September 27, 2020
First Reading: Genesis 8:20–22; 9:12–17
After the flood, God promised that Earth and all of life on Earth will be preserved by God, in spite of the sins of human beings.
Psalmody Psalm 104:27–33
The psalmist celebrates how God sustains all life on Earth through the Spirit and calls on God to rejoice in God’s own creation.
Second Reading Revelation 22:1–5
When creation is restored, a river will flow directly from God with trees of life growing on either side to bring healing to all nations on Earth.
Gospel Matthew 28:1–10
The resurrection of Christ was also celebrated by creation. An earthquake accompanies the advent of the angel and the rolling of the stone.
River of Life, sermon by Rev. Fred Kinsey
The river of the water of life, that flows through the heart of the mid-west, was formed, as we know it, at the end of the Ice Age, about 5,000 B.C. The Ojibwe native Americans named it the Misi-ziibi, and lived mostly as hunter-gatherers, but some, such as the Mound Builders, formed prolific agricultural societies, alongside its beautiful banks with its life-giving trees, until the first French and Spanish explorers arrived less than 500 years ago; and everything changed.
The Mississippi River, as the European colonists came to pronounce it, flowing 2,320 miles from Minnesota to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico, is the second-longest river in North America, and the country’s largest drainage system. With its many tributaries – the rivers flowing east from the Rockies and west from the Appalachian Mountains – the Mississippi collects the waters of all, or parts of 32, of the lower 48 states.
About 200 years ago, in the time of Mark Twain, the Mississippi’s waters’ began to serve the Economy of the expanding young nation, tying north to south, and east to west. But not without an ominous warning. At the launching of the maiden voyage of the New Orleans, the Fulton steam-boat built in Pittsburg, in 1811, the largest earthquake east of the Rockies, the New Madrid, struck near St. Louis, causing massive flooding, and a sudden relocation of the Mississippi River’s main channel sections, which put the passage of the New Orleans in doubt.
But despite this portent, the progress of American commerce pushed on, and a couple of decades later, thousands of steamers flooded the Mississippi. Its flourishing was so prolific that it became cheaper to ship cargo from Ohio to ports on the east coast, via the Mississippi thru the Gulf, and all the way around the tip of Florida in the sea, than over the Appalachian Mts, even though the route was 10 times longer!
But bigger changes were in store for the Mighty Mississippi than that. By the late 20th century, post WWII, as family farming was increasingly pushed out to make way for agri-business, and technology created chemical fertilizers, nitrates and other pollutants, were flowing down it’s once, bright as crystal waterways, all the way to the Gulf stream waters.
Today, the toxic bloom off the coast of New Orleans, which warms and starves the water of oxygen, is killing off fish, shellfish, and other life, at alarming rates. A number of false starts to clean it up, have all fallen short. If, and when, it finally begins, it would take a minimum of 3 decades to restore.
Meanwhile, life in the Mississippi River and the Gulf continue to suffer. And the portents of the New Madrid earthquake, echo in our ears. Like the earthquake that shook the door open to Jesus’ rock hewn tomb, the quake in the heart of the Midwest 200 years ago, seems to be telling us something – or should I say, yelling to us.
How can we have called the Ojibwa, not to mention the Cheyenne, Sioux, Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk, Fox, Kickapoo, and Chickasaw, uneducated savages, when for thousands of years they lived in relative harmony with the Mississippi, and we have endangered its life, in only a couple hundred.
In our First Reading today, when Noah came through the Flood – the only family to survive – the first thing Noah did when he was back on dry land was build an altar, and give an offering to the Lord. And, in the anthropomorphic portrayal of God in Genesis, the LORD smelled the fragrant odor of Noah’s burnt offering – and it was very pleasing! But unlike the beliefs of Israel’s contemporary pantheon of gods in the influential Mesopotamian Flood story, the monotheistic Hebrew God is not dependent on people’s offerings, for food. The LORD does not eat Noah’s burnt offering at all, while the neighboring gods of their primordial text, are said to need the food that is offered, for their survival, and are drawn to it, “like flies,” fallible and dependent. (cf. Robert Alter notes)
Yahweh freely enjoys the offering of Noah, but does not need it. Rather- the LORD said in the LORD’s heart, telling us, the reader, what God would do: ‘It’s really not worth damning the earth like that again,’ muses God, because, ‘the devisings of the human heart are evil from youth.’ And to Noah, God says aloud, ‘I will set this rainbow in the sky as a sign of my covenant with me and you, and every living creature, for everlasting generations.’
Like a parent coming to realize that the teenager must become an adult and make their own decisions – to live and learn from them – God must not be so overbearing, to intervene, micro-manage with reward and punishment, in teaching humans.
Which means that, we’ve been given a responsibility – just like in the creation story, we are to be the care-takers, for the forests, the land, the wilderness and the rivers.
The river of the water of life, in Revelation, is a vision that was shown to John by an angel. This visionary hope of the eschaton, which reaches back into our world already, a promise for the redemption of the world, is the age when God will redeem, not just us, the crown of God’s creation, but all of this very good earth.
In chapters 8 and 16 of Revelation, leading up to this vision, the world as they knew it, is full of poisoned rivers, desecrated by Roman rulers who prioritized profits over people and planet. John urged his 7 churches to resist the Empire’s idolatry all around them, even in the face of arrest, or worse, and God would bring them to the new heaven and new earth of the vision of crystal-clear waters flowing from God.
They should resist the desecration of their local congregations, which John compared to the plagues God sent to Pharaoh in Egypt: “The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch,” says 8:10, “and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water… A third of the waters became wormwood – that is, blood – and many died from the water, because it was made [poisonous],” John says.
Over 97% of all the water on Earth is salty. More than 2% is frozen in the polar ice-caps. The rivers, lakes, and water tables underground then, hold less than 1% of all earth’s water, the fresh water we need for drinking, cooking, washing, and industry. Those who are polluting and destroying this precious resource are endangering, all of us, and this beautiful ecosystem God has created.
We have the scientific evidence. What we need now is a spiritual renewal, a passionate, prophet call, to conversion. Jesus spoke up directly to the political leaders of his day, pointing out their idolatry and warning them to turn around and change – to follow the Son of Man, God’s anointed, or all they held precious would be torn down.
This is the same message John of Patmos preached in his letter, we call, Revelation. If we are faithful, God will restore our world again: the city of God will dwell on earth – and “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, [will flow] from the throne of God, and of the Lamb, through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, [a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations. Never again will anything be cursed*],” John proclaimed. (*The Message translation, Rev. 22:1-3)
As we say in the ELCA, “God’s Work, Our Hands!” God will restore all things, including the mighty Mississippi. And we will be the conduit, the many hands, through which God works.
How do we live, so that the rivers of the water of life, may flourish and be restored? How do we become the hands of our God, that we may be a pleasing offering to our LORD?
Let us pray with the Psalmist: Send forth your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth – that we may sing to the Lord as long as we live; and praise our God while we have our being.