Sunday, September 24, 2017

Water Water Everywhere Revelation 22:1-5

Glen Pease writes in an article titled the River of Heaven:

“Kipling's book, Kim, has been called the greatest story of a river that has ever been written. According to Buddhist tradition, Buddha shot an arrow into the air, and where it fell, a river sprang up. The river was sacred, and whoever bathed in it would be cleansed from all sin. Kipling's story is about an old lama who wonders through cities and rice fields, over hills and across plains, always asking the same question. "The River, the River of the Arrow; the River that can cleanse from sin; where is the River?"

The universal search of man has been to find a river that satisfies every thirst of the body and soul. The quest of Ponce de Leon for the fountain of youth is a quest that has gone on all through history. Most of history follows the paths of the great rivers of the world. Babylon is built on the Euphratus; Nineveh was built on the Tigris; Thebes was built on the Nile, and Rome was built on the Tiber. We could go on around the world showing how the great cities are built by great rivers. Rivers have been the streams of life for the cities of the world. Our own great Mississippi has played a major role in the history of our country. The name in Algonquin means, Great River.

One of the strange paradoxes is that Jerusalem was not built by a river. This was a drawback, and the Jews always hoped that one day that their holy city, like the great cities of the world, could have a river. The prophets and psalmists were forever dreaming and singing of the river. Ezekiel, in a vision, saw a board river rushing out of Jerusalem. Isaiah saw a future Jerusalem where he says in 33:21, "There the Lord will be our Mighty One. It will be like a place of broad rivers and streams." He got so disgusted with the disobedience of the people and God Himself lamented in 48:18, "O that you had harkened to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river..." Peace like a river, and the prosperity of a river have always been the rewards of a people blessed of God. To the Jewish mind, the ideal city must have a river. They believe that God Himself dwelt by a river in heaven. Psalm 46:4 we read, "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High."

In John's vision of the heavenly Jerusalem, he shows us that all the hopes of a sacred city on a sacred river will be fulfilled, and we will have peace like a river forever. It is fascinating to study rivers, but here is the most fascinating river of all. Christianity was, in a sense, born on a river. John the Baptist began the New Testament ministry by baptizing in the Jordan River. Jesus was baptized in this famous river just before He began His public ministry. The Jordan is the most famous river of the Bible. Naaman didn't think it compared to the rivers of Syria, but when he obeyed God, the waters of Jordan became the waters of life for him, and they cleansed his leprosy.”[1]

Water is all around us and it has always been sacred.  Rivers and water represent life they provide the essentials for community to survive and life not only as a source of fresh water but also for trade and food.

According to the county website “Sonoma County is blessed with three rivers: the Russian River, which runs through a large portion of the county and is arguably the most well-known; the Gualala River, on the northern border separating Sonoma from Mendocino County; and the Petaluma River, which connects to San Pablo Bay and thence to the San Francisco Bay in the south.”[2]

But if you just google Sonoma county rivers right across the top of the page it starts listing rivers and creeks and sloghs and all together there are 63 from my count. The people who originally cared for this land settle all around always near water such as the Petaluma River, the Russian River and Tolay lake.

“Greg Sarris, Chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, is the author of several books including Grand Avenue, and holds the Graton Endowed Chair at Sonoma State University. His new book How a Mountain Was Made will be published by Heyday Press this fall.

