March 27, 2011

Third Sunday in Lent

Bucket List

Exodus 17:1-7
Luke 4:5-42

Do you know this term, bucket list? It’s the list you make of all the things you want to do before you die. Yesterday, in the funnies, Dagwood Bumstead was working on his bucket list – as he put it, the important things he wasted to do before he kicked the bucket. Blondie asked him if he meant things like cleaning all the window screens before the end of spring – apparently something on her bucket list. Usually a bucket list is not about spring cleaning. It is more likely to include adventures and once-in-a lifetime events: going mountain climbing, riding in a hot air balloon, traveling to China, taking a cruise, visiting the home of your ancestors in Africa. It could also be things like learning to speak a foreign language, restoring an antique car, or running a marathon. A bucket list, in other words, is a list of all those things you would love to do but find it all too easy to put off. The press of daily life can crowd out hopes and dreams. We get caught up in the everyday and lose sight of the sense of wonder and adventure that renews our spirits. A bucket list is a commitment to seeking out that wonder and excitement. It is a way of finding fulfillment.

Here’s one thing you can be sure of, if there had been such a concept of a bucket list in Moses’ time, his would not have included a trip through the wilderness with the children of Israel. Yes, certainly it was an adventure, but not one, remember, that he willingly chose. And if the escape from Egypt seemed good at one point, when they found themselves out in the middle of nowhere, it was less attractive. In that dry wilderness place, they thought they would die of thirst. There was no water anywhere that they could see.

Have you ever been really, really thirsty? Maybe it happened when you were in the wilderness place of a hospital waiting for surgery, not allowed to eat or drink. Real thirst has a way of focusing your attention, doesn’t it? Just about all you can think about is how wonderful even a damp swab would be. You would give just about anything for a sip of cool water. That is what happened in the wilderness. The people were ready to trade their freedom for something to drink. Their joy at being rescued from the hand of Pharaoh had evaporated, dried up in the desert sun. It would have been better, they thought, to die in Egypt then to perish of thirst in the wilderness where there was no water.

But there was water in the wilderness. They just couldn’t see it. All they could focus on was their own thirst. And maybe they couldn’t see God either. Their focus on their thirst kept them from focusing on God. But there was water there and God was there, too, going ahead of them, standing on the rock where the water was, waiting to give them life. The hidden water flowed out when Moses opened the rock. It had been there all along but it took an act of faith and obedience to bring it forth.

As I think about this story, I wonder how many times in my own life I have been so focused on what I needed, or thought I needed, that I was blind to the way God was waiting to provide. I think about those times when I have been worried or afraid, when I have been so focused on taking care of myself that I forgot how God is always looking out for me. But there have also been times in my life when I have been able to act in faith, in obedience, even when it didn’t seem to make any more sense than getting water out of a stone. And I’ve seen that same thing happen in the lives others. In those times, I have been able to see that what was needed was there all along, hidden in plain sight, but it took action based on trust and belief to receive it.

That is how Jesus lived his life, after all, acting in faith and obedience to God, even when there was no visible reason to think that what he or those around him needed would be provided.

That is what happened in his encounter with the woman at the well, in the heat of the day. In a desert place, water is precious. In ancient times, and even today in too many places around the world, drawing water is a daily requirement for life itself. The women who did this work would have wanted to come early in the day, before it got too hot, before they got on with their other chores at home. But one woman came at noon, when the sun was overhead blazing down. She did not come with the others, and we can speculate that they avoided her and she avoided them. Most likely, she was not the kind of role-model the others would hold up for their daughters. She had been married – a lot. Maybe she had been widowed or divorced, who knows? And now she was living with a man out of wedlock. I picture her as tough and practical – she would have had to be in order to survive in a small community. You know how people talk; you know how cruel we can be to those who seem to break the rules of polite society.

But even with her own history, she knew there were some rules that no one should break. Men absolutely did not talk to strange women. Jews did not have anything to do with Samaritans. Nice people did not listen to her kind. And then she met Jesus.

At the start of their conversation, she misunderstood what he was saying to her. After all, she was the practical type. It was hot, he was tired and thirsty, she had a bucket and he did not. But there he was, saying that he could give her water, living water. She was skeptical at first: “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?”

For both of them, the woman and Jesus, the water they need for life itself was right there, but hidden and inaccessible until they each reached out to the other in trust and belief. Jesus was the source of new life for the woman, and the woman with her bucket could give Jesus what he needed.

In the wilderness of our world, in the dry places of life, we stand with that woman at the well. Jesus, the Jew, speaks to us, the Gentiles. And it doesn’t matter what the circumstances of our lives are, how many mistakes we have made, how many times we have messed up. As he did with the woman, Jesus offers us living water. He waits to give us that which will satisfy the deepest thirst we have, the thirst for love and acceptance and grace and God.

But there is more to our meeting Jesus. Jesus has no bucket. But we do. Dag Hammarskjold, a wise and holy man who was the Secretary General of the UN in the 1950s wrote this: “I am the vessel. The draft is God’s. And God is the thirsty one.”

God in Christ thirsts for what we would draw out of our souls with our little buckets. The well inside us is deep and full, whether we can see that or not. In faith and obedience, we are called to find the life that is there, even if it seems hidden and inaccessible, to draw it out and lift it up to God.

Those who would follow Christ have a bucket list that is different from the world’s. Our bucket list is not about those things we want to do for ourselves before we die. No, as Christians our bucket list is what we want to do for Jesus before we die. Our bucket list is what we want to do for Jesus because he died, for us, and is risen to eternal life, for us.

Jesus stands before us with no bucket of his own. He is waiting for us to draw water for him, to offer him the life that he is thirsty for, which is our life. And he is waiting to give us the life that will fill our thirsty souls, which is his life.

What does your bucket look like? Is it shiny and new, or a little dinged up and slightly worse for wear? It doesn’t matter. You still hold the gift of life within you, because God’s love has been poured into you.

The bucket of your life is filled with Christ’s own life. All that you need comes from that unending source of love and life. All that you need comes from Christ. And all that you are is all Christ needs – whoever you are, whatever your gifts, anything and everything you have to offer. You get to figure out what Christ needs from you. That’s your bucket list.

(c) Martha C. Highsmith

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