Spiritual sustenance is especially vital in times of tragedy so we can respond in the most helpful ways to the immense temporal and spiritual needs confronting us in our own lives and around the world.
The Bible is filled with invitations to receive God's providence. We heard one of those invitations as presented in the Message translation today from the book of Isaiah and I love just how it just began. It said, "Hey there! All who are thirsty, come to the water!" In the King James version it says, "Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters and he that hath no money come ye buy and eat. Yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price." (Isaiah 55:1 MSG & KJV).
Transcript of sermon preached at Briensburg UMC on March 20, 2022 [Audio]
God promises to supply our greatest needs without money and without price. Paul put it this way, he said, "God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory." And that's a good place to think about it instead of the stinginess that sometimes we find among humanity in supplying needs. It's clear at the other end of the spectrum, according not to our lack of ability or are thinking that there's just so much to go around and we better make sure we get our part, but the generosity of God, according to his riches in glory."
And it describes in so many ways in our thoughts and in our Bible. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He created the heavens and the earth and we're always discovering how much greater all that creation is as they explore further into the universe. Basically, it seems to be infinite, doesn't it? And continuing to be created and God has it all. So there's plenty for everybody.
And he calls us into the spiritual realm where we can live into that prosperity of the kingdom of God, that wealth that is offered when Jesus says, "Seek you first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these other things will be yours, as well." So that's where Paul is leading us. That's where Isaiah is leading us. That's where the Bible is leading us into this spiritual realm of infinite wealth and prosperity. That is an eternal treasure that Jesus spoke of in heaven, and from that storehouse then to bring out the abundance to share with the world.
It's similar to the invitation of Jesus when he stood up and it says in The Living Bible, "On the last day, the climax of the holidays, Jesus shouted to the crowds, 'If anyone is thirsty, let them come to me and drink for the scriptures declare that rivers of living water shall flow from the inmost being of anyone who believes in me.'" And John went on to say in that passage that Jesus was speaking about the Holy Spirit who would be given to everyone believing in him.
O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, (Psalm 63:1 KJV)
Explore the spiritual dimension
The Psalmist said in today's reading, "Oh, God, thou art my God. Early will I seek thee. My soul thirsteth for thee. My flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land." A dry and thirsty land can be more than just the geographical, but the spiritual famine is represented in these words. At times when things are so bleak we don't know where to turn, what to do, resources are scarce and options are insufficient to meet the overwhelming challenges, and in that situation the psalmist invites us to be diligent and intentional in exploring our relationship with God. Seek God early, as soon as possible to get the guidance and help we need for our thirsty soul.
Jesus promised in the Beatitudes that, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled."
Feed the soul
And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:3-4 KJV)
And the reading from Paul's letter to the Corinthians, he said, "And they all ate the same spiritual meat and did all drink the same spiritual drink for they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them." And that rock was Christ. Christ is the spiritual rock who continues to follow us, to provide for us. The New Testament often refers to God's Word as nourishment. In several places Paul wrote about the Word as meat and milk, the milk and meat of the Word.
Jesus referred to himself as the living bread which comes down out of heaven. We pray as we just prayed this morning, "Give us this day our daily bread," as a short form of trust in God to provide all of our spiritual and temporal needs for the challenges we face this and every day. Notably in this passage today in the reading from First Corinthians, Paul wrote that, "All drank together the same drink from the same rock." We share this nourishment provided, not just for some, but for all.
Spiritually healthy people see God in the Love that overcomes tragedy
Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? (Luke 13:2 KJV)
This passage that was from the Gospel reading for today, there's several times in my life when it has come around in electionary cycle and spoken to certain times of tragedy that have been just history changing moments. And especially the one time that stood out to me that it does that, was right after 9/11. This was the reading for the Sunday after 9/11 and it's been a cycle that's been ongoing through all different denominations for, I don't know how long. For a long time.
