Come to the Waters

Unity Lutheran Church + Christ the King Campus
24 March 2019 + Third Sunday in Lent
Isaiah 55.1-9
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching

So there we were: hiking through the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. This was one of many summer vacation trips my dad and I took when I was growing up. One year took us all the way out to the Grand Canyon and the many Native American reservations of the Southwest. Another year found us in the midst of the Bronx in New York City where we obligingly attended a Yankees game with my dad’s die-hard all-things-New-York-sports fan friend. And this particular year — I was maybe 10 or 11 — we visited South Dakota: Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, the Black Hills, and today, a hike through the Badlands.

244,000 acres of wide open prairie, wild bison, stunning rock formations, and one of the world’s richest fossil beds: The most idyllic place for an exhilarating and renewing hike to take in the wonder of the natural world… until you lose track of your car. In the heat of July. With very little water left. We were, quite literally, lost in the desert. Comparisons were made to the ancient Israelites wandering in the wilderness…

When we finally did track down our vehicle, only to discover the lone bottled beverage in our cooler was beer (did I mention I was about 10 or 11?), a little ingenuity and creativity found my dad pouring the melted ice — now ice-cold water — into an empty container. That water never tasted so good!

You don’t have to get lost in the Badlands of South Dakota to appreciate the refreshment and rejuvenation of a glass of cool water — whether after a long workout, time spent doing yard work, eating something particularly spicy, or just rehydrating first thing in the morning. We know we need water to live — our own bodies are 60% water.

Water is an essential part of our planet, too. Of course, the perception of water is vastly different depending on where you live: welcome relief to areas of drought in California or destructive flooding in Nebraska and other parts of the Midwest.

For good or for bad, water is powerful.

Think about our water stories in the Bible: the life-giving waters at creation swarming with living creatures… the destructive waters of the flood and the ark that saved Noah and his family… the parted waters of the Red Sea that gave the Israelites safe passage out of slavery in Egypt… the waters of the Jordan River that named and claimed Jesus as God’s Beloved…

Water is a powerful symbol in the story of our faith.

Everyone that thirsts, come to the waters! Water is the hook in this passage from Isaiah. Water stands at the beginning of the prophet’s message of hope and restoration for the exiles of ancient Israel returning to their homeland from a long time living in a foreign and unfamiliar land. This was not exactly the most prosperous time in their history. For people struggling to rebuild infrastructure and livelihoods, images of water and bread and wine and milk and rich food without money and without price! — must have sounded both absurd and enticing.

But there’s more: These concrete images of free water, bread, wine, and milk give way to the equally powerful reminder of God’s everlasting covenant, the steadfast, sure love of God for God’s people — even and especially in the midst of foreign occupation and economic devastation. In the midst of uncertainty, God’s promise is certain.

Maybe not the most compelling statement on its own to a people who have lost everything and are starting from scratch. But connect it to the very real and vivid image of reviving waters and rich foods — and you’ve got something there.

We’ve been talking a lot about renewal during this season of Lent at Unity. But the promise or hope of renewal is a lot easier said than experienced though, isn’t it? The busyness of daily life can be downright overwhelming — returning emails, making appointments, catching up with work and school and family. I remarked in my Spiritual Practices 101 group just this past Friday how my own copy of the Lasting Hope devotional many of you have been reading has been collecting dust on my coffee table at home since the fourthday of Lent. It’s hard to make time for rest and renewal, let alone experience it. It’s even harder, I’ve found, when we try to force it.

But those moments of rest that just happen can be the most renewing of all. For me, those moments have almost always happened near water. My whole adult life, I’ve lived by the water: on the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago, to the Missouri River in Omaha, and back to Lake Michigan in Bay View. Walks across the pedestrian bridge over the Missouri or along the lakefront in Chicago or Milwaukee have long been places of surprising renewal for me.

Just this past week, I took my dog for a walk along the Oak Leaf Trail that runs along the lake in my neighborhood. No emails, no computer, no hurry — just walking and breathing fresh air and taking in the vastness of the lake. All week long, whenever I’ve gotten bogged down in work or worry, I’ve heard the call of Isaiah: Come to the waters!

Come to the waters.
Be renewed.
Remember God’s promise.
Be loved.
Just be.

For me, I’ve experienced that promise by literal waters. But that voice calls to all of us: Come to the waters! Where do you hear that voice? Where is it calling you for renewal? What physical, vivid places, images, or people connect you to moments of renewal and God’s promise of restoration?

Our bodies and spirits long for renewal. We need renewal — these moments as by refreshing waters — to be good to ourselves and to be better to each other and to the world.

We can start at this table — with this rich food of bread and wine. Indeed, we’ve already started by gathering here in the renewing presence of the body of Christ, the church. Here, we are centered around the waters of this font, the renewing waters of baptism, that invite us, especially this Lenten season, to remember God’s fierce and tender love for each one of us.

Come to the waters.
Be renewed in God’s mercy.

image: Cupertino Park, Bay View, Milwaukee, overlooking Lake Michigan (credit: Josh Evans)

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