4th Sunday of Creation (September 28 • 2014)
‘God’s Agents of Healing’
Genesis 8:20-22; 9:8-17
I once heard a story about a conflict between a Uniting Church congregation and a Korean congregation who shared the same church building. The major issue that divided these two communities was not difference in languages or styles of worship or theological perspectives or political preferences; the source of their conflict was the water that they used to wash their dishes.
The Australian Uniting Church congregation thought that the Korean congregation used too much water to wash their dishes. After all, unlike in Korea, water is a precious commodity that is not to be wasted in a desert continent like Australia. The Korean congregation, on the other hand, believed that the Australian congregation was unhygienic because they soaked their dishes in the same water that they used to wash the other dishes.
Both congregations were right. The misunderstanding between them, however, was born out of their different views about water and its usage. Water can indeed have different values and meanings in different cultures.
In the Bible, water too can have ambiguous meanings. The people of Israel always had an uneasy relationship with water. For them, water could become the symbol and source of death, chaos, and destruction. In their story of creation in Genesis 1 (: 2), we hear how before the universe was formed, the Spirit of God was hovering above the primal ocean of chaos. And one of God’s first acts of creation was creating a ‘dome’ that separated this primal water so that life could exist within the dome (Genesis 1: 6-8).
In the book of Exodus, we hear how God delivered the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt by parting the Red Sea into two, but then killed the Egyptian army who pursued them by drowning them in the sea (Exodus 14). Have no doubt that water often meant a divine instrument of death and destruction in the eyes of the people of Israel.
But, in the Bible, water is also a symbol and source of life and healing. We hear, in the second book of the Kings (5:1-19), the story about Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, who was healed after he immersed himself in the river Jordan. In John’s Gospel (4: 13-14), we hear how Jesus offered himself as living water that gave eternal life.
Today, in the book of revelation, we hear the vision of a river that flows from the throne of God in the middle of the New Jerusalem. This new city of Jerusalem is the restoration of the Garden of Eden, in the beginning of creation, in the middle of which a river also flowed to water the garden (Genesis 2:10).
This river, in this New Jerusalem, produces trees of life whose leaves bring healing to all nations. There is no mistaking the meaning of this vision: from God comes healing to all nations. Our God is the source of all healing in the world. Our God is working to heal the wounds not only of people, but also of every part of creation.
Our story today in Genesis also reveals this nature of God. Most of you would know that our story is the final part of the great saga of Noah and his family who survived the great flood that covered the earth for forty days by floating in an ark filled with animals of all kinds (Genesis 6-9). God flooded the earth to punish the people in the world who had fallen into wickedness. The flood was the same primordial water of chaos in creation that God unleashed to purge the world from the wicked and to start anew again.
Yet, in today’s story, we hear how God felt sorry for bringing such a disaster to the world; we hear how God promised to never again bring such a flood into the world; how God chose to no longer destroy life in the world, no matter how wicked the world might become.
This is the God that Israel worshiped. The psalmist portrayed this God in our reading in psalm 104 as a God who nurtured every living creature in the world. In this psalm, the mighty ocean was like the pond where God diligently fed the fish that lived in the pond. One of the fish that was dependent on God for its well-being was Leviathan, the fearful sea monster that ancient Israel believed was living in the bottom of the sea.
So our God is a God who nurtures life and is the source of all life in the world. God is indeed the God of the living, not of the dead; the God who brings healing and life, not death and destruction; the God who chooses life over death.
If God is a God who chooses life over death, then we too are to choose life over death. We are to be this river in Revelation that flows from the throne of God to bring healing to everyone and everything that we meet. We are all created in God’s image to become like a gardener who looks after God’s garden we call the world.
Yet, our arrogance to try to be like God and to subdue the world has created the destruction of the garden itself. We often choose death over life. When Adam and Eve, the first humans, took the forbidden fruit of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, they thought that they would bring more life to the garden by becoming like God. But the opposite was true. Their arrogance and ignorance had only brought destruction not life. They made the wrong choice and now the whole creation has to bear the consequences.
