A sermon delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor of New Millennium Church, Little Rock Ark., March 7, 2010.
The idea of being thirsty is familiar to us. No matter what the season of the year or time of day may be, no matter what part of the community we come from, work in, or now call home, and regardless to our age, we know what it means to be thirsty. Thirsty means that we need water. Thirsty means that our bodies craving liquid. Thirsty means we need something. We may be thirsty because we have been doing strenuous work or exercise. We may be thirsty because we have not consumed water for awhile. We may be thirsty because it is hot outside and we have perspired. Whatever the reason and situation, everyone sooner or later experiences thirst.
So the passage from Isaiah speaks to us, at Lent and at other times, using a familiar concept. The prophet speaks for God to a people struggling through life as exiles. They have been conquered, removed from their homeland, and thrust into a culture where the symbols of their faith are not present to nurture them. They are thirsty for spiritual water. They are hungry for moral food. They crave.
At the outset, the prophet presents us with the image that is familiar to anyone who has thought seriously about living before God. We thirst for a relationship with God that is vibrant and refreshing. We crave it. Life wears us out and drags us down, and we desperately need to be refreshed, revived, re-watered, and re-fed. This passage does not simply speak to the people of the prophet’s time and place. It speaks to us. We thirst, hunger, and crave for relationship with God.
But there is a problem. Religion has often made us aware that God is holy and we are sinful. We cannot afford to be sinful before God, and we cannot buy holiness. How will we obtain that spiritually refreshing relationship that is so vital to our living? How can we come to the living waters that are pure when we are sinful? How will we obtain food for our souls when we are morally bankrupt?
The prophet, still speaking for God, presents another aspect of that problem that also fits every person in every place and situation. So much of our living involves searching for meaning. We expend tremendous physical, emotional, moral, and other energy seeking acceptance, love, fulfillment, and joy. Yet for many people, the question posed at Isaiah 55:2 is all too true: Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Ouch! That question forces us to confront all those relationships that we invested in that were not true, all those purchases that we made that really didn’t change the way we feel about ourselves, all those actions and changes that we put ourselves through to fit, find love, become popular, gain power, or whatever. We spend ourselves all too often on “that which is not bread … and that which does not satisfy.”
It is appropriate that we face the twin realities of craving and searching for moral and spiritual fulfillment, especially during the Lenten season when Christians are encouraged to examine our living before God. In doing so, perhaps we should be reminded of some things addressed in the passage from Isaiah 55.
God invites us to find fulfillment in Him. Throughout this passage, we find invitations:
· “come to the waters,” “come, buy wine and milk without money and without price,” (Is. 55:1);
· “Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Is. 55:2);
· “Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.” (Is. 55:3);
· “Seek the Lord …, call upon him …” (Is. 55:6)
Many people are seeking fulfillment away from God because they do not understand that God invites them to be fulfilled through a loving relationship with Him. Sometimes what is done and said in the name of God does not convey this invitation into a loving relationship.
Sometimes we believe we must somehow prove our way, pay our way, or work our way into God’s acceptance. So people spend their energies “for that which is not bread” and “labor for that which does not satisfy.” They work for what God offers without price. They pay others for what God offers freely. To these people—no, to “everyone who thirsts” (Is. 55:1), God calls—”come to the waters.”
God invites us without charging a fee. God invites us without imposing a cover charge. God invites us without requiring us to pass a test. God invites us because God loves us. God invites us on God’s terms into God’s life, God’s love, and God’s joy. The issue is whether we will come. Will we trust God enough to come on those terms? Will we trust God enough to throw aside all the baggage we have about needing to do this, be that, or please others? Will we trust God’s invitation because we trust God’s love because we trust God? Or will we continue to spend ourselves on that which is not bread and labor for that which does not satisfy?
God invites us to listen, look, and learn. The prophet calls to his people with an urgent tone that is a reminder concerning our spiritual insensitivity, even concerning our great spiritual craving. For all the dis-satisfaction we see in the things we try to find fulfillment in apart from God, we often ignore God’s call, invitation, and demonstrated love for us. So the prophet calls—”Ho”—”hello”. Hey! Listen. Look over here! Will you notice this, please?
God is near, but we must notice. God is near, but we must turn to Him. God is near and calling us to forgiveness, but we must turn aside from our foolish and failed ways. God is near, but we must turn aside from our unrighteous policies and practices. God is near, but we must listen, look, and learn from God.
And in doing so, we must admit the fundamental reality that we are not God. We do not understand how God can love us so unconditionally. We do not understand how God can forgive us so graciously. We do not understand God’s ways and God’s thoughts because God’s ways are not our ways. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. God invites us to listen, look, learn, and be satisfied based on trusting God’s goodness, holiness, and righteousness.
Beware of spiritual dehydration! It is possible to be thirsty and not realize it. People do not become dehydrated on purpose. They do not intend to risk serious injury or death due to insufficient fluid intake. What happens is that they either do not know where to find water (they are thirsty and cannot find water) or they do not know they are dehydrating. Sometimes hikers have become dehydrated because they did not take in the water that they were carrying. By the time they realized their condition (the headaches, body cramps, or lack of focus that accompany dehydration symptoms), the dehydration had already occurred.
So it is with us, my friends. We must beware of spiritual hydration. We must realize that God is the source of our spiritual fulfillment. We must realize that God only asks that we trust Him, His ways, His thoughts, and His purposes for us. We must then take in God, for it does little good to have a canteen full of water on a hike if one does not drink from it. We must beware of spiritual dehydration, whether it occurs because we try to make it on our own, or whether it comes because we drink spiritual soft drinks (Coke, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, etc.) when our souls crave spiritual water from God.
For if we are thirsty and don’t realize it, we will falter from dehydration. And, if we realize our thirst, but drink spiritual soft drinks loaded with sodium (which compounds dehydration rather than cures it), we will falter. We must realize our thirst, recognize the temptation to satisfy our thirst through efforts and methods that do not truly satisfy, and trust the higher ways and thoughts of God and divine grace in meeting our thirst.
God invites us to trust His grace, goodness, holiness, and love for the refreshment we need as we journey through this life. By doing so, we will find fulfillment unlike anything else we can ever experience. The question is not whether what we need is available, for God is always near. The issue is whether we want what God offers and are willing to accept what God freely, lovingly, and graciously provides—life and love through divine grace. Amen.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.