Nature Series: Animals

Nature Series: Animals

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; March 29, 2020

5th Sunday in Lent

Isaiah 11:6-9

 

The Vicar of Dibley is a British sitcom set in the fictional village of Dibley. The series begins when an elderly Vicar dies, and the chairman of the Parish Council, David Horton, sends for a replacement. David likes to be in charge and assumes he is and always will be. He’s a Cambridge educated, upper-class, multi-millionaire, who longs for the status quo and tradition. So, when the new Vicar turns out to be a woman, let’s just say—the feathers fly.

 

In one episode, Vicar Geraldine Granger realizes how upset people are when their pets die, so she decides to hold a special service for everybody to bring an animal to church for a blessing. David is outraged by the idea of having an animal church service and puts it down to Geraldine being a woman and a bit crazy. Before long the local and national news get wind of it and a tabloid journalist turns up to belittle the event and the village. The heat is on and before it’s all over, the Vicar, David, and a few others are feeling it. So, imagine their surprise, when on the morning of the service, traffic is backed up as far as the eye can see—and the church is packed. It seems that the Vicar hit on an age-old truth: people adore their pets.

 

The love that people have for their animals has brought a special joy to my heart—particularly these past few weeks when bad news seems to be the only news available to us. It is been like a breath of fresh air to see someone post on social media a picture of their new puppy, or newly hatched chicks, or videos of turtles and ducks, or cat memes that make fun of people for finally catching on to the importance of social distancing.

 

When our children were little, a stray dog showed up one day at the edge of our lawn. She stayed there watching us for two days. On the third day, she appeared on our front porch and never left. We did not choose Copper. She chose us.

 

One day, a couple of years after Copper adopted us, Kinney and I were playing ball with Samuel in the backyard when a man stopped his car on the street, got out, and came toward us. While I don’t remember what the gentleman wanted, I do remember how Copper behaved. As soon as the man approached, she kept her eyes on Samuel. More than that, she kept herself between Samuel and the stranger. If Samuel went to the right, Copper went to the right. If Samuel went to the left, Copper went to the left. Finally, it dawned on me. Copper was guarding our child. If I did not love her before, I did then!

 

Until the day she died, Copper was a beloved member of our family. She was loved by a lot of other people, too, so much so, we began to call her the community dog. Every day she made her rounds. When she greeted Doug Stuart on his daily walk, he was as eager to see her as she was to see him. Copper dropped by Miss Jenny’s because Miss Jenny made a fresh, scrambled egg just for her. Mr. Burgin was known to provide a bit of hamburger meat on occasion. Wanda and Jimmy were sure to have some tasty leftover. Copper was even known to drop by the drug store, peek in on Kinney, and stand guard if she felt the urge.

 

Animals—God’s creatures—oh, how they enrich our lives. They raise our spirits, they make us laugh, and they teach us. This sermon series on nature has given us a chance to reflect on how that God communicates through all of nature. Regarding the animals, when I think about how a stray dog buried herself into the hearts of our family, I realize God still speaks through her today, if I will only listen. Allow me to suggest three lessons we might learn from an old hound dog named Copper.

 

As I said earlier, Copper chose us. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says to his disciples,

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you.[i]

 

Did you hear that? We did not choose Christ. Christ chose us. The knowledge of such great love should comfort, encourage, and empower us to seek do the will of our Abba Father—as Jesus did; to seek to bless others—as Jesus did.

 

Another thing that we might learn from one of God’s creatures is God’s constant love and care. When the stranger showed up in our yard, Copper went into protective mode. She wasn’t about to let anyone get in between her and her little boy. What a picture of God’s love. We worry and we fret. How could we not during these times of distress? Maybe we fear COVID-19 is too big for our God. Maybe we feel God has gone away for a while and may never return. If so, the Apostle Paul’s words might encourage us:

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.[ii]

 

Of course, this does not mean that it will always FEEL like God is near. How could it, when even Jesus felt forsaken by God as he died on a cross. Yet, in three days, victory! No matter what we might feel, we are God’s chosen in this life and in the life to come.

 

Finally, through a beloved pet, we might learn another important lesson. Copper had a way of “sharing the love.” She went out into the community, and while she brought smiles to many faces, she also benefited from the love and care of others. This picture of being in relationship might remind us that God made us to be in community just as God is in community as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus demonstrated the importance of community as well, by recruiting 12 disciples for the ultimate seminary experience. Afterward, he promised them that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth and show them the way ahead.

