Rose Park Sunday School (Adults and Children) at 8:45 a.m. / Worship at 9:45 a.m.

Madison Sunday School (Adults and Children) 10:15 a.m. / Worship at 11:15 a.m.


Based on Isaiah 55:1-9, 1Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9

          David Foster Wallace, in a commencement address entitled, “This is Water”, opened with a short but powerful story.  He said that there were two young fish swimming along one day when they passed an older and larger fish.  The older fish asked the two of them, “how’s the water?”  The younger fish swam along for a while and then said to one another, “what is water?”  It’s one of those Jesus-like parables that appears simple and straightforward at first, but which reveals a much deeper and more honest assessment of our day-to-day lives than anything we have heard in a long time.

          Do fish really understand that they are encased in an environment made up of what we name “water”?  Likely they do not, but it is true that the fish could not exist for long outside of the water.  Their breathing apparatus – gills, are designed in such a way as to be able to remove oxygen from water.  They do not function outside of their environment like our lungs do – extracting oxygen from the air we breathe.  Anyone who has ever caught a fish and lifted it from the water has seen this.  You see, many of us are like those little fish, moving through our days focused on the busyness of living, often without noticing the environment around us in which we live. 

          How about you?  I often wonder if you notice that which has been provided for you to keep your life?  I also wonder what is it that you worship every day and give thanks to for all the life-giving “water” surrounding you; your hard work, intelligence, focus, luck?  Wallace goes on to say the following later in his address, “…There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship – be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH, the Wiccan Mother Goddess, the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles – is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive….”  In other words, once you get shackled to a worldly idol, you will find it very difficult to be released from its imprisoning force.

          Our scriptures for today point us to the truth that can give us release from worshipping those things that are eating us alive or making us unconscious to the world around us.  The writer of Isaiah asks why we labor for that which will never satisfy us and why we spend money on things that will never relieve our deep hunger.  Paul writes to the believers in Corinth about not being idol worshippers like their spiritual ancestors.  Jesus calls the accepted wisdom of his time into question about how God works in the world and then tells people exactly how God is working on them all the time.  God is always at work trying to release us from our lack of understanding of who God is and what God is trying to do with and for us.  Before we go farther, let us go to God now in prayer asking for God to help release us from that which is not our life-giving God…

          The Apostle Paul, in this section of the first letter to the believers in Corinth is riffing on the Shema (the great prayer of Israel) and re-imagining it in the context of the risen Messiah.  The Shema from Deuteronomy 6 tells the people of Israel that they are to have no other God but YHWH.  “Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD alone!”  Paul goes to great lengths in this portion of the letter to remind the Jewish believers in the Christ just what happened to their spiritual ancestors who worshipped other gods.  Paul brings in the eternal Christ, who was with God in the beginning as John’s Gospel states and links the Christ to all that has happened.  Paul notes that temptations and testing are common to all believers and that our faithful God will not let the testing be beyond the strength of the Christian community.  God will always find a way to release us from our test if we will but trust in God.

          Jesus has been confronting some common urban myths of his time in the verses before our reading today.  We pick up with Jesus destroying a few more persistent myths like God allows some sinners to be punished more than others.  Jesus disabuses them of this nonsense and calls them all to repent before they suffer a similar fate.  He then goes on to tell a parable about how God never gives up on us just because we are slow to bear fruit for the kingdom.  Jesus releases the people from their false assumptions and tries to reframe them to see the God of mercy at work all around them.

          The reading from Isaiah is one of my favorites.  It is calling to those Jews who have returned from Exile and rebuilt Jerusalem and the Temple.  They have settled back into their every day lives and the prophet calls them to not get too comfortable with living in an unconscious state.  He asks them why they are not laboring with God and feasting on the abundance that only God can provide?  He tells them to always seek God and to call on God while God is near – for God’s thoughts and ways are not like ours.

          We pick up the commencement address again as Wallace writes about idol worship and living unconsciously. “…If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body, beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you….Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, and you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.  They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

          And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men, money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear, anger, frustration, craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth, comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation…There are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious, you will not hear much talk about in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…The really important kind of freedom involves attention, awareness, discipline, being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad small [petty], unsexy ways every day.  That is real freedom…The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing…of not noticing the water in which we swim….”

          The pastor and spiritual writer, Samuel Wells, notes, “…We often think of practical Christianity as striving to meet the hunger that has a name: for the starving, food; for the thirsty, water; for the naked, clothing; for the sick, medicine. All of which is good, right and true. But…Christianity isn’t simply about satisfying people’s hunger. It’s a huge gamble on the hunch that what people are really hungry for is something they don’t know the name of and wouldn’t initially recognize even when they found it.  And what is that mysterious discovery, that extraordinary food? It’s the wondrous truth that there’s something even deeper, even more long-lasting, and even more insatiable than our hunger. And that’s God’s hunger for us….”

          In and through Jesus the Messiah we are offered release from our worldly idolatry and our tendency to become ever more unconscious to the actions of God in our lives and world.  Being followers of the Christ offers release to us prisoners.  Release from our imprisonment to a “default setting” that makes us tiny emperors of the world inside our heads.  Release from our striving for that which will never satisfy, while we deny the living bread and cup of salvation offered freely to all.  Moses and Paul remind us of the keys that will set us free…Hear, all you followers of God through the Christ, the LORD is your God, the LORD alone.  Please God, release us from our unconscious lives and remind us that only you are the living water…AMEN!