September 24, 2017

4th Creation Sunday

BIBLE READINGS
Genesis 7:11-24
Ezekiel 47:1-2
Psalm 104:24-33

Revelation 22:1-5

REFLECTION

In not so distant past, the search for life beyond planet earth was the stuff of science fiction. Not anymore. Scientists now know that there are one hundred billion galaxies in parts of the universe that are observable. But how do you look for life in these galaxies? Is it not like looking a needle in a haystack?

Not anymore. Scientists are now able to narrow their search for life only on planets that are similar to earth. They estimate there around 40 billion planets like earth in the observable universe. And one important element that they look for in such planets is: water.

Yes, water is the first ingredient of life. Life cannot exist without water. Around 60% of our body consists of water. Some of the oldest and most advanced civilizations in the world were built near waters like the river or sea. The ancient Egyptians built their powerful and advanced kingdom along the River Nile while the Indians built their ancient civilizations along the River Ganges. These rivers were crucial for these civilizations as they provided them with water for irrigation. They also used the rivers to transport people and goods for trade.

The Roman Empire was also built around the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean Sea was crucial for transporting goods and people, including the army, from one side of the empire to another, thus creating what was known as the Pax Romana.

The oldest surviving civilization on planet also built their settlements in places where they could find water. The Noongar people of the South West of WA end their names of places with the suffix –up: Coolongup, Porongurup, Bandiyup, Manjimup, etc. These places are often located near sources of fresh water thus people mistakenly think that –up means ‘near water’.

But it is not only the Indigenous people who settled in areas near water in Australia. Most Australian major cities are built near waters. Melbourne was built along the Yara river, Brisbane along the Brisbane river, and here in WA, the metropolitan city of Perth was built along the Swan River.

So water is not only the ingredient of life; it is the backbone of human civilizations. Without water, not only life is not possible; civilization itself is not possible.

But we also know that water can be very destructive. Many major cities that are built on the edges of water are currently under threat because of the rising sea water caused by the warming of the temperature of the earth. Observed by satellites, the global sea level has risen 86 millimeters since 1993.

Now, that doesn’t sound much. But the pace at which the sea level is rising is accelerating. By the end of the century, many coastal areas, I believe including here in Australia, will be swamped during big storms.[1]

And the intensity of the latest storms has definitely been strengthened by the rising temperature of the planet. Storms like hurricanes thrive over warm water. They are like giant engines that use warm and moist air as their fuel. And as the global temperature of the ocean is rising, especially since the last quarter of century, the intensity of the hurricanes has risen as well. Hurricane Harvey that devastated parts of Texas and Florida in the US dumped 27 trillion gallons of water in six days in the area. Hurricane Irma maintained the strongest ever wind for a storm for 37 hours.[2] So water can bring life or cause death.

In the Bible, water also represents both life and death. In the book of Genesis (1:1-2), before the time of creation, the Spirit of God hovered above what the Hebrews considered as primal chaos, which is depicted as the ocean. For the Hebrews, the ocean was the manifestation of the power of chaos that threatened life in the world. During the time of creation, however, God contained these waters and put boundaries that they couldn’t cross so that dry land would appear and life flourish (Genesis 1:6-10). The story of creation in Genesis thus is a story about God putting limits on the power of chaos in the universe so that life would appear.

Those limits, however, were taken away by God during the time of Noah, resulting once again in chaos. The primal waters that had been contained during creation was let loose and they once again covered the face of the earth, killing all living beings, except Noah’s family.

So there are many parts in the Bible that depict waters as the source of chaos and evil. Another example was the time when Jesus’ disciples saw Jesus walking on water in Lake Galilee during a storm and thought that they saw a ghost (Matthew 14:22-27). For the Hebrews, a storm was the manifestation of the power of evil thus it was too easy to mistake Jesus as an evil spirit during a storm.

But that’s not the whole picture. Water can also be the symbol of life and renewal in the Bible.

Let’s go back to the book of Genesis, to the second story of creation in the book. In this part, God created the Garden of Eden, an idyllic place where all living beings, including humans, lived side by side in harmony. There in the garden, there was a river that flowed to water the garden (Genesis 2:10).

