When the poor and needy seek water, and
there is none, and their tongue fails for thirst,
I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel
will not forsake them. I will open rivers in
high places, and fountains in the midst of the
valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of
water, and the dry land springs of water.
Today we begin our series on the element of water, as we move forward with our sabbatical study on exploring the divine in nature. Today I’m feeling very close to our Puget Sound, as I dropped my kid off at Camp Orkila this morning, which is located on Orcas island in the San Juans. I’m actually joining you today from Pelican Bay Books and Coffeehouse which is graciously allowing me a place from which to join the service today.
I so love the water we are richly surrounded by in this part of the country. It’s actually one of the reasons that my spouse and I decided to make the Pacific Northwest our home – its abundance of water: in the air as rain, in the mountains as snow, in the rivers and lakes as fresh water, and Sound as the sea.
There is something comforting about having all that water around, in all of its forms, of having a clear abundance of water. Water is such a vital part of what we need to survive. In the text from Isaiah today, we hear from a people who don’t always have access to that water, whose lives are chronically impacted by thirst and by lack of irrigation for their crops.
But the heartbreaking thing about their lack of water and their thirst and their dry crops is that this need they had, this desperate need for drink, was not simply because they were experiencing a drought. It was because of power, and hoarding.
The Book of Isaiah is from a time when the powerful were taking more and more land away from the poor through a series of taxation and impossible loans and peonage labor, a process called Latifundialization. These land grabs pushed people off their ancestral lands, lands where they could count on wells and sustenance. The water of the region was being reshaped into canals and dikes and irrigation, further channeling the natural abundance of water to benefit the wealthy few. The prophet Isaiah shows up in this time to remind people that this is not the way of God. The Prophet warns the people who are hoarding land and resources, and offers solace and comfort to those who are thirsty and poor, and being excluded from God’s abundance.
It’s a funny thing, this human tendency we can have for hoarding. Some of us have it more than others, some of us have it in some areas of our lives but not others. I wonder where you experience hoarding in your life, where you grip on to things a little more tightly, share a little less easily.
In my family, we tend to accumulate a lot of stuff…particularly things from second hand stores that might be useful someday, or that we might be able to fix and save from the landfill. It’s…not a great habit. Holding on to stuff unnecessarily, or that we don’t need, or that others might need more…it feels a little bit like holding on to an ice cube. You think you’re holding on to something solid, something that will stay that shape…but the tighter you grip it, that faster it melts. As you hold it, it disappears right out of your hand, turning into another form that runs away from you.
Water endlessly moves and changes form, and it makes it really difficult to hoard it, or hold on to it. Every time it is pinned down or contained…it can transform into something else and free itself. A well that evaporates into the air to join the clouds. Rain that falls from those clouds. Mist and fog that float through the air and accumulate on leaves. Canals and dikes that soak into the earth and rejoin the water table. Blood in veins that becomes amniotic fluid to cradle a newborn. Ice blocks that can be transported as solids then become drinking water. A spring that bubbles up from the ground and trickles into a stream that it soaked up by roots. Even when humans have tried to do the terrible thing of hoarding water, water still abounds, endlessly appears in other forms.
This shape-shifting capacity of water reminds me of God. No matter how we try to contain or mold God to our needs and our plans, God is forever escaping our tight grip and transforming into something else…trickling out of our hold and melting into water for the thirsty and the needy. When we try to hoard God or control who God is or turn God into something that suits our needs, God surprises us. Showing up in unexpected and surprising ways…a life-saving well in the wilderness for Hagar and Ishmael … pouring out of a rock at Horeb …baptizing Jesus in the river…turning into wine for a wedding celebration…
And that’s what we hear in today’s scripture…God showing up to God’s thirsty people in unexpected places…places where others have tried to contain and control God’s abundance. Since the wealthy are controlling access to the rivers in the valleys, God will open a river in a high up place. Since the poor are being pushed out to dry, un-arable lands, God will bring springs of water to that land. God is reassuring the Israelites from the time of Isaiah, and God is reassuring us now, that God will find a way to appear to us. No matter how we try to control God, or contain God, or dictate who God is, They will find a way to slip out of our grasp, elude our grip, and show up to the people who most need Them. God has infinite ways of drenching us in God’s love…it may not be in the shape or form that we expect but God, like water, will appear.
As we move into our theme of water, let us look for all of the ways that God shows up in our lives. This week, I encourage you to seek ways where God is showing up, symbolized in the water around us. When you encounter God and Their Living Waters, maybe take a moment, and pause, and give thanks for our uncontainable God.