A Sermon on Luke 5:1-11, preached on Sept. 18, 2016 at First Reformed Church of Schenectady, as part of a series on care for creation.
We are surrounded by water.
Have you ever thought of how many times in a day you encounter water?
Almost every day of my life, I wake up and drink a glass of water, take a shower, brush my teeth, and then drink another glass of water as I rinse my mouth and take my medication. My morning coffee is mostly water. By the time I get to work, I’ve used gallons of water without even noticing. If I’m attentive to most health advice, I drink another 6 glasses or more during the day; that doesn’t count what’s in the iced tea or diet Pepsi. There’s water in most food. If there isn’t, water was used to make it. Clothes, dishes, floors, windows are all cleaned up in water. So is my dog, with her tendency to roll in smelly things. The end of the day comes with its face washing, another round of tooth brushing, another dose of medication, another glass of water. It takes 12 gallons a day to sustain the average human.
We depend on water.
Have you ever been without water?
Once before I moved here, the pump in my house broke and I went without running water for five day. This is in no way the same as being entirely without water, but it does make you conscious of how much you take your faucets for granted. Bottled water just doesn’t quite do it when you want to bathe thoroughly or wash your clothes. On the other hand, even bottled water would be a vast improvement in many areas. Worldwide, 200 million hours are spent daily by women collecting water for their families, which puts our instant running water in a whole different perspective. As I struggled over having to remember to brush my teeth from a jug of water, I remember thinking that those who live in drought or whose water sources are polluted would have found me ridiculously privileged. The fact is, regardless of our circumstances, we go through whatever we must to get water.
We rely on water.
Without adequate water, we are less mentally sharp. We have headaches and muscle cramps. Our skin dries out and we don’t sleep as well. We can’t digest food without also consuming water. Within three days without water, most humans die of dehydration.
We survive on water.
60-70% of your body is water. At birth you were 80% water. 83% of your blood is water, flowing through your veins and arteries to carry oxygen and nutrients. Water cushions our joints and soft tissues. It makes up 75% of our brains and even more of our lungs.
We are water.
In the creation story, the first two substances that exist are water and earth; they are already there as God is creating life in all its forms. God forms Adam from the Hebrew “adamah,” the earth, but we are made of water too, more water than land, with a constant cycle of water flowing in and out of each of our cells. We are water. What we do to water, we do to ourselves.
Until something goes wrong and we don’t have it, most of us think very little about our reliance on water. But no one understands the necessity or unpredictability of water quite like someone who fishes for a living. So I don’t think it was a coincidence that the first people Jesus called to him relied on the sea for their life. They knew the desperate inability to pull a meal or a living from its depths; that was the story of their entire night. And they knew the miracle of a haul of fish so enormous that it tore their nets and sank their boats. They understood that Jesus was something special because of his power over the center of their life, water. They lived surrounded by water, but more conscious of its fickle nature and their own fragile dependence.
If we fished for a living, I wonder if we would be more aware of the ways humans are harming the world’s oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers. I wonder if we would see the sea level rising, and worry about the destruction of our homes. I wonder if we would see species of fish going extinct and struggle to find new sources of food and profit. I wonder if we would see the garbage, chemicals, and sewage pouring into the very substance of our life, and get serious about changing the way we treat the world’s water. Because we are surrounded by water. We depend on water. We survive on water. We are water. What we do to water, we do to ourselves.
Some traditions think of baptism as sort of a bath for the soul, where your sins get washed away. One of the things about our Reformed or Presbyterian tradition that I appreciate is that we have a bit richer understanding of the role water plays in the covenant we have with God, and why God may have chosen to use water as a sacrament. We say that water cleanses, refreshes, sustains, renews. Water is significant not just in its power to wash us, but also because it enlivens us – it keeps us alive. We say that Jesus Christ is living water, and it strikes me that water is very much like God – both surrounding us, both holding our lives in ways we take for granted or don’t understand, both so personal that they infuse each cell of our body, and yet as vast and uncontrollable as the seas.
And so baptism is a sign and seal of our individual relationship with God – our belonging to a loving God who knows and cares about us and is part of us intimately, in every cell of our being. But it is not just that. It is also a sign and seal that we are not alone. We are not islands in this world, because the water that flows around and in and through you connects you to the water that flows around and in and through me, and through all of us, and through every living thing on the earth and in the sea, and through the seas themselves. We are earth, but we are also water.
Because we are so tied to water, both physically and theologically, it is necessary for us to consider how we think of water and what we do with the water that is given into our charge. We in our privileged position have choices about what we do with water: whether we give or withhold access to clean water, whether we clean up our waterways or fill them with garbage, whether we protect the water and the habitats within or take our chances with spills of oil and pesticides.
Often these decisions have little urgency for those of us who have clean water flowing from multiple taps in our houses, who use gallons of water a day and assume it will be safe, who consume the creatures of the sea far from awareness of their sustainability. But ultimately, we are water, and what we do to water, we do to ourselves.