Roughly seven miles east of Petaluma, Tolay is the southernmost and largest in a chain of lakes tucked within the Sonoma Mountain range. You might imagine it the pendant at the end of the chain. Standing on the ridges above the lake, you can see the emerald expanse of San Pablo Bay spreading before you, and like a sculpture rising from the water, San Francisco’s Financial District, and then four of the Bay’s major mountains: Mount Saint Helena, Mount Tamalpais, Mount Diablo, and Mount Burdell. All of the lakes in the chain were shallow, even more shallow than Tolay, hardly 20 feet in its deepest spot, but, like Tolay, all of the lakes contained water year-round, until after European contact, when the water table in the region dropped 20 to 30 feet in a relatively short period of time.”[3]

This past Monday many of us attended a talk at the library all about the Miwoks and their relationship to this land and especially its water

“Tolay Lake is in the heartland of the Alaguali Nation, whose principal village, Cholequibit, sat southeast of the lake, bordering San Pablo Bay. The Alaguali knew their homeland intimately; typical of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo Nations, they practiced controlled burning, maintaining grasslands for elk and pronghorn. They cleared waterways for fishing and hunting waterfowl and cultivated sedge beds, growing long, straight roots for basket-making. From the San Pablo marshes, they fished sturgeon and bat rays. Each nation, it seemed, had something unique that was needed by others. A Southern Pomo Nation near Santa Rosa mined obsidian prized for arrow-making. Southern Pomo and Coast Miwok along the Laguna de Santa Rosa grew the finest sedge. The lagoon was full of perch and bass year-round. The Petaluma Nation’s vast plains contained the largest herds of elk and deer. The Alaguali had the lake.”[4]

It is not just our indigenous people who knew how sacred water was

Rev Dr Bob Shore-Goss in one of his sermons reminds us that

“Jesus uses the image of water as indispensable to life, then he points to himself as the ‘living water’ through which he offers eternal life. Water is vital to human and all life, and in dry or desert climates, water becomes an oasis of life.  Baptismal waters give life to us.  In fact, water is a sacrament of life but also life with God, or to use Jesus words in John’s Gospel , “eternal life.”… That day Jesus, as he entered the flowing waters of the Jordan, understood the action that John performed upon himself, not as repentance for sin, but as entering into the waters of life.  Environmentally, his immersion under flowing waters of the Jordan River signified a new birth of consciousness. In his book, A Watered Garden, Benjamin Stewart details four eco-theological characteristics of water for baptism:  waters of life as a oasis, living water as pouring and flowing, pooled waters as mysterious depths, and a place that welcomes what might call the untamed or wild nature of water.   Stewart observes that pouring and flowing of waters express a rich mystery:

When new Christians are made in flowing baptismal, all of those associations –the overflowing blessings of God, the nourishing water over landscape, the always new quality of flowing water, and the life-giving power that flows to us from beyond our control—wash over the newly baptized and deepen our significance of baptism.

The baptism of Jesus, and our own baptism into God as Creator, Beloved Child, and Spirit as Sustainer of Life, communicates vividly the goodness and power of God in this world.”[5]

Through Baptism, through water poured or sprinkled, whether we are baptized by submersion in a church or in a river or in a pool, as a Christian church we proclaim one baptism and through the waters of baptism are we all connected. Through water each and every living being is connected.

I grew up in Michigan where one is never more than a mile from water in any direction and “There are also more than 11,000 inland lakes in Michigan and, according to the Michigan Historical Center, one is never more than six miles from an inland lake or more than 85 miles from one of the Great Lakes.”[6]

The problem with societies that grow up around water very rarely respect it, indigenous populations being the exception. I mean in Michigan one only has to look at the flint water crisis. An article just published in June states that “Five officials in Michigan, including the head of the state’s health department, were charged on Wednesday.(with involuntary Manslaughter) It is the closest investigators have come to directly blaming officials for the deaths and illnesses that occurred when a water contamination crisis enveloped this city.

The tainted water has been tied to lead poisoning in children and prompted officials to begin a costly, years long process of replacing pipes all over the city. Even now, officials recommend that only filtered tap water be consumed, and many residents say they can trust only bottled water, given false assurances they once received from state and local officials.”[7]

Flint is not unique “America’s crumbling water infrastructure and insufficient implementation of environmental laws have left millions of people drinking unsafe water, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council. According to Threats on Tap, there were more than 12,000 health-based violations in 5,000 water systems that served over 27 million people across the United States.

