Learning to Swim 7/4/10

2 Kings 5: 1-14,  Galatians 6: 7-16, and Luke 10:1-11,16-20

I. A Love Affair with Water

As many of you witnessed last week at the picnic, my children have inherited my profound love of the water.  I grew up in a little community where each development was built around a lake so my entire childhood, it seems, was spent either at the beach or biking to or from the beach.  If it had been possible, I would have chosen to breathe water instead of air.  There’s a Brad Paisley song played often on the radio now called, “Water.” 

Inflatable pool full of dad’s hot air
I was three years old
Splashin’ everywhere
And so began my love affair
With water

On a river bank
With all my friends
A big old rope tied to a limb
And you’re a big old wuss
If you don’t jump in
The water

-Brad Paisley, Water

As I was listening to it, I started to think about all the ways we encounter water in our lives, and how cool it is that we begin our faith journey in the water – through our baptism.

There are almost too many biblical images of water to count: ‘

  • Noah and the ark waiting for deliverance and dry land
  • The slaves in Egypt waiting for deliverance and to be led across the bottom of the parted Red Sea

Those are the easiest of the OT examples to remember, but there is also

  • The prophet Amos who waits for deliverance and calls out “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)
  • As well as the more familiar 23rd Psalm in which God leads us beside still waters.

In the New Testament, Jesus’ very first miracle is to change water into wine.  He meets a woman at a well, and promises to be Living Water that will allow us to never thirst.  He meets his first few disciples by the side of the sea, and he entreats Peter to come out of the boat and onto the water. 
Water is everywhere we turn in the Bible!

II.               The Power and Danger of Water

A.               Amos’ rolling waters

Water is everywhere we turn these days as well, and it’s not always so much of a love affair.  Each year there is another Hurricane that slams into another coastal area, leaving it ravaged and raw.  We have a full-blown catastrophic oil spill of epic proportions also affecting the Gulf of Mexico with no end in sight.  Not so long ago, a tsunami horrified us at how quickly water could take away so much.  Within the last month alone, flash floods filled the Midwest, and damaged Nashville.  Even in our own community, a young man was swimming at a party, enjoying the celebrations.  A scant 15 minutes later, his life had been claimed by the water.

Water is not always a peaceful river or pond that we gaze at … sometimes it’s a reminder of the chaos that tries to reign in God’s world.  The prophet Amos used it as a reminder that as powerfully as a waterfall rushes down, that is how powerfully God’s spirit can move in us – challenging us and pushing us toward something new.  In our baptism, all of us are claimed by God for God’s purposes.  We are no longer just joy-riding for ourselves; we are covenanted and promised to the service of the Lord, our God.

III.           Learning to Swim

A.               Getting into the Water

We’ve all had that experience of walking into a lake, and realizing that it is way too cold to just jump in, so we inch ourselves in, slowly lowering ourselves into the silken ice.  The thought of course, is that as we give ourselves time to adjust to the temperature, it won’t be such a shock to our system. 

Naaman, in our passage from Kings, took this approach to becoming acquainted with God.  He was seeking help for his sudden onset of leprosy.  On the advice from his wife’s servant girl, he goes to the King who has no idea what to do and starts to pick a fight with this outsider (that’s what the whole ripping-his-clothes thing was about).  Instead his prophet (Elisha) sends directions by way of a letter. At first, Naaman is indignant and refuses to do what the letter says.  He could wash himself in any river, and that prophet couldn’t even bother himself to give the directions personally.  Finally, it is his servants who convince him that it can’t hurt anything to try.

So he eases his tired body into the muddy waters, and our passage ends a little too soon to find out that just after that he accepts the One True God, the god of Israel.  He goes back to his foreign nation with a different outlook and a new God at his side and in his heart.

An Old Testament example of the power of water, and an experience of baptism.

IV.            Getting to the Deep End

Our New Testament passages are about faithful discipleship and what it looks like to follow Christ.

Galatians tells us that you reap what you sow, and in terms of living as a Christian that means that we must actively work at being a Christian.  If you do not sow anything (through studying, doing devotions, praying, the way we live with others, etc…) there will be nothing to reap.  We do not believe in the kind of faith that says you must do something in order to be saved.  However we do live with the paradox that as we work with our faith – pushing and pulling at our beliefs, living out kindness and forgiveness – our faith grows as does the faith of those around us.

A.                 The Swimming Test

<<A poll on how people learned how to swim>>
Did you ever have to take a test in order to be able to swim in the deep end?

