A sermon preached October 23, 2016, based on Psalm 65.
The only thing I remember for sure about myself is that I was shorter. I might have been 6 years old, or 9. I think I must have been staying for a couple of weeks with my grandparents in Texas, but I am quite sure they were not with me on this particular day. I am quite sure that it was only my bachelor Uncle David who brought me on my first visit to Six Flags over Texas - I'm pretty sure that if anyone else had been present I wouldn't have gotten away with so much. My Uncle David, who lived on his own in Dallas had been trying to get me on the various thrill rides all day long but I wasn't much of a thrill seeker when I was younger, and I hated heights. David had tried to convince me that I would have fun on "the Cliffhanger" and "The Texas Giant," but I was steadfast in my resistance. Finally, however, he found one semi-scary ride that caught my interest. The Splashdown was a ride like you find at nearly all amusement parks. The Splash down is really two rides in one. The first ride begins when you consent to be trapped in a boat that travles along a slow, steady watercourse that moves steadily upwards. The second part of the ride is a betrayal of all that has gone before. After lulling you into complacency with the slow climb and gentle rocking of ship, you hear an ominous roar as you draw closer to draw closer to the highest point of the watercourse, and sooner than you expect you find the prow of the boat is jutting out into thin air, where it pauses just long enough for you to regret everything, and then the boat tilts, and the prow is headed down an nearly vertical slope, taking you with it and everybody screams and your falling down a waterfall, the spray lightly coating your face and your arms until you hit the bottom, where you discover that the boat is design to push away a wall of water in every direction. You are surrounded by white and then everything settles and you are bobbing pleasantly toward the place you started.
I know that I couldn't have been very old because as soon as it was over, I bragged to my uncle that I had just ridden my first roller coaster. It wasn't a roller coaster, but I was young and easily impressed with myself. I also know that I was pretty young beause of what I chose to do next. You see, when our boat had his the bottom of the waterfall, that's when I realized there was a bridge built over the water course, and that the spray from the boat had soaked everyone and everything on that bridge. I know I was young because it seemed obvious to me that the next thing I should do is go stand on the bridge and get soaked to my skin. Out of all the rides and spectacles of Six Flags, what I wanted most that day was simply to stand on that bridge in my jeans and my cotton shirt and my canvas sneakers and get pummeled by the oncoming wave. I stood there once, and then again, and then again, grinning the maniac smile of a little kid who has discovered the secret of life. 9 times in a row I let the water envelop me, one time it even knocked me down. Finally, my uncle David convinced me that there was more to see, but we didn't stay too much longer. It wasn't especially comfortable to hike around the place in wet tennis shoes with no socks. And besides, what could possibly live up to the thrill I had already discovered. On the way out, i convinced uncle David to let me stand and be soaked one more time. It was glorious. It was an immersive, multi-sensory expereince. I still remember walking away, my heels slipping insie my shoes as they squeaked, my jeans now weighing 5 times more than they had, my eyebrows dripping into my eyes, and then into my mouth which I cleared with continual sputters. I loved it. And I carried the signs of my triumph all the way through the dallas traffic, all the way to the my uncle's apartment where we my my grandparents. I stepped out of the car, still soaked through. I stepped through the doorway still dripping. It was probably more than an hour from the last spalsh until the moment I found a towel - but I still needed it. I was drenched.
Now that I have children of my own I know there is something special and deranged about how much they can enjoy wearing wet clothes. There is a special abundant dripping they bring into a house on occasion, a drenching that baptizes the floor and loved ones, and anything the can get near.
So now, I'll ask you to imagine that an entire country is dripping, drenched like a child that can't help herself. This is the vision of the Psalm writer today, who looks around the nation of Israel and finds it overflowing with the goodness of an indulgent parent. "You visit the earth and make it abundant, enriching it greatly...Drenching the wagon tracks in the mud, leveling its ridges, overflowing with richness, even the desert pastures drip with it, and the hills are dressed in pure joy." Almost certainly this psalm we read today was first used as a harvest prayer, a thanksgiving for the season when God's abundance was on display. It's all well and good to talk about restraint and discipline in the spring planting or the summer tending, but there comes a day when you give up on your own efforts and you just want to sit in a never ending stream of goodness. I remember once, soon after the Soviet Union fell, a youth choir from Russia came touring at my church, and my family hosted a couple of the teenage boys. What I remember most is that each of the boys too about four showers apiece in the 24 hours they were with us, and each one lasted an hour or more. My mom marveled to one of their leaders afterwards "I know we didn't have enough hot water for all those showers." The leader said, they dont' miss hot water, they've never had it. they can't get over how much water you have.
Now, imagine that its not only a country, but all the world. Consider that dripping, drenching abundance is completely in character with a God who works by giving. Jesus said "i have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly!" This is God's fundamental way of working in the world, by giving gifts and creating abundance. Our very existence is God's abundance - creation exists not because God was lonely, but because the Holy love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit overflowed creation, and continues to bring more and more abundance. The world is drenched with the presence and power of God, which is what we call grace. Grace is our way of saying that God's chief superpower is in giving - giving power, giving hope, giving God's own self to us. Once, the book of John tells us, a woman came to the city well in the middle of the day so she could get water for herself. When she reached the well, she found Jesus - God's own gift of God's own self - and heard him say to her "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 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 of water that bubbles up into eternal life." She wondered how this could be true, and she wondered how it could be true for her. She was a Samaritan, belonging to a despised and rejected race - any of Jesus' friends would have considered it an extravagant git that Jesus even spoke to her. We later find out that she had a long history of disappointments and failures, and her spirit was dry and empty enough that she had her doubts when Jesus came, offering abundance.
But the Lord of the winds and the rains God can make living water out of thin air, and our emptiness will not stop God's giving.
a people of abundance have learned that everything in life is either a gift from God, or it is emptiness. And oh, we are good at mixing a little bit of emptiness into even the best things of life. We have known emptiness that goes all the way to the pit of our stomach - but we also know that there is no emptiness that God cannot fill. Even when we act on the empty promises of our heart, or feast on the empty promises of the world around us, God can turn even that into a gift. The God of grace turned a grave into a resurrection, and turns silence into praise.
To become a follower of Christ is to learn to see the abundance of God where others cannot. A people of scarcity say there is not enough; a people of waste say there is no point, so seize what little you can, but a people of abundance say there is no limit to what God can do. A people of abundance no that in either situation, either God made it, or God can make it whole.
And on this particular commitment Sunday, we offer our own gifts to God - extra mile gifts that come not from duty or discipline but from a conviction of abundance. We offer our gifts so that there can be feasting, so that we can make God's word present to all the senses, we give so that all the work of the church may abound and bear fruit. Everything we give is because God is giving everything
"How happy is the one you choose to bring close, the one who lives in your courtyards!
We are filled full by the goodness of your house!"
We are drenched with it, and when we overflow, the world is watered with life.