Andrew Prior and his family lived in a dry land within a farming community. When he was only a kid, a small hospital in his district saved his life. Yet, when he was in high school, the hospital had to be closed down because of a limitation of resources. It was a big loss to the community.
But Andrew’s father wasn’t surprised. He saw the closing down of their district hospital as a direct consequence of the bad decision that the community made some years ago. He told Andrew that before his birth, the community chose to pour their energy and money into building a War Memorial Swimming Pool instead of a War Memorial District Hospital.
There was nothing wrong with a swimming pool. Living in a dry area, the swimming pool could become the place where the farmers and their family could be refreshed; a balm that could restore the soul of hard working farmers and their families. Yet, Andrew’s father believed that if only they had had their priorities right back then; if only they had been able to put aside the ‘frivolity’ of a swimming pool, they would not have lost their small district hospital that had saved many lives, including Andrew’s.
Often, we too are blinded by our own ignorance and fail to choose things that will bring and nurture life. In the book of Isaiah, the prophet invited the people to choose God, the living water that satisfied, and not the gods of the Canaanite that did not satisfy (Isaiah 55:1-3). People may not worship these Canaanite gods any longer, but the real idols are and have always been within ourselves: our greed, arrogance, and ignorance. Isaiah’s call to choose between the living water of God and the ‘stale’ water of other gods is as relevant today as it was in the past. We are to choose between God’s way of life and our human tendency to bring death on ourselves, on other people, and other parts of creation.
Yes, God is the river that brings healing and life. But how can we proclaim this God if, instead of bringing healing and life, we bring destruction and death in our life. How can we proclaim and preach that Jesus is the Living Water if we, his followers, do not become the living water that brings healing and life to the world? We are God’s agents of healing and new life. But our words will become empty if we don’t do and become what we preach.
Last Sunday, was Nell's first time as the announcer in our congregation. And she told the congregation about a climate change rally being held in Perth. The rally was a part of a global movement that organizes similar rallies in many other big cities of the globe. I know some people in this congregation who joined the rally last week.
I have to admit that I was one of the people who spontaneously giggled when I heard the announcement. We don’t usually announce that kind of rally in our congregation. But my laugh was born out of ignorance. The rally was an important event and I thank Nell for bringing such a thing to our attention.
Some people, however, may question why we, as Christians, have to concern ourselves with such rallies? Why do Christians have to be involved in the whole debate about the environment, climate change, etc.? Friends, I believe that it is exactly our call as Christians to be involved in this kind of discussion; to be the prophetic voice that helps our society choose the way of life and not death for our children and their children’s children. Whatever our political persuasion is, whichever party we voted or did not vote during the election, whether we agree or disagree with a particular policy concerning our environment, our mandate is still to be God’s agents of healing and new life in the world.
And there are different avenues that we can use to become these agents of healing. Some of you may think it is necessary to attend rallies, such as those held last week, to fulfill that mandate. You may think that it is important for Christians to make public announcements about our duty to nurture the earth. But some of you may choose different things. You may choose to do something less public like picking up the rubbish on our beaches during your morning walk or teaching your children or grandchildren about our delicate ecosystem and how to look after it. You may also choose to join other volunteers in local clubs to look after our local forests.
Whatever you do to protect and nurture our environment, I hope you do it not only as a hobby, but also out of a deep conviction that we are joining hand in hand with God, the source of life and all healing, to restore the creation. Whatever avenue you choose to live out your mandate, I hope you do it with a deep awareness that you are living out your call as God’s agents of healing in the world. We are indeed a resurrected people and we are called to bring the good news of resurrection in all aspects of our life.
Our God is the God who raised Jesus from death. The stone that covered his tomb was rolled. This vessel, we call the tomb, could not contain the Living Water. Life broke free from death. Life is victorious.
And Jesus is risen so that we too can be risen with him. If we dare to say that we have been risen with him, then we too are to bring new life to everyone and everything that we encounter. That is our call in life. That is the reason why we are here.
 Andrew Prior, O Sisters, Let’s Go Down, on http://onemansweb.org (retrieved: September 26, 2014).