5th Sunday of Lent: I Am Thirsty (5/6)
Other sermons in this series
“The Seven Last Words of Christ”
Scriptures: Isaiah 55:1-3a; John 19:28-29
My guess is that many of you parents of adult children have an experience similar to my parents, which is that they absolutely live for the occasions when the entire family is together in one place; when every child, grandchild, and maybe at some point, great-grandchild is all together. Making this happen used to be easier. But as our children (their grandchildren) graduated from college, moved away and started new jobs, got married, and at some point, have children of their own, it’s become much more challenging to find times to be all together. So, when it happens they just beam!
You might say they long for and thirst for these experiences of being all together. Why? Because being all together brings deep joy to their hearts. I suppose that when our daughter starts her own family and they get busy with their own lives, Caroline and I will experience that same kind of thirst for those infrequent occasions when we’re all able to be together, if only for short periods of time.
To know we’re loved and valued—isn’t that what all of us are most thirsty for in life? We tend to see the externals as the objects of our greatest desires, such as financial wealth, a good job, fun experiences, and even things like marriage and children. But ultimately, isn’t knowing that we’re loved and valued for who we truly are our deepest thirst? We know for a fact that children who receive no words of affirmation, no love, no physical touch, and little human interaction as infants are unable to develop and thrive cognitively, physically, and emotionally in their later years. And even those who had the most loving upbringing realize at some point that there are parts of themselves which still thirst and long for that deep affirmation of self. Even the most humanly-loved people can struggle with not feeling loved or good enough.
This is why the core of Jesus’ earthly ministry was loving people. He healed people for many reasons. One of them was to shower them with love, a love they often didn’t get from the people around them.
At yesterday’s Men’s Bible study, we looked at the time Jesus healed the man who’d been lame for thirty-eight years and never seemed to be able to get into a healing pool quick enough. After a brief conversation with Jesus, the Lord healed his physical malady and told him to pick up his mat and walk (John 5:11). No sooner had he started to walk away than he was accosted by the religious leaders, accusing him of being a law-breaker because he was carrying his mat on the Sabbath. Carrying one’s mat was considered a form of work, and any type of work was explicitly forbidden on the Sabbath.
Throughout the Gospels, this same scene plays out again and again. Jesus heals a broken body on the Sabbath after which the vitriol of the religious leaders pours forth. It was clear to Jesus that the religious system of his people wasn’t very loving. Rule-keeping was top priority, even at the cost of human life and human dignity. And so, Jesus made loving people—prioritizing their wellbeing over and above keeping the human-made portions of the Law—a central part of his ministry.
As his life and ministry was drawing to a close, he commissioned his followers to do the same. “I give you a new commandment: love each other. In the same manner that I’ve loved you, so you also must love each other” (John 13:34).
Is there a greater demonstration of his unfailing love for all people than his actions on the cross? Even from the cross he was ministering to the people present at his crucifixion. But he wasn’t ministering to them only; he was also ministering to us who live two millennia later. How? By saying things that help us in our own discipleship.
- “Father, forgive them” reveals that it’s possible to forgive the most unforgivable; but also, that we ourselves are in need of forgiveness for the ways we continue to nail him to the cross through our own actions.
- “Today, you will be with me in paradise” is a reminder that salvation is not just something for the future, but is a reality for us today, in this life.
- “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” helps us to know that even when it feels like God’s turned his back on us, he hasn’t. He’s right there with us.
- Saying to his mother, “here is your son,” and to his disciple, “here is your mother,” was to call into existence a community, a new type of family in which we are all brothers and sisters of one another, united by our faith in Christ.
In today’s reading, Jesus cries out and expresses his deep thirst. We’ve already acknowledged the fact that his ministry was all about meeting the deep thirst for love which we all have. But what about his own thirst? And why, in this case, did he cry out that he was thirsty? Let’s start with the second question.
