September 4th, 2022 homily on Jeremiah 2:4-13; John 7:37-44 by Pastor Galen
One of my kids’ favorite games to play is “Would You Rather?” To play the game, you ask a “Would you rather” question that pairs any two funny, serious, wacky, or thought-provoking scenarios together, such as “Would you rather have hands for feet or feet for hands?” One of my favorite “Would You Rather?” questions is “Would you rather go backward in time and meet your great great great grandparents, or go forward in time and meet your great great great grandchildren?”
Earlier this morning during our Passing of the Peace we answered the question, “Would you rather drink cool fresh water right out of a spring in the mountains, or bottled water that you know has been purified and treated?” As expected there were a variety of responses. Some among us – most likely those of us who love hiking and the outdoors – could probably think of nothing better than drinking cool, refreshing, water straight from a spring in the mountains. Others of us seem to prefer to drink water that we know has been purified and treated, no matter the source.
Spring water is water that naturally bubbles up to the earth’s surface from underneath the ground. Sadly, in our day and age, we do have to be skeptical of water that comes straight from a spring. In fact, the New York State Health Department recommends that “no one should use roadside springs and other uncontrolled, untreated water sources for drinking water…Although the water may look pure and clean, it might not be…A spring might flow above ground, allowing animal waste or chemicals to run into the water.”
And so a lot of work has to go into getting water from springs to the bottles that we buy at the store. And in the end, some would say that our bottled spring water is hardly different from regular tap water, since it is largely treated the same way. On top of that, the energy costs associated with bottling and transporting spring water are astronomical – the oil required to purify, bottle, and transport spring water is equivalent to ¼ of water in the bottle.
Fountain of Living Water
In Bible times, particularly in the land of Israel, water was extremely precious and most often it was even more labor-intensive to obtain.
In Jeremiah and in Jesus’s day there were 3 ways to obtain water:
You could build a cistern to collect the rain – basically a huge “rain barrel” carved out of rock.
You could dig a well.
By far the best and most attractive option was to gather fresh water straight from a spring. Spring water was the sweetest and best water of all. It bubbled up from the recesses of the earth and continued to flow even when other streams were dried up.
And so the prophet Jeremiah essentially poses a “Would You Rather?” question to the the people that shouldn’t have been very difficult for them to answer at all. Would they rather spend incredible time, and energy and effort digging down into solid rock in order to try to gather the minimal rainwater that fell from the sky – or would they simply turn around and drink water from a fountain of cool refreshing spring water bubbling to the surface?
This was absolutely a no-brainer. Of course if there were a spring of pure unpolluted water bubbling up from the surface of the ground they would absolutely want to collect the water from that, rather than spend all of their energy digging rock cisterns that didn’t even hold the water very well.
And yet, Jeremiah points out, that is essentially what the people had done by turning away from God to worship idols. Jeremiah says that God is like this fountain of living water – cool refreshing spring water, always faithful, always offering abundant life-giving refreshment. And yet throughout the history of the nation of Israel the people had continually turned away from God and were expending all of their time and effort and energy chasing after the gods of the other nations around them. Ironically they actually carved their gods out of stone and precious metals, bowing down and worshiping them, pretending as though those gods were the ones who had delivered them from slavery and brought them into the promised land.
Chasing Emptiness Leads to Emptiness
No matter how crazy that sounds to us, the reality is that we so often do the same thing. We spend vast amounts of time and energy and effort and money on things that really don’t matter in the long run. We’ve made an idol out of money and stuff and possessions, thinking that having more money and more things will satisfy us in ways that only God can.
When I was growing up it was sneakers. Classmates of mine would spend a lot of money buying really expensive basketball sneakers, that in the end did not make them better athletes at all. (Many of them didn’t even play basketball!) Others of my high school friends would take on afterschool jobs so that they could buy a car, but they had to work so many hours at their afterschool jobs that the only place they had time to drive to was work and school!
And yet adults do the same things. We spend our time and money and energy working to buy bigger and better things, which end up costing us more money in repairs and insurance, and so we have to work even more hours to maintain our new standard of living. And it becomes an ongoing cycle. A “rat race,” it has often been called.
Now work is not bad – in fact, work existed even in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. Adam and Eve were tasked with tending to the garden, and God did the work of creation. And it’s not money that’s the problem either – although money can easily become an idol. Rather it’s the “love of money” that is the problem, as we find in 1 Timothy 6:10.
But all of this highlights how easy it is for us to lose sight of what really matters, to get off track, to get stuck in unhealthy patterns and cycles, always trying to climb the ladder of success, without remembering our true purpose in life and the One who is the source of our true satisfaction and fulfillment in life.
Jeremiah called the people of his day to stop trying to dig out cisterns for themselves, “cracked cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13b) and instead return to God, the “fountain of living water” (Jer. 2:13a). And we are invited to do the same.
Drinking from the Fountain
This is why we come together each week, on the first day of the week. We come together for worship on Sunday mornings to reset our priorities, to allow God to recenter and recalibrate our priorities and our focus. We join in worship together at the beginning of each week, before we go to work, or school, before we enter the busyness and the fray, we come together to worship God, to turn away from our broken and cracked cisterns, and to drink from the Fountain of Living Water that will never run dry.
This is also why, on the first Sunday of each month, we celebrate Communion together. We partake of the bread and the cup, and we remember together the sacrifice that Christ made for us, the grace that is freely offered to all. We remind ourselves and one another that there is nothing else that can truly satisfy, nothing else and no one else that can truly bring us peace and joy like Jesus. No amount of money or possessions or friends or relationships or academic diplomas can satisfy us or provide for us or protect us like Jesus can.
So let us turn away from our broken cisterns, the empty things that we have tried to use to collect some sort of semblance of peace and joy, but have only left us feeling empty. And let us look to Jesus as our source of strength. Let us drink from the Living Fountain that will never run dry, the one who will always satisfy!