 

But when so many of us are practicing social distancing and remaining in our homes as much as we can, community seems nearly impossible. Yet, day by day the Spirit is opening new doors of learning. While we may curse the Coronavirus, we give thanks for highspeed internet. Just this week, I held the Confirmation Class using Zoom, an audio/video conference call platform. While the video quality was poor (likely because of the increased use of the internet right now), we still got to “see” each other, and it was good. The Administration, Finance, and Property Committee met on a Zoom conference call, and I hope to try video conferencing for a virtual Bible Study Monday.  While we continue to offer worship through Facebook Livestream, we are also livestreaming Centering Prayer on Wednesdays. Our Administrative Assistant, Katie Altman, is emailing the bulletin, sermon, and livestream service to help those who are not on Facebook so they can still worship with their church family, and Session members are making weekly phone calls to folks without email to share pertinent information—all in order to help us stay connected as a community of faith. And I am hearing from many of you that you are staying connected to friends and family in creative ways—like taking ballet and yoga via ZOOM and reading stories and sharing videos with grandchildren through FaceTime.

 

No matter what is going on in the world, we are never alone. The God who designed the creatures, designed us for the sake of love and relationship—in this life and in the life to come. Amen.

 

[i] John 15:12-16a.

[ii] Romans 8:35, 37-39.

*Cover Art by Rara Schlitt, used by permission

Nature Series: Birds

Nature Series: Birds

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; March 22, 2020

4th Sunday in Lent

Luke 12:4-7; Matthew 6:25-29

HOMILY

A poem entitled “The Cardinal”:

So brilliant in my dreary yard
Before the green of spring.
The Cardinal is back again
A dazzling, scarlet thing.

Here he grabs an old dead twig
There some dry, brown grass.
He tries a dozen different bits
To find one that will pass.

You see he’s building up his nest
To show his love so pure.
He must succeed to claim his prize
Brown, scarlet and demure.

So now he works to build the best
This bright spot in my day.
And as he works the world turns
To green from dullest grey. [i]

While bird poems are plentiful, bird metaphors glide in and out of our common speech. Allow me to demonstrate:

She sings like a ____(bird).

The child is as happy as a ____(lark).

He was running around like a ____ with his head chopped off. (chicken)

She has eyes like an ____ (eagle).

Light as a _____ (feather).

Don’t count your ____ before they hatch (chickens).

Madder than a wet _____ (hen).

That old gentleman is as wise as an ____ (owl).

Naked as a ____ (jaybird).

 

While birds are all around us—physically and metaphorically—they also abound in Scripture. Birds are present in the creation. Ravens feed the prophet Elijah in a time of distress. The Psalms mention them often. Leviticus provides the longest list of birds found in the Bible, including scavengers like vultures, falcons, buzzards, and hawks. The dove is a favorite of ancient Israel, known to nest in the holes of the cliffs. You will recall that Noah releases a dove to de­termine how much the flood waters have fallen. A harmless, peaceful bird, over time it becomes a symbol of the Holy Spirit. A hen with her chicks provides a picture of Jesus’ love and concern for God’s unrepentant people: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” In the book of Revelation, birds are summoned to “the great supper of God.” From beginning to end, birds are part of the biblical landscape.[ii]

 

Another important bird in Scripture is the eagle, the largest bird in Israel with a wingspan of up to 8 feet. In Exodus 19 we read that the Lord calls to Moses from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”

 

Finally, there is the sparrow, a small, seemingly insignificant bird, that in biblical times had little sentimental or commercial value. Yet Jesus uses it to teach a valuable lesson. “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”[iii]

 

In all times—but especially in times like these—when we are facing challenges we could have never imagined; we can gain strength and courage by meditating on God’s care for the birds. God’s tenderness for them reminds us that we are not alone. God is always with us, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, God has equipped us to soar like the eagle.

 

Yet, we are wise to take heed because the ways of the world will keep us a-ground, distraught, and fearful. But Scripture tells us that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.[iv] We are not lost. We are not powerless.

 

Furthermore, looking out for number one is not the motto of our faith. As Christians, we are children of the Most High God, and we are created for love. In the name of love, we have choices to make. We can choose to practice social distancing to keep ourselves and others safe. We can choose to wash our hands often and to stay home as much as possible. We can choose to check on our neighbor via phone instead of entering her home. We can choose to show our appreciation for people working in grocery stores. We can choose to gather in worship with other believers, digitally. We can choose to turn off the news and other social media outlets when the strain of being too connected feels overwhelming. We can choose to practice self-care, by going for walks, taking bike rides, creating delicious meals, reading, listening to music, watching the birds….

