Creation in Genesis starts with a rush and a splash – water, everywhere – pure, good, clean water, and the Spirit of God hovered over it. And God gathered the waters into one place, and God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
Who hasn’t enjoyed splashing in a pool or marveling in the beauty of the ocean; drinking a cold glass of lemonade on a hot day; enjoying a warm shower to begin or end a cold day; or admired snow or ice glistening in the sunlight? We’re surrounded by water. We depend on it for life (8 glasses a day, according to popular wisdom); our cells are made of it; the coffee we depend on is brewed with it; and it is such a part of our daily life that we usually don’t think about it.
A number of years ago I was given a different picture of water when I lived in Central Africa. I was told under no uncertain circumstances should I drink the local water unless it was filtered: Water-borne diseases were rampant. I shouldn’t go wading in local lakes because there were organisms that would burrow into me. Standing water was perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes which carried malaria. Water, from being a free, life-giving force, suddenly became a threat and a risk: something needed, but also something harder to access, and something that could kill.
I am part of the privileged few in the world that grew up with unlimited access to clean drinking water from a tap in my own house: for 1.8 billion people in the world currently, there is no access at all to clean drinking water; and for a further 2.5 billion people the water needs improved sanitation.* Suriname, our country of focus today, is a “land of many waters”, and they derive much of their living from water. But pollution from gold mining poisons the rivers, the fish, and the people with mercury. Flooding and rising sea levels are an increasing risk due to climate change.
Water – it’s a blessing, a necessity, and a danger.
The Bible has a lot to say about water, and it’s worth doing a whole Bible study just on water – there are 722 references throughout the whole Bible, including the first few in our reading from Genesis that we just heard. Water flows through the Bible as a means to redemption and healing. Think of Moses leading his people through the Red Sea to freedom and safety; or King Naaman washing his leprosy away; or Jesus telling the Samaritan woman that He is the spring of water gushing up to eternal life. Think of Jesus being baptised in the River Jordan, making the way for the sacred and holy institute of baptism that ushers us into the Kingdom of God.
Think of the healing of the nations.
The most beautiful picture of water I know in the Bible occurs in the book by the prophet Ezekiel, chapter 47. Ezekiel tells of a river that starts in the sanctuary – the very heart of God’s temple. We are told of a little trickle of water, barely ankle deep, that is coming out from the east side of the temple. As the prophet follows it, it grows into a mighty river that no one can cross. Ezekiel describes how this river is so powerful that when it hits the sea, the salt water becomes fresh, and safe for all different types of creatures to live in. Along its banks are trees of all different kinds. The trees
“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.” (Ez. 47:12)
What Ezekiel is describing in such picturesque language is that same Water of Life that Jesus described to the Samaritan woman. We all, in our baptism, are like trees planted by this water of Life, and as we learn to love Jesus more, and allow the roots of our faith to drink deeply of the Spirit, the fruits that we produce will be the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And these fruits will be for healing.
We’ve heard something of the struggles of the Surinamese people when it comes to water, and we know that they represent many more who are longing for pure, clean water. And our world is also longing for the pure, clean Water of Life that flows from the throne of God. We are a privileged people in both respects: we have clean water, and abundant resources that we can share – and in a little while there will be an offering and an opportunity for us to contribute some of our resources to the wonderful projects listed in the back of the bulletin. But we don’t just have clean drinking water. We also have the Water of Life that we can share with those who are thirsty to hear the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We begin with water in Genesis. And we end with water, in the last chapter of the book of Revelation. Listen to the Apostle John describing the same River of Life that we heard about from Ezekiel:
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.” (Rev 22:1-3)
“The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” (Rev. 22:17)
And may we each be the ones who offer it to them. Thanks be to God. Amen.
*The water facts in this sermon are taken from the article “All God’s Creation is Very Good: Water” by Nettie Dueck, WICC, 2017.