. On this Luther says that we should therefore do “away with our blindness, which spurns [these] most attractive things [and] die of starvation” to those things which blind us, for they “leave our souls hungry and faint.” With these “highly forceful and dramatic words,” he goes on to say, “the prophet [Isaiah] is calling us away from our own righteousness… to the free righteousness of God” (LW 17:251-252).
In the New Testament
Jesus says the same when, in his famous Sermon on the Mount, he tells us
to “seek first the
this involves growing and being strengthened at heart through preaching, listening, reading, singing, meditating, and every other possible way. And it involves blossoming out in fruits, to advance it and to lead many other people to it (LW 21:204).
All of these are the works of faith (LW 25:234). And since we never do any of them perfectly and constantly (Philippians 3:12), Luther insists that we must be ever “continually progressing” toward the fulfilling of these works as we should. For
our condition in the
Because of this mixture – being completely pure
and sinful at the same time,
simul iustus et peccator (LW
26:232) – we cannot seek the
Conquering in Christ
But this sinful mixture doesn’t damn us to hell! The fact that we’ve wandered and fallen (Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3:20) doesn’t mean we’re lost forever. For through faith in Christ, “we are more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37). Christ enters our world “in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin… that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled” (Romans 8:3-4). No one else has made this sacrifice for us to God (Ephesians 5:2; 1 John 2:2)! But that’s not how we are more than conquerors, as Luther explains [Sermons of Martin Luther, ed. J. Lenker, 7:165]:
With the priesthood of Christ is true spiritual… sanctification… [His] blood has obtained for us pardon forever acceptable to God. God will forgive our sins for the sake of that blood so long as its power shall last and its intercession for grace in our behalf, which is forever. Therefore, we are forever holy… before God.
The fact that Christ’s blood-sacrifice lasts forever, makes us more than conquerors. No, we don’t prevail until we fail. No, his sacrifice instead lasts forever! So this massive victory doesn’t depend on us – Alleluia! If it did, then Jesus wouldn’t be our decisive savior and mediator, as he surely is (1 Timothy 1:5; LW 26:325)!
So hear this word of victory and salvation today, and believe in Jesus (John 14:1)! Then come and receive him in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 10:16). For by doing so, Christ will dwell in you more richly (John 6:56) – strengthening you through the assurance of the forgiveness of sins.
Healing the Sick
And then do good works in his name, in thanksgiving to God for your salvation (Ephesians 2:10). Let us then this day follow Christ’s example of healing the sick (Matthew 14:14). Let us work toward the healing of the sick – for this is a Christlike deed!
Even though we pray for the sick (James 5:14), God’s people also have always used medicines – like the “cedarwood and scarlet stuff and hyssop” for leprosy and the mud for blindness (Leviticus 14:4; John 9:6). And today we have dazzling microsurgical techniques and miraculous antibiotics for fighting infections (Eugene & Alex Straus, Medical Marvels, 2006; Roy Porter, The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity, 1997)!
So pursue the medical sciences, if you can – becoming doctors, nurses and hospital administrators. They are worthy vocations – going back to Christ himself, who is our great physician. And if not that, then at least pray for all who do this noble work. Also, pray for the furtherance and strengthening of the alliance between the church and hospitals in this common task of healing the sick (contra Richard P. Sloan, Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine, 2006). Do so knowing that in this alliance you’ll also be strengthening the search for true satisfaction. Amen.
(printed as preached but with some changes)