 

And through it all, we can choose to pray like we have never prayed before—for a cure for COVID-19, for aid to those in need, for business owners and their employees who are facing incredible challenges, for people who do not have adequate savings, and for all our health care workers.

 

In the coming days, may we remember that God is faithful. God knows all our needs and God, who values the sparrows, surely values you and me. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

[i] http://winlake64.wordpress.com/tag/cardinal-poem/

[ii] “The Birds of the Air,” A Gathering Voices by Don McKim

[iii] Luke 12:6-7

[iv] 2 Timothy 1:7

*Cover Art by Stushie, used by subscription

Nature Series: Trees

Nature Series: Trees

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; March 15, 2020

3rd Sunday in Lent

Deuteronomy 20:19-20; Psalm 1; Luke 13:6-9

 

From my point-of-view as a child, the most astounding thing about my grandparent’s small farm in Western North Carolina was the vistas from the front lawn. Wonderful views of the mountains were even more spectacular when seen from the branches of my grandmother’s cherry tree. From there I could perch for hours, compete with the blackbirds for the fruit of the tree, and gaze out over the valley into the great beyond. Nearby stood a grand oak tree, with limbs too high for a little girl to master; nonetheless, I welcomed the shade and the breeze its branches provided to cool the skin and warm the heart.

 

Some years later, I learned to appreciate the plants and trees of the mountains even more, when, during my undergraduate studies at Carson-Newman College, I took a May-term class entitled “Appalachian Flora.” It was one of the most fun classes I have ever taken. In my mind’s eye I can still see Dr. Chapman (God rest his soul) walking along naming every plant and tree in sight. Even things that I had previously recognized only as weeds had such interesting names. Two of my favorites were Jack-in-the-Pulpit and the Tree of Heaven—so called, Dr. Chapman joked, because it stinks like, well, you know, that other place.

 

Regarding plants and trees, the Botanical Society of America offers these wise words: Imagine a world where the plants of the planet are harnessed to help its inhabitants find sustainable solutions for some of their most pressing needs—clothing, food, housing, jobs, clean air, and clean water. Welcome to planet earth!

 

Trees provide for us and they fascinate us. We climb them, we use them, we meditate under them, and we write poems about them. Poet Joyce Kilmer wrote the following entitled simply “Trees.”

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

 

In our little-known reading from Deuteronomy this morning, we catch a glimpse of the respect that should be paid to trees—even in a time of war. One Bible commentary points out that sparing fruit trees during wartime is consistent with the general ecological concern of Deuteronomy.[i] I daresay if such respect had continued down through the ages, our planet would be much healthier today.

 

Psalm 1 compares a healthy spiritual life to fruit-bearing trees, planted by streams of water, yielding fruit in their season. If we have eyes to see, trees show us what can be accomplished through time, persistence, and patience. Take the mighty oak tree, for example. It begins as a decaying acorn from which sprouts a tiny twig. The sun shines, the rain pours, the wind blows, and in a great many years, the tree becomes a giant oak—sturdy, strong, brimming with life. The great giants of our faith are a bit like that. Though storms came against them, instead of being uprooted, they dug in deep, held on tight to God, and gained the strength they needed to endure. Spiritually speaking, trees remind us of God’s love, for if God’s special care encompasses trees, how much more so does God care for us?

 

As a community, a nation, and a planet—there is no doubt we are in unchartered territory. Information about the spread of the coronavirus and expected outcomes are changing by the moment. We watch social media and news feeds and see people hoarding food, cleaning supplies, and toilet paper. We witness price-gouging so that a bottle of 88¢ rubbing alcohol costs over $20. We watch countries like Italy that have been forced to go into total lockdown due to rapid spread of COVID-19.  And, to keep similar circumstances at bay in our own country, a national emergency has been declared. With fear swarming like a dark cloud around us, what are we to do?

 

In a recent Facebook post, a clergy colleague shared something Martin Luther wrote when the Bubonic Plague struck Wittenberg in 1527:

I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely…”[ii]

 

Jesus came to the earth to show us how to love God, our neighbor, and ourselves—but how can we care for our neighbor in such a time as this? Well, we must look for new ways to be neighbors in order to keep ourselves and our community as healthy as possible—while taking whatever steps we can to care for the most vulnerable among us.

