This is a shorter version of Jeremy’s sermon from Christ Redeemer yesterday:
It was a desert-dry summer day in upstate Johnson City, New York, and I was walking with a friend back from our little league game practice. We were dust- covered and desperately thirsty, and had just enough change in our pockets to stop at the corner shop and grab the one beverage that was guaranteed to viscerally satisfy but leave us just as dehydrated as before: Mountain Dew. But wow, was it ever viscerally satisfying.
Now this is a picture of thirst that stops at personal pleasure, but the biblical thirst David speaks of in Psalm 63, from the vantage point of the desert, is much different. This is ache of the whole being for the presence of God, a must-have craving from the core of the who we are. As I dug deeper into the image of thirst in the Scripture, I remembered the word Jesus spoke from the cross–“I thirst,” which I glossed over, thinking mostly of his physical agony, and I began to wonder if there was more going on. Indeed, a few psalms ahead there is a prophecy: “I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. Rather in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Ps. 69:20-21).
I recently met with a Catholic friend of mine who is a creative director for a lay ministry popularizing Pope John Paul II’s the theology of the body, which in brief, seeks to show how the body and its gender, its appetites, sexual and otherwise, tells the gospel story. Our impulses are guides, our thirsts and desires are deep and redeemable.
He was seeking an image to tie together what they do and what ended up emerging was the charism of thirst via Mother Theresa and the Missionaries of Charity. They saw Jesus’ word from the cross as the Father’s cry, through Jesus, for the souls of lost humanity, and for the salvation of the poor.
This charism of a parched heart, if you will, is spoken of also in the Sermon on the Mount, in the beatitudes, which is the first Scripture we went through together as a community. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”
As I thought about our 4 buckets, or presences: faithful, beautiful, rooted and native, I realized that in order for us to become this burr oak of righteousness, planted just west of the river, we need to thirst, like David, for the native soil of the sons of God—His presence in our midst. We need to thirst for the water He promises us in Christ, our rock, our water in the desert. It’s in this native soil, fed by the sacraments and strengthened by the Spirit, that we will grow into a faithful presence here in Riverwest and wherever we inhabit.
I shiver a bit, internally, when I think of how distant my thirsts can be from this thirst of God. I just want to go about my business. Do my thing. Head down and hand to the plow, often with headphones on, and a certain new release from a certain member of Radiohead playing. This is the thirst I wrestled with this weekend: not buying an album. Or not checking facebook or the music blogs. Yikes. I’ve got some work to do in the thirst department.
What if we, as a community, were awakened to this divine thirst, and allowed even a flake of this ache to settle into our souls? What would it mean for us? What if, this Lent, we submitted our thirsts to him and allowed him to shape in us the deep-rooted love of neighbor that is the fulfillment of the law, and the fulfillment of the presence that we, as Christ Redeemer, desire to be?
In order for this to occur, we must allow our thirst to be transformed: from the cocooning impulse in our culture, the desire to slake our desires in the comfortable confines of our own climate-controlled entertainments, into the divine thirst for companionship, hospitality, neighborly nourishment. We have been catechized by our culture to be consumers, not companions who carry each other’s burdens and create and share life together.
I was out recently, with some of my neighbors, helping shovel out a car that was perched on an icy snow hill left over from the plow. After we were done, a surprising thing happened: we all just stood around, talking, catching up, observing what we like, and don’t like, about life in Milwaukee. At this point, in a moment of awareness, a neighbor who had moved from California said, “this would never happen where I was living. Neighbors helping each other out and then just standing around shooting the [breeze].” It’s rare these days to live in a neighborhood that values neighborliness, but even in our case, where it is ostensibly a core value, it remains rare. And yet it is the lifeblood of human flourishing, spiritual life, democracy, companionship.
Lord, may we enter your longing this Lent for companionship. May we receive a drop of the thirst you carry, like a tear in our soul, and may we make ourselves available in small ways to you and our neighbors in the movements of our daily lives. Amen.
I want to end this observation with a verse from a song I recorded with some youth at St. Charles youth and family services. This is a song of a modern-day orphan’s thirsty cry for purpose. One of the teens is a seeking Muslim, the other a nominal Christian, and we discovered together that our thirst is the same: to have deep friendships, to make a good living, to proclaim truth and to trust God.
Heaven coming to earth / Second coming from first
Feel the rumbling of the Messiah’s hunger and thirst /
From the grave of my old desires /
I raise up like sunrays and golden fires /
They can’t hold me anymore / I’m no longer for hire
I’m working for a higher power in the eye of the storm /
Watch as it forms in the sky /
So when it starts pourin you won’t be wondering why /
It’s a new time so let your mind wake /
Shake off the lethargy feel the divine ache /
Await the day of true renewal /
And push for your crown cuz every pure act is a jewel / let’s go…