Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Water that does not come bottled

(Title borrowed from Walter Bruggemann, in his book Prayers for a Privileged People)

New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
September 28, 2014


             We all know that water is precious, even though it readily comes out of numerous taps inside and outside our homes, flushes away waste, and cleans our clothes and tableware with the push of a button. How many of us have lived through a summer water ban, when outside water usage was restricted? California is living through one of the worst droughts in its history. 14 small communities are on the brink of waterlessness, with dried-up wells and streams and emergency water being trucked in. A friend of mine who moved out to Davis, CA in the middle of July witnessed this past Thursday the first rainfall since he arrived.

             Mission trips have a way of making one keenly aware of how powerful the presence of easy water is in community life. On a Native American reservation in South Dakota, we bathed in the Missouri river. Showers were a luxury in Oaxaca, Mexico, where the water was bought in large barrels and pumped up into storage tanks on the roof. Some of us would shower every other day; only the lucky first handful got a hot shower. I showered every third day to conserve. Water for showers was not potable. We had to close our eyes and mouths if we did not want to possibly get sick. Drinking water was also purchased, but in this case we were told to drink, drink, drink. Oaxaca is about 5,100 feet above sea level and hot and dry in the summer. If we did not want to suffer from altitude sickness or heat exhaustion, we needed to keep hydrated.

             Our bodies are mostly water. Like rivers, lakes, and oceans, water is a major component of the transportation system for nutrients, including oxygen and electrolytes, and the carrying away of toxins and waste products. Staying hydrated keeps our joints more flexible, our immune system healthy, our brains juicy. Water keeps us ready for what’s coming next.


            Not drinking enough water can make us depressed, lethargic, and cranky, like those Israelites in the desert. But they weren’t just cranky; they were ready to kill their leader. They were about to drop God like a bad habit. Slavery was looking better than this freedom God was leading them to! When we’re lacking, feeling poorly or sick, when we’re limping along, when we’re suffering , it’s hard to believe God is there, let alone love God, trust God with our neediness. Water is God’s conduit too. These former slaves crossed from captivity into freedom by way of the Red Sea. John the Baptist offered new life by immersing women and men in the Jordan River. Jesus was nurtured and carried in the amniotic waters that bear us all into this world. When we’re dry, our spirits like wanderers in the desert, loving and trusting God can often be the last thing on our list.

              But this water that poured forth and saved the lives of the children of Israel—Moses and a few elders traveled ahead to get to it, to the rock at Horeb, a mountain in the Sinai, in the same area where the people would receive not only the Ten Commandments but a new way of living. No longer would they be searching for God, trusting on their own impoverished wisdom as to whether God was present and working for their good. Now there would be a covenant between God and the people, and by keeping this covenant, by keeping God first, enjoying God’s blessings on the Sabbath, honoring their parents, not bearing false witness, not killing, not being envious of one another, they would know that indeed God is present in human lives and is working through them.

              This water was a sign of their future with God. Rather than being sustained only by stories of the past, God gave water from the rock where the people were going but had not yet arrived: it was a foretaste of God’s goodness. When God acts today, we are reminded of how God upheld us in the past, but God is also giving us a taste of the wholeness that awaits us. When we taste a sauce made from garden tomatoes, we taste the soil, the sun, and the water that brought those tomatoes into being. But we also taste the sumptuous feast yet to be, and our appetite is sharpened.


             It is the same with our thirst for God. We may be looking for God in all the wrong places, in the places that don’t satisfy, in the past, pursuing God all around us in the present, and yet God will show up with a cool drink from our future. We’re looking for a big gulp, supersize me, cold and refreshing, with free refills. God shows up with a sip. We say, “Hey, that’s not God!” But God doesn’t want us to stay where we are, be satisfied with what is. God is leading us toward the future. God sharpens our thirst for this future with a sip, a taste of what could be, almost tempting us forward with promise.

             Here is yet another God lives on Main Street story. This past Wednesday I was on my way to visit someone, having just come from a meeting, but I was early, about half an hour or so. I was feeling a bit peaked so I thought I’d stop at the coffee shop in the Barnes and Noble. I had a gift card with a little over $3 left on it and coffee is about the only thing you can buy with three dollars in a Barnes and Noble.

             I parked in front of what used to be the Stone Balloon, across from the old post office. I put my money in the meter and was just about to set off when I heard, “Is that Cynthia?” I turned around and saw Mike sitting with his guitar on the stone wall in front of the post office.

             Some of you may know Mike. He comes to Hope Dining Room and Code Purple. He often hangs out at the Empowerment Center. Sometimes you might see him on his motorcycle. The last time I had seen him he asked after Olivia and how she was doing at school but then quickly apologized, saying maybe he was being too personal. I said, “No, remembering something about my life and then asking about it is a kindness.” He told me that sometimes he hangs out in front of the post office playing his guitar. So I went over to say “hi”.

             We talked about this and that, about the meter guy Alex who lets him park his motorcycle free of charge, about the police officers he knows who don’t chase him off when he’s busking with his guitar. Then Mike started playing some chords, just strumming along, meandering his way with the music. I joined in. I sang “la la la” or “do do do”, finding notes and rhythms that harmonized with the music Mike was making. In the half hour or so that I was there we did that three times. 

            I didn’t know where Mike was going; he didn’t know where I was going, but together we went somewhere we didn’t know was possible and improvised a composition. And it was better than any cup of coffee I could have found. I didn’t need it anymore. So I gave Mike my three dollars and change gift card. At first he wouldn’t take it, but I knew I had been given, we both had been given, a gift; a gift that begged to be shared. It was a sip, a taste of the wholeness, the harmony, the music yet to come. And though my thirst had been quenched, it definitely left me wanting more.

            The water that God gives doesn’t come in a bottle or a form that we expect. It’s unexpected, surprising, and in it is a taste of God’s future, leading us forward. The water that God gives keeps our spirits hydrated, our hearts juicy, ready for what’s coming next. The water that God gives not only liberates us from our slavery to what was but summons us forward into God’s future. The water that God gives is 400,000 thousand people marching for awareness and action with regard to climate change. The water that God gives is a crowd of 500 marching to end gun violence in the city of Wilmington. The water that God gives is this church, right now, a taste of what we could become.

The group approaches Brown-Burton-Winchester Park near the end of their journey.
Photo: Robert Craig/The News Journal

            How has God surprised you lately?  The water that God gives doesn’t come in a bottle.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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