Monday, August 30, 2010
The Parable Of The Narrows: A Reflection On Psalm 136
Come with me for a walk along the Waikato River. You’ll probably want to change the shoes your wearing for what my mum would call sensible walking shoes. It’s a bit muddy and the track we’re walking on goes through the long grass of a field.
We’re at a place called the Narrows just south of Hamilton. AS the name suggests the river here goes through a narrow gorge with high rock banks that drop almost shear to the water. The current is deep and from on top of the bank here you get the sense of the power of this great river.
In fact from up here on the top of the banks you get a great panorama of the river. The rivers surface seems smooth and uniform and the overriding impression you get is that of flow, huge amounts of water moving ever onwards down to the eternal sea.
We walk along and come across a set of steps cut into the bank. We start down and realise that it may not be that safe, time has eroded some of the steps and they are slippery underfoot as this part of the bank never sees the sun.
You gingerly go down the stairs, trying not to slide and eventually you come down to a concrete platform just a foot or two above the surface of the river. There are short concrete piles rising up from the concrete pad just high enough to make a good seat. You spy a similar construction on the other side of the river and realise this must be all that remains of an old bridge, probably swept away in the fury of a flood. You can tell the river has been higher by the debris high up in the trees that hold desperately to the steep bank. So we sit and stop for a while and look out at the constantly moving river. Your ears fill with the roar of the river.
Down here close to the river you realise that it is anything but smooth. In fact the water is churned up as if, there, just in front of you was a series of springs, water rushing and bubbling up to the surface.
You watch and you see that as the disturbed water pushed outwards into the rest of the river small whirlpools form and spiral, round and round slow at first but then with a ever quickening pace, then they dissipate and final vanish. There is a new disturbance and new whirlpools appear swirl and vanish and then another disturbance and another new set of whirlpools. It’s like a dance. They seem like small galaxies in the vastness of space, or the brief existence of a human being in the flow of history.
Yeah then your mind starts to think that this is a bit like life. The briefness of the human existence and the sameness of routine and everyday life is like those spinning whirlpools.
The cycle of feeding new babies, those sleep disturbed nights.
A life governed by picking the kids up from school or making sure you get home in time for them.
The constant round of being a taxi driver for demanding teenagers.
The slow move of the clock at work.
The constant flow of paper across your desk that demands your attention.
The jobs on the farm that come every year with each change of season.
The round of appointments that need to be met: of clients and customers.
The days that seem so busy even though you were sure it would get easier and quieter when you’d retired.
Washing, the meals that always need to be cooked and the dishes that always await you afterwards.
Meetings where sometimes things just go round and round and you don’t end up getting anywhere, even matters of weight and importance seem to end as a little eddy going forever round and never reaching a viable conclusion.
A circle of friends, people you need for your support, to enrich your life, for your sanity where unless you make time to see them become people you greet on the street and say see you round the next time round or you simply drift apart.
Births and marriages, exams, deadlines, bills, deaths it seems so much like the whirlpools on the surface of this river. The everyday round and round of life like the whirlpools getting faster and faster and pulling you into the centre. Then well maybe we don’t want to think of that.
Even sometimes the round and round of the disciplines of reading the bible and those daily study notes: The sameness of the weekly journey to church. You fear maybe even God has become just part of that daily spiral. Maybe even God has become lost in the routine.
AS if it is God’s reply you become aware again of the whole river, the dark deep powerful body of water moving on and on, never ending. You look and you see the truth of it that even the disturbed water breaking into those small whirlpools was moving with the current and was being carried along by the stream. The flow itself had created the whirlpools in the first place. They seem to be going round and round but the river was carrying it onwards in its grasp.
Then God speaks to you of the river “For his steadfast love endures forever”, in and through and round and before and beyond and so intrinsically part of the cycles of life the unfathomable, everlasting stream of God’s steadfast love flows.
It flows in the goodness and greatness of God’s character
It flows from the core of his being love.
Love of the father for his children,
Love with no hidden agenda freely given.
Love that gives not what we deserve but what is for our best.
