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Fresh From the Spring

13 Jul

106_0386(a sermon for July 13, 2014, the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Isaiah 55:1-13 and John 7:37-39)

Not long ago I read a wonderful story online from another minister about a children’s sermon she had recently done during worship.  As you know from our worship here, part of the process of the children’s message usually involves a bit of interaction: you ask the kids some questions; you find out maybe what they’re thinking about; all in the hope that you’ll then be able to get into whatever the lesson for the morning happens to be!  Well, such was the case in this pastor’s church, where the lesson for that day was about Christian hospitality; and the question she asked was this: “What is the first thing your parents say when someone comes to visit?”

Now, here’s a little insider information; when we ministers ask questions like that, we’re actually kind of hoping and expecting those kids to answer certain ways, like “they say, ‘hello, come on in, have a seat,’ or ‘aren’t you going to stay for supper;’” that sort of thing. But this time, it was not to be.  For when the pastor asked, “What’s the first thing your parents say when someone comes to visit,” immediately a little hand shoots up, and a young boy answers – and quite loudly – “My Mom and Dad say, ‘Can I fix you a drink?’

And that, dear friends, is the joy… and the danger (!) of a children’s sermon!

Actually, that little boy was on to something there; in fact, he’d unknowingly lifted up a deeply rooted biblical tradition, in which one always offers a visitor, be the visitor a friend or a stranger, hospitality in the form of a drink of water, food and even a place to rest for the night.  You see this all through scripture, particularly in the Old Testament; it’s an expression of welcome central to Jewish life and culture, and it was considered a sacred obligation and an act of faith.  It’s a tradition of hospitality that’s still held today; granted, it’s not always for spiritual reasons but, yes, it remains as a way of expressing friendship and affection and welcome.  And although I suspect that in his children’s sermon revelation, that little boy wasn’t referring to his parents offering up a cup of cold water, nonetheless it’s a drink that so often serves as a primary means of showing care and kindness!

I mean, is there anything better than when you’ve been outside on one of these hot, humid afternoons – mowing the lawn, doing the garden, whatever – to have someone bring you an ice-cold bottle of water?  To say that it’s cool and refreshing is to put it mildly; and the fact that someone brought it to you as a gift; well, that’s even better!  But this is more than just a friendly gesture:  ultimately the purpose of water is that it quenches thirst; it hydrates and renews the body; and it restores energy for the work that’s ahead.  What’s interesting to me is that if go to any convenience store today, you’ll find all manner of “energy drinks,” and most of them are chock full of electrolytes and vitamins, and mega doses of caffeine and sugar; but ultimately, it’s not all those additives that make the difference – actually, all that extra stuff can be counterproductive if not harmful!  In the end, it’s the water that does the job; it’s water that provides true refreshment; it’s water that gives us life.

And that makes sense, because after all, because whether we are talking about the body or the soul, water is life.

I say this this morning because in both of our readings today, water actually stands as the prominent symbol of true spiritual life.  It is no coincidence that when the prophet Isaiah was seeking to bring Israel to a renewal of their covenant with God, he begins with what might be called “a call to the thirsty:”  “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.”  I love that, if for no other reason than its utter enthusiasm; in fact, some bibles translate that as “Hey there! All those who are thirsty, come!”  In other words, the refreshment you need?  The life that you’ve been longing for?  It’s right here; and all you have to do is to “come to the waters” and get it!

The people of Israel, having dwelt in a desert land covered with mountains and valleys, where water was not easily accessible, and where cities could rise and fall on the basis of its availability, understood the power and importance of such a thing.  They knew that to be without cold, clear water was to feel that unquenchable thirst and to live in helpless desperation; and truly, that to live without God was no different.  In fact, you’ll find that in many places throughout the Old Testament, thirst itself becomes a metaphor for a broken relationship with God; a reminder to Israel of the many ways they’d broken covenant, all the times they’d hardened their hearts and in disobedience, turned away from the Lord.

Actually, I’m wondering just how many of us here this morning can relate to that; how many of us might just know a little bit about that unquenchable thirst and that feeling of helpless desperation; when life becomes for us a dry and thirsty land, a place where hope cannot be found and love seems like nothing more than a distant dream.  How many of us have felt that profound emptiness in our hearts;  a parched space we’ve tried to fill in just about every way possible but just won’t go away no matter what we do or how hard we try.

