The Spirit in Creation: River Sunday 9-28-14

In this reading from Revelation this morning we get a rare glimpse of an early Christian’s vision of what the future would look like, what they hoped in their fondest dreams the future would look like – a time when the City of God would come to earth and peace would prevail for all God’s people, , a time when all thirst would be quenched. Notice the central place of the river in this passage and imagine what it represents.

Revelation 22:1-5  The angel then showed me the river of life-giving water, clear as crystal, which issued from the throne of God and of the Lamb and it flowed down the middle of the streets.  On either side of the river grew the trees of  life which produce fruit twelve times a year, once each month, their leaves serve as medicine to heal the nations. There will no longer be any curse. The throne of the Almighty and of the Lamb will be there, and God’s subjects will serve faithfully. They will see the Most High face to face, and bear God’s name on their foreheads. Night will be no more. They will need no light from lamps or the sun, for our God will give them light, and they will reign forever.

Sept. 28, 2014

The Spirit in Creation: River Sunday

The inspiration for the river of fabric running through the top of the nave of this church comes from this passage, Revelation 22: 1: “the river of life-giving water, clear as crystal… flowed down the middle of the streets.” The vision of this early Christian, traditionally known as John, was that this is what the future would look like: the city of God would come down from heaven to earth.
The river – reminiscent of the river from the Garden of Eden – runs right through the middle of the city, with the trees of life, again from the Garden of Eden, on both sides of the river, producing fruit 12 months a year, like it’s own fruit of the month club. The leaves serve as medicine to heal the wounds of all the nations, all the people of the world.
God will live right there in the city, so there is no need for sun or lights, because there is no more night time. Everyone will live in the presence of the Spirit, face to face, with God’s name of their foreheads – like Cain only without the curse and the exile.
This is a lovely vision, a rare vision. Have you ever tried to envision what your life would be like in ten years – or to have some kind of vision in your head of what your ideal life would be like?  I had a dear friend back in the 1980’s who was asked what his vision for his life was – what his 10 year goal was. I’ve never forgotten what he said. He said, “I want to be able to swim in the Schuylkill River.” In the 1980’s that really jumped out at me as kind of an outrageous thing to say or hope. What I loved about it is that it was a vision that could not be accomplished alone, indeed, whether he knew it or not, it could not be accomplished without the Spirit in Creation.

When William Penn established the city of Philadelphia on the Delaware River, he envisioned a beautiful city open to all. He envisioned a city laid out in a grid pattern, with a park right in the middle which would supply water for the surrounding area. Four square parks would be laid out in a regular pattern around the city, and the boundary on the other side of the city would be the Schuylkill River.
It was a beautiful vision and the parks in the city have been a great asset to a great city. It seems like all great cities are on a river or on the water, doesn’t it?
Well, over the years Philadelphia almost turned that river into a curse. In the early 20th century, many industries moved onto the river and dumped their waste straight into the river. By 1945 there was so much sludge and grime it threatened to block parts of the river. That year, they started cleaning it up.
Rivers in the city, like cities themselves have received a bad reputation over the last few decades. When we envision where the idyllic place to live would be, when we imagine our own restoration of the garden of Eden, we are unlikely to weave the same kind of vision John did in Revelation, a river flowing through the middle of the city. We are more likely to think of a river in the countryside, a little flowing brook in a rural area, away from the dirt and grime of the city. These days, for thousands and thousands of people that vision is changing.
In the last few years a Schuylkill River trail has been built all along the Schuylkill river. When it’s finished, you will be able to ride your bike all the way from Pottsville and Reading in the north to Philadelphia and Fort Mifflin in the south. There’s already 60 miles of trails completed and eventually there will be 130 miles of trails along the river.
In the year 2014 the Schuylkill was named “River of the Year” in the state of PA by a popular vote. They received a $10,000 prize to continue their work. This fall they will open a boardwalk which is being built in the river down by Locust St. The river is cleaner than it has been in decades. Every day, you can see the beautiful sight of people boating along boathouse row. Thousands of people walk and bike along this beautiful river every day. It looks so good, I bet my buddy Marc would swim in it.

Christians have held rivers sacred for centuries. The Jordan River is the place where Jesus was baptized and countless Christians have been baptized in rivers ever since. We sing “As I went down to the river to pray,” and “Shall We Gather at the River.” Water is a symbol for us of the water of the womb, and the water of baptism and rebirth, Christ’s cleansing of our lives. Water is a symbol of nourishment, renewal of the Spirit in our desert places.
When we value, care for, and revive the rivers that run through our cities and towns and countryside, we are expressing our love for the Spirit in Creation. We are living out the vision of Revelation hope in Christ’s return, the city of God on earth as it is in heaven. The river which flows through our sanctuary will remind us Sunday after Sunday of the gift of our baptism, the renewal offered by Christ’s love, and the vision of God’s Creation made whole.
this is God’s very good news.

Responsive hymn  2076 O Blessed Spring