Love that does not let us get way with injustice but paid the price for our sin and has washed us clean again.
Love that is so patient and long suffering.
God’s love: God who keeps his promises surer than the flow of this Waikato River. It may be unthinkable but this river may dry up it may jump its banks and find a new course to run but God is constant in his faithfulness.
The flow of his love in creation. It is easy for us, and our 21st century minds, to get caught as if a fish on a lure, in quibbling over cosmological origins. Rather than to rejoice in our environment, not the mere work of chance or mechanical process but of the steadfast love of the Lord.
The flow of God’s love in the history of human kind: The vast river of God’s saving work. Casting a line to his people as they flounder and drown in the rapids of oppression, sin and death.
The Israelites brought out of Egypt away from slavery and brutality. Through the Red Sea and the wilderness to the land promised to their ancestor Abraham. Every step of the way the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
The life giving river of God’s love in Jesus, breaking into history to bring freedom from sin and death, to give new and abundant life in him.
‘Like the stone on the surface of a still river’ Bruce Cockburn sings, ‘the ripples going on for ever and ever redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe.’
The river of God’s love flowing into our world through the manger in Bethlehem: through God becoming one of us. The man who steps into the everyday lives of people like you and I and said follow me. Who healed with a touch and revealed God as our heavenly father. The love of God flowing across the darkness and pain of the cross and into the grave then busting out again full of the promise of renewing for the soul in eternal and abundant life. The love of God poured out in the Holy Spirit on his people at Pentecost. Then being there in the sharing of the good news as it is preached and proclaimed, lived out and taught from generation to generation. Breaking, finally, into the swirls and spinning of our lives catching us up in the flow of that immense river of God’s love.
The love of God flows and will not be stopped. Earthly powers like the kings Israel meet on their journey through the wilderness and spiritual principalities and powers have tried to dam up the flow of God’s steadfast love. His people faced with death, the sword, starvation, nakedness, humiliation, criticism and the laughing mock of “where is your God now?”
Yet these cannot stem the flow, they cannot separate us from the love of God. They are like the child’s beach game fighting the tide. The work of oppression and persecution and animosity, grief, sickness and pain like a barrier of sand below the high tide mark destined to crumble in the face of the rising waters. There is nothing says Paul that can separate us from the love of God. As we look around us here at the narrows we realise that even the seeming solid rocks have been warn down and breached by the flow of this water.
A poet sitting not by a river but by a burning ruin of a city. He sees his home going up in flames. He smells the burning of wood and above it the sickening stench of death. His ears ring with the tormented cries and sorrowful wailing of his people. Jerusalem is destroyed, yet even here in this desolation the river of God’s love is not stopped. He puts his pen to paper and in the middle of his lamentation writes “this I remember and have hope. The steadfast love of the lord never ceases and his mercy never comes to an end they are new every morning, great is thy faithfulness O lord.”
The river flows ‘His steadfast love endures forever’ he sees us in our lowly state and he buoys us up and carries us in the great current.
The river of God’s love flows and as it flows it irrigates the land it flows through and makes it fertile. It is the simple truth that God provides for us. A loaf of bread coming from the wheat and corn planted and harvested, the vintage bought to completion in the rain and the warm sun are gifts from God. His love knows no end.
You sit a while longer and let the picture sink in. Our everyday life; the spiralling of every day routine and the reality of that constant flow of God’s love that never ends. You are challenged and encouraged by it encouraged by the goodness of God and challenged to acknowledge that great flow of his love more in your everyday life.
You stand up and stretch that concrete pillar hadn’t been really been the most comfortable thing to sit on and you go to leave, but taking one last glance at the river you hear God whisper in the sound of the water “will you abandon yourself to the current of my love will you not only see it flow around you and in you but will you let it flow out from you to those around you as well.
You walk back. Back up the slippery stairs, back through the long grass, back from the bank of the Waikato River at the Narrows. You put your good shoes back on and here we are today in this place to give praise to God for his steadfast love and called to let that life giving water flow out from us to the parched world around us.