Living water is one of the images for God, particularly the Holy Spirit, that we are given in the Bible. What does that tell us about what God is like? What does that mean for our faith?
This sermon was inspired by a couple of pictures of living water that members of the congregation had had, along with a Thanksgiving for a Child as part of the service (I’ve changed the name). I thought that those were things that were important to reflect on.
Living water; Reading: Ezekiel 47:1-12
The Rugby World Cup started this weekend and has already produced one incredible result, with Japan beating South Africa. That’s a previous double World Cup-winning country being beaten by a country which has won one of its previous 24 World Cup matches. It’s about as surprising as a dog winning Britain’s Got Talent, John Sergeant doing well in Strictly, the arrest in Downton Abbey of the lady’s maid, Anna, for murder, or pretty much the whole of last night’s Doctor Who.
It’s surprising, people talk about it, remember it. Which is also the reaction that people would have had to the vision that we heard from the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a prophet, telling God’s people what God was thinking. He was a prophet in exile, in Babylon, where God’s people had been taken after the conquest of Jerusalem. He spent most of his time telling the Exiles that things were going to get worse, that not only had Jerusalem and the land been conquered but that it was going to be destroyed. Particularly, that the Temple was going to be destroyed. The Temple, the holiest place, the place where God himself could be found.
But, when all that had actually happened, when Jerusalem and the Temple had been reduced to a heap of rubble, Ezekiel carried on. Then Ezekiel started talking about a rebuilt city, with a restored Temple, with God’s presence returning.
In the rugby, South Africa kept on edging ahead. They scored another try. They were back in the lead, they were rattling the Japanese defence. It felt like Japan were going to lose. Except, that’s not how it turned out. It could have done, quite easily, but it didn’t. Japan scored the winning try after an agonising struggle.
That’s what this prophesy of Ezekiel’s feels like. It’s like John Sergeant not being voted off, again. It’s like Anna being taken away by the Inspector. It’s like the cliffhanger of Doctor Who. It’s that ‘what happened there?’ moment. Disbelief. Shock. Amazement.
Ezekiel stands at the entrance to the Temple and sees the water, sees God’s blessing pouring out across the land. There is a rebuilt Temple, more magnificent than before. There’s the promise that God will be with his people again. And then, there’s this river of water flowing out from the Temple, water in a place where there shouldn’t be water.
It gets deeper as he moves away from the Temple and as he spends time looking at what is happening he sees more and more. There are trees that grow by the river, trees with fruit for food and leaves for healing. The water itself transforms the land, bringing life and growth.
It’s a picture of God’s love and blessing, a picture of the concern that God has for us and his whole creation. It’s a promise and hope. It’s also an image that we’ve been thinking about recently as a church; the river of God’s blessing.
And that’s a good picture to think about as we have given thanks for Riley and asked for God’s blessing on him. The river of blessing washing over him, and over us.
The river tells us a lot about God.
The river is unexpected, astonishing. It was somewhere that it shouldn’t have been, it did things that shouldn’t happen, it enables things to flourish in ways that they couldn’t otherwise.
The river flows, deepening as it flows away from the Temple. So, God’s blessing and the fullness of his blessing is found in unexpected places, in found in the places where it is needed. The Temple isn’t turned into a swimming pool, for the people inside to splash about in and enjoy, and going away feeling that they’ve had a good time and perhaps are a little fitter. The Temple is the source of the river that flows away, transforming the whole country, sustaining plants and animals, feeding and healing people. And, yes, there are places for paddling, splashing and swimming too. But this is wild swimming, swimming in the river with the current, swimming in the lake amongst the fish.
It’s a river which sustains, and gives food and healing.
Healing. There is a need for healing, a need for help. We mess up, we fall short, we drive each other to distraction. Whether we’re Riley’s age, or quite a lot older. God desires the healing of the nations.
And, above all, it’s a river. If we think that we’ve got God sorted, worked out the odds, seen the plot twists, know what’s coming next, then it’s a reminder that we don’t and we can’t. It’s a river, something that can’t be easily contained, something that does unpredictable things, something that is beautiful and where there is always new things to be seen and experienced.
So, it’s no surprise at all that Jesus spoke of himself in similar terms.
In the rebuilt Temple that Jesus knew, which was nothing like as spectacular as the one in Ezekiel’s vision, there were three great festivals each year. And in the Festival of Tabernacles, water was poured out as a symbol of God’s blessing. Every day, along with the other offerings, water was poured out, as a reminder
So, on the last and greatest day of the festival, this happened (John 7:37-39):
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.
Rivers of living water flow not from the Temple, but from Jesus. The living water, the Spirit, flows from Jesus and, because of his death and resurrection, the Spirit flows into us and on into the whole world. God’s blessing keeps on flowing and calls us to be a part of that blessing.
The adventure that God calls Riley and all of us on is more exciting than any last gasp score, definitely more about reality than any TV programme can be, more interesting than any cliffhanger, and yes, sometimes more nail-biting than any of those. It’s the adventure of discovering God’s love for us, the adventure of discovering that the river of blessing is for us too. It’s the adventure of discovering that we can be part of that river of blessing, that the river of blessing transforms us and the whole of creation. Amen!