Lent 3a: How Thirsty Are You?
A sermon preached by The Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Third Sunday of Lent, March 3, 2013. It is observed as “Celebrating the Gifts of Women Sunday” in the Presbyterian Church (USA). This reflection is a slightly adapted version of the commentary by Daniel Debevoise in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary Year C Volume 2.
How thirsty are you? Isaiah declares, “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.”
In central Florida, where my mom lives, when the humidity is so intense in the summer that you step outside and immediately begin to perspire, you know when you are thirsty. You are thirsty all the time! You know your body is dehydrated because you literally see all the liquid leaving it, droplets of perspiration soaking your shirt, dripping off your arms, and running down your forehead. Even if you do not feel thirsty, you know you are thirsty. You drink water before you go outside to exercise. “Everyone who thirsts”—that is me and everybody else—“come to the waters.”
In the southwestern United States, where my grandparents live, the humidity is so low, you may be thirsty and not even know it. Your perspiration evaporates so quickly that you do not realize you are becoming dehydrated. So whether you feel dehydrated or not, you drink a little water as often as you can. In Grand Canyon National Park there are signs strategically placed along the trails that remind you to stop and drink water. “Stop! Drink water. You are thirsty, whether you realize it or not.” How could it be that we do not recognize our own thirst?
There are times when we are intensely aware of our needs and desires, including the things we thirst for, and other times when we do not feel the need or desire for anything in particular. Isaiah’s words are like the sign in a dry climate—“Stop! Drink water. You are thirsty, whether you realize it or not.” We need to hear and respond to Isaiah, but not on the basis of what we may feel about ourselves at any particular moment. Isaiah is telling us something true about ourselves at every moment of our lives. Isaiah’s offer is unlike anything we know or practice. In his vision, everyone who is thirsty gets water. Everyone who is hungry is invited to eat: buy milk and wine without money! It is like a grocery store where everything is free. In this supermarket, all the people who struggle to put food on the table are pushing carts full of groceries through the checkout lines, paying only with a smile and a wave.
In contrast to what is available for free, Isaiah says we are paying for things we do not need in the first place—spending money on what is not bread and laboring for what does not satisfy us. Isaiah says we need a new diet of good and rich food.
Have you ever gone to visit someone at home and as soon as you sit down in the living room your host offers you something to drink? Your answer may be based not on whether you are thirsty but on how long you want to stay. Even if you decline, your host may persist.
“Are you sure? How about a cup of coffee or a soda?”
“No, thank-you, I am just fine.”
“Not even a glass of water?”
In this passage, Isaiah leans across the coffee table and says, “Hey. Stop it. Whether or not you are thirsty, whether or not you are hungry, you need what God has to give.”
“Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live” (v. 3). Isaiah reminds us that a relationship with God based on God’s steadfast love for us is our greatest need and the richest nourishment for our lives, but Isaiah’s words are not the only offers we hear. We live in the midst of constant promotion. Everywhere we turn we are bombarded with offers and enticements to fill every imaginable want and desire. Even if we do not need anything, it is easy to be convinced we really want something: a new car, a new iPad, a glamorous career, a bigger house, a youthful appearance. However the offers are false. They promise to satisfy but turn out to be wasted calories without any nutrition. Any way of life that turns us away from God is a way of life that leads to our starvation and death.
Lent challenges us to consider the reality of our own sinfulness and our need for repentance. We may not be immediately aware of how we have wandered away from God—how life has lost its meaning in pursuit of a promotion or raise, how we have gotten buried under the demands of economic and social status. Isaiah’s words help us to hear the truth so that we can recommit ourselves to God’s offer of steadfast love and covenant relationship as the true way for our lives.
In the midst of the false promises for the good life, the full life, the successful life, the happy life, the meaningful life, or the exciting life that are so prevalent in today’s world, Isaiah implores us, “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” (vv. 6–7).
This service was the third of six on the topic of fear. The liturgy for this third Sunday of Lent served to aid reflection on our fear of choosing the life God offers us. Often we are not only tempted by other offers (explored in this sermon) or robbed of our ability to enjoy abundant life (as explored in the intercessions of healing for women), but we can be our own worst enemy, sabotaging what is best for ourselves because we are afraid (a theme repeated in pastoral care throughout the week).
As this sermon was being prepared, a homeless woman receiving the aid of this congregation has just chosen reconciliation with her family rather than continued independence, a decision she has long prevented herself from making out of fear. This has been made possible through the use of the pastor’s discretionary fund, which is paying her way home. Readers who wish to support this kind of pastoral care are encourage to make a donation to the pastor’s discretionary fund of the White Plains Presbyterian Church using this secure link.