Fifth Sunday in Lent—Year C—March 21, 2010
Preached at Mediator Lutheran Church, Philadelphia, PA
“Are You Thirsty”—Isaiah 43:16-21
The Book of Isaiah is in the section of the Old Testament called “the Prophets,” and more specifically, it is one of the latter prophets along with Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets.
Scholars divide Isaiah into three major parts; each of which is believed to have been written during a different period of history, possibly even by a different author. Today’s reading comes from the second of those three sections. Second Isaiah is believed to have been written in the 6th Century BCE, because it is about Israel in the midst of the Babylonian Exile. Isaiah Chapter 43 appears to occur late in the exile. At this point the prophet has already told the people once, as he will tell them again in chapter 50, that it is time to get up and get ready for the exile to be over and to return home to Jerusalem.
These six verses are one occurrence of a common form found in Second Isaiah. The form is made up of three parts. The first of which is verses 16 and 17, the introduction.
Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick
Here the author makes clear to the listener that it is God who is speaking, and at the same time reminds them of all the mighty acts God has done in the past. God made a path of dry land in the Red Sea as the Israelites were led out of Egypt. God also conquered Pharaoh’s army by causing their chariots to get stuck in the mud; God “extinguished” them, “quenched them like a wick” with the waters that had just been stacked upon one another as the Israelites crossed in safety.
However, because this section is so reminiscent of the thanksgiving songs of Moses & Miriam and because Isaiah’s audience is in exile, it is likely that God’s deliverance of the Israelites might leave a sour taste in the listeners’ mouths. It is not surprising that they would be wondering: well if God did that for our ancestors, why doesn’t God deliver us like that? Or for that matter, why didn’t God prevent the Babylonians from conquering us in the first place? God was among us, in the temple in Jerusalem, how did this happen?
The prophet’s next line, verse 18, seems to address that sentiment directly:
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.
Although the people do not speak the words themselves, this line is a the communal groan of hopelessness. The community’s complaint is the second part of the reoccurring pattern in Isaiah.
Isaiah acknowledges the community complaint, but instead of trying to explain it away, give reason for why they were exiled, and why God “let” it happen, he tells the community to forget about the past. He encourages the people not to think about the fact that Babylon sacked Jerusalem and dragged them off into exile. It is ironic that right after recounted God’s great deeds in the past, Isaiah tells the people to forget about them. But that is because he does not want them to think about the tough time that the Israelites had on the way out of Egypt, those forty long years. They are to look forward, to all powerful God for hope, instead of looking to the past.
The prophet gets it; he meets the people where they are. He understands their frustration and even commiserates with Israel. They are in a tough situation, and the prophet is here is speak a word of hope and comfort. The people are apart from their land, their ancestors, their past, their heritage, their place of worship, and their livelihood. They are struggling. They are in a land that is not theirs, under the control of a foreign super-power. The people are thirsty, both literally and figuratively.
What about you? Are you thirsty like Israel?
Are you overworked, overstressed, overtired?
Are you unemployed or underpaid?
Are you struggling financially?
Are you thirsty?
Do you have enough food to feed yourself and your family?
Have you recently lost your home?
Are you sick, dying, broken, hurting, bullied, or beat up?
Are you thirsty?
Is your family fractured?
Are you grieving the death of a loved one?
Are you thirsty?
Have you been abused or molested?
Are you tired of fighting?
Are you thirsty?
Are you worried about what next year will bring?
Are you wondering if you will get into college or get that new job?
Are you wondering, like Israel did, where God was when things went bad?
Are you wondering how you are going to get you out of another bad situation?
Are you thirsty?
Have you realized that you cannot fully provide for yourself, that you cannot do it alone? Life is not always easy; in fact it is rarely so. We live in a broken world plagued by violence, sickness, death, and sorrow. As much as we try to make the world and our lives even a little bit better, we are unable to change what underlies it all. Sin is a human reality and it pervades this world in everyway. As hard as we try, we are not able to stop sinning. Nothing we do can change that fact. We are sinful beings living in a world that shows its effects all too clearly.
But God is “about to do a new thing.” God is going to “give drink to [God’s] chosen people.” This is the proclamation of salvation that Isaiah makes to Israel. Verses 19 through 21 finally complete the pattern with good news. GOD WILL DO A NEW THING!
In the text, God is going to provide a new start for Israel back in the land God promised them, the land flowing with milk and honey. God is going to lead them out of exile along “a way in the wilderness” and will “give water” all along the journey. There will be “rivers in the desert, and God’s chosen people will drink”! God will provide for Israel.
God has been providing for God’s people throughout history, and we see it happening all throughout scripture. During the Exodus from Egypt, God provided food, water, and protection. God made the water sweet enough to drink at Marah, and God made water come from a rock for both the wandering Israelites and for Samson the judge. When Elijah was fleeing for his life after conquering the prophets of Ba’al, God gave him food and drink. And as it is foretold in today’s reading, God quenched Israel’s thirst for water in the wilderness and their thirst to be free at home again.
God did not only do a new thing by bringing Israel out of Babylon, but again did a new thing in Jesus. God sent God’s only son to earth in order to die for our sins that we may all be raised to new life in a resurrection like his. Jesus provided the woman at the well with living water, so not only was her thirst for literal water quenched at the well, but so was her thirst for love and acceptance. Jesus is the water that can quench our thirst on a deeper level than can the water out of any faucet. God provides for God’s chosen people, and quenches their thirst.
Are you thirsty? I know that I am. The good news is that God is still doing a new thing and quenches OUR thirst too!
God did a new thing in Jesus, and God gives us new life through his death and resurrection. Through this time of preparation in Lent, God leads us through the wilderness, quenching our thirst the whole way, into the new life of Easter.
In our baptisms, God claimed us as one of God’s chosen people. God quenched our thirst to be free of sin and to belong.
And God continues to provide for us, God quenches our thirst through the Word. When the Word is read and preached, in worship, in Bible study, and or anywhere for that matter, God fills us up and refreshes our lives with God’s presence.
In worship, God also quenches our thirst with music, Communion, and through the fellowship of this community. The women of the week that are being recognized this month are just a few examples of how God works through each and every one of us to quench the thirst of another in this church and throughout the community.
When we are in need, God quenches our thirst by giving us much needed strength, healing, and reconciliation. God provides us with food for our tables and roofs over our heads.
Later this afternoon, God will quench the thirst of our bodies and our souls once again at the 100 Women in Red service and meal. The word read and preached, the music, the fellowship, and the food will give us enough strength to get through another week of being thirsty.
And as the passage from Isaiah says, all of creation shows signs of God’s provisions for us. God continues to quench the thirst of creation. Through all the snow that has melted and the rain of this past week, God provides water for the plants as they start to sprout, bud, blossom, and grow as spring fast approaches. Out of the dark and dreary winter landscape, God bring forth new life. Through all of the beautiful signs of spring, God reminds us that God is doing a NEW THING. God makes “a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” and “give[s] drink to [God’s] chosen people.” God makes a way for us, and quenches our thirst through the promise of eternal life through God’s Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.