Sermon Text: John 19:28-29
[Please note that the video may take several seconds to load after you press the play button.]
I’ve told you in the past about our no-good, rotten dog Neko, who likes to eat passports just before you leave to go on an important overseas trip. She is still no-good and rotten, although I must confess that my heart is warming to her ever so slightly—for example she seems to enjoy sitting in my lap in the evenings, which is very cute. But I don’t think I can take her running with me anymore. Now that it’s turned warm, after only a couple of miles, she’ll stop, suddenly, in the middle of the street and sit down, refusing to go any further. So I’m running along and all of sudden… I’m practically choking her by accident. The reason, I think, that she refuses to run further is that she gets thirsty, and it’s not like I’m carrying her water bowl with me! If you’re really thirsty, all you can think about is doing something to quench your thirst.
Most Americans don’t let themselves get thirsty these days. We drink insane amounts of water. There was a recent episode of The Office in which Dwight was walking around the office with one of those “hydration packs” for runners? You know what I’m talking about? Jim looks down at his keyboard and says, “Hey, Dwight, I don’t know if you heard, but we’re supposed to be drinking out of weird backpacks instead of cups like regular people.” Then he looks up. “Oh you did hear!” The problem with this arises when Dwight and Pam get stuck on the elevator. And, you know, they don’t have restrooms with elevators. Most of us don’t walk around with hydration packs, but the bottled water industry is doing a booming business, obviously—filling up our landfills with them. We drink water preemptively, before we ever get thirsty.
It’s safe to say that we are water hogs. Fortunately, we live in a part of the world where water is mostly abundant and clean, which isn’t the case in many parts of the world.
Needless to say, in Jesus’ day, water wasn’t nearly so abundant. When I was in the Holy Land recently, we went to the Jordan River. Here we are with Bishop Watson. As you can see from the picture, the Jordan isn’t what you might call a mighty river—it’s not the Mississippi. As Bishop Watson pointed out, it’s often the most underwhelming part of people’s trip to the Holy Land. It would be little more than a creek around here. And here they’ve dammed it up so that it will be deep enough to baptize people by immersion further upstream. But as the bishop also pointed out, in a land in which water is scarce, this little river is a lifeline. All that to say, when Jesus says he’s thirsty in this “fifth word” from the cross, the people who heard him deeply understood the importance of quenching thirst. It wasn’t something they could afford to take for granted.
Jesus talks about thirst in a special way in the gospel of John. You may remember in John chapter 4 that Jesus tells the woman at the well in that he can give her “living water”—and that those who drink of the water that he gives will never be thirsty again.1
And she says, “Give me this water so that I’ll never be thirsty again.” In John 6, he tells the people that whoever believes in him will never be thirsty.2
In John 7, Jesus says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”3
When I was a teenager in youth group, we used to sing a camp song about this very verse, which went like this: “I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me/ Makes the lame to walk, and the blind to see/ Opens prison doors, sets the captives free/ I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me/ Spring up, O well, within my soul/ Spring up, O well, and make me whole/ Spring up, O well, and give to me/ That life abundantly.” Thank you! You don’t get that in traditional service! Or if you do, it would be sung with a lot of vibrato. Here’s the funny thing, though. When I was a 14 or 15, I misheard the lyrics. And it seems really dumb now to mention it… but where it says, “spring up, O well within my soul,” I thought it said, “Spring up, oil well within my soul.” So that’s what I sang. Well… it sounds very similar!
But isn’t that a perfect symbol for our human condition? Isn’t it just like us human beings to mistake the living water that only Christ offers us for something here on earth. Isn’t it just like us to go looking for this living water in an oil well or a gold mine or a diamond mine or a bottle or a bank vault or a beach resort or a drug or in some other person. We are so thirsty for God, but we’re often settling for something less than God. We’re often trying to quench this thirst with things that don’t satisfy—at least not for long.
And I would be lying to you if I said I don’t fall victim to this almost all the time! I collect vinyl records, as many of you know. It’s almost embarrassing to tell you how preoccupied I can get with this hobby. If only I could find this one album I’m looking for! I would be so happy. My birth mother called me from Pensacola last week to tell me that she was at a used record store there, and she found an album I’ve been looking for for years: a mono copy of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I could happily bore you with the reasons why the mono version is better than the stereo version, but let’s just say that this album is usually very expensive, and she found it at a great price. And this is so good, and I am very happy about it, and I’m going to deeply appreciate this gift—but what happens when I start depending on things like mono copies of Beatles albums to make me happy—to quench my one true thirst for God? See what I mean?
