Here We Still Stand: Empty Yet Filled
Dr. Jerry Watts
Senior Pastor Elect
No one likes to see the empty light turn on their dashboard, but then again you can’t fill up a tank that is already filled. I have been sharing the Gospel with teenagers for over thirty years and for more than twenty years I have been telling the story of Desert Pete, who wrote the following note to thirsty hikers in the desert:
“Dear stranger: This pump is all right as of June 1932. I put a new sucker washer in it, and it should last for quite a few years. But the washer dries out and the pump needs to be primed. Under the white rock, I buried a jar of water, out of the sun and corked up. There’s enough water in it to prime the pump, but not if you drink some first. Pour about 1/4 of the water into the pump and let her soak for a minute to wet the leather washer. Then pour the rest medium fast and pump hard. You’ll get water. Have faith. This well has never run dry. When you get watered up, fill the bottle and put it back as you found it for the next stranger who comes this way. -Pete”
After recounting Desert Pete’s instructions, I have on more than one occasion exhorted my listeners to put their faith in the Word of God; if they try to quench their own thirst it will only be short lived. But when I reflect on the fruit of this well-worn illustration to lead youth to the well of God’s Word, it has failed on almost every front. Why? Because dying to ourselves, our own resources, and ignoring the penultimate right in front of me seems ridiculous to us as teens and adults in this secular age or really any age in human history. That kind of faith is impossible for us. It is no wonder Martin Luther tells us in the Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” Luther knows it will take an act of God, the work of the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, to have the kind of faith Desert Pete is asking for, the kind of faith that trusts differently, with faith instead of sight.
When Pastor Bruce and Kirsten Wilder moved their family to Albuquerque in 1998 they came with enthusiasm for what God was about to do together with God’s people at Faith Lutheran. It also required them to leave other blessings like a thriving business, a network of friends for their whole family, and walk by faith into the future. Today we are all recipients of countless blessings from God because of the way the Holy Spirit worked through their sacrificial discipleship. As we all step out on all kinds of adventures this summer, we are also called to step out in that same kind of discipleship that we have been blessed to witness.
The Christian worldview calls us to die to self. How does one invite that kind of radical shift in a post Christian world that considers human flourishing the highest ethic? Sacrifice makes for a great hero movie and it’s easy for us to understand why God would die for his children, but it is much harder for us to wrap our minds around the reality that He relinquished his very identity. Paul writes in Philippians 2 that God actually “emptied himself” of His very nature, giving up every status and privilege He so rightly deserved. Through the hand of the apostle, God gives us this radical idea that our discipleship should have the “same mind” as the one who emptied himself for us.
May we continue to be a people like the great cloud of witnesses (including those right in our midst) who step out in faith, emptying ourselves and instead filled by the Holy Spirit so that the world around us might come to know the amazing love of God and good news of the Gospel in Christ Jesus our Lord. I am praying for scores empty warnings quickly filled by the Holy Spirit this summer!