Water Changes Everything

Luke 6:27-38

Water changes everything.

This truth washed over me
with the summer rainfall
as Matt and I trekked ever upward,
determined to reach
the top of the mountain peaks
that beckoned us.

We had been working on a patch
to hike the highest 46 mountain peaks
in the Adirondacks –
and time was of the essence.
These were some of the very last peaks
we needed and
there was no time to reschedule.
We had known the rains would come
but still we had decided to backpack,
camp, and climb the four mountains
in the Seward Range over the weekend.

Now here we were,
armed with rain pants and coats,
scrambling over slick boulders,
pulling ourselves up
by scraggily tree roots,
and propelling ourselves
through fir forests,
as the sky resolutely pelted
us with water.
Drip drop. Drip drop.
The rain persisted.
Gradually, the liquid seeped into everything,
soaking our socks, shoes, hair, clothing.

Still, it was a warm July day,
and our bodies, though drenched,
pressed on.
The rain fell rhythmically on our faces,
gently shaking us awake,
until we saw and felt everything
with a fierce focus.
Drip drop. drip drop.
The raindrops fell steadily, like a wake-up call,
reminding me
how very good it was to be alive.

Water changes everything.

Getting soaked,
while foolish,
reminds me of my baptism.

When I was a teenager,
my pastor plunged me into the water,
and I came up, drenched.

As I walked out of the baptismal pool,
the water tumbled down my hair and face,
getting in my eyes.
Even my water-logged baptismal gown,
went drip, drip, drip,
as large droplets splashed onto the steps
and into the church choir room.
Water got everywhere.
It was messy, uncontainable, wild and glorious.
Even after I slipped on my street clothes,
and slid back into the service,
the water from my wet ponytail
continued to fall on my neck,
throughout the service.
Drip drop. Drip drop.
Each rhythmic trickle was a gentle wake-up call.

Water changes everything.

Perhaps,
that moment of getting soaked
was the greatest foolish act of my life
– to get drenched like that,
to say yes to the wonder of God.
but I have no regrets.
That act of audacity
made me feel the most alive of all.

Suddenly,
the act seemed
as absurd as going outside during a rainstorm
and getting drenched to the bone,
by the beauty of the downpour,
by the liveliness of it,
by the ferocity of it,
which engulfs us in love,
and submerges us in the Spirit.

Suddenly,
I became aware of the scandalous surprise of it all —
of following Jesus,
of saying yes
to a wild force that changes everything,
of walking in the footstep of the One
who beckons out of our dry,
comfortable shelters.

Certainly,
when I read the Scripture this week,
I found myself longing
for a nice, dry shelter
far from the bold
and wild words of Jesus.
After all,
when I read Jesus’ call to love our enemies this week,
they hit me like a splash of cold water to the face.
It just seemed so … challenging.

After all,
why would we ever want to … love our enemies?
How could we have develop the stamina,
strength and insight to do something like that?

Loving our enemies seems absurd,
as absurd as a yes
to the adventure of following Jesus,
as absurd as faith tradition
that enfolds people in water
so that they might remember
they are immersed
in the grace of a God,
who will never let them go.

In the Scripture today,
Jesus teaches the crowds:
“Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.”

I want to reply to Jesus immediately:
Really, Jesus? Are you sure?

It is a hard request.

Where do we begin?

Begin, Jesus instructs us,
by remembering your enemies
in your prayers,
by praying for their well-being,
day in and day out.
.
Open yourself, Jesus urges,
to the downpour of the spirit
that you and your enemies
might be transformed.
After all,
water changes everything.

Go outside. Visit a creek. Say yes. Say no. Pray.
Fall down. Try again. Ask for help.
Try something new.

Open yourself to the downpour of the Spirit,
because water changes everything,
smoothing and changing the rocky and jagged parts
of our lives and the world,
as it cascades over us.

Love your enemies.
Pray for those who mistreat.

Sometimes,
we do this from afar,
as we seek healing and safety
for ourselves and others.

Love your enemies.
Pray for those who mistreat.

Sometimes,
we do this by way of truth-telling,
saying no to cycles of harm
that have continued for too long.
We say, no more,
wielding forgiveness like bolt-cutters,
breaking the chains
that bind us to injustice and degradation.

Love your enemies.
Pray for those who mistreat.

Sometimes,
we do this as a spiritual practice,
over and over again,
doing good to those
who evoke in us neither love nor warmth.

