Nature Series: Water
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; March 1, 2020
1st Sunday in Lent
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.
[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