Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Deep Calls: How Thirsty Are You? Today's Sermon at White Oak UMC

Today I had the opportunity and privilege to speak at White Oak UMC again.  I enjoy meeting with this body of believers for worship.  I get to catch up with folks from Emmaus, Camp Lookout, former students, and folks I've gotten to know from visiting there.  It's always a good time of worship for me from the singing to the children's message.  I even usually get to speak some Spanish while there with David, the pianist, and Sara Beth (a former student). 

Below you will find today's sermon.  It's not exactly what I shared, though it's pretty close.  I've included links that you wouldn't get in a sermon and pictures of both the waterfalls. 

Knowing I would be off at seminary this past week, I started working on this a while back.  So, last week during my seminary class, it was interestingly odd for me on Tuesday morning (6/18) when Dr. Steve Seamands said this in class about God's deep love: "That's like thinking you can take Niagara Falls and stick it in a tea cup."  ☺ As you read the sermon, I think you'll see why that was "interestingly odd" for me and truly neat (to use a 70s term). 

Without further ado, today's sermon preached at White Oak UMC.  Thank you Amy Whatley for the opportunity for pulpit supply!  Blessings to you and your family as you transition to your new place of ministry.

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Niagara Falls, 2012, dd
Amicalola Falls, 2013, dd

“The Deep Calls: How Thirsty Are You?”

White Oak UMC

June 23, 2013


Prayer of Illumination: Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit so that, as the word is read and proclaimed we might hear your word for us today.  Amen.

Psalm 42 (NRSV)

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
    so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
    the face of God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me continually,
    “Where is your God?”

These things I remember,
    as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
    and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
    a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my help and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
    therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
    from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
    have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God, my rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
    because the enemy oppresses me?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my body,
    my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
    “Where is your God?”

11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my help and my God.


As you hear these words from the Psalmist today and the words I feel God has given me, you might be wondering how these fit with your particular situation here at White Oak this Sunday.  I recognize that you are in a transition time between pastors.  Last week was Amy’s last Sunday and next week will be Lyle’s first Sunday.  There are many ways to transition well between pastors and that is something we all need to learn to do better, for pastors and for congregations.  You may not have known this, but Amy was my Candidacy Mentor.  Her leaving is a transition time for me.  I realize that there are other transitions people are going through in their lives at this time too. Today, we’re not going to focus on the HOW to transition, but on WHO guides us, on God, and as we keep our focus on God through the transitions in life, we will be able to deal with whatever comes our way.  So, today, I recognize the transitional state that we are in and call our attention to God, that we may seek God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength this morning.

