I’ve been fortunate enough to do quite a lot of traveling. As far as I’m concerned, one of the most beautiful places in the world is in the far northwestern corner of California, in the very remote Jedediah Smith State Park/Redwood National Park. A place I’ve been to a number of times, this is an introvert’s paradise! Herds of Roosevelt elk grazing in the meadows, myriad wildflowers blooming, and redwood trees that existed before Jesus walked on the earth towering over everything.
None of this could exist without water. Clean, abundant water. In fact, the Smith River runs through these parks. The Smith is a wild river protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (although it is constantly threatened by proposed upstream developments which, if approved, would do irreparable damage to the area’s ecosystem.)
One of the first times I went to visit there, some friends and I went kayaking. I use the term in the loosest way, since we were in individual inflatable kayaks and we were just floating lazily down a very calm stretch of the river. As is often the case, I had a camera with me, and I was taking my own sweet time capturing memories while my friends got further and further downstream from me. Just as I was thinking that I should maybe think about starting to move to catch up with them, I heard a splash! on the riverbank. I looked over and saw river otters, sleek in the sun, joyfully playing slip-and-slide in the late afternoon. I took delight in them and their frolicking, and I forgot about my friends.
As I watched, I realized that I was thirsty. I had a cup with me, and I dipped it deep into the river. All I wanted was a drink to slake my thirst and cool me off a little. What I got was the most delicious drink of water I’d ever had. The purity was incredible — something I’ll always remember.
Indeed, God led me beside — and right into — quiet waters; and God restored my soul in ways that I didn’t even know that I wanted or needed, ways unimaginable and unexpected.
All through a drink of water.
The book of Genesis tells of the Spirit of God moving over the face of the waters, beginning the Creation of the world.
In John’s gospel, in the heat of the desert day, Jesus shows up at a well in Samaria, where he asks a woman for a drink of water. She is a at least a triple outsider — a woman, a non-Jew, and a sexual sinner. But Jesus asks for water, and she gives it to him. She receives enlightenment — the Living Water — but Jesus receives from her too — the refreshing coolness of a drink to cut through the hot dry desert dust.
And in the book of Acts, the first non-Jewish baptized Christian is another outsider, an Ethiopian eunuch, who asks, “Look: here’s some water; is there any reason why I can’t be baptized right here, right now? And Philip takes him into the water, welcoming him into the community of faith.
We all deserve water. Clean, fresh, cool water. Too many throughout the world don’t have access to water, or have to spend much of their days in search of it. Water holds lots of deep, symbolic meaning to us, but it is the beginning of creation, a basic, vital (e.g.: full of life) necessity.
And so I force myself to break away from my river otters and finally get to the theme of today: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” But also, may waters roll down like justice for all of God’s creation so that an ever-flowing stream may be a demonstration of morality and righteousness throughout the world.