Love your enemies.
Pray for those who mistreat you.

This is a foolish task.
Perhaps,
the one we most need to pray for is ourselves,
that we might be opened to the flow of the Spirit.

Turn on the faucet. Go outside. Visit a river.
Listen to the rush of the water. Pray.
Fall down. Try again. Fall down. Apologize. Forgive.
Lend a hand. Take a hand. Ask for help.
Try something new.

Open yourself to the cascade of the Spirit
who is wild, glorious and life-giving.

One way that I do this
is by walking down the Essex Main Street
to the river.
On the days when I stand at the dock
And watch the ice flow by,
it reminds me
that what is true now,
will not be true forever.
As the ice chunks crackle and shift,
melt and crash,
they still continues on their way,
flowing to a new,
not-yet-conceived destination.
Water changes everything,
the river whispers to me.

Suddenly,
I see that that same
turning and crackling,
shifting and melting,
is in me.

I see that there are things that
I thought would never change,
but by entrusting them to God,
by opening myself
to the waterfall of the Spirit,
by seeking wisdom,
by finding companions for the journey,
I have – by the grace of God alone –
found things I used to tightly grip
– like old resentments –
floating down the river.

Suddenly,
I find myself thinking about
the great ice jam of 2018.
I remember going down to the riverside
and seeing all the ice pieces jammed together.
They looked so stuck – nothing was moving.

Maybe there are parts of our life that feel like that,
places of pain or anger,
resentment or cynicism,
resignation or revulsion.
Yet, even those parts,
we are invited to give, to offer,
to pour out and to ask God to us with,
that,
bit by bit,
they might be transformed,
melted and moved,
shifted and shaped,
flowing out to the sea,
until at last,
like the river,
we are made ready for what’s next,
and clear flowing water is left in the wake.

The water, it reminds me that
while it doesn’t feel possible for me,
of my own will power,
to love and pray for my enemies,
it does feel possible when I pray by the river,
when I ask God for help,
and when I remember the audacity
that it took to say yes to begin with.

Yes,
there folly in following Jesus
but there is also unexpected surprise
and wonder.
We say yes,
because God is making us,
like the river,
into a new creation,
and we will never know what is possible
until we say yes,
until we step out
into the rainfall of the Holy Spirit
and allow ourselves to be transformed
by the encounter.

Drip drop. Drip drop.

That truth seeped in this week
as I read the story of
a monk I know, Brother Aidan Owen,
who lives at the monastery
I visit in the Hudson River Valley.

Brother Aidan is a young man, my age,
who just took his final profession of vows,
vowing poverty, obedience and chastity.
Each vow is counter-cultural.
Why would someone give up so much?

Brother Aidan responds in his blog post,
“Planting Tulips in a Time of War.”
He explains how he pondered that question
this fall as he watched the maples
catch fire with reds and oranges
against the backdrop of the Hudson River.
At the same time,
the UN released a statement on the environment,
urging others to action,
and wildfires roared through California
as tsunamis tore through the pacific.

In a moment when he felt despair,
a friend sent him a poem from Edward Harkness.
It begins,
“There’s no word for it so far, the word
for what it means to be in love with you
in our sinking world.”

The words sunk in
even as the flaming maples dropped their leaves
and the world became bleak.
Around that time,
a monk
who had begun his journey
at much the same time
as Brother Aidan,
had chosen to leave.
Brother Aidan writes,
“He was my rock, in so many ways”

What is a brother to do?

Still,
Brother Aidan chose to stay,
to say yes, to take his final vows.

He writes: “When faced with the death of those great and fiery sentinels, I only want more. More fire, more beauty, more love, more life. I want to be freed from whatever would hold me back, from my self-consciousness and timidity, from the past, from my fear. I want to dive into the great River, to drown myself in life.”

He finds, that in the uncertainty of it all,
he only loves the land, trees and people harder.
He finds hope in the tulips he plants in the fall,
that weather the bleak winter,
and bloom brilliantly
at the moments
when he has most despaired.
There is so much that Brother Aidan has given up.
Yet, what he has discovered
is a love and life
that flows deeper and wider than he possibly imagined.

Foolishness, all of this is foolishness.
It’s like going outside and getting drenched by the rain.

Why would you do it?

Because following Jesus
makes you feel the most alive of all.

Drip drop. Drip drop.

Will you step out into the rainstorm of the Spirit?
Will you never be the same?

Amen.

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