“Stay Hydrated”

September 18, 2016
Jonathan Rumburg
Jeremiah 2:4-13

Introduction Say “water bottle” and, if you’re 82 years old, you might think this is a reference to a flat, red rubber bladder you put hot water which can then be taken to bed to warm up the sheets.  I say 82 because this is how old my dad is and it’s what he thinks of when you say “water bottle.” This device was common in the first half of the 1900’s when it was expensive to heat a house, and the cold nights and cold beds could be made warmer by use of the ubiquitous hot water bottle.  But say “water bottle” to just about anyone else and this is a reference to the even more ubiquitous plastic bottle containing water. In a recent year, Americans consumed almost 10 billion bottles of water, which translates into almost 170 disposable water bottles per person, of which only 38 are recycled. We are some thirsty people.  Which is understandable— Health professionals encourage us to drink eight glasses of water a day, or more.  “Stay hydrated!” is the buzzword in fitness centers far and wide.  “Stay hydrated” is a trendy, technobabble expression, stating a very simple truth the human race has known since the beginning of time: We all need water to live. Move 1 Staying hydrated today has never been easier.  Not like the days of leaning on pump handles and hauling buckets from the well.  But, we often make it harder than we need to.  Most municipal water systems— Flint, Michigan, and a few other decaying rust-belt cities being exceptions— are notable for their high-quality water, like New York City which often win taste tests for their tap water.  So why such a frenzied rush to slug down exotic bottled waters?  Brands like Fiji and Voss water are transported on container ships, at great expense, from halfway around the world, offering no discernible improvement in quality, and in exchange for a deplorable carbon footprint. Sometimes bottled spring water is actually less healthy than tap water.  Bottles filled directly from the spring can contain harmful microorganisms and chemicals that are routinely scrubbed out by municipal treatment systems.  Using such elixirs to stay hydrated is costly not only in financial terms but also from the environmental standpoint. Move 2 Many Scripture texts adopt water as a potent spiritual metaphor.  Among them is our text for today from Jeremiah, who sets a courtroom image into our minds in which the angry prosecutor—God—thunders away saying: “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” We don’t hear much about cisterns today, but cisterns were a big part of daily life in the Middle East.  A cistern is an underground storage tank that collects runoff from the roof in the rainy season.  There was no such thing as indoor plumbing so cisterns offered their accumulated supply through many thirsty days. Now it has to be noted, cistern water is not especially appetizing.  Today’s hipster gym rats would turn up their noses at the malodorous stuff.  Cistern water is strictly an emergency supply.  Its only purpose is to preserve life in a time of terrible extremity.  A cistern has just one job: to hold its water.

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          This water imagery would have been vivid for Jeremiah’s readers for three reasons. First, they lived in a marginally fertile land, where crops were always at risk due to weather conditions.  If the rains failed, if the wadi’s never filled with spring floods, then lives were at risk. Second, the people of Israel had a vivid, collective memory of their ancestors’ wilderness wanderings under Moses.  God had once provided them with water from a rock.  But based on their more recent experience, God was not likely to do so again. And third, Jeremiah is writing at the time of the Babylonian invasion and exile.  Jerusalem is already under siege, and perhaps, when the defenders opened their cisterns, they learned some of them were cracked, that precious water had already leached into the ground. Bottom line— There’s a spiritual problem with the people of Israel, as Jeremiah sees them.  They’ve not only failed to properly provision their capital.  They’ve also failed to maintain the all-important cisterns of their spiritual lives.  They’ve allowed them to fall into disrepair.  The people of Israel, says God through the prophet, are no better than “cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”  Israel’s spiritual problem is that God’s words of comfort and assurance flow into them, but those precious blessings flow right back out again, wasted on the hot desert sands.  The have failed to stay hydrated spiritually.  And this is often our problem too. Move 3 So, what’s the solution to our spiritual hydration problem?  The answer ought to be perfectly obvious:  Keep the cistern in good repair!  Faithful disciples must maintain a reserve of spiritual confidence, to get through times of dehydration, suffering and trial. The follow-up question is then: But how do we do that? The best way to keep spiritual cisterns in good repair is by drawing closer to the divine.  And we do that through worship, communion, and community, while also being intentional in living a life that reflects the divine image that is in all of us.  Attend worship on a regular basis.  Come to the Lord ’s Table—eat the bread, drink the cup.  Be in community.  Serve God and others.  Share the divine.  Do all of this, and do it often enough, and you’ll learn that the chronic anxiety that’s a feature of these dry thirsty times has little effect on us.  For we will know, from long and oft-repeated experience, that it’s not the investment performance of Wall Street, nor which political party ends up in the White House, that makes the greatest difference in our lives.  It’s the love of God in Christ Jesus.

