Mar 3rd | The Reverend Kevin Scott Fleming | Isaiah 55:1-9
It was a hot summer day and we were at a horse show. This was more years back than I care to count, but I remember it and remember it well. It was hot – terribly hot – and dry – terribly dry. There was no escaping the sun. There was no shade. We sat on bleachers, beneath the sweltering sun, watching horses being put through their paces.
Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I climbed down off the bleachers and went to the refreshment stand. I ordered a beverage whose advertising campaign insisted that it would satisfy my thirst. It was a brownish-black carbonated beverage – the real thing. I downed it quickly and waited for relief. There was none. I ordered another. Still, no relief. The advertising gurus were at least good swindlers – I bought the promise of a breaking of my thirst. But nothing really changed.
This happened long enough ago that it was in the days before bottled water. There was no bottled water for sale. Back then, people would have laughed at the thought of buying water. So, I asked if they could give me a glass of water. Of course, came the reply, and I drank a glass of ice water.
What joy! What relief! What delight! My thirst was assuaged. It was cold and comforting and rejuvenating in a way that my carbonated cola wasn’t. I was satisfied beyond what I had expected, or hoped, or dreamed.
As I read over the “watery” readings for today, I was taken back to the hot afternoon of long ago. Thirst-quenching water pours through the readings. Wave after wave crashes upon the ears of our hearts as we hear these words again.
Come with me, for a few moments, as we flow with the waters of the Word and let’s see if we can’t make a discovery or two.
When you are traveling in the Middle East, it does not take you long to remember to take some water with you wherever you go. When you travel in Galilee, you are reminded of the importance of water. The Sea of Galilee is the largest source of fresh water in Israel. On the western side of the Sea are the hills we call the Golan Heights. The wreckage of water machines is still there, reminding us of the military advantage of controlling the fresh water supply.
We need water. Without water we cease to be. While we have the luxury of going to the spigot and turning a handle and receiving fresh, safe water, that was not – and that is not – the way it was and is.
Water was – and is – a predominant concern for the people of ancient and modern times. The availability of water governed all other aspects of life. There were ancient techniques for finding water in desert places. Water was always one of the first things you offered a visitor. Water was life.
Little wonder, then, that the Bible uses water and thirst for a metaphor to talk about God and our need for God. As a human life requires water to thrive, a human life also needs God to thrive and be what life was created to be. The Psalmist cries out:
O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,
as in a barren and dry land where there is no water. (Ps. 63:1)
It is impossible to miss. Human life finds its authenticity when God is intricately and intimately involved in it.
The amazing thing is, of course, how slow we are to believe that. It is astounding how sluggishly we come to this realization. We may well be those who are being called out by the prophet Isaiah:
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy? (Isaiah 55:2)
Doesn’t that sound like us?
The French have a great word – ennui. Ennui is a feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction and boredom. Ennui means monotony, tediousness, and dreariness. If you were going to create a painting entitled “ennui,” you would only need various shades of gray.
And the fear is that we have developed ennui into a lifestyle. We wander aimlessly through shopping malls. We spend hours worrying about all manner of things. We fill our schedules and pursue those activities until we nearly collapse. We buy all kinds of things thinking that they will make us happy.
Ennui makes it impossible to notice the beauty of the world around us. Ennui dulls our senses and blurs our ability to see the wonders of life. Ennui tells us that there is nothing more to life than what we see and have right now. Ennui convinces us that we really are nothing more than what we have and what we want.
I’ve reached that point in my life where I read obituaries. I’m not quite as bad as George Burns, who used to say that he had the newspaper delivered to his bed every morning, where he would read the obituaries. If he wasn’t listed there, he got up.
But, I have taken to reading obituaries if, for no other reason, than most of them are just so poorly written. I’ve collected a few favorites over the past few years. One person had listed among his associations that he was a member of Sam’s Club. Another tried putting some of the deceased jokes in the main body of the text. Let’s just say it didn’t work. My favorite is still, “A celebration of life will be held at the funeral home on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. B.Y.O.B.” Let me put your fears to rest: I am leaving explicit instruction that at any celebration of my life, I will buy the last round – and it won’t be the cheap stuff.
Seriously, take some time to read the obituaries and you’ll quickly discover what some people believe to be the most important aspects of life. Look at what some think life is all about. Read for yourself what some believe to be truly important and lasting and significant.
Then, listen to Isaiah’s words:
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Why settle for anything less than real, authentic, and abundant life? Don’t we want our lives – especially when they have finished their course – don’t we want our lives to be full and real?
Isaiah cries out, with the voice of a water-seller:
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.
Isaiah knows that there is an alternative to ennui. Isaiah knows that there is another choice available. Isaiah knows that instead of ennui, there can be joie de vivre. Instead of a life of boredom, life can be filled with joy!
The passion and purpose and joy of life is not found in the common pathways of our day and age. The passion and purpose and joy of life is not found in gaining more, filling our days with busy-ness, or any of the other methods we employ. The passion and purpose and joy of life is not found in how many clubs we join, how many accomplishments fill our resumes, how many people recognize us, how many friends we have on Facebook or followers of Twitter, or what position we hold on a Google search of our name.
Authentic life is found in the rich banquet of God’s grace and love. Authentic life is found when God is a part of every breath and every heartbeat and when we realize that every breath and every heartbeat is a gift of God. Authentic life is found when God infuses every aspect of every moment of every day.
And it’s easier than it sounds. It begins with opening our eyes and our ears, our hearts and our minds. Incorporating God into every aspect of life means living with the awareness that God is ever with us – always blessing – always caring – always loving. If we will only be aware and mindful of all that God is doing in our lives and through our lives, we will discover the authentic life for which we long. When we rediscover God’s grace at work in us and through us, we will rediscover what God intends life to be.
That is why Isaiah says:
Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
Isaiah is telling us that the authentic life we long to live is available. We are just looking for it in the wrong places.
Such a life is possible. That’s the good news. The abundant and authentic life we so desperately want is not only possible, but available. Again, Isaiah reminds us:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
The ways of the world won’t lead us to life. The habits of the past won’t get us to where we want to be. Continuing to pursue our own interests and chasing after the things we think will bring us happiness will only leave us empty and tired.
God’s way is more than our way.
The world tells us to spend…God invites us to receive.
The world tells us to worry about ourselves…God invites us to show concern
The world tells us to keep and gather more…God invites us to practice
generosity and give to others in greater need.
The world tells us to be busy…God invites us to be still and know God.
The world promotes chaos…God commands peace.
The world proclaims fear…God proclaims joy.
We could go on and on – but, do you get it? The life we long for – yearn for – the life we crave – is available. It is the gift of God.
And it is like water on a dry, parched throat. It is like water that falls on the desert and causes it to bloom. It is like water and restores us and makes us whole.
Grace – God’s grace – is the water of authentic life. Drink deeply. For now and evermore. Amen.