The Lord will guide you continuallyIsaiah 58:11 (NRSVUE)
and satisfy your needs in parched places
and make your bones strong,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water
whose waters never fail.
Do you ever feel parched, overheated, thirsty, or just plain tired? Of course, you do! As human beings, we all do at one time or another. Sometimes we feel physically parched, overheated, thirsty, or just plain tired, because we have been working hard and we need to take a break, Or because it’s summer, and it’s hot outside. In times like that, a tall glass of ice-cold lemonade sounds refreshing, doesn’t it?
The good news today is that our household huddlers have made a lot of ice-cold lemonade to share with all of you during coffee hour this morning because sometimes we just need to stop and rest to refresh ourselves. And we are hoping that a nice cold glass of lemonade after church will help all of us to cool off and get a break from the summer heat.
Now in today’s scripture reading, we hear from the prophet Isaiah, who tells us that God will satisfy our needs and that we will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fail. Sounds refreshing, doesn’t it? Actually, we hear lots of references in scripture to God satisfying our needs:
- He makes me lie down in green pastures and He leads me beside still waters.
- You will be like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.
- Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; so that you may be refreshed.
- For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.
Folks, like a tall glass of lemonade on a hot day, God continually refreshes our souls. And the truth is, we all need that refreshment to keep going. But I wonder, has your faith ever felt parched, overheated, thirsty, or just plain tired? Have you ever wondered if it’s all worth it? Or felt lost and alone? Or just felt tired, like it’s a constant uphill battle?
Though a rest or a tall glass of lemonade can help, it is in times like that when our faith feels parched that we need to realize that our faith is not just about what God does for us, but it’s about what God calls us to do for others. Did you hear that? Our faith is not just about what God does for us, but it’s about what God calls us to do for others.
Folks, we can attend church every Sunday, we can read our Bibles and listen to Christian music all week, we can sing and pray and praise God, and we can still find ourselves feeling empty and parched and tired and lost. Because though we may do our best to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, we don’t allow the refreshing love of God deep inside to water our souls. We go through the motions. We worry about what other people think. We do what we think we are supposed to do but we don’t make it a part of who we really are. We keep our faith at arm’s length or in a fancy box to take out on Sunday mornings, but we don’t allow it to feed us, and fill us, and guide us on a day-to-day basis.
Today’s reading from chapter 58 of the book of Isaiah is just a small piece of the scripture that we hear on Ash Wednesday every year. Ash Wednesday is the day at the beginning of the season of Lent that reminds us that from dust we have come and to dust we shall return, that someday, we will all die. And that is why we need to look at the world around us and every moment of every day as a precious gift.
Folks, this “going through the motions,” this worrying about what other people think, this doing what we think people expect us to do, and this holding our faith at arm’s length has been going on for thousands of years.
Just before today’s reading, the prophet Isaiah was talking to the people about the religious practice of fasting. Religious fasts are not done for dietary or health reasons but mostly as a means to regain a spiritual connection with God. And for some, fasting can be an amazing spiritual practice. But as Isaiah found, it can also become an inward, “all about me” focus. Isaiah said that covering oneself with sackcloth and ashes and looking miserable, then fighting with your neighbor, is not what the practice of fasting is all about. He then said:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and God will say, “Here I am.”
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your needs in parched places and make your bones strong, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fail.
Friends, our faith is not about what God does for us; it’s about what we do to care for God’s Creation. Sometimes it’s the sharing of a glass of ice-cold lemonade with someone thirsty that can water our inner gardens and fill us with joy. But it’s not just sharing a cold glass of lemonade. It can be working to change unfair practices or helping those who are treated unjustly. It can be deciding NOT to point fingers or gossip about other people’s sins. It can be cleaning up rivers, or picking up litter on the side of the road, or reaching out to a stranger with a random act of kindness.
So, brothers and sisters, remember that anytime that we care for God’s creation, be it human beings or animals, plants or water, or rocks or air, we are also working to water our own inner garden because we are all connected. And as we know, one act of love and kindness can cause an endless ripple that goes on far beyond what we can ever see.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!