The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
March 20, 2022
Late one cold winter night John Rogers got a phone call from the bus station in downtown Washington. It was a young man named Jake who’d grown up in a church John had pastored a decade before. Jake and his family had been active in the parish; but, after leaving home, Jake got caught up in the party scene and addicted to alcohol and drugs. The boy had lost touch with his family, and was now out of work and out of money. He asked if John could help him. John told him to stay right where he was and he’d hop in his car to brave the icy streets and pick him up. Seeing him, John was startled by how emaciated and broken down the once vigorous young man looked.
John brought him to his home and fed him. As they talked, John gently inquired as to what he’d been through and what his plans were. At one point, he asked him if he’d ever asked God for help. Jake replied, “No, it’s been too long since I’ve even thought about God.” Then he brightened and added, “But, when I get myself together and start coming back to church, I’ll ask God for help.”
“My friend,” John replied, “it’ll never happen that that. If you think you have to get yourself together on your own and then come to God, you never will. You can only come as you are, and then He will give you the strength to get yourself together. You don’t get better first. You just come to Him right away without delay.”
God’s invitation in this scripture is extended to everyone. “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come!” No one is excluded or expected to prove their worthiness or potential. But everyone is urged to come to God right away – in fact, three times in the first verse alone: “Come to the waters…come, buy and eat…come, buy wine and milk without money.” There’s no price to pay. No requirement to meet. You just have to come and take what God is giving away for free.
And how do we come to God? By seeking Him while He may be found, says the middle verse of this scripture. And how do we seek Him? This scripture points to both praying and repenting. To pray is to listen to God and to call upon Him for help. To repent is to turn away from trying to make it on our own way and to turn instead to Him in trust that He’ll “accomplish” what’s most needed.
Seeking God by praying and repenting is within the capacity of anyone. For anyone is able to pray and repent well enough to find the God who wants to be found, who seeks us more than we ever seek Him, and who takes a thousand steps to us for every little step we take to Him.
What we have to accomplish in seeking God is a modest thing within the reach of us all. Take praying, for example. It’s not hard. If we think it’s too high and holy for us, we’re just looking for an excuse not to do it. We, as Peter Kreeft puts it, “can all pray, even the most sinful, shallow, silly and stupid of us. You do not have to master some mystical method… Can you talk to a friend? Then you can talk to God, for God is your Friend.” And in that conversation, you don’t have to put on holy airs. Just talk normally to Him about your life, both the good and the bad, with an open and uncensored honesty.
Of course, any good conversation is a two-way dialogue in which you both speak up and share what’s on your mind and shut up and listen to what’s on the mind of the Other. God will talk to you even if He doesn’t do so with a deep rumbling voice amplified by an echo chamber and accompanied by the ethereal singing of angels. Most often God speaks to us simply by planting a thought in our head that’s easy to believe came from Him
We seek God by engaging with Him in prayer. We also seek God by repenting. To repent in Hebrew means to turn around in an about-face. It is to reorient ourselves away from following our own way on toward following God’s way. It is to change the trajectory of our life.
Sometimes people say that to repent of a sin is to never do it again. Sometimes we can pull that off. But, more often, to repent is but to begin a process of sinning less and less and doing the opposite right thing more and more. For instance, take the example of selfishness, a sin that gives birth to a thousand other sins. No Christian has ever been altogether done with the sin of selfishness. But many have made progress in coming to love like Jesus and to lose their self-absorption in a concern for the welfare of others.
Getting out from under our dark, cold self-centeredness is the work of a lifetime, one in which we advance by taking one little step after another over a long stretch of time.
Do any of you remember the story of those three gray whales caught under a huge, six-inch-thick ice cap off Point Barrow, Alaska? Only one small gap in the cap gave the whales a chance to come up for air and gasp for breath. They were battered and bruised in squeezing through it, and gradually weakening.
The only hope was that they’d travel five miles in a specific direction to reach the open sea at the edge of the ice pack. So rescuers began cutting a string of breathing holes in the ice cap about twenty yards apart. For eight days, the rescuers coaxed the whales from one hole to the next, mile after mile. Along the way, one of the whales disappeared and presumably died. But, finally with the help of icebreakers, the whales Putu and Siku swam into freedom to lead their happy whale lives.
We desire – we may even “hunger and thirst” – to swim free in the living waters of the Holy Spirit, the open waters of love and justice. At church, by providing worship services, fellowship gatherings, Bibles studies and the like, we open up breathing holes to inhale the fresh air of God’s grace and to lead all of us out into the high and free seas of God’s redemption.
Let us, by persistence in prayer and repentance, seek the Lord while He may be found. His undeserved love is as high as the heavens are above the earth and His saving word accomplishes that for which He sent it. It’s there for any of us if we just come and take it!