Pouring out water, time and energy and life itself
In the first reading from the Bible which we heard read earlier, King David and his personal SAS style bodyguard were fighting a kind of guerrilla warfare against the invading Philistines who had taken over David’s birthplace, Bethlehem. David was hiding in a cave nearby and he was very thirsty. He expressed his wish for some cool clear water from the well at Bethlehem from which he had drunk as a child and as young man before the cares of life, of being head of state, of making wrong moral choices, of being a man of war and of the world generally had eaten away at his youthfulness and goodness. The water was not just for his body but for his soul. It was, in a sense, the water of eternal life that Jesus would talk about that he wanted and needed. He needed divine inspiration, God’s certain presence and guidance and deliverance from his trials. His throat was parched to be sure but so was his mind. His was probably a sigh - an audible wish - just as many a woman at the end of a fraught day might say 'I could go a cuppa' or a man working in a hard physical job might say 'I’d love a nice cold beer'. The cuppa is not just the tea but the chance of rest and respite and perhaps of friendship and conversation or companionship in marriage and family life. The beer is not just the drink but the sharing and relaxing and enjoyment of the end of another hard working day.
Unknown to David, three of his bodyguard stole away, crawled down the hillside unnoticed, cut through the Philistine lines, got to the well of David’s childhood, drew water and brought it back and presented David with their trophy of loyalty and commitment to him. Dry and parched though his throat was, David did not drink the water. He poured it out on to the ground. But this was not an act of denigration of the efforts of his brave bodyguard. Rather it elevated their heroic action into worship. He gave the water to God as an offering - he would not drink it himself. But - suddenly in that act of self denial, he became refreshed in soul and spirit and mind. He was encouraged and uplifted and inspired by the bravery of his soldiers. And his faith in God’s providence was restored.
In the second reading we heard about some of St Paul’s last thoughts. 'For I am already being poured out like a drink offering'. What did he mean? He was writing to his spiritual adoptive son Timothy. He was giving him his last advice on how to live as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Timothy was to carry on preaching even if it seemed unsuccessful. He was to explain to people why he believed in and followed and served Jesus Christ. He was to correct Christians when they were wrong, rebuke them when they got out of hand and encourage them always. He was to be patient, careful and caring. He was to be clear in what Christianity is because even then different people had different views. Paul told Timothy to keep the heid in all situations and endure the hardship of misunderstanding and lack of appreciation and lack of support. In contrast, said Paul, my life is being poured out, ebbing away just as a drink offering disappears into the warm sand. Paul is not downhearted or broken or disappointed. On the contrary he testifies:
'I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing'.
Have you fought the good fight? Are you still running the race or have you given up? Or, like that character in the half marathon in Newcastle, have you jumped on a bus and then tried to claim a prize? Have you kept the faith? Or do you let doubts overwhelm you? Are you confident of eternal life and salvation? Do you long to see and meet Jesus? Spending you life in the service of Jesus Christ can be sacrificial. There are many blessings and they outweigh the grief. But - there are easier options even if they are shallow and lack fulfilment. Paul had every right to remind Timothy that he had fulfilled his calling as an apostle of Jesus Christ. We know he suffered a lot throughout his missionary journeys. He lived life on the edge. But he was sustained by the living power of God within him. He was not preaching for himself and he was not selling ideas for money. He was empowered to be faithful and victorious over many tests and trials. And now he says, the struggle is over and the battles have ceased. His sense of calling is no longer towards planting more churches and travelling more miles but to entering heaven. His physical life and time and energy and all his skills, gifts and commitment are being poured out as his time on earth draws to a close.
For David, pouring out costly water was an act of worship. For Paul, pouring out his life and time on earth in the service of Jesus Christ was his great purpose. And for Jesus, it was his broken body and his shed blood poured out for the forgiveness of many that is the centre and basis of the New Covenant, of Christianity as we know it and of the saving and redeeming relationship that we have with our Maker today.
So this is what we share together in Holy Communion. It is not just the physical elements of bread and sacramental wine. If that’s all we think we are doing - we have missed the point. Worse still - if we think we need to do this to remain a member of the Church. We have a share in the understanding of King David of old because he understood what worship truly is. To put God first significantly in your life even if it seems foolish to do so and even if you do not see the full purpose of it or its fulfilment or end. Others have been there before you. The prophet Habakkuk wrote:
'Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour' (3:17-18).
We have a share in the understanding of St Paul. Because he was one of us, a man, a person of human faults and failings who nevertheless was given to transcend his personal limitations in the service of the risen Jesus Christ. He was a man of ruthless Jewish orthodoxy prepared to use violence to crush Christianity who was soundly converted into the person who wrote such beautiful thoughts as:
'Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres…And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love'.
And we share in the very life and soul of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Friend and Saviour, risen from the dead, alive for evermore. Just as if you met Him down the road and He blessed you and you were changed for ever in that instant. He lives within you to share your life’s days and all that makes up your journey. A Christian may sometimes be alone but never lonely. It is not a cliché or a sop, it is not the maudlin sentimentality of our human imagination and consolation.
'I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses;
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known'.
We take him at his word:
'Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and eat with you, and you with me'.
This is our indescribable privilege and joy - to know Jesus Christ as our Saviour, to serve Him here on earth and to look forward to meeting Him in eternal life. If he had not risen from the dead we would not be here. There are two billions witnesses to Him on earth and more in heaven. We are members of the Church visible and the church invisible. And these elements of bread and unite us physically and spiritually in the life of Jesus for our health and blessing, for our forgiveness and salvation.