55Ho, 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. 2Why 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. 3Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.
6Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; 7let 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. 8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
1O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.
3Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
4So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.
5My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
6when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
8My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
A teenager was driving at night in a snowstorm when he realized that he was completely and hopelessly lost. But he saw a flashing light off to his right and he remembered what his father had told him, “If you ever get lost in a snowstorm, look for a snowplow and follow it until you come out somewhere you recognize.”
So the young man began following the snowplow driver through a lot of twists and turns for about 45 minutes. Then the truck driver got out of his rig, walked back to the teenager, and asked what he was doing. The teenager reported, “My father told me that if I ever get lost in a snowstorm, that I should find a snowplow and follow him until we came to someplace that I recognized.”
The snowplow driver replied, “Well, I’m done with this parking lot. You’re welcome to follow me around the K-mart parking lot next.”
Today is the first Sunday of March. Perhaps you are familiar with the old proverb about March, that it comes “In like a lion and out like a lamb.” I woke up on Tuesday, March 2nd (earlier than I would have liked to, as I was on diaper duty), and I looked outside, and I was greeted by a blanket of white snow. This really wasn’t all that surprising to me. This has been one of the strangest winters that I can remember. I grew up in Ohio and I never remember having as much snow as we have seen this winter. And who even knows if it is done?
I saw a sign this week that said, “Whoever is praying for snow can stop.” And I think that many of us would agree with that sentiment. I have had enough. Oh, sure, I like snow. I feel a little disappointed on December 25th if I wake up to bare ground. No, that’s not Christmas! I don’t think I am alone when I say that I like a white Christmas. And yes, the snow is pretty. Many people have in their homes these plastic things with little buildings or people inside and when you shake them, a bunch of fake flakes are stirred up and surround the people inside. People buy these snow globes because they are pretty. But I have had enough. Please, no more snow.
If I was to ask you all today what your favorite season is, many of you would probably tell me summer (especially because many in our congregation are teachers). Is summer really that great? Our house does not have air conditioning, but we do have ceiling fans! Now if we were living in the south, we probably wouldn’t say that summer is our favorite season, would we? In Florida the four seasons are: hot, hotter, stay inside all day, and who left the door to Hades open?
My point is, we appreciate something much more when we have to do without it. We wouldn’t enjoy the heat of summer as much if we didn’t have to endure the cold of winter. We don’t appreciate a cool glass of water, until we have been thirsty. We don’t appreciate God until we have felt his absence.
The scriptures that we are drawing from this morning both use the metaphor of thirst to describe a longing for God. God made us so that when our bodies need more water, we begin to crave it. It is kind of a unique characteristic of water. There are only a few elements that we crave when we are deficient. I didn’t wake up this morning thinking, Gosh, I could sure go for some phosphorus right about now.
So it seems quite appropriate that Isaiah and the Psalmist talk about our need for God as a thirst. I think we all know that feeling: the feeling that something is just not right, that something is lacking, that there must be more to life than this! And once we have experienced God, we know what it is that we are craving; we know what it is that our bodies, our lives are lacking. We need God, we crave God, we thirst for God. However, for those that do not believe in God, I really question how they go about quenching that thirst.
I think I’m going to introduce a few of you to some new terms today, so write them down and try to use them in a sentence this week. The first is (existential) nihilism. Nihilism is the belief that we are moving toward nothing. There is no heaven, there is no hell. You are not here for a purpose, but only by chance. You are born, you live for a period of time, and then you die. Nihilism to me seems rather depressing. If you don’t believe in anything larger than our own existence, then what is the purpose of life?
Existential nihilism was popularized by the 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. We probably know Nietzsche best by his famous quote in his work The Gay Science where he writes that God is dead. Nietzsche attempted to explain how, through the advancement of science, humans have no more need for God. He believed that humanity came about through evolution, that the earth just happened to be the one of many stars in the sky that was suitable for life, that morality was a human construct, and that God was no longer necessary to explain the things that we encounter every day of our lives. To the nihilist like Nietzsche, we exist for no reason, we serve no purpose, and when we die, we simply cease to exist.
So for a nihilist, what is the reason to go on living? I believe that nihilism often leads to the relentless pursuit of personal pleasure. This is the second big word for us to write down today: Hedonism. To a hedonist, the purpose of life is personal pleasure (oversimplification, I know). A hedonist works only enough to have the money that he or she needs to do the things that they want to do. Life is about getting the most “stuff” for yourself. You need the newest video game system, the fastest car, the biggest house. You spend all of your money on fancy vacations. If there is no greater purpose to life, if there is no God, no life after death, then why wouldn’t your main goal be to seek personal pleasure? Who cares about other people? They will die and be forgotten as well. Nihilism can lead to hedonism, both of which, I would argue, lead to sad, empty, pointless lives. These are lives that thirst for something more.
I hope we all would agree that there is more to life than nihilism. We do not simply exist; we exist for a purpose. And that purpose is to glorify God. It is in glorifying God alone that we can truly be satisfied and quench that thirst. As we read in our scriptures for this morning, why work for something that cannot satisfy us? Why the relentless pursuit of anything less than God? Each and every person born has this longing for a purpose bigger than ourselves, a purpose that can only be filled with God. But yet we try to satisfy it with things that are not bread.