And it goes around, it comes around and it came around then and it came around now with the tragedies going on that we face now, that the world faces, and is trying to reckon with. And within these passages, is this question by Jesus, "Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all Galileans because they suffered such things?" And one of the tragedies was a ruthless dictator mingling their blood with blood that was being offered to idols and considering human life as worthless only for his own purposes. And the other was of a building that collapsed and many people were killed.
And so those very images and the very questions that Jesus asked is one that comes down to us through the century in the tragedies of humanity and is still asked today, "Why? Why do these things happen?" And a lot of people like to speculate about that and then we can't help but speculate in some way or to ask why, but it's hard to find the answer to why. And sometimes when people speculate, the answers they come up with just make the situation worse almost and blame the victims for the tragedies they're going through. And so it's difficult to answer why evil and injustice happen.
And evil and injustice, they come to us in so many forms: natural disasters, self-inflicted problems. And probably one of the most difficult to understand, though, is those that are intentionally inflicted by individuals or by groups or by nations. Why would anybody want to hurt somebody, especially for no reason? Why? And it's so hard to wrap our minds around. It's impossible, really. And just as impossible as often as to stop those who are intentionally trying to hurt others.
It's often said that those that are out there trying to protect us and protect us from terrorism, for example, the terrorists, in their attempts, they only have to be successful once to get done what they want to do. And those protecting us are always facing these challenges over and over. It makes it pretty difficult. And apply that into other things. It's hard to stop people who want to harm others and it doesn't seem sufficient to punish them or to take vengeance. What we pray for is that they would stop, that they would repent, that they would see things from a different point of view, that they would have the peace that we just described here that we feel in this room today, that they could have some of that, if somehow we could extend to them that peace that passes understanding.
And so all of this is very confusing in there. It's difficult to know where God is, even sometimes in those things and they raise so many questions in our minds. But one thing is very clear and that is that God is actively and visibly, in the response of humanity, to help the victims. We can see that. We can point to it, and we can even be a part of it.
Recognize the spirit of Christ in times of storms and wars and disasters. Take a stand against evil and injustice and oppression in all its forms as we commit to doing in our baptismal vows that we share, that we ask of everybody when they become a part of the church and we reaffirm that then and at other times, and perhaps even now, when we ask on behalf of the whole church,
On behalf of the whole Church, I ask you:
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world,
and repent of your sin?
And we say: I do.
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves?
And again we say: I do.
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened
to people of all ages, nations, and races?
And we all say: I do.
The General Rules handed down to us from the earliest days of Methodism begin like this: They say, "Firstly, do no harm." Don't make the situation worse. Don't inflame the situation. Don't create obstacles. Remember the millstone example Jesus gave one time for anyone making things harder for others. Jesus also said that, "Some religious people tend to bind heavy burdens," as it's stated in Matthew 23: "They bind heavy burdens and grievous to be born and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers."
"Secondly, do good." As our saying goes, do all the good you can. Find some way to offer encouragement and assistance, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem trusting that every tiniest seed will grow. We do good by absorbing our share of the social burden and the cost of helping those who are going through difficult circumstances.
Ina Duley Ogden wrote her hymn, "Brighten the corner where you are." The ripple effect from making the world better right around us spreads to others who may be closer to the situation and better able to address it because we have been supportive of them. Think about missionaries on the mission field or humanitarian workers in areas of war and conflict, our disaster responders in our own community and abroad.
Thirdly, attending upon all the ordinances of God, or, as we often say, "Stay in love with God." Feed and nurture the soul to keep each other spiritually healthy. Jesus asked Peter after the last breakfast, "Do you love me? Feed my sheep."
We connect our spirits more closely and more meaningfully in ways that transcend our differences in beliefs and cultures and politics. Spiritual vitality enables us to be centered and engaged and focused, guided by the Holy Spirit, led by the Lord step by step through our own difficulties and discovering how best to help others in their times of need.
During this Lenten season, we intentionally focus on strengthening ourselves and each other spiritually to better address the massive challenges of our time.In the name of Jesus. Amen.