Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Dry Season: Sermon, September 9, 2012

Elijah from Tishbe, who was one of the settlers in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As surely as the LORD lives, Israel’s God, the one I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain these years unless I say so.”

Then the LORD ’s word came to Elijah: Go from here and turn east. Hide by the Cherith Brook that faces the Jordan River. You can drink from the brook. I have also ordered the ravens to provide for you there. Elijah went and did just what the LORD said. He stayed by the Cherith Brook that faced the Jordan River. The ravens brought bread and meat in the mornings and evenings. He drank from the Cherith Brook. After a while the brook dried up because there was no rain in the land.

The LORD ’s word came to Elijah: Get up and go to Zarephath near Sidon and stay there. I have ordered a widow there to take care of you. Elijah left and went to Zarephath. As he came to the town gate, he saw a widow collecting sticks. He called out to her, “Please get a little water for me in this cup so I can drink.” She went to get some water. He then said to her, “Please get me a piece of bread.”

“As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any food; only a handful of flour in a jar and a bit of oil in a bottle. Look at me. I’m collecting two sticks so that I can make some food for myself and my son. We’ll eat the last of the food and then die.”

Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go and do what you said. Only make a little loaf of bread for me first. Then bring it to me. You can make something for yourself and your son after that. This is what Israel’s God, the LORD, says: The jar of flour won’t decrease and the bottle of oil won’t run out until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth.” The widow went and did what Elijah said. So the widow, Elijah, and the widow’s household ate for many days. The jar of flour didn’t decrease nor did the bottle of oil run out, just as the LORD spoke through Elijah.

“Now I know that you really are a man of God,” the woman said to Elijah, “and that the LORD ’s word is truly in your mouth.”
1 Kings 17:1-16, 24, Common English Bible

The LORD ’s word to Jeremiah concerning the droughts:
Judah mourns;
her gates wither away.
The people fall to the ground in sorrow,
as sobs of Jerusalem ascend.
The rich send their servants for water,
but the wells run dry.
They return with empty jars,
ashamed, bewildered, and in despair.
Because the ground is cracked due to lack of rain,
the farmers too are ashamed;
they cover their heads.
Even the doe in the field
abandons her newborn,
for there’s no grass.
The wild donkeys stand on the well-traveled paths,
panting like thirsty dogs;
they go blind
since there’s nothing to eat.
Jeremiah 14:1-6, Common English Bible

Today it seems that summer is over. I know that the season of summer doesn’t officially end until later in September, but for many of us the Stormont County Fair, and Labour Day weekend, and our cooking contest here at Trinity United mark the end of summer and the beginning of fall. And this summer was, as everyone knows, a dry one. It was a summer of drought. I think it rained all of an hour or hour and a half during the entire month of July. It’s obvious to anyone driving through the county looking at the state of the corn crop that this was a drought year.

Someone once commented that they had never heard a farmer say, “We got the perfect amount of rain this year.” Farming is a tough occupation, and the weather never cooperates fully. There have been droughts before. But 2012 looks to be an historic drought year, and, as bad as it was here in Eastern Ontario, we didn’t get the worst of it.

July was the all-time warmest month on record in the United States, and precipitation that month in the American corn-growing states was 60 percent less than normal. There’s a debate about whether or not this is due to climate change, but what is certain is that American corn yields are the lowest in 17 years. They’re down as much as a quarter. Farmers in the affected parts of the US and Canada growing corn and other crops have seen their profits wiped out, and are trying to get by on crop insurance payments or savings. Farmers in livestock and dairy are having to sell off part of their herds as feed prices increase. So while farmers’ incomes plunge, the prices of crops, particularly corn, are going up, and these price increases will get passed on to industries that rely on corn, everything from breakfast cereal to ethanol to meat of all kinds, and then on to us who buy food and gasoline. So this drought is going to affect all of us, no matter where we live or what we do. And some researchers predict that this may be the start of a long period of below normal rainfall and high temperatures that could last twenty or thirty years, not even including any impact from global warming.

The Bible does mention drought, because the Bible was written in a dry land for a people who farmed, in an age with no crop insurance or marketing boards or importing food over long distances. In Bible times a drought meant hunger, as it did for the widow and her son Elijah met in our story this morning, and as it still does in much of the world. I just finished reading a book called The Last Hunger Season, about small farmers in Kenya. They experience hunger every year as the corn stored from the previous crop runs out and they wait to harvest the new crop. A crop failure means not just hunger, but starvation. Organizations like those partnering with our Mission and Service Fund and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank are working to end these hunger seasons with access to better seeds and farming techniques and crop storage.

So in our drought this year we can relate to the words we heard from the prophet Jeremiah, about dry wells, and the ground cracked due to lack of rain, and the people bewildered and in despair. And maybe there’s more than one kind of drought. As we lament what the withered crops have done and will do to incomes and prices in our part of the world, we have also been lamenting the state of our church, lamenting declining membership, and reduced givings, and the cost of maintaining buildings, and the decline in church influence in our country. We have been lamenting the state of our society, the behaviours and attitudes that are so foreign to the way Jesus taught us to live, the embrace of greed and vanity, violence that invades movie theatres and political rallies. The people around us, perhaps we ourselves, are lamenting how they feel dried up inside, how they are searching for something to believe, something to give them hope, something to satisfy the thirst they have for answers. Sisters and brothers, we’re not just in a summer of physical drought. We’re living in a time of spiritual drought. One blogger, Tamara Hill Murphy, calls us drought Christians.

And how do we live as drought Christians, in a time of spiritual drought? We can be present to each other whenever we feel parched and thirsty; present to our neighbours who are ashamed and bewildered and in despair and craving hope like the people Jeremiah describes in the drought; present to our society needing healing. We can be like the people Jeremiah talks about a few chapters later in his book, when he says,

Happy are those who trust in the Lord, who rely in the Lord. They will be like trees planted by the streams, whose roots reach down to the water. They won’t fear drought when it comes; their leaves will remain green. They won’t be stressed in the time of drought or fail to bear fruit.
Jeremiah 17:7-8
We can be those trees who remain green, even as spiritual drought turns everyone and everything around us brown.

I said that the Bible deals with physical drought. And with spiritual drought too. There is a story in John's Gospel, of how Jesus meets a foreign woman at a well, and talks with her as he asks her for a drink of water. And he tells her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks from the water that I will give will never be thirsty again. The water that I give will become in those who drink it a spring that bubbles up into eternal life.”

In this time of drought we are called to follow Jesus, who gives us his living water. We are called to be his presence, being with all who suffer, reassuring and comforting all who are worried – including ourselves in this time of drought for the church – praying, working for justice for the hungry and thirsty, pointing to the living water that Jesus gives to provide relief and peace for all who are afraid, all who feel dried up, all who thirst both physically and spiritually.

This fall we need to return to Jesus, as if for the first time, and rediscover him, how to be with him, how to be like him, and how to be drought Christians. This fall I hope will be all about Jesus: who came as one of us to be with us in times of drought and plenty; who died for us and rose again for us; who gives us the living water that bubbles up into eternal life; and who will come again to bring a new heaven and a new earth free of drought, and famine, and all brokenness. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

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