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Flourishing Creation: Rivers & Streams

Flourishing Creation  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  20:39
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The River of Life

22 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 2 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. 3 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; 4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

6 And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”

7 “See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

Introduction
Water is life. Water is a fundamental building block upon which living things stand. Plants, animals, humans — we all need water to survive. And not just survive, but water leads to thriving, flourishing in the created world. Water makes sanitation and medicine possible. The water cycle nourishes trees which grow fruit and crops to be harvested to feed the hungry.
Water is not only life, but water is power. Access to water is a justice issue. Clean water saves lives, spoiled water can kill.
As I’ve studied and written and prepared for the sermons in this series on Flourishing Creation, I continue to be struck by how important water is to everything. The fresh water of our streams and rivers deeply impacts the health of our natural environment and without it, our world would be barren and unlivable. What do astronomers get excited about discovering on other planets? Signs of water — because water can lead to and sustain life.
Throughout the Scriptures, water in the form of rivers and streams and rain is central to how the people of God have understood God providing for them. In times of plenty, it is to God we give thanks for water. In times of drought, we cry out to God to relieve our parched mouths.
And so this week, we study a text of fulfillment, when the water of life that comes from God pours out in abundance from the City of God, the New Jerusalem, and brings healing and welcome to all creation.
In order to fully grasp the power of the water metaphor in our Revelation 22 passage, we also have to look back through Scripture to see the struggle and longing for water, for these streams of living water.
In the beginning, the flourishing creation of the Garden is enclosed within two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. These rivers serve as borders and irrigation for the flourishing garden of Eden. It is in the safety of these boundary lines that God places humanity and begins to cultivate a living community with them.
Rivers and streams then become metaphors for the journey of God’s people. God’s people cross over the River Jordan to enter the Promised Land. Water and the life it brings is placed in contrast to the barren desert of the Sinai peninsula, the place of journey for the people leaving Egypt. Water is life.
In the tradition of the prophets, rivers are often signs of new life being born out of exile. New rivers burst forth from the mountainsides and water the barren land. The streams in the desert are given to God’s chosen people, says the prophet Isaiah. It is from rivers and streams that God is springing up a new thing.
Fast forward to Jesus’ ministry and the central role that rivers play as a site of baptism and renewal. Think about it for a moment: in a developing society, where water is life, the river is the place of moving water where people can bathe, wash their clothes, and be made clean. Of course this is the site of God’s redeeming action of baptism, the site where we are washed clean spiritually, as well as physically.
As much as Jesus and his disciples are connected with the inland sea of Galilee, it is the rivers and streams that speak to new life that Jesus is here to share. The sea is in turmoil, the sea is stormy. The river, though swift, is the place of God’s eternal current, the steady flow of life and newness, manifested in our world.
And so we come to the image in Revelation from John of the river of life flowing out of the new city of God. This is the end of the story, the final image of hope for all creation. As the story began with rivers and a garden, so it comes to its fulfillment with a great river and a city.
Hear the words again from Revelation 22:

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 2 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. 3 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; 4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

From the city of God, from the very throne of God, the place of God’s presence manifested in the Kingdom come, there is a river. There is movement. When we think of a throne or a city, we think of the built environment and think of things placed firmly upon the ground, lacking movement. But this is not so in the city of God — there is movement and life. Water!
There is so much imagery in this passage, but I want to focus on vs 1, where we see the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the lamb.
Now, we’ve all seen dirty streams and rivers. Sadly, there are too many of those in our world. Due to overcrowded cities or poor waste disposal practices, there are many rivers that are clouded and dirty from the refuse of the world. Or we’ve become familiar with dry riverbeds, places where dams or overused irrigation systems have taken water away from its natural course. Water is life and water must be stewarded carefully.
But the image we get of the river from the city is one of purity, clarity, and life. It is the freshness of a mountain stream, untouched by pollutants, clear all the way to the bottom. And this river, this river of God, is not only clear, but bright as crystal. Compare the windows in your home to the magnificence of a sparkling, bright crystal. There are a couple of windows at my house that come to mind specifically that I really need to wash — they are nothing like the brightness of a pure crystal. But this is what God’s river looks like.
Not only is the river bright, but it is the water of life. In John 4, Jesus has an change with a woman from Samaria, an outsider, about water of life at a well. Jesus challenges the woman, from whom he’s requested water, to discover a different kind of water, the water of life. He says of the well water, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
In John 7, Jesus speaks of this living water: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ ”
These are the waters flowing from the throne of God and the lamb. Waters that quench the thirst below the thirst, the deep parts of ourselves that are longing to be made whole — these are the waters of life.
Today, we need to pause to pay attention to the waters of life around us. I invite you, go to a nearby stream or river. We are spoiled in terms of our access to fresh water in Whatcom County. Go out to the North Fork of the Nooksack River and see the eagles roosting amidst the trees which drink from its flow. Venture downtown to Squalicum Creek — see the stream restoration taking place and remember that this makes the water cleaner and safer. Hike into Arroyo Park and up Raptor Ridge and find Chuckanut Falls — a hidden gem in our beautiful local mountains, far off the beaten path but rich with life.
We need to remember these streams and our role in cultivating spaces where life and clean water can flourish.
Remember a couple of weeks back, when we began this series — it was just after Easter and we were talking about resurrection. Once again, I want to turn our attention to the resurrection power that comes from this water of life. That is what Jesus is telling the Samaritan woman about. That is what John is showing us in the waters of life that flow from the throne. That is what the waters of baptism mean for us — this is the site of resurrection.
And our work, as God’s people, is to care for these waters, to spend time with these waters, to seek the flourishing of these waters so that all creation may have access to and a taste of the resurrection hope these waters represent.
I think it can be very easy for us to disconnect our lived context from the Scriptures and the waters of the Bible. We hear about the River Jordan — but we don’t consider that it is much like Whatcom Creek or the Nooksack — it’s just a river, but it’s not just a river — it’s a site of God’s resurrection action. So when you visit your local stream or river, remember your baptism, as well. Remember that these are places for us to care for and help to flourish because here, now, in our city, these are the sources of life for so many people.
I live near Whatcom Falls Park. The City of Bellingham’s drinking water comes through Whatcom Creek, from Lake Whatcom. It is treated at a facility in the park, from where it flows out to our neighborhoods. Over the last few years, there has been work to enhance that treatment facility and ensure that safe drinking water for our city is maintained for years to come. Water is life and for us, here in Bellingham, that life is something we must care for and maintain. Not just for ourselves, but for the outsider, the hungry, the poor, the ones who are at the end of their rope. If we neglect water, we neglect each other.
And, put in the positive, when we care for the streams and rivers of our world, we cultivate sites of resurrection among us. Do you want to be a people who participate in resurrection? Here is where you start. Water is life.
Two practices for you this week. First, like weeks before, I encourage you to go out to your favorite stream or river. Spend time there and pray, reflect, journal, and listen. Listen to the stream and how it calls you to find life in Christ today. And then, take a picture, so you can share with us your stream or river.
The second practice is to go to the faucet and pour a glass of water. Use a clear glass, if you can. And before you drink it, consider: how does this water look? Is it clear, bright? Does it shimmer? Taste it, is it thirst quenching? Does it slake the thirst deep within you?
And consider, how much more so do the waters of life that come from the love of God quench and stir up resurrection in us? With each sip of water, we are invited to remember how God provides for us and makes all things new.
Amen.
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