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Water in a Barren Land

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon for the Diocese of Georgia’s Fall 2016 Clergy Conference
meeting at Honey Creek Retreat Center on September 26, 2016

Water in a Barren Land
Psalm 63

O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,
as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.
-Psalm 63:1

The Psalmist cries out to God, seeking the presence of the living God. My soul thirsts for you. My flesh faints for you. Water is a precious everywhere on the planet, but living in the land of Israel makes that reality all the more clear. That’s why water and salvation are so intimately connected throughout scripture. In the first Psalm, a person who meditates on Torah day and night is like a tree planted by streams of water. In Jeremiah, the Lord is a fountain of living water. Jesus uses this metaphoric use of water when he talks to the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

These verses concerning springs of salvation and living water carry forward into our own day, filled with meaning for those of us who work in what should be a spiritual oasis. We are saturated by the goodness of the Lord. In fact, we can get so soggy from sloshing around in the springs of salvation that we can forget that we actually live in a desert country.

Yet even here on the buckle of the Bible Belt we are surrounded by people living in a spiritual wasteland. The people we stand in line with at the grocery store, the clerk at the local WalMart, the bank President, the cook at the Waffle House, and on and on and on. They are thirsty for the life giving Gospel of Jesus Christ and fill that void in all sorts of unhealthy ways.

But to get real, those of us in ordained ministry are not immune to spiritual thirst. And the more we serve others, the more we can grow parched. We all know of and have known people called by God, given gifts for ministry, serving in the church in a ministry bearing good fruit who end up in alcohol addiction, prescription drug addiction, porn addiction or who have ended up in adulterous relationships, taking money, or abusing their power and ending up out of ministry.

Spiritual thirst is not something to which we are immune. When we try to quench our longings in other ways, we can falter and fall like anyone else.

While we may not be immune to the problems, we can make an effort to build up our defenses. Denise Vaughn, the Rector of the Church of the Annunciation in Vidalia invited me to lead a mini retreat for the Toombs Area Ministerial Alliance which is her local ministers’ group. When we met last month, pastors from nine denominations came together and I was astounded by how the group trusted one another as I broke open this topic. I challenged the pastors to break into smaller groups to discuss the spiritual practices, which nurture their faith. The Roman Catholic priest detailed his Rule of Life while a Church of God pastor told how he finds it helpful to spend time talking with recent converts to hear the freshness of their discovering their faith in Jesus Christ. Daily prayer and scripture reading were common.

Then as we pushed further, the group shared how important it is to stake out time for one’s spouse, children, and grandchildren. The church is such a tempting mistress as the more hours we spend in a week serving in the church we feel more and more faithful to our call to God even as we are being ever more unfaithful to our marriage or to our children or even as we fail to take care of ourselves. We can move from pastoring a flock to the role of savior without even trying. And just so you know, there are no job vacancies in the role of savior.

I offer these thoughts as we gather in retreat on this feast day of Lancelot Andrewes, translator, preacher, and Bishop. Born in 1555 and ordained at 25, he is best known for his work on translating what became known as the King James Bible. Andrewes led the team that crafted an English version of Genesis through Second Kings and served as an overseer for the whole translation.

But what I find more instructive is that he crafted a set of private devotions using scripture, ancient prayers, and meditations to make a beautiful book for his personal use. Adoration and joy are expressed in the Bishop’s devotions, but so are anguish and pain. Written in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, they show the deep private devotion of a very public figure. The book existed in a single copy well worn and said to be marked with tears in some passages it passed to William Laud on Andrewes’ death.

The book contained Morning Prayer for each day of the week. To give an example, the Prayer for Grace for Monday reads:

My hands will I lift up unto
Thy commandments which I have loved.
Open Thou mine eyes that I may see,
incline my heart that I may desire,
order my steps that I may follow,
the way of Thy commandments.
O Lord God, be Thou to me a God,
and beside Thee none else,
none else, nought else with Thee.
Vouchsafe to me, to worship Thee and serve Thee
in truth of spirit, in reverence of body,
in blessing of lips, in private and in public;
to pay honour to them that have the rule over me,
by obedience and submission,
to shew affection to my own, by carefulness and providence;
to overcome evil with good;
to possess my vessel in sanctification and honour;
to have my converse without covetousness,
content with what I have;
to speak the truth in love. Amen.

As a Bishop, he prodded his clergy to higher standards in their preaching and their pastoral care. And as one who pushed them to faithfulness, he also encouraged his clergy that these outward acts be grounded in a rich life of prayer and study. In this, he led by example through his daily devotions.

We too need to find a pattern of life that nurtures us. For we work in what can be a dry and barren land. Like everyone else we thirst for God’s presence. Yet the people we serve who expect us to be prayed up, marinated in scripture, and connected to God, will unknowingly do most everything in their power to keep us so busy that we can’t find the time to drink the living water. To prove my point, our fellow priest Liam Collins would have preached this morning. But after he and I led a Prayer Retreat here on Friday and Saturday and he presided and preached the early service at Christ Church Savannah yesterday, Mary told him it was too much to do this too. She told him it would come together somehow and to not worry.

We owe it to the people of God whom we pastor to lead by the example of a life where we make spiritual disciplines a priority and where we make time for ourselves and our families. What I need and you need most is silent time before the face of God and times or prayer and study where we nurture our own life in Christ.

On this feast of Lancelot Andrewes, I name our need of prayer, scripture, reading, and silence to be as essential as our need for water and I want to close with the concluding verses from our reading from Psalm 63:

My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips,

When I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the night watches.

For you have been my helper,
and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.

My soul clings to you;
your right hand holds me fast.

Amen.

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