A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Third Sunday in Lent – March 14, 2004
Text: Isaiah 55:1, 6
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.
I thought I understood thirst. Growing up in Minnesota, I’d survived my fair share of 90-degree-plus days with humidity so high it curls your hair and your toes all at the same time. I’d worked outside on those days as a camp counselor, pining away for the sweet, sweet delights of central air. I’d given lectures about drinking enough water to my kids, and had even though I’d been thirsty at the end of a good hike.
But that wasn’t thirst.
No, in order to know real thirst, there’s really only one thing you can do – head out into the desert.
I went to the desert several years ago, while I was still in seminary. I was performing with a handbell ensemble, Twin Cities Bronze, and our group had arranged a tour of the Southwest. Our concerts took us to places like Phoenix, Arizona, and Twenty-Nine Palms, California, but whatever our venue, one thing was remained constant – the desert that stretched out in all directions.
That, I suppose, and the thirst.
Thirstiness in the desert is a tricky, slippery thing. It’s quite possible to spend an afternoon checking out the sights, never pausing for a drink, and at the end of it all not to feel thirsty. But you are thirsty. I promise you. Thirstier than you’ve ever been. Thirsty like you wouldn’t believe.
In the desert, you see, the air is very, very dry. When you’re so used to the mugginess here in the Midwest, it actually can feel quite nice…a warm, dry breeze blowing on your skin. Eventually, though, your body starts to get warmer than is helpful, and it starts to sweat. Anyone from around these parts knows what it’s like to come in from the heat drenched in sweat…and we connect being sweaty with being thirsty. But you’re never really sweaty at all in the desert, because the dry air wicks away all that moisture from your body, leaving you dry and comfortable…but warmer than you should be.
Your body will keep on sweating in the desert, trying to cool itself down, but you’ll never feel just absolutely miserable like you would here on a hot day. You might not realize how thirsty you are, how dangerously close – if the truth were known – to being dehydrated you have become.
But when you put your lips to a cool stream of water, you know. And you drink ten, twenty gulps…maybe more. Maybe you stop to catch your breath before downing another five or ten mouthfuls of cool liquid. And you understand finally how thirsty a person can be without ever realizing it.
After coming close to dehydration even once, you begin to look for opportunities to catch a drink. You carry around a canteen or water bottle, and fill and refill it obsessively. You do strange things like soaking your hat in water before putting it on your head, so that the evaporation will keep you cool. You begin to notice the subtle signs of drying out, and you learn how quickly you need to take action in order to survive.
Living in the thirst of the desert is dangerous, but with plenty of care and plenty of good sources of water, you can get by…and perhaps even enjoy the beauty of the desert.
We live each day of our lives in a desert.
Life is a desert, a desert of the spirit. The scorching, arid winds of sin and suffering threaten to dry us out. If we don’t get our fill of spiritual drink, it’ll be the death of us. And we’re thirsty, so very thirsty, whether we realize it or not.
And so God calls to us: “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters! I know that your lives are dry and your souls are parched. I know that the pains and troubles of this world suck you dry just like a desert wind. I know how thirsty you are, even if you haven’t realized it yet. Come to me! I am living water. Come to me! I will give myself to you. Come to me! I will refresh you and renew your strength, so that you might live even in the middle of the desert.”
God offers himself to us, great, huge draughts of life-giving Holy Spirit, gurgling down our chins and coursing down our throats! The living water of his Spirit can keep us alive as we wander in the desert, so that perhaps we might even begin to enjoy the beauty of this place.
“Seek the Lord while he may be found,” counsels our scripture. Or, when you find a flowing stream of heavenly water, stop to drink up! Soak your hat. Fill up a canteen or water bottle for the road. Make a note of that spiritual oasis, and plan on returning there when you start to become dry again. Watch yourself for signs that the desert around you is starting to wear you down, and when you catch those signs, beat a hasty retreat back to your watering hole, your place where the God of the thirsty can be found again and again.
Where can you find God’s living waters? Just like a sudden spring in the desert, you will find them in all sorts of surprising places. But there are also some places you would be wise to look. Seek God in his holy sanctuary and in the services of his people. Look for nourishment in the words of the scriptures. Quench your thirst in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Let your whistle be whetted by sweet, clear prayer.
We live in the desert, but we are called to the waters. Come and seek refreshment in the Lord, and let your spirit be renewed in the living waters of his love. Amen.