Third Sunday of Easter [Water Justice] 30 April 2017
(Genesis 1:1-5, 9-10 Revelation 22:1-5 Luke 24:13-35)
“The Justice Needed in Caring for Water!”
On a day when we lift up the theme of “Caring for Creation – Water Justice” it only seems best that we begin at a place which has the largest pulpit and the most attentive congregation on the entire planet: Hollywood!
The only robot left, as we are transported 700 years in the future. The earth has become completely uninhabitable. No “last man standing” this time around! All that remains is a garbage-collecting robot scurrying about, unsuccessfully trying to clean up the planet, which is buried in filth and waste, itself the victim of humankind’s blatant disregard for the well-being of all created things. On one level, we watch a cute children’s movie. On another level, we are confronted with a sobering indictment of our blatant disregard for the environment.
The signs of decay and death of beautiful planet Earth are showing. The effects of the carelessness of humanity have been ignored. Meanwhile humankind goes along seemingly oblivious to the destruction that is occurring and the danger that lurks ahead for future generations. All that is left is for a robot to clean up after us 700 years in the future!
Nearly two years ago I led a two-week summer Sunday School forum on Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’, On Care for our Common Home. In his Letter, the pope gives a clarion call for perception and action! He clearly names the sources causing the environmental destruction of the earth, our common home. This is what he names: a throwaway culture, consumerism, the thirst for short-term profit over long-term benefit, consequences of climate change, and lack of concern for human life especially the poor, finally, unbridled quest for power.1
The pope is challenging us to use our faith to interpret the meaning of both the mysterious beauty and mutual destruction of what is unfolding before our very eyes. “The work of the church,” he says, “seeks not only to remind everyone of our duty to care for nature, but at the same time to protect humankind from self-destruction.”2
On a weekend when we lift up the theme of “Creation Care” with an emphasis on Water Justice, there may be no better question which causes intrigue than, “Where is God?”
It is a question that has been around since the Garden of Eden and it has been answered in numerous ways since then. For an awfully long time it was confidently asserted that God inhabited heaven, a distant place of eternal reward for the faithful. It was the work of the church to meditate this in-between space, acting as a kind of holy elevator, wherein God sent down divine directions and, if we obeyed the directives, we would go up—eventually—to live in heaven forever.
But that all has changed. What is most often preached today is a God who is close to us, even and most especially, in the midst of suffering and devastation. We speak of a God who loves the world profoundly, feels with creation, and participates in the life of the world. The language of divine nearness has come to surround us—God can be found at the seashore, in a sunset, in the gardens we plant, in the work we do, in good food and company, and even when we make love. People who say they are “spiritual but not religious” very often speak of a God more personal and accessible than ever before.
Today the church building is not the only sacred space; the world is profoundly sacred as well. Once upon a time, people went to church to find God. Today, the place to find God is not so narrowly-defined.
One of the oldest meanings of the word “religion” is “to bind together,” that which connects God with us and us with each other. So let’s look more closely at how “water” helps with our connection with God.
The Biblical narrative in Genesis is that of a God who comes close, compelled by a burning desire to make heaven on earth and occupy human hearts. The language of divine nearness is at the very heart of the story of faith as revealed in the first book of the Bible.3
Jewish spiritual texts are replete with water stories, whether it be the creation story, the flood, the great drought of Joseph’s time, Moses parting of the Red Sea, or the Jewish ancestors crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Water images serve both as signs of God’s power and the certainty of God’s care.4
Close to water we find places where human beings see God and receive God’s blessings. In the story of Hagar, when Ishmael’s banished mother desperately seeks water in the desert, an angel appears to her, miraculously revealing a spring that saves her and her young son from certain death.
The power of water as a fertility symbol and the spiritual feminine is evident also in these ancient stories. Three of Israel’s patriarchs—Isaac, Jacob, and Moses—meet their wives at a well, signaling that their unions will be fertile. David spied on Bathsheba while she was bathing, later takes her for his bride and together they produce Solomon, Israel’s wisest ruler. From water comes life.
Just as water is present with the Spirit before creation, in the last book of the Bible, Revelation, life-giving water flows from the very being of God’s own self. The New Testament is similarly alive with such water images. The Jordan River, the major source of water in Israel is where John baptizes hundreds of people, including Jesus. The Sea of Galilee is where Jesus preached many sermons. Jesus meets a woman at Jacob’s well, looking for a drink. The woman has met the Living Water, is blessed and offers blessings. At the Pool of Siloam, it was an angel who stirred the waters of healing.
Although water is not the image in the Gospel text of the disciples walking the Road to Emmaus, we do hear in this post-resurrection story of how Jesus is met, not in a church or synagogue, but out in nature, on the road, and he is recognized, not through any teaching, but through the abundance offered in the breaking and sharing of the Bread of Life.
Water is life. Life is water. Living water is God. God is living water.
But let me simply say now: Water is under siege all over the planet. Watersheds are collapsing, streams and rivers are dying. Even water systems that were once considered safe now face toxic threats. We have a hard-working Creation Care Committee here at St. James, and there is much taking place within this community, but here is the challenge:
As the church today, we thirst for both safe water and the Water of Salvation. Both of these thirsts may be more urgent in our lives today than ever before. As a church we can no longer separate the cry of the poor from the cry of the earth. The Irish used to ask: “Is this a private fight or can anyone get into it?” Good question! Now is the time to jump in! Amen.
1.Quoted from Laudato Si’, from article in National Catholic Reporter, July 31-August 13, 2015.
2. Ladato Si’, On Care for our Common Home. Encyclical Letter, Pope Francis. Our Sunday Visitor Publishing. 2015.
3. Grounded. Finding God in the World. A Spiritual Revolution. Diana Butler Bass. 2017. p. 236.
4. Ibid. pp77ff.