 

As Rabbi Rav Yosef put it:

Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another, must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other, should the need arise.

 

Indeed, we are in new territory. But that is not to say that God is unable to bring good from it. Perhaps now, we may pause to realize that, like the root system of an old oak tree, we are deeply connected as brothers and sisters around the globe. Perhaps now, we may ask the Spirit of Christ to come—dig around the soil of our lives and help us bear good fruit in such a time as this—for love of Christ and love of neighbor. In the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

[i] The New Jerome Bible Commentary, 104.

[ii] Luther’s Works Volume 43, pg. 132 the letter “Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague”

*Cover Art by Unsplash, used by permission

Nature Series: Mountains

Nature Series: Mountains

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; March 8, 2020

2nd Sunday in Lent

Exodus 3:1-12, 19:16-20; Matt. 4:23-5:2a

 

“The Bucket List,” is a movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Freeman plays the role of blue-collar mechanic, Carter Chambers and the arrogant billionaire, Edward Cole is played by Jack Nicholson. When a diagnosis of terminal cancer brings them together, sharing a hospital room, things get off to a bumpy start. But after a while, they begin to tolerate each other until, finally, they become the best of friends.

 

 

In light of their circumstances, it doesn’t take long for the issue of God to arise. Edward thinks faith is a bunch of poppycock and compares God to the Sugarplum Fairy. Carter and his wife are people of faith. At one point in the movie, Carter shares a story with Edward about a man who scaled Mount Everest and had a spiritual experience on the mountain. During his climb, a profound silence fell around the mountaineer, and he heard the voice of the mountain. “It was like he heard the voice of God,” Carter says.

 

 

When Carter begins writing a “bucket list” for the things he wants to do before he “kicks the bucket,” it captures Cole’s imagination—so much so, he is willing to join him and cover all the expenses. In time, the two takeoff on a wild adventure that includes skydiving, flying over the North Pole, touring the Taj Mahal, riding motorcycles on the Great Wall of China, and visiting the base of Mt. Everest (which was unfortunately shrouded in clouds).

 

 

Too soon, Carter’s health takes a dramatic nosedive and he dies. Giving Carter’s eulogy in a packed church, Edward explains that he and Carter had been complete strangers, but the last three months of Carter’s life were the best three months of his. It seems that Edward has reconsidered his beliefs for he says, if there is an afterlife, he hopes Carter’s there to vouch for him and show him the ropes on the other side. The epilogue reveals that when Edward dies, his ashes are taken to the summit of an unnamed peak in the Himalayas by his assistant Matthew. There, in a Chock full o’Nuts coffee can, he is laid to rest on a high mountain beside his dear friend. [i]  

 

 

This morning we continue the sermon series on nature by reflecting on mountains. How they fascinate us.  People want to climb them, look down from them, and conquer them, but aren’t they really just elevated chunks of earth and rock? Hardly!  If we have only a touch of mysticism in our soul, we recognize that mountains are charged with the power of symbolism and metaphor. Ancient pagans offered their sacrifices on the high places. The most revered gods and goddesses of the Greeks and Romans were said to dwell on Mount Olympus. In nearly every religion, mountains have been shrouded in a mist of legend and divine power.

 

 

In our Scriptures, have you ever noticed how often God conveys important information from a mountain top? In Genesis 22 we’re invited to accompany Abraham on a trek to Mount Moriah where he is tested. God instructs him, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” Abraham obeys, taking his one and only son up to the mountain, not knowing if it will be the last mountain top experience they’ll share together. Thankfully, God intervenes when Abraham reaches out his hand to kill his son. The angel of the Lord calls from heaven, and says, ‘Abraham, Abraham…do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’ Abraham looks up and sees a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Gladly, he offers it up as a burnt-offering and names the place ‘The Lord will provide.”

 

 

In today’s reading from the Book of Exodus, Moses is tending his father-in-law’s flock when, on Mount Horeb, he witnesses a most amazing sight—a bush ablaze with fire but unconsumed by it. He turns aside to examine the bush. To his surprise, God speaks from it and Moses is given the task of leading God’s people out of slavery and into a land flowing with milk and honey. Later, Mount Sinai (likely another name for Mount Horeb) is the place from which God gives Moses the Ten Commandments—guidelines for how God’s chosen people should live.

