This is a reflection I offered recently at a gathering of A21 – a network of missional faith communities in northern Tasmania. It came on a day that flood waters were building in the rivers of northern & eastern Tasmania…
This morning as I thought about what I might share tonight, I turned to what is for me at least, an unusual source.
The Revised Common Lectionary provides an established pattern of biblical reading that many churches all around the world follow. I turned to the readings for this Sunday, just to see what I might find. Two of them in particular, are interesting.
Did you notice the reference in the middle of Psalm 95 back to those experiences of Moses and the Israelites in the Exodus story?
And did you notice the water references?
Water is so often present in biblical stories and imagery. If we think about it, there are plenty of water images. There is this story, of water coming from rock. There is the parting of the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to walk on dry land, walls of water either side. There are stories of wells. Stories of desert places, where there is no water. Of rain falling, or not falling.
We tend most often when we think about biblical images to pick up words like living water, water of life and so on. And those are good images, because water does bring life. Water is essential for us, for life, for living.
And so the same for God. God brings life. God is essential for us, for life, for living.
But when I read these two stories, this Exodus story, and the Psalm, three other water images came to mind for me.
The first was water from rock. Water from the ground, the streets. Christchurch in this case. As that massive earthquake crushed, stretched and pounded the earth, such were the forces that water was squeezed from the ground. I gather that geologists call it liquefication. Can you imagine the forces necessary to squeeze water from apparently dry ground?
The second came a couple of weeks ago, as a wall of water swept over the coastline of Japan, tearing at buildings, trees and people. Devestating countless communities and taking a whole nation to the very brink. Can you imagine seeing that water approaching?
And the third is going on this very night, as water screams down the South Esk River just up the road from here. Water that has caused the town of Longford to put up its flood gates, that has inundated farmland, and is building to a crescendo through Launceston’s Cataract Gorge.
These are water images. Water squeezed from rock. Walls of water. Rain falling.
But we would hardly call these images water of life, or living water. More like water of death. Water that robs, kills and destroys.
This is water out of control, beyond control.
And it’s been relentless these last few months hasn’t it? Flooding, cyclones, more flooding, earthquakes squeezing water from rock, tsunami. On and on. Over and over.
As these words evoke images for you, experiences for you, emotions for you, I have just two questions for us to think about tonight.
The first is where are you in all of this. How are you travelling as we live through months of being confronted day and night with images of destruction? It’s not making light of the experiences of those who have personally lived through these natural disasters if we reflect for a month on our own experiences of watching on from a distance.
Let me invite you to turn for a moment to the person next to you. Share with each other for a minute or two. What are the images of water that are most present for you tonight. Where are you in all of this out of control water? Take a minute.
The second question, the one that compliments the first, is to ask where is God in all of this? Where is the God of living water as waves sweep whole towns off the map? As floodwater takes life and livelihood? As water is crushed out of the very ground on which we walk? Where is God?
Some would say of course, that God is in control of all of this. Some would even say that God has caused this, some kind of divine retribution against the sin of humanity.
Some will point to miracle stories, the woman dug out of a Japanese ruin 9 days after the water swept over her.
Some will point to the response from communities (local and global) to all that has occurred. The generosity, the courage, the mateship.
Much smarter people than I can analyse all of that, and I’m sure will argue their cases well. And I’m sure these some truth in those various images (except maybe the retribution theory…that just seems beyond justifying).
For me, I think of one more image. One more example of water that tells me something about the nature of God, about where God is.
Late in his life and ministry Jesus came to Jerusalem. He crested a hill to see the city in the distance, and he was moved to reflect on the state of the city and the people. It might not have been in the midst of a natural disaster like earthquake, flood or tsunami….but it was nonetheless a city that Jesus could see would be in the grip of immense difficulty, a city that would come under siege.
And Jesus response as he anticipated the brokenness of the city and its people?
Tears of despair, of anxiety, of frustration, of sadness.
Those two simple words tell me where God is as out of control water does such damage in our world today.
God weeps with those who are broken.
God weeps with those who are exhausted.
God weeps with those who grieve their loss.
The tears of our God mix and mingle with the water that gives and takes. The tears of our God mix with our own as we struggle to make sense of it all.