Preacher: Jeff Davidson Scripture: Genesis 9:8-17, Mark 1:9-15, 1 Peter 3:18-22
It’s amazing what we take for granted. Julia and I have lived within a half hour of Washington DC for over 25 years. I love theater and musical performance. Before the pandemic, the Kennedy Center offered some sort of free musical or theatrical performance every day. Every day. How many of those free performances do you think I have gone to in 25 years? None. Zip. Nada. Who knows how long it will be until they come back again, until the Kennedy Center has the finances and the various musical and theatrical groups have the wherewithal to make them happen? I don’t know. They’re gone for now, though, and I never went to one because I took them for granted.
Something I’ve always taken for granted is water. We lived in the country most of the time when I was growing up, so we didn’t have city water, but we had well water that was just fine. It was what we used to call hard water, and sometimes it tasted a little funny, but it was fine. Ever since I went to Manchester I’ve always lived where there was no need for well water, and so I’ve always taken drinking water for granted.
That’s something that not everybody in the United States has been able to do. My first full-time pastorate was at the Lower Miami Church of the Brethren, located in Jefferson Township, just outside Dayton, Ohio Jefferson Township was an interesting mix when I was there. It was the primary Black suburb for Dayton, so there was a lot of cheap suburban type housing, and there was also a good amount of more upscale suburban housing for more affluent Black folks. There was also a large percentage of white farmers, mostly smaller farms, many of them Appalachian whites, some of them poor. The Lower Miami congregation itself was a very interesting mix of upper-middle-class and lower-middle-class white and Black folks, with both races represented in both economic groups.
Lower Miami had a parsonage where we lived, which got water from the Jefferson Regional Water Authority. The Jefferson Regional Water Authority was formed in 1978. Why? Because in 1978 there were still parts of Jefferson Township that didn’t have reliable access to safe drinking water. I was stunned when I learned that. I graduated from high school in 1977, 20 miles from Jefferson Township. I’d never worried about drinking water. Sometimes on vacation we’d stay at little motels that had sulphur water, which smelled so much like rotten eggs that I didn’t want to drink it or bathe in it, but that was just because it smelled bad, not because it was unsafe. I couldn’t believe that when I was 19 years old people 20 miles away from me couldn’t necessarily get safe drinking water.
I thought about Jefferson Township when I read posts on Facebook about friends of mine in Texas who couldn’t get safe drinking water this past week. I thought about it some more when I read the Church of the Brethren Newsline entry a couple of days ago about the “Seven Weeks for Water” campaign. Every year, the World Council of Churches invites Christians to use Lent to reflect on the gift of water. This year, the campaign’s focus is on water issues in North America. Water issues in North America? What? Aren’t we an affluent, First World continent? Sure, there are some weather and climate related shortages, like those in Texas from time to time, and there are individual pockets where safe water may be hard to come by, but by and large the availability of water in North America’s not really an issue, is it?
Well, the Seven Weeks for Water website lists a few different issues
that we may not have thought of:
● securing clean water for handwashing to protect us from diseases;
● ridding Flint and other American cities from lead in the water;
● making sure freshwater fish have water to survive and thrive;
● protecting underground sources of drinking water from contamination by agriculture and fracking;
● preventing the depletion of groundwater by excessive agriculture use which threatens groundwater for future generations;
● preventing the destruction of sacred waters to transport fossil fuels, as the droughts induced by greenhouse gasses become more frequent and severe;
● removing dams that unnecessarily destroy rivers and the creatures who depend on them, while making few contributions to local economies, and
● denouncing the commodification of water. Speculators now trade in water futures on Wall Street as the ultimate abuse of God’s gift to life.
(bullet points adapted from https://www.oikoumene.org/what-we-do/ecumenical-water-network#seven-weeks-for-water)
We take water for granted. We take the things that water provides for granted. As Christians, we even take the things that water has done or meant in our faith history for granted. Our reading from Genesis talks about water as a way to cleanse; not just to cleanse our bodies, but to cleanse the whole earth of sin. We don’t think about the Flood very often, unless we happen to read about Noah in the Bible or if we see a rainbow. We don’t think about the kind and prevalence of sin that would drive God to destroy the world. Maybe there are ways in which we take sin for granted.
Our Gospel reading is about Jesus being baptized. How many times have you thought about your baptism lately? At the old Oak Brook campus of Bethany the architect had wanted to include a small bridge in the entry to the chapel that crossed a little brook or stream of some kind. The architect’s idea was that it would be a tangible reminder of our baptisms, and the vows that we took when we were baptized. The little stream and bridge weren’t built, and while it’s a nice thought, you know what? For most of us it would have been something that we took for granted after a few months of going in and out of the chapel. How often do we think about our baptismal vows? How often do we reflect on what we as Christians have committed ourselves to?
In 1 Peter chapter 3, Peter ties those two images together. There are what he calls the former times, where people did not obey God – not just where they didn’t obey, but where they were so disobedient that water destroyed almost everyone on the earth. There is baptism, which Jesus
demonstrated for us and which we do in obedience to Him, which cleanses us of sin and calls us to lives of discipleship. Peter goes beyond those two images, though, and presents a picture of the risen Christ preaching to the spirits of those who were destroyed by the flood and those who are imprisoned in chains of sin, and then ascending into Heaven and sitting at the right hand of God. During our Ash Wednesday service a few days ago, some of us were talking about what we might do for Lent, what we might give up or what kind of good habit we might try to cultivate. I didn’t have any particular ideas. The next time I went to the grocery I wanted to buy some Pringle’s, but I decided I really shouldn’t and I said to myself, “Maybe I could give up Pringle’s for Lent.” Jesus spending forty days and nights being tempted in the wilderness versus me spending forty seconds being tempted by a small package of rehydrated potato crisps in the checkout line. Perhaps I’m
taking the idea of Lenten disciplines for granted. There are people who are dying, but I take that for granted. They may be dying for a lack of water, or a lack of food, or a lack of medicine. If I think about it, I feel bad, but I don’t really think about it all that often. They may be dying due to the effects of their sin, or the effects of other people’s sins on them. If I think about that, I feel bad, but I don’t really think about it all that often.
If we’re mindful, water can be the thing that brings all of this to mind. Water can remind us of the physical needs of people, both here and around the world. Water can remind us of people’s spiritual needs, both the needs that other folks have and of our own need for forgiveness and repentance. Water can be the trigger that keeps us from taking all of these things for granted.
I’m going to do my best to not have any Pringle’s during Lent. If I’m lucky, I won’t have any after Lent either. I hope I don’t stop there, though. I hope that if I can spend seven weeks for water, seven weeks being mindful of the gift of water that I take for granted, I can be aware of what I can do for people who don’t have water. I can be aware of what I can do to preserve and protect water. I can be aware of all that water symbolizes, from the overwhelming sin that was destroyed by a flood to the personal sin that is destroyed through baptism, and the sin that continues to enslave people near and far. I’m going to try very hard to not take water for granted. Amen.