So isn’t it good news that it’s precisely into life’s desert wasteland that our God comes – freely, lovingly, and abundantly – and says to you and to me, hey there!  “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and you that have no money, come, buy and eat …why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”  None of the things you’ve been trying, says God – money, worldly accomplishment, physical pleasure – none of it works, you know.  It might help for a fleeting moment or two, but all too soon, you’ll be thirsty and desperate all over again.  You need water… the pure and clear water that only I can bring …and the best part?  It won’t cost you a thing.  You see, says God, your money is no good with me. You’re mine, I love you, and I want you to live.  So come to the water, and let me get you a drink!

What a gift; what a blessing that is!  And yet, still, there are so many of us who aren’t sure they can accept that.  Some, quite frankly, think that there surely has to be something better waiting in the cooler, so to speak.  Others don’t even realize they’ve even been thirsty; I just read recently that in the southwest United States, it is an increasingly common thing for people to be hospitalized and sometimes even die from dehydration; but the thing that makes this even more tragic than it would be ordinarily was that these people never even know that they’re thirsty!  You see, most often, especially around here where it can be humid along with hot, you go outside and you start feeling thirsty immediately; you know that you have to hydrate, and soon (that was, as I understand it, rule number one for the volunteers out at the racetrack yesterday!).  But often in a desert climate, the heat is so intense and dry that one doesn’t perspire and thus doesn’t even start to feel the need to drink some water until it’s too late!

Think of that as a parable, friends, and the point is that there are many of us, maybe some of us in this sanctuary right here and now, who are swiftly becoming spiritually dehydrated, and yet don’t know or won’t admit what it is we truly need to live.  It’s as though we need some kind of proof; someone to personally give us what we never knew we’ve needed all along.

Well, the good news is that we do have that, and it comes to us in the person of Jesus; the one who said, in a loud voice to the people on the last and greatest day of the Feast of Tabernacles, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.  As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believers heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”

It’s interesting, you know?  Remember how I said a few moments ago that in scripture, thirst is often used as an image of a broken relationship with God.  Well, conversely, what we find throughout history is God has used water in one way or another to give his people what they needed to have that relationship, and to have it in abundance:  God showed salvation to Noah through the waters of the flood; God brought forth a gushing spring of water to Hagar and Ishmael; God parted the waters of the Red Sea; God brought water out of the rock at Meribah; and this is just to name a few examples.  And now, what God does is to bring us living water, so that in drinking of it we might never, ever be thirsty again.  It’s Jesus who brings that water, and all you and I have to do is drink!

At our family’s camp up in Maine, though we’ve always had running water, by and large (since we get that water pumped up from the lake) we’ve gotten our drinking water elsewhere; and when I was a kid, the source of that was a nearby “spring house” that was built upon this glacial spring that still runs nearby to the camp.  And, in fact, from a very early age it was my job – my job (!) – to run down the pathway that led to the spring house, so to fill up a couple of jugs of fresh water and bring it back to camp.  For years I did that, often several times a day, every day, all summer long; admittedly there were days I did so begrudgingly (I could not figure out how three people could possibly drink that much water!), but mostly, I loved going there, because this was absolutely the clearest, coldest, best “tasting” water ever; it still is! I’m not kidding when I tell you that there was something invigorating to me to drink the water that bubbled up fresh from that spring!

All these many years later, I often think about “the spring” in regard to my life and faith.  Friends, I am here to tell you this morning that there’s so much in my life that is very good, and very satisfying: I’ve got my health, a roof over my head and food to eat; I’ve got a wonderful family, a great community that I live in, and I’ve been blessed with having been called to a wonderful and challenging ministry in an incredible church.  My life is good; but as good as it all is, I also have to say to you that it’s nothing like what comes out of the spring.

Yes; I still get thirsty sometimes.  There are moments in which my life feels as dry and parched as a desert; times that I know that I need something more.  I need a drink from that river flowing with living water; to have my thirst quenched from the only one who can really provide it: and that’s God, made real and manifest in Jesus Christ our Lord.

How it happens, why it happens, I don’t know for sure; I just know that what Christ gives to me is cold… and clear… and refreshing… and when I’ve taken a drink from that spring, not only do I feel better… not only do I feel as though I can set out on the next part of the journey wherever it might lead… I also feel like I’m alive …really, truly, vibrantly alive!  It is “living water,” after all, that which flows out of a believer’s heart!

So hey there, friends!  Why do you seek to find refreshment from that which only offers it fleetingly?  If you’re thirsty, why not come to the spring that bubbles up with the kind of water that only God can provide …the kind of spring where you shall indeed “go out in joy and be led back in peace;” where “the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

Sounds good to me… how about to you!  So let’s all have a drink.

And as we do, let our thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2014  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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