A while ago there was a movie out that was called, A River Runs Through It. I never saw it. But I was thinking that this could almost be the subtitle for my life. Just about everywhere I have lived has been with a few miles of a river. I have lived near the Mississippi River and thought that all rivers were over a mile across. I have lived near the Upper Iowa River that you can walk across. And now, I live near the Middle Rouge River. And no matter what size the river was, it had an effect on my life and what was happening around me.
I think that if we all think about this, it is probably true for most of us. Unless we lived in a desert, we have probably been close to some river or stream. Water is one of the most important things in our lives. And this makes sense. We are somewhere between 55% and 78% water. I had heard it said once that bodies seem to be a way for water to get from one place to another. So since our bodies are more water than anything else, it would be important for us to be near water. So it would make sense that our cities, towns, and agriculture would spring up (catch that? “SPRING UP”!) around water, and even more so, rivers that are moving and not stagnant.
Now in our age of indoor plumbing, we may not appreciate having a clean source of water nearby. We just turn on the tap. But in Biblical times, the concept of clean water could mean life or death, quite literally. So it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that throughout the Bible, rivers are often the symbol of God’s love, God’s mercy, and God’s grace.
Actually, we could rename the Bible, A River Runs Through It. In Genesis we have the River of Life that begins east of Eden and in the closing chapters of Revelation we again have the river of life flowing through the New Jerusalem. We have the cooling streams in the Psalms and the water from the rock in desert. We have the river Jordan and Christ’s baptism and we have the river in Philippi where Lydia and her household were baptized. It seems that no matter where we look in the Bible, living flowing water, life giving rivers, are present.
It makes sense that the initiation rite of Christianity is baptism. It makes sense that we start with water. We start our lives as Christians with the water of life. But hopefully this is not where the stream of living water ends, hopefully this is just the trickle that suddenly becomes a rushing river!
What I find sad is that some people, especially adults, do not want to be publicly baptized. They want to go back to the process of having private baptism with just a small group of people. But to do this is to go counter to the meaning of the rite. As I have said, Baptism is a rite of initiation; it is how we say to the world, “I am a Christian!” Some think we baptize to tell God we are Christian, but God already knows that! We are baptized to say to ourselves and the world, “As for me, I will serve the Lord!”
We also recognize baptism as a way of invoking the Holy Spirit, the Advocate that Jesus speaks of in the gospel reading for today. Now when we start talking about the Holy Spirit, things can start to get a little weird, but I will say that I truly believe that one of the ways that the Spirit functions within the world is through our interactions with others. When we interact with others in faith and love, it is then that the Advocate is present. So in our baptism, we are also telling the world that we intend to be a part of something bigger, something that is world encompassing. In keeping a baptism private, we are depriving the world of that part of the Advocate that God has bestowed upon us!
What is so wonderful is when the River of Life is just coursing through your life! Don’t you just love it? Isn’t it great when the sun is shining and the birds are singing! The rent is paid and the car payments are off to the bank? Isn’t it wonderful when the kids are all doing what they are supposed to be doing and the ice makes tinkling noises in the glass? Isn’t that wonderful! At times like this, it is easy to see God at work in our lives. At times like this, it is so wonderful to share the blessings that we have been given.
It gets more difficult, though, when the river seems to be drying up. It gets more difficult when we can’t see the river. It is harder when we don’t even know if there is a stream. These are the times when faith needs to step in and we need to open our eyes. Even when the steam has dried, there is usually a sign that the river was there; the grass is greener, the vegetation is thicker. Even when the stream seems to have gone totally underground, once we have experienced the path of the river, when we look, we can usually find it.
The water metaphors can go on and on!
If we are feeling dry, we need to search out those who are swimming in the Spirit! And if we are swimming, we need to look at how we can share the River so as to irrigate them and help them to grow!
I think what is unfortunate is that so often we walk around being thirsty when we are surrounded by water. We seem to feel that the water that nurtured us has dried up and we are now left scampering to find something to drink. We look around us and see nothing but a desert. Often we can remember times when the River of Life flooded our lives, but those times can seem like such a long time ago. And the problem is that when we feel the most dry, those are the times we need to be around others. When we feel that the River has dried up, we just need to look to those around us. When it feels like the River of Life has passed us by, it is then that we most need to be a part of a community of faith.
If we think of God’s love as a river, and remember what rivers meant to people of Biblical times, we can more fully understand our readings. We can see how that love is to be spread and shared. In sharing water, the whole community would live. In sharing Christ, we spread the Spirit out into the world. In living our lives rejoicing in the River of Life we received in our baptism, we can’t help but splash that water onto those who are round us.
So how has this River of Life tracked its way through your life? Is it a rushing torrent or is it a shallow trickle? Is it a wide river or just a dry bed? Is there a dam across it holding it back or is it splashing, cascading, and singing throughout your life? Are you spreading the water to all those who are thirsty or are you keeping it to yourself? Christ calls us out, are we willing to answer?