Almost everyone that I talked to about this, had some sort of challenge or test they had to achieve before they were allowed in the deep end.  I remember my swimming test.  In the lake where I learned to swim, there were two docks that fairly far apart and in order to be allowed to swim in the deep end, we had to swim from one to the other and then back.  Then, we had to tread water for 5 minutes.  I remember the first time I took the test.  There had been no way for me to really prepare for how long that swim would be.  There were identical twin lifeguards (the Gurd boys) and each of them stood on one of the docks, cheering me on, shouting encouragement, and standing at the ready if I ran out of steam and couldn’t make it.  By the time, I got to the first dock and was ready to turn around and go back, I was gasping for air and just couldn’t make it.  I was disappointed, of course, and in a few weeks I tried again.  It was the same test and it was just as hard, but this time I knew what was required.  I knew the difficulties and I knew how much would be asked of me.  With encouragement of the Gurd twins, and with my renewed efforts, this time I passed!

Unfortunately, I’m not sure that we are as intentional about teaching Christian living as we are with how to swim.  It could be that we don’t all agree on how to live as a Christian, whereas there are just four basic strokes.  But there are some basic things that we know work:  1) Read and study the Bible.  2) Apply the word to our lives.  3) Pray.  4) Tell someone about your faith.  I could not fully prepare myself for that test until I started doing it.  The same is true with living our faith.  We must try it out, see when our energy flags.  Then we take some time to practice and study, and we try again.

The point is: we’re not alone in the journey.  It is a process of learning from the information at hand and also from trial and error.  We will fail tests, make mistakes, and have to start again, but there are lifeguards there to help us, to encourage us, and to be pulling for us when we try again.

“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.” (Gal 6:9)

B.               The River: Rafting for God

In Luke, Jesus sends out the seventy, giving them instructions for the journey.  He doesn’t say the road will be easy, nor does he say they will always find success.  What he does say is to pack lightly, enjoy your successes when they happen, let people care for you as they are able, and keep moving forward.

After my first white water rafting trip in high school, I heard a song by Garth Brooks called The River and I became convinced that rafting is a great metaphor for living the Christian life.  “Too many times we stand aside”  waiting for someone else to step up and do what we perhaps are called to do.  But as the song goes, “I’ll never reach my destination if I never try so I will sail my vessel till the river runs dry.”

Too many times we stand aside
And let the waters slip away
‘Til what we put off ’til tomorrow
Has now become today
So don’t you sit upon the shoreline
And say you’re satisfied
Choose to chance the rapids
And dare to dance the tide.And I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry
Like a bird upon the wind
These waters are my sky
I’ll never reach my destination
If I never try
So I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry.

And there’s bound to be rough waters
And I know I’ll take some falls
But with the good Lord as my captain
I can make it through them all.

And I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry
Like a bird upon the wind
These waters are my sky
I’ll never reach my destination
If I never try
So I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry.

– Garth Brooks, The River 

When you are rafting, sometimes you can just go with the flow and let the river take you where it will, but if you are not careful the river can take you into some dangerous areas.  When you are going through some difficult rapids, you’re safest if you paddle as hard as you can.  The force of putting your paddle to the water is the force that keeps your butt in the boat.  If you are thrown in the water, you’re supposed to hold on to your paddle, point your feet downriver and use your paddle as a rudder to steer you down the river.  Like a bobber, you float down a big powerful river trusting in your ability to move when necessary and float when it’s possible.

And that, I find is the hardest part of learning to swim: floating.  Leaning back, letting go, and floating has got to be the hardest part about swimming.  It’s also the hardest part about faith: trusting God enough to not try to force our way through the water – it’s something that takes most Christians to even begin to practice floating with God.  It’s easier if you can learn to do this floating/trusting God thing when you’re very little.

So, water is as essential to our faith lives as it is to our physical lives: we rely on it for our life.  It is where we begin our faith walk, in baptism – just as Dalton begins his faith walk in baptism today.  He will need lifeguards cheering him on, encouraging, telling him he can make it as he strokes over to the deep end of faith.  We need to continually practice our faith, swimming laps, reading the Bible, praying.  And we need to invite others into the water with us.  Maybe youth group is right, and faithful living is one big pool party.  Somebody’s always making waves, someone always needs help when they first jump in, and all of us need to look to the sky as those people by the Jordan did when Jesus was baptized and listen for God’s voice saying, “This is my beloved child.  I am proud of him.  Listen to him.”

Let us pray,
God, you created the waters out of chaos and sometimes water still brings chaos into your word.  Help us as we learn to swim because we are all children in the faith.   Teach us and encourage us as we move towards the deep end of faith.  Thank you for guiding our feet down the river.  In Christ’s name, Amen.

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