Sermon Sept 18 2022: Listen to the Voice of Freshwaters Rev. Betsy Hogan
Have you ever swum in a lake? For many of us in Canada that might almost seem like a ridiculous question, akin to asking if we’ve ever seen a tree or felt raindrops on our heads.
We’re always aware, when people are new to Canada, that they might never have experienced snow. And so we make of that rather a great big deal, in part at least I think because of a certain latent pride in getting to show off the sheer magnitude of the cold we’ve been able to survive. All this time. And isn’t it a delight. And enjoy the snow.
We do that with the snow, understanding it’s not part of everyone’s experience. But it’s actually also not part of everyone’s experience to have a swum in a lake.
Or even waded in a lake. Or a river. For those among us who grew up learning to skip stones or cannonballing off docks or hauling out the peddle boat or the canoe for a bit of a jaunt or maybe some fishing, that’s actually quite special. It’s unique, it’s not everyone’s experience.
I didn’t particularly grow up swimming in a lake. The lake near my house, which was actually just kind of a roundish bit of the St. Lawrence River on the West Island of Montreal, was at that time so deeply polluted by sewage that we never ever called it by its actual name of Lac St. Louis, but instead employed our very own bit of “rhyming slang”.
Nobody swam in Lac St. Louis. If anything, we felt bad for the fish. And so maybe it’s the result of all that inordinate focus on those poor old fish in Lac St. Louis, but I’ve never really gotten used to swimming in lakes or rivers since.
There are just too many fish. Which once I cited in the middle of a Bible Study as the reason I prefer to swim in the ocean -- and I don’t know if Anne Black will remember this, but the look that crossed Anne’s face in that moment, when I said I’d rather swim in the ocean than in lakes because lakes have too many fish – it was like she was thinking, “do I tell her?” – it makes me laugh every time I think of swimming in a lake.
But the thing is, it’s not completely crazy. Or at least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Because the whole THING about our lakes and our rivers is in fact the clear and present unavoidability of all the LIFE in them. All the fish, all the weeds, all the tadpoles and grasses and mushy bottom squishiness and weirdly slippery stones.
They’re chock full of life, the lakes and rivers, and not only is it unapologetic, inescapable, unavoidable – it’s also unseen. Which if you’re like me, might make you slightly squeamish, but it’s also kind of the miracle of all of it.
Because our freshwaters are like a whole other world that operates with completely opposite rules – and yet, and yet, so astonishingly much abundance and diversity of life. It really is breathtaking, even if often also a little squishy.
So there’s an element of mystery, of hiddenness, that the freshwaters speak to us if we listen to their voice. They speak to us of fruitfulness and gifts we might be missing, we might not be aware of. The freshwaters remind us to look beneath surfaces and consider beyond and more deeply than just what’s blatantly obvious. They dare us to wade in… and see what might possibly BE, and let ourselves be surprised.
That’s not so much the voice of fresh waters, of lakes and rivers, in the scriptures, it’s true. Which is obviously a matter of the climate and geography of the Biblical lands, but it really is quite striking.
Because when it comes to fresh waters, although the writers of the Psalms DO evoke the “still waters” that “restore [our] soul[s]”, and “the waters of Babylon” beside which the people of Israel lie down to rest and to mourn and to pray –
When it comes to fresh waters, what they speak to us instead in the writings of both the Older Testament and the Newer Testament is almost unilaterally not just about being restored or even refreshed, but it’s literally about being saved.
In the Bible, we get drenched when we’re parched. We get soaked when we’re dry as dust. Water gets poured out so we’ll live.
It gets poured out in the words of the Prophets to quench terrible thirst. And not only in God’s people but in the land itself. Dry land, parched land, desert land with a terrible thirst. Indeed there’s almost nothing that God promises God’s people with more regularity as the ultimate expression of God’s unchangeable unconditional love than that water will pour out. Upon them and upon the thirsty land, as Isaiah puts it in the passage we heard earlier.
To save the land. To save the people. So they’ll live. And of course. Because no water, no food. No water, no life. In that hot dry Middle Eastern climate, the fresh waters of the springs and wells and rivers and lakes as “salvation” ISN’T metaphorical.
So it’s small wonder that what the waters speak to us in the scriptures isn’t just the peacefulness and the calm we might associate with still waters, or even the urging to trust and to dare to explore the unknown we might associate with the teeming lake life and river life we have here in Canada --
In the scriptures, water is love. Water is life. Water’s salvation. It’s literal. Jesus MAKES the metaphor we hear about in John’s gospel, when he speaks to the woman at the well about his message as “living water” – a way so steeped in God’s love that it simply pours out grace and care and embrace so that we’ll never be thirsty for love again –
But it still remains, throughout the scriptures, almost unilaterally thoroughly literal – water as essential not only to abundance of life but to life itself.
Which is really, to be honest, and maybe especially in this place where there are SO MANY lakes and rivers and brooks and ponds and deep down springs, is maybe not such a bad thing for us to hear all that fresh water speak to us… considering the propensity we seem to have to trade it for gold.
Because we can’t drink gold. In the scriptures, fresh water is love.
In the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, we get this mystical, literary imagining, rife with all the overblown dramatic narrative elements of ancient apocalypic poetry and literature, of what the New Age, the New Jerusalem, the Kingdom of Heaven, the After Times might look like.
It’s where all the most florid descriptions in the Bible come from, the Book of Revelation, from seas of fire to four horsemen to angels with truly bizarre numbers of wings that seem entirely unnecessary under the circumstances. When two would clearly suffice.
But what flows through that City of Gold, with its gates covered in rubies and sapphires and all precious stones, is still a river. Bright as crystal, flowing straight from God down the middle of the street. So there’ll be fruit trees. So they’ll blossom. So they’ll each produce fruit in their season.
Even in the Book of Revelation, it appears, in the City of Gold, in the most floridly imagined version of what Heaven might be, we still need something to drink. We still need something to eat. What the fresh waters say to us if we listen to their voice in the scriptures is that they’re essential.
The lakes, the rivers, the springs, the pools, they’re literally God’s love embodied for us. Created and poured out so that God’s people can live. They’re essential.
And I think – though it’s possibly reading too much into all the heavy laden symbolism of it all – but I think it’s actually maybe not a mistake, given how fully and literally the waters speak to us in the scriptures of what’s essential, what’s necessary, what’s the love embodied that makes it possible for us to live –
That when God becomes passionate with us through the prophet Amos about demanding, requiring, pleading with us to live and act with justice and with righteousness, the words that express that Word fall into, quite naturally, images of water. Pouring out just as surely… to save us.
To save us from our own selves, from doing what’s easy and not so much what requires sacrifice. From looking out just for ourselves and not so much others.
Because for God that’s a sign we need saving, we need drama, we need drenching and soaking and it all poured out. We need justice to roll down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
It’s how God speaks to us of what’s essential, what makes it possible for us to live, what we can’t do without. What saves us.
Justice and righteousness, and knowing what’s more precious than gold. Trust and faith and daring, to wade into what’s still hidden and what’s possible that we just haven’t yet seen.
And maybe also a good helping of understanding that when we swim in a lake or a river, we’re a guest in a whole other world. In someone else’s home. And they like the weeds and the squishy bottom and the slippery rocks. And they’re probably right THERE. So we should really say thank you.
And to God, for this voice of creation, speaking to us. Amen.