2 My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
Have you ever been thirsty? Physically?  Spiritually? Retired Bishop Rueben Job writes: “The thirst for God is universal because we have been created with a longing for the Creator.  This desire to know and be known by the One who made us and loves us is often ignored, denied, and finally buried under a multitude of pursuits and interests.  But then some event in life invites or forces us to pause, and the desire for God comes rushing back to our awareness.  And once again we know that real life is impossible without the companionship of the One who first gave us the gift of life and who sustains us even now.  We know for certain that we need living water; we need what only God can give if we are to really live.” (A Guide To Prayer For All Who Seek God, 325-326)
Verse 7—“Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” (NIV)
How thirsty are you?
This verse causes me to think about different waterfalls.  I adore waterfalls and find that they help bring peace to my soul and body.  Maybe that has something to do with the physiological fact of the oxygen in the water droplets of the spray.  I had heard this somewhere in the past and spent some time researching this to verify this fact and learned more than I needed to on oxygen aeration and the therapeutic effect waterfalls have on our serotonin levels because of the split water molecules. [Click here for more information on this topic.]
But that’s not the focus of this message.  Besides, maybe it’s simply the beauty and power of the flowing water that draws me.  It doesn’t really matter.
Let me share two waterfalls with you that I’ve seen within this past year.  The first is the one on the bulletin.  It is Amicalola Falls in Dawsonville, GA.  Amicalola is Cherokee for ‘tumbling waters’.  It’s the tallest cascading waterfall in America east of the Mississippi River and cascades 729 feet.  We were there last month and hiked from the bottom up.  It was wonderful to watch the waters flow and hear the rushing of the waters over the rocks.  Its beauty is unique to its surroundings.
The second waterfall is one that you might think of when you first think of famous waterfalls—Niagara.  If you haven’t been to Niagara falls, at least you’ve heard of it… most likely.  There are actually three falls:  smallest to largest: Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls.  Horseshoe Falls, on the Canadian side, is the most powerful waterfall in North America putting out 600,000 gallons of water per second. [Link to Niagara Falls website.]
I saw Niagara Falls for the first time last September.  Impressive.  The sight, the sound, the spray. 
Jerry Webber’s Psalm Prayer from Sometimes an Unknown Path, puts the section about the waterfalls thus:
Open my eyes, my heart,
             to experience the Niagara of Your grace
             crashing down upon me moment by moment.
Help me to catch more and more of Your grace,
             trading my narrow-necked bottle
                             for a Niagara-filled tub.
When I think about Jerry Webber’s words in this Psalm Prayer, the “roar” of the waterfalls in verse 7a and deep calling to deep take on new meaning for me.  As I contemplate the grace crashing down… I simply want to get under it.  I want to experience and feel the full effects of that grace.  Don’t you?!?!
Now, truthfully, when I took the Niagara boat tour, I put on the thin blue poncho because I didn’t really desire to get soaking wet on the boat with my camera, etc.  But, if I’m thinking about that water as God’s grace, then that’s a whole other issue.  Or is it? 
Think about it.  There are times when God’s grace is readily available to us, being poured upon us, into our lives.  What do we do?  We grab the raincoat, the poncho, or an umbrella.  We don’t want too much at one time.  Just a little, thank you.  Or like Jerry Webber puts it, we are holding a narrow-necked bottle into the stream of water trying to get just a little.  If we are truly thirsty for God, why won’t we jump in feet first and allow ourselves to be soaked through with God’s grace!?!?  How might that change how we live?!?!  How might that change our relationship with God and others if we truly took in as much of God’s grace as possible instead of trying to protect ourselves from too much at once or trying to save some for later?!?!
When a waterfall isn’t nearby, try a fountain.  This past week I was on the main campus of Asbury Theological Seminary for an intensive class in United Methodist Theology.  There is a fountain in the courtyard in the back of the administration building.  That became a go-to place. On one side of the fountain was a Scripture verse from John 7:37b-38—“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  He who believes in me…out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”  And on the other side of the fountain is a John Wesley quote.
Grace is a predominant theme of Christ and John Wesley.  This past Spring I took a course on the Theology of John Wesley.  But, don’t worry.  I’m not going to pull out my notes from either class right now. 
I will share one John Wesley quote with you: “It is hard to find words in the language of men to explain the deep things of God.  Indeed, there are none that will adequately express what the children of God experience.  But perhaps one might say the testimony of the Spirit is an inward impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ hath loved me and given himself for me; and that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God.” (taken from A Guide To Prayer For Ministers and Other Servants, p 403) [The Witness of the Spirit (sermon 10)]
If you’re thirsty for more in your spiritual life and desire to go deeper in your relationship with God, know that this thirst is a result of God working in you and drawing you closer into relationship through grace. 
You might be thinking, ‘Yes, I am thirsty for more.  I would like to go deeper.’ The next logical thought you might have would be: ‘HOW?’ So maybe you’re expecting me to pull out a bullet list of “here’s how to go deeper in your relationship with God”.  I am going to disappoint you if that’s the case.  There are resources on the “how”.  And, there are ways to go about the “how”.  BUT, sometimes we get so caught up in the HOW that we forget what we were thirsty for in the first place.  So, my suggestion today is that you don’t focus on the HOW, but rather the WHO (W-H-O), God, and seek to know God more.  As you focus on the WHO, the HOW will work itself out.  Trust the WHO; God will take care of the HOW.  If you really want some guidance on the HOW, then you could follow John Wesley’s suggestion of keeping the ordinances of God: praying, reading the Scriptures, etc.  Meeting together for worship as we are today is one way of living out the HOW by focusing on the WHO.  We have gathered today to worship God because God loves us and has drawn us into a relationship.  We give glory to God the Father through Christ the Son as we rely on the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us.
The relationship with God doesn’t end.  It goes on and on and goes deeper and deeper.
  • How deep are you willing to allow God to take you?
  • How thirsty are you for a deeper and holy relationship with the One who created you?
In the Spiritual Formation Bible: Growing in Intimacy with God Through Scripture, there are columns throughout the Bible for reflection.  This is what is written for Psalm 42 on “Thirsting for God”: “Thirst is such a powerful longing that it displaces all others. Though the psalmist longs for God’s help in the midst of physical thirst and danger, this metaphor also offers a profound spiritual image: Our relationship with God is as essential to our spiritual well-being as water is to our physical well-being.  What are you thirsty for?  Is your schedule so crowded that it leaves you thirsty for time alone with God?  Are you feeling dryness in your devotional habits?  Are you needing a time away in retreat? […]” (728)
Notice that as the psalmist pours out his soul to God in this Psalm, that he flows from desiring to grow more intimate with God to recognizing that his soul is downcast and that he needs God’s help.   The journey deeper is one that will have ups and downs, joys and sorrows, praises and laments.  In and through it all, as we seek to grow in our love relationship with God, then we will be equipped to live out the relationships with others, whether with family, at work, through service, or ministry.  It all starts with our love relationship with God. 
Thirteen years ago I went to Passion 2000 in Texas.  The CD from that Passion Conference was called “Thirsty: a journey to intimacy with God”.  All the songs on the album speak to the deep desire to know God and grow in intimacy with God in one way or another.  There is a song by the album’s title, “Thirsty” by Chris Rice.
Here are the lyrics:
I’m so thirsty, I can feel it
Burning through the furthest corners of my soul
Deep desire, can’t describe this
Nameless urge that drives me somewhere
Though I don’t know where to go