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          Now, this, of course, runs hard against the conventional wisdom of our society.  More and more, we Americans have become a people who value the quick fix, the instant solution.  We’d rather pop a vitamin supplement than learn how to eat healthy.  We’d rather blow a paycheck on some gimmicky exercise machine— one that will inevitably end up gathering dust in the basement— than embark on a sensible diet and exercise regimen.  We’d rather try to solve our relationship problems by taking an online magazine self-help quiz than by doing the hard work of seeing a counselor, over time.  We’d rather point out the speck in another’s eye than deal with the log in our own. Be it our physical lives, mental lives, spiritual lives, we coast along on our own devices, drawing water at will from the leaky cisterns of our souls, until we suddenly realize there’s nothing left.  Then, we turn to God in desperate prayer, pleading for an emergency refill.  No doubt God is present and at work in these moments, yet the desired outcome may still not come.  And it’s not God’s fault—it’s our own. Cisterns need maintained and filled regularly so that in times of need, they can provide.

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          Running beneath the surface of this text is the theme of covenant— a reality measured not in days, but in centuries.  The charge the divine prosecutor is pressing is that of breaking God’s ancient covenant.  Jeremiah’s task, as prophet, is to call the people back to the sort of long-term covenant relationship whose dividends are realized in terms not of individual moments, but a lifetime and beyond.  Cisterns aren’t filled to meet the needs of today, nor even tomorrow.  The bottled water won’t slake our thirst for very long once the supply chain is broken.  In such dire straits, the cistern water, socked away for just such an eventuality, starts to look pretty good. Move 4 Stephen Covey’s bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, contains a memorable illustration called “Sharpening the Saw.” Covey tells of two lumberjacks working hard to cut down a tree using an old-fashioned cross-cut saw.  Back and forth they pull the saw, their motions synchronized in perfect rhythm.  Yet the longer they work, the less effective their labors appear to be.  Each stroke of the saw takes less of a bite out of the tree, but still, the men keep sawing. What they need to do is to stop and sharpen the saw.  Yet there’s something soothing, even hypnotic, about the rhythm of the sawing.  The more exhausted they become, the easier it is to imagine that if they just keep going, they’ll finish the job.  They think to themselves. “Who’s got time to stop and sharpen the saw?” The irony is that if they would but stop and perform this essential maintenance, they’d be done in half the time—and without the agony of aching muscles that comes of pulling a dull saw blade back and forth. Conclusion Drawing closer to the divine, being intentional in our work and service to God and others is like sharpening the saw. Drawing closer to the divine, being intentional in our work and service to God and others is like filling the cistern. Day after day, week in and week out, we saw away at our individual vocations. Day after day, week in and week out, we keep ourselves going and going in a world that often sets us back and holds us down. We struggle and work harder—and often we persevere—but at what cost? Without a regular interlude for worship and service and community— for “being still and knowing that the Lord is God,” for devoting time to prayer and contemplation, for hearing the Word read and proclaimed— the bite of our labors, the work of our lives— becomes dull, and we become exhausted, stressed out, detached from the wellspring of all meaning.  It’s not enough simply to confess Christ as Lord and Savior— once— and leave it at that.  The saw needs to be kept sharp; on in the case of Jeremiah’s lesson—the cistern needs to be kept in good repair.  God has made a covenant with us—to know us, to bless us with grace and new life—but we have a responsibility to maintain this covenant with God.  And we do this by drawing closer to the divine.

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          So may we seek to stay hydrated.  Not with trendy and expensive bottles of water.  But with the very water of new life that God always provides.  Amen. Pastoral Prayer Holy God, you see us, you know us, you are present to us, and we are so grateful. You know the condition of our hearts, the worries of our minds, the anxiety of our spirits. You know our suffering and pain, our gratitude and celebrations. You know what feeds our souls, what sustains us in good days and difficult days, and you provide like a cistern filled by a well spring in a dry and arid desert. God of life, because you know us so well, we pray you make your presence known to each person here today, in just that way that will speak to us, move us, fill us, and assure us, that no matter life’s varied circumstances, you are our God. We pray you send your Spirit to speak words of truth and hope, words of challenge and convictions so that we can find confidence and fortitude to rise up and live as you call. We pray you help us know that you are good, that your love is for all, that your grace is abundant, and that abundant life is possible when we fill ourselves with you, and learn to walk in your ways. After all, that is your covenant to your children.  From before Abraham and from after, you have promised to be our God, and that we would be your people.  It is a covenant you have made, and have never broken, and never will break. So make us into covenant people once again, where we are aware of all that you are to us, and are inspired to live into the covenant you have made. May we know we can give you our hearts, minds, and spirits—and you will give them grace. May we know we can give you our worries, fears, anxieties—and you will give us peace. May we know we can give you our whole selves, and no matter how broken or worn we may be, you will give us new life. That is, after all, the covenant you have made with us, through your son, our Savior, Jesus. Hear now, we ask, the prayers that come from within our very souls, as we offer them to you in this time of Holy Silence. All this we pray in the name of Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior, who taught us to pray saying, “Our…”

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