Why shout for everyone to hear, “I am thirsty”? I think the reason is pretty simple, and yet it’s very important. Jesus was showing to everyone—those with him that day and those who would be his followers in the centuries to follow—that he was just as human as the next persons. He was showing that he’s one of us. Why was this important? Because it’s human nature to want our Messiah to be more divine than human. Put another way, it’s easy to think that his divinity made him just a little less human, that he didn’t suffer as much as you or I might as human beings. In fact, it wasn’t long before a belief began circulating within the early church that Jesus only appeared to be suffering on the cross, that he only seemed to be human. Why this belief? Well, the thinking was that God would never allow himself to suffer. This belief became known as Docetism, and the early church quickly deemed it a heresy. Jesus cried out in physical thirst because he was, in fact, terribly parched in his throat—all on account of being a human being through and thorugh.
Now, to the first question. Did Jesus have a thirst, or a longing for something, which went beyond his momentary physical thirst? I believe the answer is yes, and I think that affirmation is rooted in John 13:34, which is his command for us to love others in the same way he’s loved us.
The day our Original Parents rebelled against God was the day all relationships became broken to the core. Our relationship with our Creator was broken, leaving us separated from him, our source of true life. Also, our relationships with each other were broken, resulting in war, hatred, violence, bigotry, jealousy, manipulation, and so forth. What love we manage to muster up is often conditional and limited. We’ve learned to distrust others; we easily look upon others with suspect. Cheating others for personal gain is par for the course. From the day these realities became the human condition, Jesus Christ has longed deeply for a return to his original plan and purpose wherein we love one another deeply.
Knowing that he’s the only one that can bring about this return to his original purpose, God put into motion his plan of redemption. When he came into our world in the person of Jesus, his great desire was for us to catch his vision for what can be, and to make his vision our own. In other words, he wanted his thirst for righteousness and justice to become our own thirst for righteousness and justice. And he knew that the only way for this to happen is by us thirsting for Christ Jesus himself. Why? Because he is our source of living water, the abundant life that Jesus came to give us. So, when we place our faith in Jesus, his Spirit gives us the power to live as he lived. To love as he loved. And the thirst in our souls (to be loved) is quenched.
But again, it’s not just about us getting what we want and desire—to be loved and valued. It’s ultimately about everyone—the whole world, in fact—experiencing God’s love. How? Through us who know this love. In the same manner that I have loved you, so you must love one another, says Jesus. And he gave us the perfect model for how to do this. In Philippians 2:5-8, the Apostle Paul holds before us the Jesus model for how to transform the world. We’re told to “adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Living for others more than ourselves. If you want to get radical, living for others and not for ourselves! But most of us probably aren’t in that place where we fall called to fully deny ourselves and put everyone ahead of us. So, maybe it’s learning how to live more and more for the sake of others as time goes by. But the point is the same. Jesus thirsts for righteousness and justice in this world. Through his Spirit, which is poured out FOR us and INTO us, we can relieve his thirst as we serve those who suffer. What did Jesus say? “I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink…Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:35b, 40b). Here’s the bottom line, friends. When you and I drink deeply from the living water that Jesus offers, it not only satisfies us and relieves our own deepest thirsts, but it also transforms and empowers us to be for others what Jesus is for us.
We’re surrounded by people whose deepest thirst are not being met by the world. We know what it is to be quenched by God’s love in the person of Jesus Christ. And it’s our call to pour that love into the lives of others. We can do this individually in our one-on-one relationships with people we know. And we can do this as a church.
Regarding how we do this as a church, there’s something important to keep in mind. Over the past number of years, I’ve learned that outreach as most of us, including myself, have come to understand it is pretty much a thing of the past. Outreach itself is not a thing of the past; but what it’s typically looked like and how it’s typically been done has evolved into something else. By and large, Christian outreach has centered around doing thing for others. Find a need, meet a need. This kind of ministry will always be necessary, because there will always been real needs that need to be addressed, and sometimes the best way to do that is through a church. What’s changed is that the most effective outreach is when churches are not only doing things for people, but we’re also coming alongside them and doing things with people. In other words, when we’re first establishing relationships with persons, getting to know them, finding out who they are. And then, born out of those already-existing relationships, we begin to identify ways to love them by meeting some of those needs.
