A small boy is told to go to bed by his father. Five minutes later, “Daad….” “What?” “I’m thirsty. Can you bring drink of water?” “No. You had your chance. Lights out.” Five minutes later, “Daaaaad.” “WHAT?” “I’m THIRSTY. Can I have a drink of water??””I told you NO!” If you ask again, I’ll have to spank you!!” Five minutes later, “Daaaad….” “WHAT!” “When you come in to spank me, can you bring a drink of water?” The use of spanking is for the purpose of this joke only. Any idea that spanking is supported by me is inaccurate. It is not. It’s amazing what God can do for those who stick with the Lord through thick and thin. Too often we think we’re not being helped or there’s no good reason to keep looking to the Lord. But God’s got a victory for you. You’re not out of the circle of God’s protection. As scripture says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” In the Bible, Job was “perfect and upright.” Yet disaster struck. He lost his wealth, his children and even his health. Job’s friends were sure he must have brought his misfortunes on himself. God rejected that notion as simplistic when the Lord finally responded. We mustn’t be quick to blame ourselves or others when something goes against plans. Often there are no easy answers but there is a determined God who keeps things steady when they’re shaking and holds onto stuff when falling. The men and women of the Bible understood this. David poured out his heart to God in poems of which many became our Psalms. Isaiah expressed deep anguish in the midst of incredible grief and suffering. Hannah complained loudly about her childlessness. But they also knew how to respond. Ruth stayed with her mother-inlaw even while being childless and a widow didn’t know how her future would turn out. Elijah heard God’s small voice and returned to being a prophet to continue to speak the truth. James, Jesus brother, kept serving the poor and praying in the Temple even when the tide turned against him. So many people check out when tough times come. They go on automatic pilot. They get scared. They don’t know where to turn. Perhaps we get overwhelmed. Perhaps we simply don’t know how to respond.
It’s true that not everyone is going to know what to do, how to think, what to even feel when a cold wave of reality slaps us in the face. We never faced losing a job before; we never faced a child lose her way before; we never faced real sickness, old age, financial debt and crises, or realizing things may not change for the better any time real soon. But God has faced all this before. The Lord is more than capable of hanging onto us while we’re barely hanging on ourselves. The worst thing we can do is reject help from on high. But it’s so easy to choose this path. I once read that our best choices are to “never show weakness, for you will be used; never be vulnerable for you will get hurt; never depend on others, for you will lose your freedom.” This is a real temptation for people. We think we owe it to ourselves and others to be big and strong and defy the odds. This isn’t what God wants though. One person wrote, “The Lord was looking for a man weak enough to use, and (God) found me.” The truth is we aren’t much good to God or ourselves if we keep thinking it’s me or nobody. We aren’t that big, and the world is. Dwight L. Moody correctly said, “We may easily be too big for God to use, but never too small.” Sometimes when we need the Lord most, it’s hardest for us to see it. I know someone who simply can’t get himself to a church. He says he believes in God but he just doesn’t see any need for a religious life. And yet he is having such a tough time. His family life is torn up. He can’t get a good job. He’s made mistakes that are really costing him. But still he doesn’t find any need to get himself to a sanctuary, to a service, to prayer, to hearing some music that talks about what God can do. He’s all by himself. Now the thing is I can understand when people have doubts about Sunday morning. Perhaps a particular church or style of worship isn’t your cup of coffee. Fine. But there’s gotta be something somewhere. The truth is however many times it’s not the church but the person that is putting up the obstacle. Although, sometimes we can’t help it. It’s like going to the doctor with some pain. All I’ve got to do is step into the office and it goes away. “Doctor, I know I’ve had pain for eight months somewhere around here but I can’t feel it right now.” Either the doctor has to follow you around out to your car because as soon as you get in, your pain will return or you’ve got to move into that office.
