At the Water's Edge: The Great Swiftness
June 11, 2017
A few months ago a photographer from the congregation, Dave DeHaan, showed us a picture he had taken of the church building… from his drone. It was pretty amazing…but the striking thing about the picture wasn’t the vast parking lot, or to be honest, even the building… it was the great big blue expanse that stretched out across the picture…just over the hill from the church.
I knew the lake was close. You can hear it from the parking lot on a windy day…you can SEE Lakeshore Dr. I knew the only thing separating us from the lake was a line of trees and some really expensive real estate…but to see it from that perspective…was stunning.
I’ve spent much of my life in West Michigan…and so the lake has been a part of my life since I was very young. And over the years, I experienced that immensely satisfying feeling of bringing people to the lake who have never seen it before…have you ever experienced this?
It’s so great…especially if they’re from California…and they think they have the monopoly on west facing sunsets…and then you tell them… yeah, and no sharks.
This summer, we are going to revel in our location. After all, we’ve earned it: we’ve put up with black ice, and February, and 45 degree baseball games in May. There’s been a lot going on!
It's time for summer…it's time for rest…it's time to go to the Water’s Edge.
And so each of our texts this summer will take place next to water… not just because we’re preaching them from here…but our biblical texts will be set next to water.
We begin today In Genesis…when God is setting the stage for his grand story. We will weave our way through the beaches of the
Biblical Narrative over the next few months… until we finally reach the river’s edge in Revelation.
So much of God’s story takes place in, on, near, or beside water: waters are parted, leprosy is healed, disciples are baptized…all these things happen at the water’s edge…and we’ll visit them this summer,
And in all these stories, we’ll see how God brings rest, renewal and revival to his people at the water’s edge.
And we begin in the beginning…
As Alyssa read for us…we begin in Eden.
“A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches.”
The passage for this morning is the kind of text that is easily passed over.
It comes in the middle of the creation account…sandwiched between the creation of man and his placement in the garden. It reads more like the directions you would find on Google Maps…not an inspiring Biblical Text.
But the author of Genesis thought it was important enough to include these short verses in the creation account…wanting to tell us that from the beginning there were trees, and vegetation, and there was water.
A river…to the water the garden…and it flowed out of Eden, split into four rivers and went out to water the earth.
This was the set God decorated for us…these were the props laid out for us to use, to enjoy…and to illustrate God’s glory and creativity.
To start our series anywhere else but here would have been like jumping into a movie 10 minutes in. This passage grounds us… locates us…in the beginning…in the garden…in the water.
This is where we begin.
And this is where we return when all we feel is dry and empty.
After all, this is what water does…it gives life wherever it goes. From a house plant to humans…we see that water exists not for itself but to sustain, grow, and renew wherever it goes.
It’s always about the life it gives to others.
This is what makes it the queen of all metaphors.
Yes, there are vines, branches, soil, wineskins, lambs, and lions…and those are all well and fine.
But water!? Water reigns.
It is a universal sign for life. For growth. For refreshment. It doesn't need a background in agriculture to understand it.
We get it. Water brings life.
Fast forward a few millennia to John, chapter 7…Jesus is in Jerusalem celebrating the Festival of the Tabernacles…a festival that remembered when water came out of a rock in the wilderness.
The text reads, “On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”
Jesus is trying to explain to the people around him who he is… and he uses metaphors…stacking one on top of another so we have a bigger, fuller picture of who he is.
And the queen metaphor was a favorite of his…
He is the living water…the source of all life…and he brings life wherever he goes.
But he goes on to invite us into the metaphor, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”
Its like he had Genesis 2 in mind…locating himself in the garden…as the river from which all other rivers flow.
Jesus, the source of all life…flows into us…the smaller rivers that flow out of Eden…and give life to a dry and arid world.
We’re invited to water the world: to leave more life in a place than when we first entered it.
(Good questions to ask ourselves…did my words give life? Or minimize someone? Is there more life in the room because I was in it? Or did I take energy and ‘living water’ from a space?)
Water sustains life…living water gives life…our rivers should do the same.
Back to Genesis 2…our Google Map passages make sure to mention the names of all four rivers. And that is really interesting, I guess, if you’re into maps and Bible name pronunciations…
Turns out that with each river there is a different name and characteristic…
- Pishon means “increase.” It is thought that this river was wide… almost a flood plain.
- Gihon means “to gush forth,” this river flooded its banks often and was thought to overflow.
- Tigris means “rapid,” there’s a sense of movement and excitement.
- Euphrates means “fruitfulness.” This river provided nourishment to the vegetation around it.
Four names, four rivers, four different types of rivers.
Beloved author Richard Foster has written a book called, “Streams of Living Water” and I would commend it to you for summer reading… especially given our series.
In the book he talks about six streams of Christian Living…each of them describing a different aspect of the Christian life.
- Social Justice
And he names the attributes of each of these streams…while always returning to the truth that Jesus embodies all the disciplines of these streams.
I found it fascinating that four of them match up so well with the Rivers of Eden…
- The Contemplative Stream calls us to a life of prayer. Like the Pishon, it is a vast and fertile place…a place to retreat as Jesus did… down to the quiet riverbanks…to spend time with God.
- The Charismatic Stream invites us to gush forth with the Spirit like the Gihon. To flood the nations with the overflow that has been given to us.
- The Social Justice Stream calls for Justice to roll down like a mighty water…much like the Tigris. The rapids are rough, the challenge confrontational, but working to the other side is a must. We too are to rage with righteousness through dry and deserted lands.
- And then there is the Evangelistic Stream…a stream that invites all people to enter into a living and abundant life with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…much like the abundance provided by the Euphrates.
Four streams…each one of them important. They call us to a prayer- filled, Spirit-guided, justice soaked, good news proclaiming life. (I would add Streams of Holiness and Incarnation to the list as well…but I ran out of rivers…)
The text is clear that the rivers in Genesis are flowing OUT…out of Eden and into the world. And Jesus says that the rivers of living water gush forth from our hearts…
When our hearts are well-watered, the river flowing from us will be bless everyone around us…
But for some of us, the rivers may have quieted a little too much. The rapids have turned to trickles…the gushing is more like sputtering.
Perhaps we haven’t even noticed…
At the back of the property of my parent’s house there is a tiny stream…one you could easily step over. It divides their property from the one behind it. Some time ago a house up the street went on the market. The house had the same stream in the backyard…and one of the features listed on the MLS was ‘waterfront property.’
There are times in our lives when our rivers have turned into a tiny brook…we still think we’re living on waterfront property…
We need the fresh water of the Spirit to pour over us…we need to open ourselves to the gushing love of Christ…as the text from John is directly translated…”Those who put their trust in me…”
Do we trust him? Have we opened ourselves to the living water? In the words of the prophet Ezekiel,
“On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”
Find your river…be it contemplative or charismatic…find the place that connects you to the Living Water…
But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. We’re on summer vacation after all…It’s time for a deep breath…a long walk…a pause in our daily routine.
After all, that’s when we start to notice the things around us. Shorelines that are much closer than we realized…grace that is right in front of us…stretching out with an immensity we cannot measure.
And Jesus, the living water, sits us down and invites us to drink deeply.