 

 

One of my favorite mountain stories appears in 1 Kings 18[ii]. King Ahab and his wife Jezebel have led God’s people to forsake God’s commandments and follow the gods of Baal and Asherah. God has had enough so Elijah is sent to confront King Ahab. Mincing no words, Elijah tells the king to have all of Israel assemble at Mount Carmel. It’s time for a showdown between Yahweh and the prophets of Baal and Asherah who dine at Jezebel’s table. So, the people gather and Elijah essentially tells them that this is the day to decide: “If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, follow him.”

 

 

Elijah asks for two bulls—one to be given to him as a representative for Yahweh; one to 450 prophets representing Baal. The bulls are prepared for sacrifice and placed on the wood, but no fire is set. Elijah tells the prophets of Baal, “You call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.” The prophets call on Baal from morning until noon. Nothing happens. At noon Elijah begins to mock them, “Cry aloud! Surely he is god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” Desperate, the prophets cut themselves with swords and blood gushes, but no voice, no answer, no response comes.

 

 

Then Elijah tells the people to come a little closer. Let me show you how it’s done—he seems to say. Elijah offers a prayer to the Lord.  He prepares the altar and digs a trench around it. “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood,” he says. Then, “Do it again,” he says. “Do it a third time.” Water runs all around the altar and fills the trench. Then Elijah begins praying, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God…” When Elijah finishes praying, the fire of the Lord falls and consumes the offering, the wood, the stones, and even the dust. The people fall on their faces and cry out, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.”

 

 

The mountain theme continues into the New Testament. In what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shares the principles of his Father’s kingdom, reinterpreting the law, hearkening back to the revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai. Sitting down, Jesus teaches like a rabbi saying:  ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…”

 

 

Near the end of his ministry, Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him up on a high mountain where he’s transfigured before them, his face shines like the sun and his clothes become dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appear for a little chat. From a cloud that overshadows them, they hear a voice saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”[iii]

 

 

On the night of his arrest, Jesus and his disciples gather in the Upper Room. After Jesus institutes the ritual of the Lord’s Supper, they sing a hymn and go out to the Mount of Olives, a hill just east of the city. On the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives, they enter Gethsemane and it is there that Jesus prays, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”[iv]

 

 

Our faith story is rich with mountains—both physically and metaphorically. Mountains are places to meet God. Often, for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, mountains are places from which God speaks. Where do you meet God Almighty?  In nature? Among the mountains, hills, rivers and trees? Where do you see the face of Yahweh? Here, among other believers? Is it too much to imagine that every Sunday morning can be a mini mountain top experience: a journey to a place where we gather to see things anew, a journey to a place where we meet the holy God of the mountains?

[i] http://www.pluggedin.com/videos/2008/Q1/BucketList.aspx and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bucket_List/

[ii] 1 Kings 18:17-39

[iii] Matthew 17:1-8

[iv] Mark 14:36

*Cover Art by Unsplash, used by permission

Nature Series: Water

Nature Series: Water

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; March 1, 2020

1st Sunday in Lent

Genesis 1

Oh, the wonder of nature: rocks and hills, mountains and valleys, oceans and streams. One of the things I appreciate most about our Celtic Christian ancestors is their love and appreciation for nature. Surely God’s goodness, power, and beauty are on display all around us, if we only have eyes to see.

 

The Psalmist proclaims: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.”[i] In another place, “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it.”[ii] In Romans chapter 1 we are told that God has revealed God’s own self through nature: “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” [iii] Surely the world God created has much to teach us.

 

This morning we begin a sermon series that will carry us through the Season of Lent. The series is on nature—God’s wondrous creation. Along the way, we will consider trees and mountains and creatures—just to name a few. But first, we turn our attention to a theme that flows throughout Scripture: water. Of course, water plays a prominent role in the story of creation—which begins with a wind from God, sweeping over the face of the waters. There’s the story of Noah being instructed by God to build an ark, which he does, on dry land that is soon covered by the waters of the Great Flood. Then there is the story of baby Moses, born on the heels of the Egyptian king’s declaration that all the Hebrew baby boys must be killed to keep the Hebrew population in check. But Moses’ mother will have none of it. Instead she puts her beautiful baby in a basket and places him among the reeds along the river, where Pharaoh’s daughter soon finds him. Later, as a grown man, Moses will be used by God to lead the people of Israel to safety when God parts the waters of the Red Sea to let them pass through.[iv]

 

For the people of Israel, the Red Sea marks their initiation into the faith. In a broader sense, the Red Sea represents redemption from bondage. At some point, we must all leave Egypt—that place of slavery to sin and hopeless weariness. We must leave Egypt—to be redeemed—to enter the Promised Land.

