April 27, 2016
If you were here last week—you all were here last week, right?—you’ll remember that I cited this morning’s reading from Revelation in the sermon. Indeed, this is what John was pointing toward. This is the endgame, the destination of our salvation and of the world itself. That world, and all those who dwell upon its face, are remade in a new creation, not quite a return to the Garden of Eden, but a restored creation, one that is healed and brought back into the presence of God. Call it Earth 2.0, if you must.
The new creation contains of a new Jerusalem, the “holy city” of Jews like John, where God will live among his people in a world where there is no more pain, no more sorrow, no more death. You can see why this is a good text for a funeral sermon.
Jesus, who has been with God since the very beginning, declares “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.”
This is the part that gets my attention. I’ve mentioned before that recently I’ve been on a sacramental theology kick, which means simply that I’ve become very interested in the ways that common elements—earth and water and trees and birds and all of nature—can reveal to us something of God. So I originally planned to spend some time talking this morning about water and how important it is to us, both as a matter of ecology and as a matter of religion.
But then I reread the gospel, and this popped out at me:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
I mean to suggest to you that this love that Christians are meant to bear for one another, and for all the world, is functionally the same as the gift of the water of life. That gift is Jesus’ to give, of course. But we, like the first disciples, are invited into the work of giving that gift to the world. Jesus gives the water of life, but he does it through us, through our generosity. When the new heaven and the new earth come into being, we will be remade in perfect openness in love for one another. No one will go thirsty because we all will give water to one another. In fact, this is the point of the new creation. As Paul tells us his letter to the Colossians, we strip off our old selves and clothe ourselves with our new selves, getting rid of such things as “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language,” as though they were dirty old rags and clothing ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”
These are nice values and all, but it would help to understand how we are meant to live them from Sunday to Sunday.
Sometimes, the best gift from the spring of the water of life is literally water. Some churches support ecological activism to make sure that there is enough pure water to give life to our planet. Others work to bring wells to remote villages or even to a place like Flint, Michigan, where the water supply has been contaminated by lead.
Sometimes, all it takes is a cool cup of water. In the Midweek Apostle, I told a little of the story about going up into the hills in Puerto Rico to deliver some furniture to a very poor family. He’s telling me about the mud tracks that go down the side of the hill and how impossible it is to get through to the valleys, and I say, “So how are we going to do this?” He says, “There’s a farmer that lives at the top of the hill we’re going to. We’ll talk to him, and he’ll take us down in his Jeep.” Okay, fine.
As we draw up to the farmer’s house, Javier—the monk—says, “Follow my lead. He’s going to offer us some water, maybe a little something to eat. Whatever you do, accept the offer.” Okay, fine.
Sure enough, we pull up and say hello, and he says, “Would you like a little water?” Yes, of course. It’s always hot in Puerto Rico, and I’m thirsty. It’s easy to accept his hospitality.
Friends, you have never had a better glass of water in your life. It is cool and clear and pure. We are a long way from any source of pollution, and they don’t raise cows up in the hills of Puerto Rico, so there is no fertilizer to leach down into the well. I felt restored in a way that I never had before.
Well, sure enough, the monk and the farmer talked for a little bit about the weather or the crops or something like that, and eventually, the farmer says, “Well, would you like some help getting that stuff down the hill?” Yes, please. Before you know it, we are going down the side of a mountain in an open-roofed Jeep with a bed, a desk and a bunch of chairs in it. There is no room in this Jeep, so I am standing on the running board almost close enough to reach out and grab a few coffee beans as we go in and out of three-foot ruts in the mud road. The farmer looks over at me and I’m looking a little green. I think we’re going to flip over at any moment. “Tell him not to be such a scaredy-cat,” he says to the monk. “Tell him he’s not the one hanging on the outside of the truck,” I tell the monk.
Eventually, we get down to a little clearing toward the bottom of the hill where there’s a little tin shack. “I thought you said you guys fixed this place up?” I asked Xavier. “We did,” he said. “It used to be mostly wood and cardboard.”
We go up to the house, and the parents aren’t home. They’ve gone to town for a while. It’s just the kids, watching television. Did you know that you can get tv reception at the bottom of a valley in the middle of the jungle in Puerto Rico? Did you know that you can get only one station, and all it plays in the middle of the afternoon is Deputy Dawg?
We’re just getting done with the furniture and ready to head back up the hill when one of the local hillbillies comes walking out of the forest. You think I’m kidding. I’m not. He has long hair, and a long gray beard with tobacco stains and long yellow fingernails and he’s carrying a double-barrel shotgun with the breech open under his arm.
Javier leans over to me and says, “That’s Jorge. He went to Florida when he was younger and did a lot of cocaine, kind of lost his mind. He lives out in the jungle now.”
Jorge shuffles up and he looks me up and down and says to the farmer, “Who’s he?”
I’m thinking, this is it. I am dead. I survived that stupid Jeep ride down the hill only to get filled full of holes by this guy. The farmer says, “He’s an American. He’s a friend of Xavier’s.”
“What’s he doing here?”
“Oh, we just delivered some furniture.”
There’s a pause as he looks at me again, and I’m calculating if I can make to the other side of the shack before he gets that rifle closed. Finally, he says, “Where you from?”
“Wis…north of Chicago.” Nobody knows where Wisconsin is.
He nods. “That’s a good place. I lived in Florida. That’s a bad place. The people there are no good.” I am not about to tell him about my aunt and uncle who live in Ft. Meyers.
I always wondered why a guy like that would come back to the hills. There was absolutely nothing out there for him, no job, no support system, just a shack out in the woods somewhere. But now I know. He came back for the water. He needed the healing that you can only find at home, where there is always somebody who will offer you a cool glass of water, where you can wash in a cool mountain stream.
We seldom meet anyone as dramatic as Jorge, but I have to tell you that you and I, we know a lot of people who need the water of life just as bad. They need that spring.
You and I, we’ve already received it, in our baptisms. We’ve died and been reborn already, we’re entering into the new creation already. But there are people who need the new life, who need the healing, the home, the water that Jesus provides through us.
So maybe this isn’t any more specific than what Paul tells us, but here’s how you live from Sunday to Sunday: practice compassion, practice kindness, practice patience. Give that gift of the water of life to those we need it. Be that gift. Love one another, so that the world will know that you are Jesus’ disciples. Amen.+ + +