The Safe Drinking Water Act, enacted by Congress in 1974, is supposed to keep drinking water clean by regulating 100 different contaminants, such as lead and arsenic. But lack of enforcement from the Environmental Protection Agency and state-level agencies, coupled with the deterioration of water infrastructure, has resulted in the standards of the SDWA not being met. “Flint was a wake-up call for Americans,” said Erik Olson, who directs the NRDC’s health program, “but it’s not the only place in the United States with tap water problems.”… According to the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention, more than 19 million Americans get sick every year from drinking contaminated water. The problem is more pronounced in smaller and rural communities: Water systems that serve 500 people or less made up more than 50 percent of all health-based violations in 2015.”[8]

This is just down right unforgiveable. Even here in California “The state’s bad water is concentrated in the mostly Latino farmworker communities of the San Joaquin Valley, but nearly all of California’s 58 counties include small, rural communities with tainted water. Residents there are forced to take their chances or spend an inordinate amount of their usually small incomes on bottled water.

The biggest danger is arsenic, which like uranium, another contaminant, occurs naturally in the soil in some parts of the state. Drink enough arsenic-contaminated water and you may contract cancer or other grave diseases.

Farmers bear responsibility for nitrate, the second-biggest contamination source, which enters the water supply from agricultural runoff and manure. Nitrate can cause “blue baby syndrome,” a potentially fatal disorder in infants, and other serious ailments in pregnant women and children.

Racism plays a part in the contamination crisis, but so do poverty, patchwork water systems, and, until recently, an overestimation of the quantity of contaminants required to trigger illness.”[9]

As stated before it is the poorer communities that suffer more from pollutionmore than affluential communities and this is just a matter of public policy. “most public policy issues are inseparable from environmental policy. Unless we start thinking about this intersectionality, and developing strategies for tackling environmental and climate issues, we’re not going to be able to address pressing public health, inequality, and global hunger challenges.

Pollution is a public health problem. Globally, children who live near traffic are 89 percent more likely to have asthma and have stunted lung growth, with lungs that are 20 percent smaller than their peers. Annually, some 4.3 million premature deaths are caused by indoor air pollution among families who burn fuels in their homes to cook or for light. Reducing air pollution not only stems climate change, it is often synonymous with improving the lives of children and families who don’t have other options.

Pollution and climate change are also deeply connected to inequality—whether by income, race, or gender. Who do you think lives the closest to high traffic, smog prone areas like freeways and ports? In the US: poor communities of color. Much of the research on environmental pollution and health inequality reveals that it is low-income people of color who bear a disproportionate share of the health burden from exposure to environmental hazards.”[10]

In Exactly the same way  water and poverty are linked …

“Water and poverty are inextricably linked. Lack of safe water and poverty are mutually reinforcing; access to consistent sources of clean water is crucial to poverty reduction. Currently, 748 million people live without access to safe water and 2.5 billion live without adequate sanitation.

When we talk about poverty, we primarily refer to the economically disadvantaged groups of people across wide swaths of the globe, mainly in Africa and Asia, that survive on subsistence farming or incomes of less than $2 per day. There were 2.4 billion people living in this situation in 2010. The global rate of extreme poverty, defined as the percentage of those living on less than $1.25 per day, was halved between 1990 and 2010.

In that same twenty-year period, the global proportion of people living without access to clean water was halved as well, with 2.3 billion people gaining access to improved drinking water between 1990 and 2012. Safe water means consistent access to and adequate supply of clean water suitable for drinking, bathing, cooking, and cleaning. According to the World Health Organization, this means safe drinking water from a source less than 1 kilometer (.62 miles) away and at least 20 liters (5.28 gallons) per person per day. In some cases, safe water for irrigation or animals might be necessary to the extent that it affects individual human health and dignity.”  This article states also that “Water and poverty are linked in education; preventable, water-borne disease keep children out of school. An estimated 443 million school days are lost each year from water-related illness.[7] In many cases, children are too sick with diarrhea and other water-borne diseases like typhoid, cholera, or dysentery to go to school or must care for sick family members instead of going to class. Children also must help their families retrieve safe water from long distances if it is not available nearby. When the school does not have sanitation facilities, even a simple latrine, children must defecate in the open or miss class while they find someplace to go to the bathroom. This not only makes them miss class, it facilitates the further spread of disease.”[11]