Along this same line is recognizing that today, the most effective outreach doesn’t happen when we provide a service here and invite them to come to us. Rather, it’s when we figure out a way to go and meet them where they’re at. Let me give you two quick real-life examples. I’m lifting both of these word-for-word out of a book called “Fresh Expressions.”
Here’s the first one.
Patti served as pastor to First Church in Pahokee, Florida, which was an anchor of strength and responsibility for as long as anyone in town could remember. A few miles away, just outside of town, was the state’s institution (not a prison) that lodged convicted sex offenders. Patti’s shepherding instincts drew her to this community, and she got to know the residents. She discerned that many of the residents had gifts in music and the desire for a worship service. This became the “Church of the Second Chance,” and each week the residents gathered to praise God, seek redemption and forgiveness, and listen to the teachings of Scripture. The journey has taken Patti and the community from listening to the stories of the residents, seen as outcasts in our culture, to incarnational presence (simply showing up), to service (offering and receiving gifts), to making disciples (making time and space for worship). (Fresh Expressions, p. 25)
Instead of inviting the residents of this institution to come and join them – “join us, we think you’ll like it” – they started a worship service on site. They went out to them.
Here’s the second.
I (the author) served in a community that included a large number of immigrant families. Each day many of these men would gather at a central location with the hope of being employed for the day. Many were to the United States, and most were living day to day. The church began a ministry called Café en La Calle. These Monday morning gatherings became as consistent as the Sunday morning services that had happened twenty-four hours earlier. Members of the church, along with the pastor, would prepare coffee and food to share as these men gathered. Individuals could write down prayer requests and put them in a prominently displayed box. At times, there were deep conversations about family and faith. Café en La Calle became a way of sharing the faith in new ways and in a new place among new people. (Fresh Expressions, p. 1)
Once again, the people of the church went out to where these men gathered each day and once a week served them coffee and food and, more importantly, got to know and converse with them on a personal level.
This is what outreach is looking like more and more these days. We’re surrounded by people thirsting for the love of God. Let’s open our eyes and ask God to show us who they are and how we might take God’s love to them.
We cry out to you from the depths, LORD—my Lord, listen to our voices! Let your ears pay close attention to our requests for mercy! If you kept track of sins, LORD, who would stand a chance? But forgiveness is with you—that’s why you are honored. We hope, LORD. With all our being we hope, and we wait upon your promise. We wait for you, Lord more than the night watch waits for morning; yes, more than the night watch waits for morning! God’s people, wait for the LORD! Because faithful love is with the LORD; because great redemption is with our God! He is the one who will redeem his covenant people from all their sin.
God, sometimes we wonder if you hear us. Intellectually, we know you do because your Word tells us so. But we admit that it’s often difficult to see evidence that you hear us. Maybe we don’t see it because we’ve got scales on our eyes. Or maybe because we’re only looking for what we want to see. We admit, Father, that it may be on us. But at the same time, what we often pray for is based on what you tell us to pray for. And when we don’t necessarily see the anticipated fruits of our prayers, we confess that it’s easy to doubt, to think that maybe we’re not getting through. And so, in faith we once again echo the cry of the psalmist: listen to our voices, Lord! Pay close attention to our requests. For our hope is in you alone. As we wait for your response, grant us greater faith. Enable us to trust you even in the silence.
And so, trusting that you do hear and listen, in the silence of our own hearts we lift up by name those we’ve been praying for—people who are hurting, who are suffering unjustly, who are feeling hopeless. We pray for friends who are alone right now; for those who are seemingly backed into a corner and see no pathyway out. We pray for people we know who are ill, who are facing difficult medical conditions with few good answers. We pray for those who lead us, whether in the church, the government; our families, at work, in the school. Give them holy wisdom as they make choices and decisions which effect all of us. Hear us as we pray for these folks…..
As we metaphorically make our way to Jerusalem alongside Jesus, both the cross and the empty tomb await us. We’re looking forward to the empty tomb; we love resurrection and new life. But we know we can’t get there without being confronted with the cross. God, we thank you for both. For your self-sacrifice in which you bore the guilt of the sin of the world and set us free. And for your resurrection in which destroyed the power of death and showed us what awaits us in the life to come. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.