Seems I’ve heard about a River from someone who’s been
And they tell me once you reach it, oh, you’ll never thirst again
So I have to find the River, somehow my life depends on the River
Holy River

Other waters I’ve been drinkin’
But they always leave me empty like before
Satisfaction, all I’m askin’
Could I really be this thirsty if there weren’t something more?

And I’ve heard about a River from someone who’s been
And they tell me once you reach it, oh, you’ll never thirst again
So I have to find the River,
Somehow my life depends on the River
Holy River, I’m so thirsty

I’m on the shore now of the wildest River
And I kneel and beg for mercy from the sky
But no one answers, I’ve gotta take my chances
Cause something deep inside me’s cryin’
"This is why you are alive!"

So I plunge into the River with all that I am
Praying this will be the River where I’ll never thirst again
I’m abandoned to the River
And now my life depends on the River
Holy River, I’m so thirsty
Now that you’ve heard the lyrics, listen to the song.  As you listen to Chris Rice sing, what words touch you where you are today? 
In closing, I want to share a Psalm Prayer with you from the Upper Room WorshipBook:
Psalm Prayer from the Upper Room Worshipbook-- #270
Quench the thirst of my heart, O God.
Sing the song of your love deep within me.
Lead me to the waters of mercy,
      for my hope is in you.  Amen.
                                                         adapted by Judy Holloway ©2006.
After reading this Psalm Prayer, I added that this made me think of a Stephen Curtis Chapman song, "I'm diving in".  I said: I don't know about you, but I'm diving in, I'm going deep..... What about you?
May the blessing of God, fountain of living water,
     flow within us as a river of life.
May we drink deep of her wisdom.
May we never thirst again.
May we go through life refreshing many,
     as a sign of healing for all;
through the One who is Life eternal.  Amen.
(Miriam Therese Winter, U.S.A., 20th Century)
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Blessings on your journey.... May you drink deeply of the water that will quench your thirst, may you focus on the WHO that loves you deeply and can and will sustain you through all aspects of life's journey, may you jump in feet first into the deep waters of God's grace and love and get soaked!


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