Sermon February 28, 2016
Psalm 63 and Isaiah 55
“Better than Gatorade”
I was a huge fan of the Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson. Gary’s quirky sense of humor got a laugh from me almost every time. One of my favorites showed two guys walking across the desert clearly dying of thirst. They walk past the skull of a dead animal. One guy is carrying a bag of potato chips and says, “Uh oh, I’ve got a feeling I shouldn’t have been munching on these things for the last mile.”
I believe that nothing can quench our thirst like water. I drink it all day long. I push it on my family. When I am thirsty, nothing is better. I know that some might differ with me on this. Gatorade would tell you differently. Their marketing strategy gives the impression that they are offering more than something to quench your thirst. In one commercial, soccer great Lionel Messi is featured and the words “don’t let things on the outside be stronger than what’s on the inside. Life has more in store for you. Gatorade.”
The scriptures this morning invite us to consider our hunger and thirst and suggest, no they are quite clear, that there is something better than Gatorade. Isaiah describes a rich feast and calls us to eat what is good. Isaiah wonders why we spend our money on things that don’t satisfy us. How often have you purchased something only to feel empty afterward? Both the Psalmist and Isaiah call us to reorient ourselves to that which will satisfy us. It is sad to me that we have texts written generations ago that are clear about what will ultimately feed us, but we are still out shopping and eating and reading books and magazines that tell us how to be happy.
I watched a documentary this week called “Happy”. They survey people and ask what they want in life. Over and over the answer is happiness. In the movie, they travel the world to understand happiness. They show a rickshaw driver in India and say he is among the happiest people in the world. He says, “My home is good. When I see my child’s face, I feel very happy. I feel that I am not poor, but I am the richest person.” His home is some sticks covered with a plastic tarp.
They contrast Japan where they have a word Karoshi to describe the people who are literally working themselves to death with Bhutan that has created an emphasis called gross national happiness. In Bhutan they believe it is the responsibility of the government to create an environment so people can be happy. 60% of Bhutan must always be forest. They believe that the purpose of society should be to pursue long and happy lives for citizens.
It was fascinating to watch the people throughout the world understanding what will satisfy them. In Namibia, a small African country, the people live with complete interdependence with each other and natural environment. They feel responsible for each other’s health and well-being. The entire village participates in the healing process. No one is left out.
The final portrait in the movie was a man in India who had been a successful banker. He began volunteering at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying and Destitute. He said, “We pick people up from garbage cans and try and save their lives and show them they are loved by God and their life is precious. We do everything by hand to help carry their burden. My life has meaning when I give water to someone who is dying. My life is a loan given from God and I will give this loan back with interest.”
The movie concludes by shifting from self-happiness to wellbeing of the world. “If each of us spent a smidgeon of time cultivating happiness and compassion, the world would be a better place and we would be transforming our brains in powerful ways. The things we love to do are the building blocks of a happy life. The things that make us happy are free. With happiness – the more you have, the more everyone has.”
The Dalai Lama said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” (The Art of Happiness)
The season of Lent is a time of reflection on what will ultimately fill those empty places in us. In order to do that, some have given up things. Some have taken on a practice. The Psalmist says that God is better than life and recognizes it is God who accompanies him in all situations. David may have written the Psalm when he was in the wilderness. Isaiah takes place near the end of the Babylonian exile. Many of the people have no memory of Jerusalem. God is telling them that they will be a light to the world, but they have focused on survival for so long, they are struggling to believe that could be true. Both of these describe a God who is with them in all things.
Several people sought help from me this week. Some of them came by the church wanting food, shelter, clothing, and transportation. One woman came to me in the hospital parking lot asking for money to buy food. I wondered if the words from these scriptures would give them solace as I responded to them. I was so aware of how I respond to them as a person of privilege. When I talk about hunger, I talk about it from a position of privilege.
I think the danger of a word like happiness is the implication that everything is rosy in the world and in our lives. That is almost never the case. There is an invitation here to look more deeply at that which will ultimately satisfy us no matter what our circumstances are. It requires us to recognize that God is in it all, not just the sweet moments. Philip Simmons talks about men with chainsaws who were felling trees on his property. He says, “Choosing the world means choosing all of it: the tall maple and the severed stump. In my case it means choosing a world that includes both black raspberry ice cream cones and my weakening arms, which will soon be unable to raise the ice cream to my lips. In choosing the world we choose both pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, health and illness, rapture and rue.” Philip recognizes that God is in it all and says, “For I want to choose the world in such a way that I am choosing God, too.” (Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life pp. 93-94)
That is it, my friends. God is in the hospital room with us. God is at our dinner table in the laughter and the silence. God is in the snowflakes and the spring buds on the trees. God is with us in life and death. God is with us in waking and in sleepless nights.
Teresa of Avila prayed that she would let God be enough for her. God IS more than enough. We simply have to drink deeply from this unending well of love we call God. In doing so, we will find our thirsts quenched in ways beyond our capacity to imagine.