SERMON: Thirst


A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley

by Andrew McKearney on 13 March 2019.

The human longing for God, whether this is a natural part of us or is God’s gift to us, this longing is vividly expressed in two of the psalms.

Psalm 63 begins:

​O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you;

​my soul is athirst for you.

​My flesh also faints for you,

​as in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.

And this morning’s psalm, psalm 42 begins:

​As the deer longs for the water-brooks,

​so longs my soul for you, O God.

​My soul is athirst for God, even for the living God;

​when shall I come before the presence of God?

This human longing for God is expressed as a thirst; ‘as in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water’, ‘as the deer longs for the water-brooks.’ And in Christian mosaics and paintings, the deer comes to symbolise our thirst for God.

Thirst is so fundamental to us – our bodies are 68% water! Which means that dehydration threatens our very being!

Brian Keenan wrote of his imprisonment in Beirut in hisbook ‘An Evil Cradling’. Few of us if any will ever face such an extreme situation, which stripped Brian Keenan down to the essentials. Water was one of those essentials!

He recalls his thoughts from his imprisonment:

​I must ration my drinking water for I am always fearful

​that I might finish it and then wake in the middle of the

night with a raging thirst that I cannot satiate. I think of

rabies and the raging thirst of mad dogs and I know how easy it would be to go mad from thirst.

The last desire of those who are dying is often for a sip of water – as indeed it was for Jesus too. In John’s gospel the author writes:

​After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished,

said (to fulfil the scripture), ‘I thirst.’

It’s one of the seven last words from the cross: ‘I thirst.’

So our experience of thirst is a rich and powerful metaphor for our longing and our desire for God:

​My soul is athirst for God, even for the living God;

​when shall I come before the presence of God?

asks the psalmist.

The American poet Mary Oliver who died recently, named a collection of her poems ‘Thirst’. In the Epilogue to that book she writes this remarkable paragraph:

​Another morning and I wake with thirst for the

goodness I do not have. I walk out to the pond and all

the way God has given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord, I was never a quick scholar but sulked and hunched over my books past the hour and the bell; grant me, in your mercy, a little more time. Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart. Who knows what will finally happen or where I will be sent, yet already I have given a great many things away, expecting to be told to pack nothing, except the prayers which, with this thirst, I am slowly learning.

But perhaps we don’t yet really know this thirst for God within us. Maybe in the same way that we’ve never experienced a desperate thirst for water in the way that Brian Keenan has, we’ve never experienced thirst for God either in quite the overwhelming way that these two psalms suggest:

​My flesh also faints for you,

​as in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.

Maybe we’ve only ever known little thirsts! For companionship, for a satisfying job, for a family, for health, for enough money to live on!

If these are our little thirsts then we can only start where we are and with them, and acknowledge these little thirsts to our Lord. He is our heart’s desire – so even these little thirsts will lead us to him who is the source of life itself!

There’s a memorable quote from St John of the Cross that’s on the bookmark that you’ve each been given this morning:

​We will go by night to seek the source of life,

​thirst alone will be our light.

Our search for God the source of life is by night – our Lord cannot be seen or touched, heard or felt – so it’s inevitable that our spiritual journey takes place, if you like, in the dark.

What then will be our guide?

Thirst alone will be our light!