A Watershed Experience 9-24-17

Genesis 8:20–22; 9:12–17 Noah built an altar to YHWH, and choosing from every clean animal and every clean bird, offered burnt offerings on it. YHWH smelled the sweet fragrance and said, “Never again will I curse the earth because of  humankind, since the evil their hearts contrive begins from infancy.  Never again will I strike down every living thing as I have done. So long as the earth lasts, sowing and reaping, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease. 9:12-17 God said, “Here is the sign of the covenant between me and you and every living  creature for ageless generations. I set my bow in the clouds, and it will be a sign of the covenant between and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth, my bow will appear in the clouds. Then I will remember the covenant that is between me and you and every kind of living creature, and never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all flesh. Whenever my bow appears in the clouds I will see it, and remember everlasting covenant between God and every living creature on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all living things on the earth.”

Rivers and water throughout the Bible are signs of fertility and abundance. In Genesis, the destructive waters have receded and promises never again to destroy the earth. Light refracts through water in the sky and becomes a rainbow, which God uses as a sign of this covenant, a covenant to use non-violent ways to reach humanity from now on. Bookending the Bible, we now turn to Revelation for the final image of a river – the river which is a model for river that runs through the middle of the city. Listen.

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.

Let’s reflect on watershed experiences in our lives, when God moved and we moved a new direction.

September 24, 2017

Celebration of Creation: River Sunday A Watershed Experience

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed sign is an unassuming, if lovely, sign by the side of the road as you go out of town. Sometimes you may notice it. Once you get used to it, you don’t even think about it. It says “Entering the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.” It means you are leaving the Delaware River watershed, right? Do you think about it when you go by?

For some reason the sign gets my imagination going, as I think about all the water on this side of the ridge shifting directions and flowing toward the Chesapeake Bay when a mile back and for many miles beyond that, all the water was going into the Delaware River. It helps me to think a little bigger about the beauty of God’s creation. As we celebrate River Sunday today, let’s imagine the rain from this place seeping down into the water table and moving toward the Delaware Bay.

When we say, “It was a watershed experience” or a “watershed moment,” we are unconsciously putting ourselves in that place on that ridge – thinking about the place where everything shifts directions, that crucial moment or experience which changes everything, from which something will have to go one way or another way.

Our reading from Genesis this morning that Pastor Joanne read describes a watershed experience that God had in the ancient imagination and in many traditions. It is the beloved and scary story of the flood, and Noah’s building of an ark. It’s the story of the first endangered species act, where Noah gathers two of every endangered animal and saves them in the ark. We read it today as we continue to pray for those in Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida, St. Maarten’s, and other Caribbean Islands struggling to recover from the flooding and winds that have engulfed and sometimes destroyed their homes.

We read the story and reflect on God’s promise with the rainbow sign, never to use violence to destroy the world again, never to annihilate humanity with the waters of a flood. You can imagine how comforting this story was and it to people facing a storm or a flood – to know that God way back then had had a watershed experience, had promised never again to destroy everything. We joke about it every time we get a big storm, with a little bit of that old anxiety, a little reminder to each other that the rainbow is a sign of an unshakable covenant God made with all of creation.

 

I watched the Vietnam War, Ken Burns & Lynn Novick documentary this week. The show continues tonight and the next 4 nights on PBS. It is very well done, very powerful. Tom Curtiss and I have been talking about it, remembering the Vietnam War as a watershed experience in our lives and in the life of our country.

Tom is just a couple years older than I am and he enlisted in 1968 and went to Vietnam in 1970. I applied for conscientious objector status in 1971, but my draft number was high enough that I didn’t have to face what I would do if I wasn’t granted that status. Either of us will talk to you for a few hours if you have the time to listen, about how the war changed us and changed our country.

In particular, we have been appalled all over again, as we watch the show and realize how our government lied to us about a war that could not be won, and continually extended it, costing countless US and Vietnamese lives, only because it would have cost President Kennedy or Johnson or Nixon politically to admit defeat. Along with the Watergate burglaries that led to Nixon resigning, our country could never again have the same trust for our leaders that those of us in that generation were taught to have growing up. It was definitely a watershed event for our country. After we crossed that ridge, the waters of public opinion began to flow a different direction. We still have some lessons to learn about what is possible through the instruments of war and violence – and what is not.

 

We are at another watershed in our country and in our world. We are in the midst of another watershed experience. It may be the same one, in fact. We just are getting a little clearer about who we can trust and who we can’t. We know because of the Vietnam War and the experiences around it that war is not going to move our world forward, and that we can’t trust lying politicians who try to move us toward war. We can’t trust corporations with their small-minded interests to lead us toward a whole world. We can’t trust Amazon or Facebook or Google or Bill Gates. They have their own interests. We can’t expect FOX news, or MSNBC, or CNN to show us where to go because they all are beholden to the corporations & the advertisers. The Holy Spirit leads us to understand at this watershed moment that, with 7.5 billion humans now on the planet at the same time, our future is either nonviolent or there is no future at all.

The Bible ends with the Book of Revelation which tells us who to trust with another story, a vision of the end of time, of Jesus coming back to restore the whole of creation. This passage inspired our river of fabric down the center of our church as it says “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. “

Revelation portrays the destruction of the empire of Rome and the triumph of God’s reign, the triumph of the people of God. “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 fruit tree in the middle of the garden is the tree that God first put into the Garden of Eden. God told the first people not to eat of that tree. But the vision of Revelation is that prescription has been lifted. Now the tree is a tree of healing. No one will be without healthcare or medicine no matter what their income. The tree of life serves as medicine to heal the nations. War will be no more. Sickness will be no more.

Life is renewed for all and health is restored to all. It is this vision that we sing about in the old African American spiritual, “Down by the Riverside.”

 

Gonna lay down my burden, down by the riverside…

Gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside, down by the riverside and study war no more. I ain’t gonna study war no more, ain’t gonna study war no more, ain’t gonna study war no more…

Gonna follow the Prince of Peace, down by the riverside. Gonna lay down my burden.