The thing is during the week we’re in pain, and then Sunday morning comes and when I really need to think about how I can start to feel better, how I can gain some hope, how I can get some healing and find a touch of the Lord, grow in wisdom and love, I sabotage my needs by putting up a protest that the music isn’t this or the sermon wasn’t that or the people didn’t do this or the church didn’t have that. That’s self-sabotage. That’s refusing to step through the door. That’s hanging around outside with all your pain and saying I’m going to do it myself. It’s an act of distrust, of fear, of isolation. We don’t want to do that. Move forward into a little more trust. Hold on to some more hope. If we put down the put downs we can be lifted up. Bring in here what’s really going on out there. Make Sunday morning about your need to find healing or help. Focus yourself so that worship can reach more deeply. We’re thirstier than we think we are. We’re hungrier for the Lord than we want to believe. Many people are confused about where to go to get a good drink. If we had our choice we would drink from the fountain of eternal youth. We believe we should be healthy, good-looking, free of any infirmities and pains. We don’t want to lose anything and certainly not anyone. Our lives’ trajectories should go up and up, forward and improving. Anything that goes counter to this is hard to accept. But life does go counter to this. And there is no fountain of eternal youth. This is why Jesus said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:37b-38 Whoever believes they’re not thirsty doesn’t know herself. Whoever considers himself filled up or just fine doesn’t understand himself. Be thirsty and go to Jesus. Accept your need for a strong spiritual drink and let Christ quench your thirst. Our scripture has this wonderful statement. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God….” Now the truth is there is no actual river that runs through Jerusalem, the city of God. But the image is designed to represent a state of peace and calm security in contrast with the rough and troubled ocean, in contrast to the earthquakes Jerusalem experienced, and we all experience.
While the ocean rages, and foams, and dashes against the mountains as if it would overturn them, a calm and gently-flowing river, a river of full banks, diffusing joy and fertility and beauty wherever it flowed, represents God’s way among people. We need to search for that river. We need to camp by its banks and build our lives around its beauty. Find your path of peace and stay with it so God can walk with you and yours. But so many today are not into calmness and peace. They’re so accustomed to violence and upheaval, physical and emotional. For too many, it’s the new norm. If you look at video and computer games, boy, are they violent. TV shows are violent. Our society is drinking down violence and feeding on brutality. But many will say it’s only a show or only a game. The truth is our brain isn’t really capable of differentiating between reality and fiction, between real life and virtual representations like on TV or computers. Our brain perceives violence in the same way. What I am saying is that each time you watch a movie with violent messages or images, your brain thinks it’s all real. When we see a brutal scene, where seriously bad things are happening, it can be too much for our brain to process. It ends up changing us by diminishing the importance of empathy. Now imagine what happens to our ability to empathize when we watch an episode of The Walking Dead. Sorry. I know some in the church just love that show and I’m not trying to ruin your somewhat strange need for entertainment and escapism in which zombies are freeing roaming the earth in packs looking for the few humans left to feed on and the humans themselves are killing each other in order to secure small plots of territory. But you know what I’m talking about. After watching it, you don’t feel exactly the same. In fact, it takes a little while to come off of that strange sensation, that fix, you just gave to your brain. It’s like you’ve got to turn the normal person back on. Now I’m not just talking about that particular show of course. But too much sailing for hours on the turbulent ocean of recreational violence and news about tragedies, accidents, catastrophes and so on, and we won’t get seasick any longer. It will be what feels normal. We won’t value the calmness and beauty of the river flowing in us. We won’t value the river of eternal life that flows in our hearts.
This is a river that needs to be fed from our own lives. God begins it flowing but throughout our lives, it needs tributaries to feed into it to keep it going. It needs to be fed with streams of caring, sympathy, love, compassion, humanity, kindness, hope, prayer, empathy. These are feelings we don’t want to give up and give away. They’re meant to save us by to keeping us available to the working of the Holy Spirit, to the promptings of God, to the call of Christ. The river whose streams make glad the city of God is our river as well. I want to tell you a story that Henri Nouwen relates. He wrote, “A friend…had decided to spend the week following Christmas with his father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. One morning, when he met his father at the day program in which he takes part, he found him very anxious and agitated. His father was worrying that his own mother, who had died long before my friend was born, needed his help. The worries were clearly an expression of a deep anguish that he could not express directly. My friend took his father for a drive for more than an hour through the countryside. Very few words were spoken between them, but my friend noticed how his father’s anxiety diminished and he became more relaxed. After not speaking for nearly an hour, the father turned, looked directly at his son, and said, ‘Well, we haven’t had such a good visit in a long time.’” The son laughed and realized his father was right. Anguish had become peace; loss had become gain. Even the silence between them held healing.” There is a river whose streams make glad all who let it run through their lives. Jesus said, “Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” Go ahead and drink. Can the church say Amen?
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