Summary: The Word of Christ that saves, comforts, and guides, is the River of Life soothing a spiritually parched life like a river in the desert.
Dear people of God, what is it about rivers that we human beings are so attracted to? Actually any body of water. It is no secret that waterfront property is much more expensive than other land. In spite of potential floods and the ever-present mosquitoes, people are willing to pay premium price just to be by a river.
It wasn’t long after we moved to Kingman that we learned ‘going to the river’ has a slightly different meaning in these parts. I mean, people elsewhere in the country have no idea when they sing those great Gospel songs like “Shall We Gather at the River” or “Down By the Riverside” they could mean very different things to folks here in Kingman. They have no idea that the word ‘river’ can spark images of casino nightlife.
Well, this morning I would like you to block the visions of the bright lights, poker tables, and all that ding ding ding ding, and think of a river in a pure natural sense – clean, bubbling, moving body of water abounding in life.
Of course, not every river is like that. There are rivers poisoned by pollution. One of my earliest memories, when I was still in a stroller, is of a river that was more a source of horror than a delight. Our family lived in a city known for its coal mines and steel factories. Because of the industrial pollution, the river I could see from a bridge, was a dark, foul-smelling, scary, approaching mass. I must have screamed my head off every time my parents took me across. One had to travel some distance up stream to get a different picture – a lovely, clean river making its way through the forest and fields, where people fished or went inner-tubing during the summer.
Sad, isn’t it, what can happen to something so beautiful as a river. It serves as a striking example of how fallen humanity can mistreat God’s precious gift. So, let us think “upstream.”
There was a movie I have seen many years ago. It was about an older man who not long after retiring felt useless and very old. His wife’s nagging became more frequent, and even his children were verbally abusive to him when they came to visit. He felt like a nobody and suffered from deep depression. One day death seemed like an attractive option to him, but he was able to discard the thought. Instead, he decided to go on a journey. He put some things into a backpack, picked up a walking stick, and set off to revisit places of his youth, which happened to be upstream of the river going through the city where he lived.
Only thing – he didn’t take a car or a bus, he decided to walk. He traveled slowly, fully noticing everything around him. He could see that little by little the river became cleaner and more alive with fish and other critters. Then he began to notice a change taking place in him. Somehow, as he walked upstream along the river, he too, like the river, became more alive. Suddenly, the old bones weren’t creaking anymore. He felt strength returning to body and brightness to his thoughts. One morning as he knelt down to wash his face by the bank of the river now become a stream, he noticed he had become a young man again. The gray hair was gone and the wrinkles from his face, and there was life in his eyes again. The river had become for him a journey of renewal. He laughed out loud and said, “This is where I belong, this is where I feel totally alive!” And he remained by this river of life.
The Bible has many passages linking rivers with life. Rivers, streams, fountains. And all of them are credited to God’s gracious providence. Psalm 36: 9 says With you, O God, is the fountain of life. Psalm 65: 9 The river of God is full of water. Isaiah 35:6 For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.
The people living in the Holy Land understood very well the connection between water and life. So do we. Anyone living in the desert understands that water is life. It is of much more value than fishing or swimming. We cannot live without it. Just try to hike out of Supai without water! Try to survive in a hot desert without water - you won’t last very long. Water is life. But when a river flows through a desert, it gives life to all living things. You can see with your own eyes what difference it makes. Look at the beautiful green trees, blooming roses, delicious fruit – blessing upon blessing.
In the beginning of the last chapter of Revelation, St. John shares a vision of heaven represented by a new Jerusalem. He says, Then the angel showed me a river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On each side of the river is the tree of life.