Indeed, the Garden of Eden represents the perfect world where everything was the way God wanted it to be. It was the ideal place where humans’ sinfulness had not ruined the harmony of God’s creation in the world.

It is no wonder that the Jewish temples were built as replicas of the Garden of Eden. They were built as the place where the people of Israel could be with God in harmony once again, just like in the Garden of Eden. They were built to remind the people of what it was like before and what they could hope for in the future.

During the time of the prophet Ezekiel, the temple that was built by King Solomon was destroyed by the Babylonians. But the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of the new temple being rebuilt. There in his vision, he saw water flowing from below the temple, forming a river that gave life to the land that it crossed. This vision reminds us once again of the river that flew in the Garden of Eden.

The vision that we have in the book of Revelation was inspired by Ezekiel’s vision. This vision in Revelation thus nicely closes the whole saga in the Bible. If we see the Bible like a great novel, the vision in Revelation is the end of the novel.

The Bible begins with the story in Genesis, the first book, when the creation was cursed because of humans’ disobedience. The idyllic situation that existed in the Garden was destroyed by human sinfulness. The relationship between God and humans and the entire creation was broken.

But in the book of Revelation, the final book, the broken world is finally restored. Here we are given glimpses of how the fullness of God’s salvation would look like. Then, in the fullness of time, the forces of evil would be finally and utterly defeated, but it would not result in the annihilation of the earth, but its recreation.[3]

Salvation in the Bible thus is not only about individual salvation; it is about the salvation of the entire creation. Salvation is the restoration of the world to become the way it was originally created.

Friends, today, I invite all of you to take part in God’s mission to restore the entire creation to how it used to be. This mission of restoration, however, must start with the restoration of one important element of creation: water. Water is not only crucial to life on earth; water plays a central role in God’s plan to restore the world. All the visions in our readings today that depict the restoration of the world always have waters as the source of healing and life. So, just like there will be not life without water; without the restoration of waters, there will be no restoration of the entire world. When we fail to look after this very important ingredient of the universe, we are undermining God’s plan to restore the entire world.

But we need to be careful not to spiritualize the waters in the Bible. We often see them as metaphors for somethings else.

We need to remember that the authors of the different books and passages in the Bible were inspired by real waters like rivers or ocean. When they saw deer drinking from the rivers, they saw it as a beautiful image of our souls longing to be satisfied by God (Psalm 42: 1). When they saw shepherds guiding their sheep to waters, they saw it as beautiful metaphor of God guiding us to sources of life and healing (Psalm 23: 1-2). When they saw trees grew strongly on banks of rivers, they saw them as symbols of strong lives built on God’s way (Psalm 1:1-3). Even the river that waters the garden of Eden in the book of Genesis was inspired by real rivers, especially the Euphrates and the Tigris.

So, without these sources of water, our spiritual ancestors would not pass on to us some of the most beautiful images in the Bible that depict our relationship with God. It is thus very important for us to make sure that these sources of water are well looked after.

While there are things that are outside of our control or influence, there are many other things that we can do to make a difference. Now, I don’t ask us to worship sources of water as if they were deities, just like what ancient people used to do in Egypt or India. No. But I do invite you to start seeing these sources of water not only as commodities or modern playgrounds or places of recreation, but also as signs of God’s plan to restore the entire creation. These sources of water are the things that connect us back to what the Aboriginal people call as the ‘dreaming time’; time beyond memory or history; the time when God created the universe. But they also connect us to the future; to the time beyond mortal imagination; the time when God will restore the entire world and life will be experienced in its fullness.

Once again, there is no life without water. And there will not be salvation of the world without water either. Amen.

Toby Keva

[1] Yes, Climate Change Made Harvey and Irma Worse, an article by Wayne Drash, on CNN website, updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT) September 19, 2017 -
http://edition.cnn.com/2017/09/15/us/climate-change-hurricanes-harvey-and-irma/index.html

[2] Yes, Climate Change Made Harvey and Irma Worse, an article by Wayne Drash, on CNN website, updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT) September 19, 2017 -
http://edition.cnn.com/2017/09/15/us/climate-change-hurricanes-harvey-and-irma/index.html

[3] Commentary on Revelation 21:1-6; 22:1-5, by Craig R. Koester, September 3 2017 - https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3287