Sunday, March 14, 2004

Third Sunday in Lent
Isaiah 55:1-9
Psalm 63:1-8
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Thirst has a way of putting a stop on all other activities. When you are thirsty, the thought of getting a drink occupies your mind. It is even hard to eat when you are thirsty. Bar owners use this knowledge to sell more drinks. Even if you decide to have only one drink, after picking at the peanuts you will continually be thirsty and ask for another. Whatever your reason for entering the establishment, your thoughts will be on quenching your thirst.

Water sustains us. We could go for weeks without eating, but we need water daily to stay alive. It is a natural response for our bodies to seek something to drink. Water washes impurities out of our systems and keeps us healthy. As summer looms (hard to believe for those of you who just had snow) the news programs are beginning the annual news stories to remind us to take care of our bodies in the heat by drinking plenty of fluids.

It is understandable that spirituality is often compared to water. Throughout the scriptures there are references to our thirst and the life giving water of God. In today's Old Testament lesson, Isaiah quotes God's invitation to all. "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." We are invited to quench our spiritual thirst on that which will give life. Jesus repeats this invitation and identifies Himself as the One who gives the living water. (John 4)

We thirst for something much more than just the wetness of cool, clean water. We seek a connection to the divine, a relationship with our Father and Creator. Yet, we are much more aware of our physical thirst than our spiritual thirst. In the first part of today's Gospel lesson, some of the people told Jesus about a horrible event in Galilee. Pilate, who was a cruel man, had a number of Galileans killed. We do not have the details of this event, but it is likely that they were killed in the Temple where they were offering sacrifice for their sin.

Jesus knew the hearts of those who told him about the incident. Jesus just finished telling them to reconcile themselves with their enemies, for they will be the ones to pay the greater debt. So, they came to Jesus with an example of people who certainly must have been worse sinners than they. They were killed and their blood mixed with the blood of their sacrifices. God would not let such a thing happen if they were righteous, right?

Jesus asked, "Think ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they have suffered these things?" He answered them, "I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all in like manner perish." He reminded them of another incident, where eighteen people died under a fallen tower. He wondered if they were more guilty. No, those who die are not more guilty than you and I. We are all in need of repentance. We all need to fulfill our spiritual thirst, and the only way to do so is to head in the right direction.

After all, that's what repentance is - a turning to go in the right direction. The Jews in Jesus' day, as well as you and I, seek to find the divine on our own. We seek to be divine - to be our own gods. We try to control the world around us. We try to be good, righteous and worthy of whatever it is we want in this world. We are so busy trying to quench a thirst by running to the well that we miss the life giving water that is found through Jesus Christ.

Paul tells us that the ancestors of the Jews did the same thing. Though God delivered them from Egypt and gave them a taste of salvation and the waters of baptism through the cloud and the waters of the read sea, they forgot God. They became idolaters, eating, drinking and indulging in the pagan traditions of Egypt. They tested God and suffered the consequences of turning away from Him. They did not trust God so turned to find comfort, hope and peace through other means.

Paul reminds us that we are no different. He shares the stories of their forefathers as a warning of our natural tendency to go in the wrong direction - away from God to rely on our own strength and abilities. We get easily distracted, waylaid from the course of life and faith. We are thirsty, so we wander around trying to find the best source of water. Paul comforts us with the knowledge that we are no different. "There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it."

Isaiah encourages the people to listen to God. "Seek ye Jehovah while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto Jehovah, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." We think we need to do something to earn God's forgiveness, but God has mercy on those who merely turn to Him. Repentance looks to God.

We don't forgive so easily. We expect restitution. We expect restoration. We expect the debt to be paid. With God things are much different. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith Jehovah. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." When we look to Him, we see that which is true - God has already paid the debt.

We see that the promise is fulfilled when we look at Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. David was living under the promise even as he faced his enemies in the desert of Judah. He sought God and was filled despite the danger that loomed. He knew where his thirst would be quenched. "O God, thou art my God; earnestly will I seek thee: My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee, In a dry and weary land, where no water is."

David continues his song of praise by committing himself to a grateful response. He has seen God and will live in the hope of the promise. "Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, My lips shall praise thee. So will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; And my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips; When I remember thee upon my bed, And meditate on thee in the night-watches. For thou hast been my help, And in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice. My soul followeth hard after thee: Thy right hand upholdeth me." David commits to active living in the gifts God has given, always looking to God. He has a passion for God that is lived out in his entire life, a passion that bears fruit.

The fig tree in today's Gospel has not borne any fruit. For three years the gardener has been looking for some produce from the tree, but the tree has been a disappointment. Now, if this tree were just in the guy's backyard, it may have not made a big difference. However, it was planted in the vineyard, taking up valuable space and water. The tree was not only worthless to the landowner; it was a threat to the rest of the plants in his field. He said to the caretaker, "cut it down; why doth it also cumber the ground?"

The man asked the landowner to give the tree one more year. "Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it." It takes more than water for a fruitful life; it also takes manure. It takes a gardener who will work the soil, feed the tree with nourishment and love. For the Christian, the manure is prayer, Bible study, the sacraments and Christian fellowship.

Many Christians and churches are much like that fig tree. Though blessed with the living water through repentance, there is no fruit borne out of a passion for the One who gives life. We are tempted from the path, turning from God as did the Israelites in the wilderness. We are tempted to look to others for our help and salvation. We are tempted to trust in false gods. We can't bear fruit when we are not looking at our Lord Jesus. Only by His power and grace can good fruit be produced in our lives, not by our own works and abilities.

But the gardener knows we need more than just the living water of life, so He provides ways in which we can grow in faith. He has taught us how to pray, how to hear His voice, how to live together in community. He has given us the waters of baptism and the cup of the covenant with which we can quench the thirst of our souls. And He has given us time. There will not always be a tomorrow, however. The landowner will return one day to see if fruit has been borne on the branches of that fig tree. There will be rejoicing in the field if there is fruit. If not, the tree will be cut down and another tree or vine will replace it.

We all thirst. To whom will we turn so that our thirst will be quenched? Only One can give the life-giving water, and that is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He gives far more, however. He gives His living word that transforms our lives and He fills us with love, mercy and grace. He gives us all we need to live in faith. And when we are tempted to wander from the path, He gives us the strength to turn back to Him and see the forgiveness He has offered by grace through faith. Thanks be to God.

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