Rev. Eric Dillenbeck
June 26, 2011
Amos 5:18-24 & Matthew 10:40-42
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“I grew up slowly beside the tides and marshes of the Carolina sea coast.”  These are some of the opening words from The Prince of Tides, a novel by one of my favorite authors, Pat Conroy.  For me, they perfectly capture the feeling of what it was like to grow up in Charleston, SC; surrounded by the rivers, the marsh and the ocean. These parts of creation came to be part of my playground.  Water and its cycles came to define my life.

The changing color of the marsh grass told me as much about the seasons as the falling of leaves.  The level of the tide at any particular time dictated the paths and streets I should avoid.  The waters of the ocean were a welcome respite after a scorching day; the waters of the rivers provided food for meals and places of delight.  But even as those waters provided comfort, entertainment and sustenance we were always aware of their destructive power. 

A day spent on the boat would get pretty scary pretty quickly if you did not heed the weather’s warnings.  A day at the beach would get dicey if you did not pay attention to the ways those waters pulled on you.  And during hurricane season we learned to appreciate the power of water as if came crashing ashore bringing devastation in its wake.

Every season our town partied away as the fleets of shrimp boats launched to begin their work.  And we grieved with towns in other regions where oil spills and other disasters would occur because we were fiscally and personally aware of the consequences of such catastrophes.  And every year as our lawns turned brown under the scorching sun we gave thanks when it finally decided to rain, usually taking to the streets to play before the thunder and lightning sent us scurrying into the safety of our homes.  Like I said, water and its cycles defined my life.  This should not be surprising for anyone who has lived near large bodies of water. 

But this really should not be surprising to anyone in the world.  Water defines life.  Without enough water, life ceases to thrive and will eventually end.  Too much water causes disruptions and chaos.  But at the very basic level, water defines our life in that it is a major building block for our bodies. Did you know, our brains are composed of 70% water and our lungs are nearly 90% water?  In total, up to 60% of the human body is water.  With this knowledge, it is easy to see how essential water is to our basic daily life.  When we dehydrate our bodily systems literally dry up. 

The world operates on roughly the same statistics.  The oceans are vast, covering more than 70% of the Earth’s surface.  They contain over 90% of all life.  They help determine weather patterns and control the climate and they serve as the earth’s lungs, producing oxygen for everyone.  The oceans account for 97% of all water on earth, but as you know, those waters are not really fit to drink.  Only 3% of the water on earth is considered fresh and drinkable.

We here in Northeast Ohio are defined by water.  As a “green city on a blue lake” we enjoy access to 21% of the world’s freshwater.  That’s right, the Great Lakes as a system, represent 21% of the WORLD’S clean water.  Water is truly one of Cleveland’s natural resources.  In a world that is parched and always searching for good clean water, we are blessed beyond measure.  We might be searching for industries, jobs and other avenues of economic recovery, but we are not in want for this most basic need.

The world is searching for water.  We always have been.  Since the beginning of time people have been searching for water.  When the Hebrews were wandering in the desert they complained against Moses for leading them into the desert until God told him to strike a rock with a stick for water to flow.  Because of the universal appeal of water in human life the authors of scripture have used water imagery to describe the actions and intentions of God. 

The Prophet Amos uses water to describe the force of God’s justice and righteousness.  Poor Amos had the tough job of calling Israel to repent and change their ways.  Let us listen for God’s Word speaking to us from the 5th chapter of the Prophet Amos:

Amos 5:18-24

18Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; 19as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake.  20Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?  21I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.  22Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.23Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.  24But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.

Here Amos is talking to those who have long ago closed the door on their relationship with God.  They have strayed and have adopted a culture centered on personal pursuits and economic advancement.  To people with these priorities the ways of God would have seemed very difficult and very dark because they were so foreign to their way of life.  The ways of God would have invited them to think first of the community and not of the self.  Amos is reminding his people that God does not want the fake festivals of people who are simply going through the motions.  What God desires is for God’s justice and righteousness to transform their living so that these forces might wipe away alienation and disparity in the world. 

Like floods and tsunamis and raging rivers, the ways of God are powerful, they transform landscapes and create huge shifts in the way things have always been done.  God’s justice and righteousness have the same effect upon the human experience.  These practices turn our perceptions on their head and help us to see the world in different ways; these actions give us new vision and cause us to live differently so that others might encounter the life-giving presence of God. 

And that life-giving presence is another facet of scripture’s water illustrations.  In the book of 2 Kings, Naaman was sent to Elisha to receive healing.  Elisha sends him into the river Jordon River to wash himself 7 times.  Through those waters the cleansing power of God is experienced.  We continue to claim this cleansing and renewing power today as we baptize in Christ’ name.  Through the waters of baptism we claim we are cleansed and grafted into the heart of God as God’s own children.  This identity as God’s children leads us to walk in the footsteps of Jesus who continually calls all of his disciples to lives of radical hospitality.  This is reflected in the Gospel of Matthew.

Matthew 10:40-42

And Jesus said to his disciples: 40“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

The Word of the Lord                     Thanks be to God!

As God’s children we are called to allow justice and righteousness to flow through us like a never ending stream and to offer water, an element crucial to life to those who are in need.  What does that mean for us today?  How does that translate into our care for creation?  In a world that is parched and growing increasingly desperate for fresh water we are called to do our utmost to protect and share this precious resource.  As a matter of justice we need to clean our oceans and waterways so they may continue to help balance and sustain life on the planet.  It might be easier and cheaper to dump more waste into the lake but how does this practice help us provide for those who have no clean water? 

We sit on a massive resource that is the envy of the world.  As the baptized children of God we are responsible for using this resource to offer hospitality to those in need, which means we are responsible for tending to those waters so they may continue to offer healing and restoration for all. May we have the courage to do more than dip our toe into these responsibilities, but rather dive in, head first, so God’s justice may flow through us, creating an avenue of living waters for the world.