The Rev. Melanie McCarley
It is news to no one that we are in a drought. The grass is brittle and brown, flowers and vegetables are languishing on the vine, the leaves of young trees are turning brown. Watering by hose is banned in Dedham for the foreseeable future. Water levels are dropping and folks are getting anxious.
So, perhaps today, rather than on those occasions when our plants are drowning in too frequent deluges and the fields are made of mud, is one in which we can appreciate the words of the prophet Isaiah who speaks to a people who understand what it means to live in a land where water is considered a precarious resource.
In the New International Version translation of this passage, the Lord says: “Get rid of the chains you use to hold others down. Stop pointing your fingers at others as if they had done something wrong. Stop saying harmful things about them. Work hard to feed hungry people. Satisfy the needs of those who are crushed. …. Then …(then) you will be like a well-watered garden. You will be like a spring of water, whose water never run dry.” (New Intl Readers Version Isaiah 58:9b-11)
Imagine, being like a spring of water, who never runs dry. It’s a profound image, on both a literal as well as a figurative level. However, the image loses its impact unless we take the time to understand that water (an essential component of life) is a limited commodity—one which demands our care and concern…our stewardship.
Kay Lynn Northcutt writes: “My Daddy, the father of three girls, was a gas engineer for Amoco. Every evening when he crossed the threshold into our house from work, he’d note the price crude oil was trading for, reckoning how much it had risen or fallen since the day before. One day in the mid-1970s Dad sauntered to the dinner table and announced, “Girls, in your lifetime water is going to become more valuable than oil.” We laughed until our bellies ached at his wildly implausible prediction.
(she continues) I grew up with well water rather than a municipal water supply, and my family’s well-being depended upon the well not running dry. My anxious father timed each of his daughters’ showers, reading in his chair just beyond the bathroom door where he could listen to the water running. If we transgressed the three-minute limit, Dad’s raps on the bathroom door signaled that time was up. Throughout my life I watched my mother carry water she’d already used several times (to wash veggies, then dishes, and then the floor) to her cotton-candy impatiens that lined our back door. Standing in front of the sink with the water running while brushing one’s teeth was nearly a capital offense.
There was a basin filled with water for washing hands throughout the day. Washing our hands under streaming water was a luxury afforded us only at school, where municipal water flowed as if there were no end to it. Our well and its delicious 57-degree water was the sixth member of our family. We guarded it with a vigilance typically reserved for human beings.
Today’s lesson from Isaiah isn’t simply about water. It’s about stewardship—what it means to care for others—and how this act of caring impacts not only other individuals, but also ourselves, as the people of God. Isaiah tells his listeners that they are not to be solely about the business of satisfying their own needs—they are also responsible for the needs of those around them. He connects their physical and spiritual well-being to the well-being of all, and says that if we exercise care and concern for everyone, God will guide us and satisfy our needs in those times when we find ourselves in parched places. In short—the destiny of the people of Israel is connected to the destiny of every person of Israel—from the least to the greatest.
And water is a fine example to use to illustrate this point. In June, the L.A. Times reported “As the West endures another year of unrelenting drought worsened by climate change, the Colorado River’s reservoirs have declined so low that major water cuts will be necessary next year to reduce risks of supplies reaching perilously low levels….Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton said during a Senate hearing in Washington that federal officials now believe protecting “critical levels” at the country’s largest reservoirs – Lake Mead and Lake Powell – will require much larger reductions in water deliveries.” In short, if there is going to be enough water for everyone, everyone is going to need to be involved in making certain there is enough of this critical life resource to go around.
What God tells us, in today’s lesson, is that when the needs of everyone are cared for—the Lord will guide us continually and satisfy our needs when we find ourselves in parched places. We can read this literally about human lives being sustained by vital natural resources. We can also read this figuratively, about what it means for our spirits to be quenched so that we and our neighbors might grow and thrive. In truth, the two are connected. We know that if children have enough to eat—they study better in school. If people aren’t worried about critical necessities such as violence and shelter they are less violent and more productive. Studies have shown us that when people are connected to communities of faith they are healthier as well as happier. Peace, shelter, food, water, community and faith are essential to lives well lived.
It's worth watching what happens in the western part of our country—and considering how we, in the eastern portion of our nation, contend with a drought. How might the dwindling availability of a resource once considered abundant raise tensions, increase anxiety as well as injustice as people struggle to obtain more water for themselves—at the expense and peril of their neighbors. “The World Health Organization reports that last year more than 2 billion people lived in water-stressed countries and 3.6 billion had inadequate access to water. And that doesn’t begin to number the birds, rabbits, bobcats, mountain lions, and bears that thirst in drought with us.”
As stewards of God’s resources we must ourselves how we, as a community of faith at St. Paul’s in Dedham, Massachusetts, can be of help? What prayers should we offer? What resources can we provide? What acts of stewardship, both small and large, can we enact to ensure that there is indeed enough for everyone? This coming program year at St. Paul’s we hope to focus on the theme of water. Kay Northcutt reminds us: “Indeed, if you think about it, Jesus did some of his best work with water: the wedding at Cana, conversing with the Samaritan woman at the well, stilling the storm.” If we follow the guidance of our God, if we place our trust in the care and love of the Lord, we, I believe, will discover that answers are to be found—and indeed, we shall become like a well watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never run dry. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“Baptize with what you have” by Kay Lynn Northcutt, Christian Century March 9, 2022