March 19 Jeremiah 2:1-13, 29-32 Rev. Dr. Alan Meyers
Why would someone do that — turn away from a fountain of cold, refreshing, life-giving water, and try to drink instead from a cistern, a basin chiseled out of rock to hold stale rainwater, especially if the cistern were cracked and empty and waterless? I don’t know, really. It is something of a mystery about us humans that we so often fail to do what is good and joyful and healthy and rewarding and choose instead something trivial and boring and ultimately worthless. I have looked back with regret on many a lost hour I could have spent taking a walk or reading a book, but which in fact I spent scrolling through nonsense on Facebook or watching a dumb TV show. C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters tells of a man who arrives in hell and says “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.” When I first read that book I shivered when I felt how much I identified with that man. How often do I waste time doing something that’s not anything I’m obligated to do nor anything I really enjoy?
Is this just laziness we’re talking about here — being drawn to whatever takes the least energy and concentration (Facebook rather than the walk, TV instead of the book)? Is it sheer human perversity? Or is it something deeper, what Christian tradition calls sin? Human beings have a mysterious bent toward turning away from God, the greatest of all goods, and chasing after lesser goods that ultimately cannot satisfy. This is what Paul is talking about in today’s reading from Romans: “they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles” (1:23). Theologians have said this is the essence of sin: choosing something less than God over God. It is what is called idolatry. Idolatry may involve choosing unGodly values instead of what God cares about: choosing cruelty instead of kindness, selfishness instead of concern for others, trust in our own powers instead of faith in God (Romans 1:16-17). Lack of love for God leads to lack of love for our neighbors.
The best reason for giving things up for Lent is to make space in our lives for concentrating on God and practicing enjoyment of the supreme Good. In moments of devotion during Lent — reading Scripture and good devotional literature, praying, reflecting anew on God’s amazing love for us in Jesus Christ, just sitting quietly and enjoying the presence of God — we may learn to abandon those cracked cisterns that cannot finally quench our thirst, and to run instead to the fountain of living water.
Prayer: Great God, revealed in Jesus Christ, you are the fountain of living water. May I drink deeply and be satisfied. Amen.