God knows how to work with water
Psalm 65 21:1-6
Bethel Evan.-Luth. Church, Sioux Falls, SD – Easter 6 – May 5, 2013
Over the last couple of years parts of our country have suffered through drought conditions. Recently, we’ve had to deal with the opposite: unseasonable wet, specifically, unseasonable snow, the textbook definition of “when it rains, it pours.”
Such meteorological behavior might lead you to various conclusions. Some will point to global warming and climate change as the culprit here. They’ll pull out charts and graphs and statistics and show you how out of the ordinary this is and how much blame humans deserve. Others will pull out different charts and graphs and say, “It’s a natural cycle of warming and cooling. We happen to be living through a goofy bit.” That’s the scientific discussion.
Of course, a theological discussion can, and should, be had too. You’ve sent the Lord many prayers over the last few weeks, months, and years asking for moisture. And now this? It suggests that God has a sense of humor, one that tilts toward sarcasm. But, more seriously, perhaps we wonder: “Why the drought at all? And, as an end to the drought, why weather at a time and in amounts that could ruin crops and farm work?” And, most importantly, our children ask “Why, God? School’s ending!” It makes you wonder about God: if He’s so “God the Father almighty,” why this?
And yet Paul and Barnabas didn’t have this theological discussion with the people in Lystra. When the crowds worshipped Paul and Barnabas, the apostles curbed their enthusiasm: “We are only men…like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons.” Notice that the apostles point to the heaven-sent moisture as a testimony of God’s love for the world, His desire that all men would find Him and be saved.
Notice also that the apostles have a decidedly glass-half-full approach to meteorology. They don’t qualify their statements: “Well, you know, sometimes God sends rain, but sometimes droughts.” They just say: “God has shown kindness.”
David says the same in our psalm today, Psalm 65. As we sang it, and as you heard it read, perhaps you noticed the many water references. David praised God our Savior, the hope…of the farthest seas…who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves. Then in a very Paul and Barnabas like fashion: You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. You drench its furrows…you soften it with showers….The grasslands of the desert overflow.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “That’s very one-sided. Doesn’t David know that sometimes rain doesn’t come? Sometimes crops fail?” These words about God providing rain seem Pollyanna-ish, viewing life through rose-colored glasses.
Because, of course, we know about drought. We know about storms that destroy crops, rather than nourishing them. And of course we know that sometimes God uses water as a weapon. With a flood of water God wiped out a sinful world. With a crashing wall of water, God destroyed wicked Pharaoh and his army at the Red Sea. By withholding water, God punished evil King Ahab during the time of Elijah. By withholding even a single drop, the Lord let that rich man know hell: no more grace, no more relief, no more water.
Luther also understood water’s dual nature: that it can save and destroy. He incorporated it into his baptismal liturgies in the 1520s in a justly famous prayer called “The Flood Prayer,” which you’ll hear later this morning. Despite what Paul and David said, God doesn’t always use water as we would expect. But that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t know how to work with water. He knows all too well when to save and when to destroy.
And another water reference in Psalm 65 helps us to see that. It’s a tough reference to catch because most English translations don’t explicitly show it. It’s verse 3: “When we were overwhelmed by sins.” Moses uses the same verb translated “overwhelmed” in Genesis 7, where the NIV says, “The waters rose” and “The waters flooded.” Literally, David says, “My sins flood over me,” just as the flood waters flooded over a sinful earth, covering the highest mountains, destroying all life except the life God preserved on the ark.
Just what sins David refers to we don’t know. Perhaps the adultery and murder surrounding his lust for Bathsheba. Perhaps how he mishandled the Absalom affair, or maybe the many other sins and rebellions he committed as a husband, a father, and a king. Thinking of them, he rightly saw his sins as too many for him to stand against, to swim through. They overwhelmed him. They flooded him, a flood of his own making. In Psalm 69 David revives this watery image: “Save me, o God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out from calling for help; my throat is parched.”
That’s not an unknown flood, is it? More often than we admit we find ourselves gasping for air, crushed by the weight of these waters, flailing helplessly. What sins flood over us? More than we can count; and they are all around us, over us, in us. And we have the temerity to wonder why God sends drought in one season and too much snow and rain in another? Rather, we should wonder why God bothers to send rain and snow to us at all, ever. What have we done to earn such solicitous care from the Lord, except to throw it all back in His face, to pollute whatever waters He sends with our own filth? If it’s disrespectful and discourteous to pee in someone’s pool, then what is it to do that in God’s world?
You know I’m talking about. God sends rain and snow, and all we can muster is a lame defense for freedom: “Oh, I was born this way,” “You gave me free will,” “It’s more fun to do this.” When we even bother to give Him a reason. Mostly we just decide: “I don’t care if God did send this water for me, I’m going to do whatever I want whenever I want and He can’t tell me any differently.” That’s what Jason Collins, the now famous first-gay NBA player basically said when he disagreed with the assessment that you can’t be both a Christian and a practicing homosexual.
We do this constantly. We hold up a sign in one hand that says “Christian,” while with the other hand we perform the most abominable sins, as if the two can go together, as if John never wrote, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning,” and Jesus never said, “Go and sin no more.” We should actually be kind of surprised that we don’t live in a time of continual drought or perpetual snow storm. Especially since God most certainly does know how to work with water to destroy. Only God’s promise not to flood the world again has kept us this dry, this safe, this alive, this out of hell…for the moment.
There’s another water we haven’t talked about. It’s the water in that little bowl over there that today anoints two infants. In this water God combines His destroying and saving work, just as David knew in Psalm 65. “My sins flood over me,” the king writes, but then: “You forgave our transgressions.” David didn’t know about the water of Baptism, but He knew about God’s ways with water. He saw the abundance God could and did provide, and knew it was unearned and undeserved. He knew that when blessings came they don’t come because of the lovable nature of the blessed, but from the love of the Blesser: “Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts!”
David also understood where and when this choosing and bringing near happens: “We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple.” When God brings us into His house, into His Temple, then we are filled with good things, God’s good things, by Him. And for these infants today, for of all us who are baptized into the Christian faith, it is through the destroying and saving work of God in water and the Spirit, here in God’s house!
Paul highlights the destructive nature of Baptism’s water in Romans 6 when he says, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death.” Notice the destruction that occurred. The flood waters that rightfully come because of our sins instead drowned and destroyed Christ. The waters rose up to and over His neck, instead of ours. And the end of His psalm wasn’t, “You saved me from the waters,” but “He bowed his head and gave up His spirit.”
Until that third day, until that Easter, until Paul wrote: “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Peter too talks about the dual nature of God’s water. On the one hand, the flood water killed millions and destroyed the world; but on the other, it lifted the ark above death. It saved Noah’s family. It saved humanity. And Peter concludes: “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also…. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” In this water of Baptism God brings both death and life, destruction and salvation, because in this water the Holy Spirit brings the death and life, the destruction and salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who did not see decay, who, though drowned, emerged, alive, uncorrupted.
So do Jack and Lorianna. Not because their parents believe, not because they brought them, not because Jack and Lorianna are so good and cute and cuddly, but because God’s Son believed in His Father, and brought His Father’s love to us in the holy wounds He suffered, and because God chose these children and God brought them near. And now God washes them in a flood of the blood of Christ, the most loving flood that one could ever know, the flood that proves that in drought or flood, God knows how to work with water. God destroyed us in water and saves us with water, because in this water, in Baptism’s water, God gives us Christ. Amen!