Monday, August 29, 2016

Sunday's Sermon – Nobody Likes a Water Main Break

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, August 28, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. You can find a podcast of this sermon on the Cove Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website ( for more church information.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

Jeremiah 2:4-13

Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves? They did not say, "Where is the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?" I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, "Where is the Lord?" Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit. Therefore once more I accuse you, says the Lord, and I accuse your children's children. Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.

Nobody Likes a Water Main Break

I think I’m safe in saying that nobody really likes a break in a main water line, nobody except maybe Sue Willson who loves to get all those happy phone calls and that deep sense of satisfaction knowing that she’s needed. But other than her, I can’t believe many folks would like this kind of thing happening in their neighborhood. I mean, the repair people certainly don’t like being called out, especially at night or maybe anytime in the winter. It’s no fun for them. And city officials don’t like it, because not only is it something that has to be fixed and fixing things cost money, but it’s also a reminder that the whole system is aging therefore they can expect more of this stuff in the future. And homeowners, I’m telling you, we certainly don’t like it. I mean, give me a break (no pun intended), who wants their water disrupted. And since we all know this kind of thing is never, and I mean never suppose to happen, there’s really only one thing we can do and that’s to get all fired up and then to call the water department to complain. And when you do that, make sure you ask for Sue. It’ll make her feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I think we all know is that a water main break is a real pain in the neck.

What we may not know is this: the ancient equivalent to a break in one of the main water lines is very similar to something we see in the passage we just read, and I’m talking about a crack is a cistern. Now, in case you’re not sure what that is, a cistern is this container with some kind of water proof lining that’s used to hold water. As a matter of fact, a toilet is a modern example of a cistern. Anyway, cisterns were really important in the ancient world, especially in places that were pretty dry, because they could be used to catch the rain, and that water could be storied until you needed it. And these cisterns could be relatively small, you know, a couple of gallons, or huge, like mini-reservoirs. And like I said, they were really important, because, if you were a dry land farmer in a place like the middle east, you needed cisterns to provide water to your crops during dry spells right along with your animals and family, often in that order. I’m telling you, cisterns were big deals in ancient Israel. But a cistern with a crack in the water proof lining, well, that’s pretty much worthless, because a cracked cistern can’t hold much water. And so, if we kind of change cistern to water main, I think we can get a pretty good idea about what Jeremiah was getting at when he wrote, “They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”

Of course, I think it’s fairly obvious that he wasn’t talking about containers or water mains or toilets, especially based on what he said right before. No, the prophet was talking about something he could see happening in his country, right before it was conquered by the Babylonians. You see, from where he was standing, the people of Judah had decided to worship idols, and idolatry was something wicked in the sight of God. And that’s why, speaking for God, Jeremiah said, “...for my people have committed two evils.”

You see, first, they have forsaken or turned away from God, the one he called “the fountain of living water,” an image Jesus used later when he was talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. And if we don’t know specifically what Jeremiah had in mind, we can look at what he just said, you know, how they “went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves” and how they stopped asking "where is the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives." Now that’s one evil thing they did, they turned from God.

And then, second, they “...dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” In other words, as he said a little bit before, “those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit. In fact, they “...changed their glory for something that does not profit,” something both appalling and shocking. Now those were the two evil sides of idolatry that the people during the time of Jeremiah were doing, an action that led to something as a worthless as a cracked cistern or, for us, a broken water main.

And you know, if you think about what he was describing, well, I believe we can identify with the problem he pointed out as easily as the image he used. I mean, even though we’ll never call it what it actually is, I think it’s pretty easy for us, and I’m talking about all of us, Christians included, man, it’s easy to worship idols. And I’ll tell you, if you don’t believe me, just think how easy it is for any of us to do the same kind of thing the people did during the time of Jeremiah. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we run around worshiping sticks and bushes and trees and stuff like that. Nor am I talking about bowing down to a statute or a picture, you know, what I mean. But if we’re really honest with ourselves, I think there are times when we get pretty close to what Jeremiah was talking about here.

