A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Seventh Sunday in Easter – May 23, 2004
Text: Revelation 22:17
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
There’s a scene in the classic film “Lawrence of Arabia” that got to me. It’s early in the movie, and Lawrence is working his way across the desert with an Arab guide. They’re parched; their last glimpse of water was unbearably long ago. But then – an oasis! A well in the desert, with a few trees drawing nourishment from its depths.
Lawrence and his guide bound from their camels and eagerly kneel to draw up some fresh water to their lips, greedily filling their canteens. But they are in danger. A dark figure appears in the distance; his insistent approach throws Lawrence’s guide into a panic. This is not a well that belongs to his clan. They are trespassing here. They must leave immediately, or the consequence of their draught will be very great.
But before they can race off again, a shot rings out over the sands, and Lawrence’s companion drops to the ground. Dead. Killed by a single bullet from the dark stranger’s gun. Executed for perhaps the worst crime known to a desert people – the theft of their most precious resource: water.
There’s nothing unique about fighting over water. It happens all the time, all the world over.
Take the farmer villagers of Kerala, India, for example.
For the last two years they have been fighting an uphill battle against the Coca-Cola company, whose Indian branch runs a plant there. The large, international corporation’s officers will tell you that it’s just a matter of a few political activists stirring up trouble because they oppose…well, large international corporations. But talk to the locals and they’ll tell a different story.
Water is scarce many places in India, none more so than Kerala. The rains don’t fall as often or as long there as in other parts of the country, and the villagers depend on water drawn from their wells to sustain their families, their livestock and their crops. A large aquifer sits beneath the village, one that has been collecting water for hundreds if not thousands of years, and it is their primary source for the priceless liquid.
The Coca-Cola plant, they charge, is busily guzzling up the aquifer’s limited supply and shipping it out one truckload at a time in silver-and-red aluminum cans. Meanwhile, the company’s waste materials have rendered the local wells unusable, so that women now carry fourteen-gallon jugs two miles to the nearest safe well, morning and evening, for a total of eight miles each and every day.
The Coca-Cola company, of course, tells a different tale. It’s products and processes are perfectly safe and are constantly evaluated to make sure they are not harming their neighbors or the environment. Certainly water is scarce, and so Coke is building rainwater collection devices in Kerala and elsewhere in the parched land, in order to return even more water to the aquifer than is removed for making sodas. The real criminals, Coca-Cola executives suggest, are the ungrateful residents who have hijacked tankers filled with water, pouring out their contents on the dry fields and leaving them empty. If water is being stolen, Coke says, it is the villagers who are guilty, not the company.
Even here in North Dakota we’re not free from water fights. Our state is in the middle of a fifteen-year dispute over how the Missouri river should be managed. Should there be a constant, deep flow in order to accommodate the many barges that chug up and down its length? Or should we try to reproduce the river’s natural ebb and flow, in order to protect and preserve the wildlife that calls the river home, as well as the recreational value of this great resource. Who controls the water? Who gets the water? States have gone to court one against the other over these issues, and though we aren’t taking aim at each other yet, make no mistake – the stakes are as high as they can be.
All of which makes these words in the Revelation of John seem all the more startling: “Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” The water of life? The most precious resource you can possibly imagine – the drink that leaves you eternally quenched, and alive with the very life of God? The water that flows in a crystal-clear river through the gleaming capital of God’s heaven, the river whose head is the very throne of God? And this is free for the taking, to anyone who desires it?
The answer is an earthshaking YES. This water is free. It is for the taking. The life and joy and forgiveness this water brings is for the whole world to enjoy, and there will be no fighting over it. The Lord God will give this water to the whole world, all at once, to anyone, anywhere who feels that thirst deep in the soul. There is plenty to be had, more than enough for each and every one of God’s cotton-mouthed children to drink their fill.
Just like travelers in the desert, they will feel the coolness course through their bodies and refresh them to their very bones. Even more miraculous, though, is what happens next – Jesus promised that this living water will become in everyone who drinks of it a spring of water gushing up to eternal life (John 4.14). Rivers of it will flow out of every believer’s heart (John 7.37-39), bubbling up so that the more this living water is enjoyed by God’s people, the wider and deeper and longer the crystal-like river will become. One day, you can well imagine, perhaps the entire creation, both heaven and earth will be awash in the floodwaters of the river of life, the water that fills us with God’s Spirit and washes the world clean.
No, there will be no fighting over this water, because it is God’s free gift to us, and there is so much more than enough.
If you’re thirsty, if your soul longs for a taste of God, come to the water this morning. Drink deep the word of God and be filled with his Spirit down to your very bones. Let God’s generosity pour over you, and allow all the squabbling and fighting to wash away. Feel your body and your soul being renewed and revived with each satisfying draught of prayer. God claimed you as his own once upon a time through the waters of your baptism, and now as you thirst for God again, he will come to you in this life-giving river and quench your every desire.
Let all who are thirsty come! The water of life will satisfy you.
People of God, come to the water and drink. Drink deeply, and live! Amen