 

Another important body of water in Scripture is the Jordan River. It begins in the far north of Israel, in the high mountains, and continues its winding journey, emptying at the south end of the Sea of Galilee, meandering to the end of its journey into the Dead Sea. In the book of Joshua, just as the Israelites crossed the Red Sea to enter the wilderness, they cross the Jordan to enter the Promised Land.

 

The Jordan River flows in and out of the story of the people of Israel, and we pick up its trail again in the Gospel of Matthew: “In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near’…Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

 

But there is one who comes who has no sin, Jesus, who comes from Galilee the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John hesitates, saying, “I need to be baptized by you….” But Jesus answers him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consents. And there, in the murky waters of the River Jordan, Jesus is baptized and suddenly the heavens are opened, and the Spirit of God descends upon him like a dove. Repeatedly in Scripture the River Jordan serves as a marker of crucial moments of decision or resolution. Once the Jordan is crossed, there is no turning back.

 

It’s interesting that Jesus’ first miracle involves water—turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. And we can’t follow his life and ministry without jumping into the Sea of Galilee. Surprisingly, the Sea of Galilee is not very big—it’s more like a large lake—about 13 miles across and 8 miles wide. From the summit of Arbel Cliff, high above the Sea of Galilee the magnificent view below encompasses the Plain of Genneseret, Magdala, Nazareth, the Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum… These are the places where Jesus conducts most of his ministry—around the Sea of Galilee. From here he teaches his disciples how to be fishers of people. In large ways and small, Jesus walks the areas around the Sea of Galilee to meet the needs of people—feeding the hungry, healing the sick, bringing salvation to people who are like sheep without a shepherd.

 

Perhaps the takeaway for us from Jesus’ relationship with the Sea of Galilee is this: just like fish need water and fishermen need fish, people need the Lord. People need to drink deeply of Living Water, lest they die.

 

In an article in Presbyterians Today, “Jesus, Living Water,” David Gambrell writes:

 

From beginning to end—Genesis to Revelation—water flows through the story of salvation… God’s promise is extended to every living thing after a great flood. God’s people are delivered from slavery through the sea. God’s power to redeem from exile is like a rushing watercourse in the desert (Isa. 35:6-7). God’s invitation to abundant life is like a freely flowing fountain. God’s desire for justice and righteousness is like the mighty waters of an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24). God’s eternal realm is like a river that flows from the heavenly throne, bringing healing to all nations (Rev. 22:1-5).

 

So when Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well and asks her for a simple drink of water (John 4:7-15), there is a deep reservoir of meaning and mystery just beneath the surface. The “living water” that Jesus offers is brimming with biblical significance—it wells up from the Source of all life, surges with the promise of the living Word, spills over with the power of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t just a bucket of H20, it is the blessing of the Holy Three-in-One…”

 

When we pass through the waters of baptism, we enter into a new way of life in Christ (Romans 6:3-11). By the gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s love has been poured into our hearts (Rom. 5:5). We are called to share this life-giving love, continuing Christ’s ministry of giving drink to those who are thirsty…”[v]

 

Hopefully, in our spiritual lives, we have crossed the Red Sea, leaving Egypt and its ills behind. Redeemed by Christ our Lord, we have been invited into the Promised Land. Marked by the baptismal waters of Jordan, we have been joined to the family of God forever and we have been claimed for service. Until that time when Christ returns in all his glory, we wander the Sea of Galilee on a search and rescue mission to which God has called each of us.

 

Remember the words of Jesus, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”[vi]

 

By the grace of God, we gather around the Table of our Lord to receive manna from heaven. Here we are nourished to share in Christ’s ministry. Here we are equipped to share Living Water with a world that is dying of thirst.

 

[i] Psalm 24:1-2, NRSV.

[ii] Psalm 96:11-13a.

[iii] Romans 1:20a.

[iv] http://sunlight-and-shadows.blogspot.com/2009/04/sermon-on-water.html

[v] David Gambrell, “Jesus, Living Water,” Presbyterians Today, June 2013, 39.

[vi] Matthew 28:19-20.

 *Cover Art by Unsplash; used with permission. Affirmation of Faith: God of Creation via https://re-worship.blogspot.com/2011/09/affirmation-of-faith-god-of-creation.html