The Wild Waters (Year A, Proper 4)

So we’re well and truly into Ordinary Time now, until the end of November. According to the Revised Common Lectionary, we have two possible paths for our Old Testament readings, and it looks like my parish is going with the Genesis sequence this year. I personally find the Deuteronomy reading this week absolutely beautiful – in a way I never have before – after viewing it through the lens of the conclusion of last week’s reading from Isaiah. Last week, God inscribed us on the palms of God’s hands, and this week in Deuteronomy we are binding God’s words in the palms of our hands and in our homes and on our bodies and in our voices and everywhere. What a glorious dance of the covenant! But I’m not going to stick with the Deuteronomy sequence here, as much as I adore that wonderful painting of the love song God sings to us, that we echo back to God – the painting of the dance that we engage in with God – the love notes that God sends us and that we send to God, inscribed on our very bodies.

A few weeks ago, at the Pentecost, my parish heard a wonderful sermon (as we do every week), and our rector told a story about his son as a college student living in the Gulf Coast region of the country, and following a hurricane, saying, I had to be where the big wind is. And he told us that if we want to see the Holy Spirit at work, we have to hang out where the big wind hangs out. It was a wonderful image, wild and gorgeous, and it has really sung in my heart in the time since. This week’s readings aren’t about the big wind of Pentecost, but about the wild waters. In the reading from Genesis, we hear the familiar story of the Great Flood – which is common to a number of mythologies – the story of Noah and the ark and the animals by twos. Usually, when we think about this story, we visualize all the cute, cuddly little children’s toys that are designed around the ark. We think of plush little zebras and giraffes, of furry little puppies and kitties, all living in peace and harmony on the boat with these good and happy people.

It’s a cinch that the real thing was nothing like this.

Animals are messy, smelly. They aren’t domesticated, aren’t housebroken. Yes, you can train them – but who has time to train puppies and kitties and horsies and zebras and giraffes and elephants and rhinoceroses and ostriches and dodobirds and sheep and goats and wolves and and and and and. The stench – even just from the eight people on the boat for those hundred fifty days – must have been unbearable. And you have to think that Noah’s wife at the very least (if not Noah himself) must have been thinking, “And this – THIS! – was the solution to the earth being corrupt in God’s sight?!?!?” Meanwhile, it is quite literally pouring down rain outside. They can’t see land anywhere. They don’t know if they’re ever going to walk on the earth again. Every person they have ever known or cared about – except for the seven others on the increasingly smaller, noisier, and smellier ark – is gone. Forever. This is a story of great faith, mostly because all eight people who stepped onto the ark were able to step off of it again onto the mountaintop. They had faith because they had to have faith. They were surrounded by the wild waters and tossed about by the big wind. They had very few choices of their own that they could make, and they all survived.

There’s something special about surviving a terrible and frightening event in your life. You come to know more about who you are and what you can do. Usually, we learn that we are capable of so much more than we ever imagined, even when we’re in a place where we’re saying, “God, I don’t know what I’m doing, and I can’t take anything more. Help!” (And then, in that way God has, we end up with one more thing dropped on our heads. God can be such a kidder.) We can’t control the wild waters or the big wind. We can’t control the other people around us, or the weather, or the world. We can’t control God, though many folks seem to try pretty hard to do just this. In the end, all we have is our own selves, and our faith.

The gospel from Matthew this week is a little harder. It is one of the ones from Jesus that we don’t like to hear, and one that I really struggle with. In the parable here, Jesus brings up the wild waters and the big wind, too. He compares us each to a home that is battered by a storm. And if the home is well-built on a solid foundation, it can withstand the wind and the waters. But if the home is built on a weak foundation, then it will fall when the big wind comes blowing those wild waters. And Jesus tells us that he is the strong foundation. Just two weeks ago, when we celebrated the Trinity, we heard the promise of Jesus that he is with us always, to the end of the age. When the big wind blows, and the wild waters flood – we cannot control these things, whether they are literal air and water or analogies for the stress and tumult of our lives. But by building our lives, our spiritual homes, on the strong foundation of God’s amazing love for us, of Jesus’s promises to us, we can survive those times. Even if all we have left to go on is our selves and our faith. Even if we reach that point where we are shouting into the gale, as I’m sure Mrs. Noah must have – God, I can’t believe you DID this to me! Why am I stuck on this tiny smelly boat, with these animals that are noisy and dirty and messy? Why did you let my damnfool husband bring a pregnant hippo on board? When will my idiot son listen to his wife for a change? And are we ever, EVER, going to find dry ground? I just can’t take ONE MORE THING! – God is still there, listening and loving.

Even this week’s psalm also talks about the wild waters. We hear about the waters of the sea raging and foaming, about the river that makes God’s city glad. And in the midst of this river, God dwells. For many years, I have identified deeply as a river stone. My first blog was named for the plain and homely river stone, and I even purchased a domain name with river-stone in it. I visualize the Holy Spirit as a river, bubbling and churning and flowing through the world. I live in that river, as a stone that is tumbled and chipped and formed and eroded and rubbed by the water that swirls around me, the water that is God. So when I let go of all the things that I insist I must control, when I allow the Spirit to surround me and support me and sustain me, when I allow God to form and shape me into the beautiful stone God wants me to be – then I am still, and I know that God is God. And even in that stillness, there is life and motion, the wonderful dance of water and stone, of boat tossed on the waves, of creator and creation, of wind through the trees, of mountains and seas, of lover and beloved.

After reading and engaging with these lections, I think I see Jesus more as a well than as a foundation. Jesus is the source of the living water, and we must dig our well deep enough to find that source. But once we find the living water, buried deep within the earth, then we have more than our fill to drink, and to share with everyone we encounter. But if we dig a shallow well, then it will run dry, and it will cave in, and we will be left thirsty and unable to sustain ourselves or anyone else. And no matter how the big wind blows, no matter how the wild waters fall and flood, we are safe. We are loved. We are fed. We are given water. We have our strong foundation. We have our deep well.

We are still.

And God is God.