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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Created from Water: A Sermon

Here is today's sermon on the theme of water. I shared some things learned on my study leave. It is also Qur'an Sunday (we have been reading the Qur'an cover to cover in 2009). I chose a reading from Surah 25 that states that God created humankind from water.

Created from Water
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee
July 26th, 2009
John 4:7-14

Water may not be something we think about on a day to day basis. We turn on the faucet. We flush the toilet. We wash our clothes in a machine as well as our dishes. We turn on the shower. Water appears. That wasn’t the case, of course, for those who lived when the Gospel of John was written. Nor is it the case for many in the world today.

Our story from John’s gospel features a woman among many women who went daily to draw water from a common well. Fresh water was not taken for granted. Gathering water took time and labor. Water was not plentiful or easy to access. We know the value of water amidst its scarcity.

This is a poem from Wendell Berry entitled, “Water.”
I was born in a drought year. That summer
my mother waited in the house, enclosed
in the sun and the dry ceaseless wind,
for the men to come back in the evenings,
bringing water from a distant spring.
Veins of leaves ran dry, roots shrank.
And all my life I have dreaded the return
of that year, sure that it still is
somewhere, like a dead enemy’s soul.
Fear of dust in my mouth is always with me,
and I am the faithful husband of the rain,
I love the water of wells and springs
and the taste of roofs in the water of cisterns.
I am a dry man whose thirst is praise
of clouds, and whose mind is something of a cup.
My sweetness is to wake in the night
after days of dry heat, hearing the rain.
--Wendell Berry, “Water”
It is not surprising that in the Bible and in the Qur’an water is both a metaphor for the spiritual life and a material reality. The Bible begins with water. Water is so important that God controls it:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so.
In this ancient cosmology, the sky or the dome kept the waters above it and the waters on the flat earth. When it rained, they thought that the portals were being opened in the dome to allow the water to fall.

In the Qur’an, God also separates the waters. In this case it is the salt water from the fresh water. In our reading from Surah 25:
…It is He Who merged the two seas,
This one fresh and sweet water,
That one salty and bitter.
Between them He erected a barrier, an impassable boundary.
It is She Who, from water, created humankind,
Conferring on them kinship, of blood and marriage.
Your Lord is Ever-Powerful.
In the Qur’an human beings are created from water. Human beings are created from dust and clay in the Bible and from water in the Qur’an.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus offers “living water.”
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
Later in the Gospel of John, Jesus cries out to the crowds:
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”
Lest there be any doubt, from our ancient texts, water is sacred. Water is the symbol for life. Wetness is spiritual. The opposite is dryness, lifelessness, deadness. This dryness is the abode of the unclean spirits. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus said that when an unclean spirit leaves a human being:
“it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting-place, but it finds none.”
That is a memorable image for spiritual death: an unclean spirit wandering through the waterless regions.

All four gospels bring Jesus on the scene with the water of baptism. His ministry begins with a ritual cleansing and the promise from the sky, “This is my son my beloved.”

There is a reason why water has spiritual significance, why it is used as a metaphor for joyful, conscious, celebratory, refreshing, life. The reason is that water has material significance. We can get along without shopping malls. We will survive without cars, computers, and churches. Human beings can live without oil, gas and coal. But we cannot live without water.

• Available fresh water is less than ½ of 1 percent of all the water on Earth.

• Seventy percent of our water use is for agriculture. The vast majority of that water is used to raise livestock (meat) and to produce biofuels.

• Eighty percent of the global population relies on ground-water supplies that are dangerously depleted, if not exhausted, as they are mined beyond natural replenishment. (Kostigen, p. 170)

• On top of that, our streams and rivers are increasingly polluted with toxins. We have created “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico from all the agricultural chemicals that have flowed down streams to the Mississippi and then into the gulf. P. 68 (50 Ways to Help Save the Earth, Rebecca Barnes'-Davies)

• The largest landfill in the world (90 percent of which is plastic) is in the Pacific Ocean. This garbage patch is between California and Hawaii and is twice the size of Texas. P. 68 (50 Ways)

Lack of access to fresh, clean, water could be the biggest threat to humanity in the coming years. It already is a threat for much of the world. One of every six people on Earth, that is one billion people, lack access to safe drinking water.

Journalist Thomas Kostigen has traveled to many places in the world including Mumbai, India, Linfen City China, and Borneo in Southeast Asia and has written about the environmental situation in these places. His latest book is You Are Here: Exposing the Vital Link Between What We Do and What That Does to Our Planet. He writes about water:
Most residents of the developing world get by on a little more than five gallons of water per day; the average global citizen uses about thirteen gallons per day; all the while, water use in Western Europe and the United States ranges between 50 and 170 gallons per person per day. Think we can get by on using a little less and putting a little more into the hands of people who need it? P. 169
When we hear or read this information there is a tendency to become numb to it. We may feel both a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. We feel helpless in that we don’t think we as individuals can do anything to change forces seemingly beyond our control. We feel hopeless in that the problems are so vast we wonder how can we possibly solve them.

We don’t need to be immobilized by either.

I spent the last two weeks at two conferences. The first was Presbyterians for Restoring Creation and the second was Creation Spirituality Communities with Matthew Fox. From both of these conferences I took away this truth.

Everyone is now an environmentalist.


Being green isn’t just for hippies and tree huggers. The creativity, concern, and compassion for Earth and all of its creatures are becoming part of our consciousness.

People are not only becoming aware of the issues but are thinking creatively about how to address them. We are recognizing that we are interconnected. We are realizing that everything we consume affects people around the globe and vice versa. Our little steps, using a little less water and eating less meat, have huge impacts.

We are far from helpless. We are after all human beings. We are the consciousness of the Universe. It took 14 billion years for us to get here. We aren’t going to throw that away. We have done some pretty incredible things and made amazing discoveries. As we awaken from our slumber, we will discover that the creativity of the universe is within us. We are survivors. It is in our genes. Each of us is here because our ancestors learned to adapt. Helpless? Hardly.

Nor should we be hopeless. Matthew Fox reminded us to remember our ancestors. We appeared on the scene about 100,000 years ago in Africa, our home. We nearly went extinct, but we didn’t. Just as human beings began to emigrate from Africa to Central Asia and to Europe we ran into the ice age. Talk about climate change.

There were no manuals available to deal with it. No books for our ancestors with titles such as Securing Your Financial Portfolio During the Coming Ice Age Crisis. There were no internet sites offering 101 Ways to Hunt and Kill a Woolly Mammoth. They had to figure it out for themselves. Somehow they did. They learned to adapt.

Here we are again. We are certainly facing crises we have never faced before. But with our tools--our awareness, creativity, and inherited wisdom--we will manage. Our descendants could enjoy hundreds of thousands perhaps millions of years of life.

But we need to step up and not zone out.

One way to be conscious is to celebrate the sacredness of water. Water is spiritual. Let us drink of the spring that gushes up to eternal life. When we drink, when we eat our green things, when we bathe, when we wade in the water, we are engaging in a sacred and holy act.

Let us celebrate the wetness of it. Let us each honor with our mind, spirit, and body the pure, clean, dripping, life-giving goodness of H20. The Qur’an reminds us that we are created from water. It is life, our sacred treasure.

As we eat, as we drink, let us honor and be grateful for this gift.

Let us imagine a world in which there is enough fresh, clean water for all.

Because as we imagine we make it so.

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