We can decide to be the kind of human that rushes in to stop the flow of the life blood from leaking out of our relationships. Instead of grabbing on to our anger or hurt, we could grab on to compassion, and love, and the willingness to talk things through, so that relationships are healed, and life, all life is renewed.
Rev. Jenny Carter
September 24, 2017
Based on Genesis 8 and 9, Revelation 22:1-5
There is a question that we older people tend to ask young people too much. When we meet a child, and can’t seem to think of anything to say, we ask, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” And inevitably we hear something like fireman, or doctor, or teacher, or astronaut. When I was little and was asked that question, and knowing that nobody really wanted to hear that I wanted to be a minister in the United Church, I would say nurse. I wanted to be a nurse. I even convinced myself that a nurse is what I would be. It kind of fit with my sense of who I was – a person who wanted to help people. So, a nurse is what I would be.
That was my answer and my dream – until I was a candy striper. While I loved my little striped uniform, complete with my white shoes, there came a day when I knew that I didn’t want to be a nurse, that I would never take my place among those brave, hard-working health care professionals – that I would never wear the white cap. My profound realization came to me in a moment of clarity as I was riding up one of the elevators at Royal Inland Hospital.
It all came down to liquids. The human body is filled with liquids of various types. I realized, in that elevator, that I liked it when the inside liquids stayed on the inside of people. Since nurses have to deal with liquids that escape in one form or another, I knew I would have to find a different way to help people. I couldn’t be a nurse. Patients need a nurse that can bring all of their humanity, professional skill, and compassion to bear on a situation – not one who wishes they were someplace, any place, else – like riding up and down the elevator in Royal Inland Hospital just so that they could avoid the latest liquid escape.
Why do we ask little kids that question? I think that maybe we ask that question, not simply because we can’t think of anything else to say, but because we know the world, and we know that a person better have some kind of plan. A plan for how they are going to make their living, make their way, through a world that is both beautiful as well as harsh. So we adults start early in the lives of the little people who share space with us. We start early with the pressure on making them come up with a plan so that they will be okay. In some ways it’s an act of love, but in other ways, it’s an awful lot of pressure to place on a little person.
Both of our scripture readings come from people who knew the ways of the world. They knew the world was often a harsh place, and they began to ask an ancient question equivalent to our modern one, of “what is it we, as humanity, want to be when we grow up?”
Our reading from Genesis is a story, quite common among all of the ancient near east religions, about a great flood which destroys much of creation. This story is not about God being vengeful, and how we better be good so that God doesn’t do something like that again. On the contrary, this story was the ancients’ way of telling one another that God is not the kind of God who “destroys” but one who is in relationship with humans, no matter what humans choose to do. (And make no mistake, it is humans that cause the brokenness and chaos, in this story, not God.) It’s a story about covenant between the human and the holy.
But it’s more than that too. This story is about how a people tried to make sense of their world and their place in it. Their rationalization being, if God created all that is, and called all that is, good, how is it then that people are sometimes vicious with one another, and armies invade, and the poor treated as less than human? How did something good, get so bad, and what is our plan to get through this often broken world? Who is it we want to be when we grow up? What kind of world do we want to live in? What kind of people do we want to be? To which they answered, they wanted to be the kind of people who lived in covenant with God – which meant they would care for their world and for one another.
The same holds true for our reading from Revelation. The people were going through a time of persecution. As followers of Jesus, they were deemed a threat by the wider society, and especially by the government. Their lives were harsh, and the brutality they experienced was incredible. So they asked themselves, how do we get through this time? Where is God in the midst of all this? Who are we to become, as a people? To which John of Patmos, having had a vision, tells them that the world is unfolding to reveal God’s presence – a place that will ultimately bring heaven and earth together into a relationship where all things exist in balance with one another. But until that time, until humanity learns to live in peace, they are to live “as if” that peaceful vision was their current reality.
So, that brings us back to the concept of liquids – the very stuff of life – yet instead of only dealing with the liquids of a human body – we are talking about the liquids that keep creation alive. Not only keep it alive, but keep it unfolding in ways that bring healing and wholeness and life lived in balance. The “liquids” of love, and justice and peace and compassion.
We’re talking about water here – but water as metaphor – not just the stuff we drink so that we can stay alive. Water, can bring life in harmony, and it can bring chaos and destruction. Humanity needs to decide which is better. Humanity needs to decide what it wants to be when it grows up – we need to get a plan together so that we can make our way through this world, and not only survive, but thrive.
Division among people is the spiritual equivalent of a flood. Division brings chaos – and nipping at the heels of chaos is destruction, and sometimes even death. We live in a divided world. Sometimes the divisions are stark – where the two sides will do whatever it takes to make sure that their side is victorious. Wars are an extreme example of this, but there are others. Climate change deniers pit themselves against environmental advocates. Governments sometimes pit themselves against their citizens in order to stay in power. And the list goes on, but the reality of all of these divisions is that the “fight” often becomes the main focus – thus obscuring the desired outcome – the life for all part.
Sometimes, our personal lives suffer from division as well. Relationships lived in harmony are hard work – not the stuff of fairy tales. Sometimes we can feel like we’re living through a flood, where we feel overwhelmed and under threat – barely able to keep our heads above water. And when the waves threatened to overwhelm, it’s natural to reach out and grab hold of something that will keep us afloat. But what we grab hold of matters. It’s tempting to grab hold of our anger or our hurt, or even the rightness of our case – easy to grab hold of our waiting for “them” to apologize, do the right thing, or whatever it is we are waiting for.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a better way. Just like nurses don’t wait for an invitation to go in and stop the bleeding of their patients – they just do it – we could be proactive in the way we live our lives. We can decide to be the kind of human that rushes in to stop the flow of the life blood from leaking out of our relationships. Instead of grabbing on to our anger or hurt, we could grab on to compassion, and love, and the willingness to talk things through, so that relationships are healed, and life, all life is renewed.
This seeking of harmony, where divisions are healed so that relationships might become life giving for self and for world, is how our ancestors in the faith chose to be – or at least tried to be. It was their answer to what they wanted to be when they grew up.
It is important to remember, I think, that harmony isn’t where everyone thinks the same. Harmony is where differences are taken seriously, even celebrated, and where we are willing to work things through for the benefit of all. It is an image of balance. That is the image of life in Revelation – the image of cities and land, brought into balance. The cities didn’t become land, nor did the land become cities – but they were in balance.
Our relationships need this kind of balance and harmony too. Whether it is the balance we seek in our personal relationships – the balance we seek in the world where we want a balance between power and justice – or the balance we seek in creation – where consumption needs to be in balance with the earth’s ability to provide – we can choose to be proactive in finding these balance points – we can choose what kind of people we want to be, we can make wise, and brave choices – that bring healing and wholeness for all of creation. It is in us.
May it be so in your life and in mine.