When I was in college, I spent a semester abroad in Costa Rica. I loved my time there; the beaches were pristine, the people were amazing and the land was a paradise. During my time there, I was often called “Colito” as an endearing nickname. They also called me “flacito” or “el alto” meaning the skinny or tall guy.
In Costa Rica and much of Latin America, there are not a lot of people who are 6’4”. As I walked through any crowds there, I typically got a good view of the top of their heads. And more than that, the Costa Ricans lived on a diet heavy in “gallo pinto,” which means rice and beans. This was served with breakfast, lunch and dinner. As you might imagine, “gallo pinto” with every meal adds up. There were not a lot of obese people, but there weren’t a lot of super skinny guys like me either.
So there I was for 4 months, taller than most, skinnier than most and whiter than most. I stuck out like a sore thumb.
While you live in a foreign country, you do your best to fit in. So I took the buses with the rest of them. I spoke in my smoothest Costa Rican accent. I ate their food for all three meals every day, the small pot-belly I grew while there was evidence of that. I even tried dancing like them… Lindsay had the black eyes from my elbows to prove that.
No matter how hard I tried to be one of the Costa Ricans just like the rest, I was still 6’4”, pretty white, lacking rhythm and still pretty skinny. Even in this different country after weeks of assimilation, I will always be a southern boy, born and bred in NC.
Trying to be something you aren’t is stressful. Trying to be a Costa Rican when I am better suited to the hills of Appalachia just won’t work. It was fun for a time, but after 4 months, I was ready to be home.
The Israelites are faced with a similar situation in Isaiah 55. They are in a foreign land and no matter how hard they try (and they did try), they just will never be Babylonians. They may be shorter or taller than their new neighbors, or perhaps they were skinnier or “healthier…”
Or I imagine the real difference in these two groups of people was that the Babylonians worshiped idols, images carved by their own hands. The Israelites were the chosen and covenant people of YHWH, the creator of all cosmos, the God who delivered them out of captivity, who walked the earth with their ancestors, Adam and Eve. The Israelites identity wasn’t wrapped up in anything physical, there’s was a heritage of covenant blessing and protection.
Anything short of this covenant relationship, this covenant living, would always fall short of the promised life they were promised.
But the Israelites had spent a generation in exile. They had become seduced by the Babylonian junk food, whatever their gallo pinto was. Their identity, what we may call our baptismal identity as covenant people, was being eroded by too many appetites that talk us out of our true selves.
It is easy to be lured into the trap of something sweet, something new, something easy when “we live on this side of the veil of heaven and can often see only pain and loss and want, we do not see all there is in creation.”¹
And so it is for us just as it was for the Israelites. There is a non-negotiable identity given to us in our baptism. It is who we are, no matter what. It is what God intends for us… “Creatures of well-being, citizens of gracefulness, members of the possible, children all beloved, safe, whole, free.”²
This poem from Isaiah 55 is an invitation, not a demand. We can get fat and fit in by eating the food of this world. We can fit right in, however that may look. Or, we can invite those around us through acts of love into this covenant with God that we know to be sweeter than anything temporary. We can choose to look beyond what is in front of us to what is within us. We can look below the surface of our pain and want and need and find that God has riches untold waiting for those who love fully.
So love. Love without compromise. Love by showing compassion, by showing grace, by living mercifully and caring for those who need help. Start with yourself if you need to. Then draw your circle a little wide, wider still.
And know that just as the rain and snow replenish the earth, so it is with God’s word. God is faithful. Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Grace & Peace, Pastor Cole
1. Thomas Blair, Feasting on the Word, “Isaiah 55:10-13, Pastoral Perspective,” (Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, KY, 2009).
2. Walter Brueggemann, The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann, Volume I, “Sabbaticals for Rats?,” (Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, KY, 2011), 131.