Some of you may know that I was born in Oklahoma, but because we moved from there when I was 3, my memories of that time and place are pretty limited, just sensory memories mainly– primarily that of being carried down into the backyard storm cellar to escape from tornados, and the smell of melting tar from the streets on hot summer days. Beyond those very early years, I’ve never been back to the southwest, though would love to sometime, but I marvel at the almost unbelievable temperatures that get reported from there in the summer–well over 100 degrees for days and days. “It’s a dry heat,” some explain, but it’s still hot, and recent years of drought have only worsened the situation.
I understand that there are signs now throughout Grand Canyon National Park that say, “Stop! Drink water. You are thirsty, whether you realize it or not.” Stop! Take a break from snapping pictures or taking videos. You could be eating dust before you know it if you don’t drink some water. You are thirsty, whether you realize it or not.
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters [reads the sign in the wilderness of exile]; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why 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. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen so that you may live.”
Stop! Drink water. You are thirsty, whether you realize it or not. Do you know that you are thirsty? Have you been laboring for that which does not satisfy–working more and enjoying it less? Spending your time and money on that which doesn’t deeply nourish you? In the midst of a national and global climate that is obsessed with scarcity and debt, marked by rancor and frustration, this invitation through the prophet Isaiah sounds like sweet music or perhaps, as our rampant cynicism might say, “too good to be true.” “Buy wine and milk without money and without price?” How good can that wine or milk be? And who’s giving it away? What’s in it for them?
UCC pastor Kate Huey wonders whether we are “settled so comfortably into a routine and worldview that keep us busy and distracted that we’ve lost touch with our deepest selves, made in the image of God, and our spirits may be thirsty, starving, and homesick, even if we can’t name those feelings on our own.” (Weekly Seeds, 3/3/13) Have you noticed how hungry and thirsty and homesick you are?
Last Sunday’s magazine section of the NY Times featured a cover story about the processed food industry and how it has researched, engineered, and invested in producing food and drink “products”that we are literally addicted to. “I feel so sorry for the public,” said a former chief scientist for Frito-Lay. We don’t stand a chance as our palates become accustomed to and then crave the sugar, fat, and salt these items contain. Cheetos, as it turns out, “is one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure,” one food scientist said, and then focused on “the puff’s uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. ‘It’s called vanishing caloric density,’ [he] said. ‘If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it…you can just keep eating it forever.’” (NY Times Magazine, 2/24/13, p. 47) I don’t know about you, but I’m salivating a little right now. Let’s hope there are Cheetos on the food table for Sunday Social. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters…” Isaiah issues an invitation from One who loves us, who offers us what we most deeply yearn for, though we may have become distracted with sugar, fat, and salt, let alone home improvement shows, or the latest exercise kick, or yet another health concern, or a car or home repair, or, or…. Come to the table, he calls, set with a rich feast of food and drink that satisfies our deepest hunger and thirst. Come home, to a community of love and meaning, committed to making the world a better place, to being a blessing to ourselves, our neighbors, near and far. It’s an invitation to stop, drink water. You are thirsty whether you realize it or not.
Jesus said the same thing essentially, when some people told him about recent disasters in which a number of people had been killed. Were they worse sinners or offenders than others? they implied, but Jesus dismissed that line of arguing and said, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” In other words, Stop. Drink water. You are thirsty whether you realize it or not. Disasters happen to the good and the bad, can happen to any of us. To focus on them–and it’s hard not to, since we are fed a steady diet in our 24-7 news cycle–to focus on one disaster after another and all the bad news is to become fearful, hopeless, and uncertain. You will always be tossed about, able only to react to whatever comes along.
The important point, Jesus said, is to orient your life toward the source of Real Life, the source of living water, the source of the feast that satisfies our deepest hunger. That’s what “repent” means–re-orient your life toward God. Rather than blaming God for disasters as punishment, know that you can experience God in the midst of hardship and suffering, an ever-present help in times of trouble, as the psalmist says.
These practices along the way, these “disciplines,” if you will, that we’ve been looking at and perhaps trying during this season of Lent, are meant to help us orient our lives toward God– building reminders into your environment to remind you of the sacred in the midst of the ordinary–a candle, a bowl of salt on the coffee table, perhaps, reminding you that you are to be the saltiness of the earth, not just consume salt; daily prayer–whether simply noticing your breath and taking the time to breathe deeply, or longer periods of sitting or moving meditation; being aware of our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit and so tending to them, through exercise and healthy eating and rest. These are ways to practice everyday, when things are humming along, and when things screech to a halt, or we are thrown for a loop by illness or disaster or death, we have some handholds, or footholds, or soulholds to hang on to, keeping us centered in our true center.
Stop! Drink water. You are thirsty, whether you realize it or not. Isaiah and Jesus call us away from wanderings and distractions not because they are to be condemned but because they ultimately do not get us anywhere, they’re unsatisfying, except for the briefest of times– “vanishing caloric density” in all sorts of ways.
Come to the table, they invite us. Come eat and drink food and wine that is infinitely satisfying and nourishing, come and experience community. The church, in whatever form it finally or even transitionally takes, is centered around the table. What if we as a church community not only provided and served the food for the 4th Sunday of the month’s Sunday Supper, but also came and filled out the community around the tables? (Don’t worry, Tom. We’d help with setting up the tables.) Come to the table. Come to this table. This is the bread of life and the cup of blessing. All are invited. Let us keep the feast. Amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark