Sunday September 1st 2019

Pastor Galen Zook

Jeremiah 2:4-13; Luke 14:1; 7-14

A Fresh New Start

Earlier this morning we prayed a prayer of blessing for those children, teenagers and adults who are going back to school in a few short days. 

Many of us are affected by the start of the new school year — whether you are a parent or grandparent sending children or grandchildren off to school, a teacher or administrator welcoming children back to the classroom, or whether you yourself are taking classes or doing research this semester, the start of the school year for many of us feels like a fresh new beginning, a clean blank slate. It’s a year full of possibilities and potential. 

As with the start of anything new, the beginning of a new school year is a good time to step back, to reflect on our priorities, to take stock of what is important. New schedules, new classrooms, new friendships present new opportunities to recalibrate, to realign ourselves and to remind ourselves of what we want our lives to be about. 

So often in the rush of everyday life, many of us are just thinking about getting the next task done, checking items off our to-do lists. In the midst of the busyness of the everyday, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture, to forget what it is that really matters. 

And so at the start of this new school year, I want to invite us to recalibrate, to consider what we want this next year to look like, and to invite God to show us the path and direction that God would have for us to go.

Chasing Emptiness Leads to Emptiness

In the book of Jeremiah, we see that unfortunately, it seems that the people of Israel have lost sight of what really matters.  In fact, not only have they lost sight of the bigger picture, but they have gone completely off track. They need a major realignment, a major recalibration. They basically need to make a complete 180-degree turn, to turn and go in the opposite direction from where they are headed.

The Lord speaks through the prophet Jeremiah to tell the people that they have “walked after emptiness and became empty” (Jer. 2:5 NASB). What a stark and biting criticism! They have chased after empty things, and have become empty themselves, or as another translation says, they “went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves” (Jer. 2:5 NRSV). That’s pretty harsh!

But it’s also so true. So often the very things we chase after, the things we desire and long for, the things that we think will satisfy us or make us happy, are the things that begin to control us. They things we strive after are the things that we become. If we chase after things that are empty, then we will become empty ourselves.

For the people of Isreal, this meant worshiping false idols rather than the God who had brought them out of slavery, through the treacherous wilderness, and into a land of their own, a land that produced abundant harvests and plentiful produce.

Rather than expressing their gratitude to God in worship and thanksgiving, instead they “defiled [God’s] land, and made [God’s] heritage an abomination” (Jer. 2:7). They turned away from God, and rather than worshiping the God who had provided for them, they served gods made by their own hands.  Jeremiah says that they “changed their glory for something that does not profit” (Jer. 2:11).

Cracked Cisterns

Jeremiah presents a vivid image of what they have done. Jeremiah says that they have turned away from the one true God, who is a “fountain of living water” (Jer. 2:13a), and instead they have dug out cisterns for themselves, “cracked cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13b).

Cisterns are wells made out of stone. They are receptacles for catching rainwater, and back then they would use stone to make a waterproof lining to prevent water from leaking out. 

But in this case, Jeremiah is telling the people that they have dug out cisterns that are cracked. They’ve made for themselves cisterns that hold no water — empty, and worthless.

Imagine this scene with me. Right in front of them there was a lush, flower fountain of beautiful, crystal-clear spring water. It’s gushing, constantly flowing, cool and refreshing spring of water, available whenever they needed it. This fountain represented God. God had always provided for them, God had protected them. God was always available to them. God had demonstrated God’s love for them by providing for them and bringing them out of slavery and to this lush productive land.

But instead, it was as if the people were laboring, toiling, digging holes in the ground to try to catch and hold on to water falling from the sky. But the wells they were digging had cracks and holes in them, and they were failing to hold water. They could have just turned around to drink from cool refreshing water of the fountain, but instead they had turned their backs on God and spent all their time and energy following after empty and worthless stone idols, inanimate objects that could not speak or hear, let alone provide for them or protect them.

Fountain of Living Water

Now, it’s easy for us to scoff and criticize the Israelites. It’s easy for us to shake our heads at them for turning away from the God who had done so much for them, who had given them everything they needed, and to instead worship false idols that they had created with their own hands.  

And yet, how easy it is for us to lose sight of what truly matters, to forget where our help and our provision comes from. How easy it is for us to turn away from the cool, refreshing, fountain of living water that is God, and instead carve out broken, cracked cisterns for ourselves, things that we think will make us happy or bring us joy, but instead just leave us feeling empty.

How often do we think that what we really need is a new wardrobe, the latest piece of technology or entertainment, a significant other, or one more academic degree or diploma and then we’ll truly be happy, when perhaps what we really need to do is to drink from the Fountain of Living Water? To seek joy and satisfaction in God first and foremost, rather than looking to other things or other people to fill the void in our lives?

Drinking from the Fountain

This is why we come together each week, on the first day of the week. We come together for worship on Sunday mornings to reset our priorities, to allow God to recenter and recalibrate our priorities and our focus. We join in worship together at the beginning of each week, before we go to work, or school, before we enter the busyness and the fray, we come together to worship God, to turn away from our broken and cracked cisterns, and to drink from the Fountain of Living Water that will never run dry.

This is also why, on the first Sunday of each month, we celebrate Communion together. We partake of the bread and the cup, and we remember together the sacrifice that Christ made for us, the grace that is freely offered to all. We remind ourselves and one another that there is nothing else that can truly satisfy, nothing else and no one else that can truly bring us peace and joy like Jesus. No amount of money or possessions or friends or relationships or academic diplomas can satisfy us or provide for us or protect us like Jesus can.

And so, this morning I want to invite us to drink deeply from the fountain. I want to invite us to lay our burdens and troubles down.

Let us receive again the grace, the mercy, and the forgiveness that Jesus offers.

Let us turn away from our broken cisterns, the empty things that we have tried to use to collect some sort of semblance of peace and joy, but have only left us feeling empty. And let us look to Jesus as our source of strength. Let us drink from the Living Fountain that will never run dry, and that will always satisfy!

Published by Galen Zook

I am an artist, preacher, minister, and aspiring theologian

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