I mean, sometimes we kind of turn away from God. My goodness, we forget a lot of the stuff he’s already done, and I’m talking about how, through Jesus Christ, we are a new creation, our past has been nailed on the cross and our future is as secure as the tomb was empty. We move that to the back burner. But not only that, we tend to forget what God wants all people to do, namely to love him and love one another. My gosh, it’s not rocket science, but when we’re talking about everything we think we should be doing, loving one another doesn’t generally make the top ten. And so, like those folks from Judah, there are times when we’ve ...”forsaken [God], the fountain of living water.”

Just like there are times when we choose to “...dug out cisterns for [ourselves], cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” And don’t we do that when we turn to other stuff, and start trusting that more health and more wealth and more happiness can guarantee our future, not unlike the guy in a parable told by Jesus that we now call the rich fool? You know the story: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” You see, I think it’s pretty easy to slip into the same kind of thing that tripped up Jeremiah’s friends and neighbors.

But here’s the good news, because Jeremiah wrote this stuff about worthless idols and cracked cisterns, we have it in our power to do something about it. In other words, right here and right now, we can make the choice to reject the idols and to follow God. And we can do it by making two decisions.

You see, first, we can decide that we’re going put the other stuff over to the side, you know, the stuff we’ve been taught to trust by our society. Now, I’m now saying we have to reject it all, you know, that we’ve got to reject getting good medical care when we’re sick or putting aside a nest egg for the future or believing like those old-time Presbyterians, you know, that we can do anything we want; we just can’t enjoy it. No, I’m not saying we’ve got to do that kind of thing, because not only will we not do it, I really don’t think it’s necessary. At best, that kind of message just makes folks feel guilty, maybe even ashamed, and shame is never good. Instead, we can reject the cultural idea that when we reach the end of our lives here on earth, the one with the most stuff wins or that when we get what we want we must be doing something right, maybe even righteous. And I’ll tell you, according to Paul, if I’m running around, judging and condemning every Tom, Dick and Harry, I committing idolatry. You see, I’m actually worshiping myself; I’ve made myself the Lord, because I’m doing something that only God has the right to do. You see, first, we can turn away from all that worthless stuff.

And then, second, we can turn to God. And we can do that by simply remembering and trusting. I mean, we can remember everything that God has already done for us, you know, how he stuck with his people, and I’m talking about the Jews,  even though they were always wandering off, because it would be through them, that the savior of the world would come, and how Jesus died to free us from the old bondage and was raised to offer us the possibility of new life, and how even our ability to understand this was a gift given by the Holy Spirit. That’s what I’m talking about when I say remember.

And then we can trust, and I’ll tell you, this is really cool. You see, we can decide that we’re going to trust that God has already done everything that it says he did and he’ll do everything he promised to do. Now this is what faith is all about. And like I said it really does come down to a decision. It’s like this famous theologian wrote. Faith is like stepping through a door into a dark room. When you do that, you’ve decided to believe that there’s a floor on the other side. You see, we can do the same thing with God. And I’ll tell you, when we do, something r
eally remarkable happens. Suddenly we see God present all around us. And the shame that we might have felt about ourselves, it gradually melts away, because we start seeing ourselves as we’re seen by our heavenly Father, and I’ll talking about flawed creatures that he loved before he laid the foundation of the universe. And the fear and doubt we might have had as we face the future, that’s replaced with a gentle assurance that in God’s hands, we’re going to be fine. In spite of what’s happening all around us, in the end, we’ll be fine. Now, that’s what I mean, when I say we can turn toward God and that’s the second thing we can do.

Of course, this is something we’ll do only if we’re interested in fountains of living of water and divinely built cisterns that don’t crack. I mean, if we really don’t care, then we can do what the folks who heard Jeremiah did and we can turn away from God and turn toward a bunch of stuff that really won’t last. But if we want that living water in something that’s solid and secure, then we can turn from the worthless mess and turn toward the only thing that is stable and reliable, and I’m talking about God. And when you think about it, why wouldn’t we do it. I mean, give me a break, nobody likes a water main break, (no pun intended) not even Sue Willson.

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