This is why we should all fast or give something up during Lent. Because God uses it to teach us to properly desire what we really need to live. For me, I’ve been fasting once a week during this season of Lent. And, oh by the way, one of the promises I made to the bishop when I was ordained—in fact, it’s a promise that all Methodist clergy have been making to the bishop since Wesley was around—is that I would fast, and that I would teach or encourage my congregation to fast. So I hope that what I’m about to say counts, OK? I’ve been fasting once a week during Lent. That means, basically, I’m skipping breakfast and lunch one day a week—and only drinking water during that time. The worst part is no coffee in the morning, either, which is a supreme sacrifice! But you know what? I’m surviving just fine. I can do it! But if, on those days in which I’m fasting, I’m a little more short-tempered or a little more irritable or a little more grumpy, it’s not really because I didn’t have food or coffee—it’s that food and coffee were masking some bad stuff in my heart that is now coming to the surface—stuff that I need to deal with.
The truth is I really don’t need food or even Juan Valdez to make me happy—I shouldn’t depend on those things to make me happy. I should depend on God. And if I don’t need food or coffee to make me happy—guess what? Maybe I don’t need an iPad 2 to make me happy, either. Or a new electric guitar. Or a new video game system. Or a new golf club. Or a new relationship. You can fill in the blank for whatever it is that applies to your life.
Often, when things seem to be going really well in our lives, when we feel like we have everything we need, when the wind is at our back, when it’s smooth sailing, when the fish are biting, when the balls are landing in the fairway, when we’re getting along just fine—these can often be the most spiritually harmful times in our lives. Because “getting along just just fine” can often mean “getting along just fine without God.” These are often times when we easily forget what it is we’re really thirsty for. That being the case, it’s very gracious of God to put a good crisis in our lives every once in a while to remind us of how needy we truly are—something that literally drives us to our knees. I don’t often pray on my knees, but when I do you better believe it’s because something is going wrong in my life, and I am desperately in need of God’s help! And that’s a good thing! Sometimes it’s good to be reminded of how thirsty we are and who has the power to quench our thirst.
Who has this living water we need? Jesus. Who wants to give us us this living water? Jesus. Who wants to quench our deepest thirst? Jesus. Who? Jesus. Did you know that there are people in your life right now who are looking for this living water, too, but they haven’t found it? Can you do something about that? Can you invite them to the source of this living water? [Say more about inviting to church? Coffee House? Don talked about this on Thursday during Bible study.]
I’ve been talking so much about our “thirst” for Jesus that you may worry that I’ve missed the point. After all, we began this discussion in the first place because Jesus was the one who was thirsty. What about his thirst? Well, given the way Jesus talks about thirst and water, I hope I’ve convinced you that it’s likely that his words mean than just physical thirst—although I’m sure he was thirsty in that way too. Back in John chapter 4, Jesus is hungry and thirsty when he comes into this Samaritan town and has a conversation with the woman at the well.4
In fact, while he’s talking to the woman, his disciples go into town to get something to eat—and bring him something. While they’re gone, the woman realizes who Jesus is, believes in Jesus, comes into a saving relationship with Christ, and then immediately goes to tell her fellow townspeople. When the disciples come back, they say, “Rabbi, eat something.” But suddenly Jesus doesn’t seem hungry anymore. He tells them, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.” And they’re thinking, “Did someone else come and bring him food?” And he said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”
Next week in our last sermon in this series, we’ll talk about how Jesus completed his mission on the cross. My point right now is that Jesus’ deepest hunger and his deepest thirst was to bring us into a saving relationship with God, to make us a part of God’s family forever, to satisfy our deepest longing for him, so that we can continue this good work in our world today. In other words, when God on the cross says, “I’m thirsty,” he is mostly thirsty for us. Think about how much we want water when we’re thirsty. If we’re thirsty enough, we can’t want anything more. It’s all we want. Is it possible to imagine that God wants us that much? Is it possible to imagine that God would even die to have us?
1. See John 4:10-15
2. John 6:35
3. John 7:37-38
4. See John 4:31-34