Tiger Woods has been in the news a lot since his day-after-Thanksgiving car accident. And this week I have seen a number of news outlets talking about an addiction that Tiger claims to have, an addiction that we don’t often hear about. Tiger is said to have a sex addiction. After news of Tiger’s infidelity got out, numerous women came forward, perhaps falsely, claiming that they had relationships with Tiger. Or we could look at any other addiction: alcohol, drugs, power, money. I believe it was Rockefeller, one of the richest men in the world, who summed it up best. When he was asked how much money is enough, he answered by saying, “Just a little more.” Just a little more is never enough! Why labor for that which does not satisfy?
So I said that glorifying God is the only way to quench our thirst, but how do we do that? I believe that we best glorify God by doing two things: loving God and loving our neighbor. And unfortunately, many Christians remain thirsty because they do one of the two things but not the other.
The next big word for us today is Gnosticism. Gnosticism comes from the Greek word for knowing or knowledge. Gnostic Christians believe in only a spiritual relationship with Jesus. Gnostics believe in Jesus and think that is all that is necessary. And this creeps into modern day Christianity when people think that all that they have to do is believe in Jesus, that Christianity is about believing in a few doctrines, but any real change in life is unnecessary. These are the people that when you start talking about Christian Ethics, they call you legalists. “You’re talking about works righteousness, Pastor.” The Gnostics are the ones that (mis)quote Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 2:8, “It is by grace you have been saved…”. Yes, Christianity begins with belief in Jesus Christ. Yes, it is by grace through faith that we are forgiven. But we also must remember the rest of what Paul writes. What are we saved for? Good works. These things go hand-in-hand.
A Gnostic Christian is one that prays every day, they read the Bible through every year, and they journal every day. These are all good things! But that is not the whole of Christianity. A Gnostic approach to Christianity will leave you thirsty; it will not satisfy you.
But then we also find people on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. These are the people that make Christianity entirely about social reform. I don’t have a fancy name for these Christians, so we’ll just call them Social Activists. These are the people that protest outside of the Senate for Health Reform, they work at the homeless shelter, they go door to door to gather enough signatures for the city to put in bike paths along major roads. All of these are good things. But the Social Activist that does not have a spiritual relationship with God is also going to thirst.
I want to say again, reading your Bible, praying, journaling, working at a homeless shelter, working for adequate healthcare, all of these things are great. But my point is that both the physical and the spiritual should be a part of our daily lives as Christians. We need to both worship and serve the Lord; we need to love God and love our neighbors. Christianity isn’t just a set of beliefs and Christianity isn’t just a set of ethics. Following Jesus is something that we do with every movement we make and breath we take.
So we begin to see how certain things are keeping us thirsty. We try to fill our lives and our hearts with things that are not God, like in Hedonism, or we search for an incomplete God of Gnosticism or Social Activism. So how can we find that well from which we can drink living water and never thirst again?
In Luke 13, Jesus tells a story about a barren fig tree, planted in a vineyard. The owner of the vineyard comes to the tree one day and has had it. He tells his gardener to cut the thing down. He says for three years he has been coming to this tree, expecting fruit. And for three years there has been none. That tree is wasting the soil that it is growing in.
But the gardener isn’t willing to give up on the tree. The gardener pleads with the owner to give the tree one more year. The gardener says that he will prune the tree, dig around it to remove the weeds, and then place fresh fertilizer, the kind that steams, around the tree. Then, if it doesn’t bear fruit, then the gardener will not stand in the way of the tree being cut down.
The gardener knew something two thousand years ago that still applies today. Sometimes things get in the way of us fulfilling our potential for God. Sometimes things need pruned or dug up and removed so that they will stop robbing us of the essential nutrients needed for us to fully live. We need to pull up the weeds of Hedonism, we need to prune the branches of the relentless pursuit of happiness, comfort, and pleasure and get our hands dirty for the Lord. Our addictions to the things that cannot truly satisfy are keeping us thirsty.
And that gardener knew also that just taking away the things that were draining our time, energy, and resources wouldn’t be enough. We need to replace those things with other things that will give life. And I don’t think it is by accident that Luke uses the word “manure” to describe the fertilizer that is being added to the tree, because manure can be unpleasant (the NIV tries to clean it up a bit by saying ‘fertilize it’). It can smell bad, it can be heavy, and it can be a pain to gather and transport. It would have been a lot easier to get a bag of 10-10-10 from the Co-op. But he uses manure.
Now don’t take this example wrong, but sometimes the things that we are called to add to our lives so that we can be bearing fruit can feel like manure to us. If you are leaning more toward a Gnostic form of Christianity where you are spending all of your time praying, reading the Bible, and journaling, then adding the physical side of following Christ may literally stink. As I hear stories coming out of Haiti about working in the cities where there is still rotting human flesh and large, uncovered, mass graves, I can’t even begin to imagine the smell that comes along with serving God in this capacity.
And if you are more of a Social Activist Christian, if you are a go-getter, if you are up and attem, moving at 100 miles-per-hour, then for you to slow down, sit and pray, journal, and reflect on God might seem pretty stinky to you too. I try to read through the Bible every year by using a Bible that is divided up into daily readings. The other night I read 84 verses from Numbers. But these things, as unpleasant as they might seem at the time, are necessary for us to bear fruit.