Pollution is not the only issue when it comes to water

“Changing precipitation and melting snow and ice are already altering hydrological systems in many regions. Glaciers continue to shrink worldwide, affecting villages and towns downstream. The result, says the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, is that the fraction of global population experiencing water scarcity is destined to increase throughout the 21st century. More and more, people and nations will have to compete for resources. An international dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the latter’s plans to damn the Nile has only recently been resolved. In the future, far more serious conflicts are likely to erupt as the planet dries up. Even in high latitudes, the one region on Earth where rainfall is likely to intensify in coming years, climate change will still reduce water quality and pose risks due to a number of factors: rising temperatures; increased levels of sediments, nutrients, and pollutants triggered by heavy rainfall; and disruption of treatment facilities during floods. The world faces a water crisis that will touch every part of the globe, a point that has been stressed by Jean Chrétien, former Canadian prime minister and co-chair of the InterAction Council. “The future political impact of water scarcity may be devastating,” he said. “Using water the way we have in the past simply will not sustain humanity in future.”[12]

we as Christians are called to be stewards of God’s creation that doesn’t mean just ourselves…Jesus didn’t say as long as your water is clean and your table is full you are fine. Jesus challenges us to reach out and care for the least of these, we are called to care for the marginalized and the oppressed and sometimes the best way we can do that is by asking for best practices to keep the air and water clean.  We are called to ensure that people have clean water near them that is accessible and accessible doesn’t mean that they have bottled water brought in by nestle corp.

so we need to look at and  watch what we do.  Reduce our use of water and look at alternative ways to conserve whether it be the 5-minute shower practice, or just turning off the faucet in between rinses of dishes.  Can we use grey water in our gardens?  Can we be sure we are not dumping toxic fluids down our storm drains.  We need to remember that all life depends on water and therefore just as life is sacred so is the water we depend upon. 

The next time you take a sip of water say a prayer of thanks and I encourage you to find ways in which we can be a resource for those without safe drinking water. As our neighbor in need theme states this year Protecting the sacred in a just world, clean water is Life!

[1] Glen Pease, The River of Heaven, December 27, 2002, accessed September 23, 2017,
[2] Sonoma County Tourism, Sonoma County Rivers, 2017, accessed September 23, 2017,
[3] Greeg Sarris, the Charms of Tolay Lake Region, June 28, 2017, accessed September 23, 2017,
[4] Ibid.
[5] Robert Shore-Goss, e-mail message to Joseph Shore-Goss.
[6] NSTATE.LLC, Michigan, July 25, 2017, accessed September 23, 2017,
[7] Scott Atkinson and Monica davey, 5 Charged With Involuntary Manslaughter, June 14, 2017, accessed September 23, 2017,
[8] Nathalie Baptiste, Millions of Americans Are Drinking Contaminated Water—and Don’t Even Know It: Flint is not alone, May 3, 2017, accessed September 23, 2017,
[9] Jacques Leslie, California's water crisis is dangerous, just like Flint's. Will the state clean it up once and for all?, May 4, 2017, accessed September 23, 2017,
[10] HELFRICH JENNIFER, Race, Gender, and Poverty: Why the Environment Matters, April 24, 2017, accessed September 23, 2017,
[11] LifeWater International, Water and Poverty: How Access to Safe Water Reduces Poverty, December 26, 2014, accessed September 23, 2017,
[12] Robin McKie, Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global crisis, March 7, 2015, accessed September 23, 2017,

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