This is a sermon for Jubilee's "Vision Sunday" which will introduce our OASIS theme. Thank you, J. Lee Grady, for the idea for this sermon.
From Ezekiel 47:1-10, 12
In my vision... I saw a stream flowing east from beneath the door of the Temple and passing to the right of the altar on its south side. The man brought me outside the wall through the north gateway and led me around to the eastern entrance...I could see the water flowing out through the south side of the east gateway. Measuring as he went, he took me along the stream for 1,750 feet and then led me across.
The water was up to my ankles. He measured off another 1,750 feet and led me across again. This time the water was up to my knees. After another 1,750 feet, it was up to my waist.
5 Then he measured another 1,750 feet, and the river was too deep to walk across. It was deep enough to swim in, but too deep to walk through.
He asked me, “Have you been watching, son of man?”
Then he led me back along the riverbank... I was surprised by the sight of many trees growing on both sides of the river. Then he said...“This river flows east through the desert into the valley of the Dead Sea. The waters of this stream will make the salty waters of the Dead Sea fresh and pure. 9 There will be swarms of living things wherever the water of this river flows. Fish will abound in the Dead Sea, for its waters will become fresh. Life will flourish wherever this water flows. Fishermen will stand along the shores... the shores will be covered with nets drying in the sun...
Fruit trees of all kinds will grow along both sides of the river. The leaves of these trees will never turn brown and fall, and there will always be fruit on their branches. There will be a new crop every month, for they are watered by the river flowing from the Temple. The fruit will be for food and the leaves for healing.”
I make no claims to being an expert in prophetic interpretation, but I believe that sometimes prophecy has a literal meaning, sometimes a symbolic one, sometimes both, and sometimes more than one fulfillment at different times in history. Prophetic messages come in a variety of ways, but the book of Ezekiel contains many striking visual messages--what we call visions: a valley of dry bones coming to life and a giant set of wheels, for example.
In this fascinating and detailed passage there are likely several meanings that we may not grasp. At least one thing, however, is clear. This is a picture of LIFE--abundant life that originates from the temple--a symbol of the presence of God. As the stream of life flows in the desert, life flourishes along the banks.
The writer first wades ankle deep, then to his knees, then to his waist, and then he’s in deep water. "Are you paying attention?" his guide asks, significantly.
The question seems to be, “How deep do you want to go?” I believe God will take us deeper and deeper. Largely, where we stop is up to us.
Lets’ picture the ankle deep water as like a wading pool. What are the characteristics of a spiritual “kiddy pool?”
I have a cute video of Trinity as she explores the pool with her mommy. She is having a wonderful time with this totally new experience. It makes me smile to watch. The water is shallow. It is safe, especially because a parent is near, supporting, encouraging, smiling. How like our early spiritual life! God's presence may have seemed so real to you, this new life so exciting, so comforting, so full of discovery!
Babies and young children belong in the shallow pool. No offense whatever is intended when I say that there is a time and place for the wading pool. But how sad if that was all we ever experienced! The same is true of our spiritual experience. How odd it would seem if we never ventured any further but simply stayed in the wading pool with infants long past the time we should have departed.
Let’s picture the knee deep water like a jacuzzi. What are the characteristics of a spiritual jacuzzi? Ah, there is a place for the hot tub! It is a place of comfort, of rejuvenation, of rest, of "pampering." It is a place, really, of self-gratification. Sometimes even if we spend time in the deep water, we need a trip to the jacuzzi. It is lovely, especially after stressful times, to relax and soak in security and warmth. The jacuzzi does not involve work or struggle or progress.
It has a purpose, but it was never intended as a place to stay long-term. Sadly, it seems that so many American Christians never get past the spiritual hot tub. We sit and soak in Bible studies, and in music, and we listen to our favorite preachers on the radio or the TV. We buy "inspirational" books. The fellowship is quite nice, sometimes, in the hot tub. It's a place to hang out but not to explore or be challenged or take risks.
If the water gets less than ideal, we find another place that "meets our needs" better, and thus we have an illusion of movement when really it is still all about us.
Gasp! Now waist deep! What happens in waist-level water? It is a bit more challenging, isn't it? Not as warm and cozy. Less secure, less safe less indulgent, less relaxing. The waist deep water is often, spiritually speaking, where a crisis occurs.
I think of myself and Ken when we are at the ocean. I always think that this time will be the time I go out beyond the breakers, where Ken tells me it is lovely to swim. I wade in. I proceed. Then I get to waist deep--I'm still having a great time. But I have a decision to make. Will I follow Ken on beyond to where my feet no longer touch bottom?
Inevitably, I "chicken out." I am afraid, frankly, though I don't like to be. I always decide at that point that I will stay where I am for a while and then I will head back to shallower water, or even to the beach while I wait for Ken to come back.
But, spiritually speaking, the prophet, and we, people of God, are called to deeper water. To the place where our feet don't touch the bottom. What is it like to go to spiritually deep water as the Lord guides us?
So much could be said, but here are a few thoughts:
It is a place of unashamed worship, a place where you stay by the grace and mercy of God, and you know it, and you are grateful and thankful. It is not quite safe, so you keep your eyes on Jesus. It's not all about you any more. The focus has shifted. Worship is not an empty exercise. It is real, no matter what tradition or form it takes.
It is a place of bold proclamation. I did not say loud, or dogmatic or annoying proclamation. I sad bold. A Christ-follower in deep water is not concerned all that much about the opinion of those around him or her. There is more at stake. In the deep water, we are "not ashamed of the Gospel, knowing it is the power of God to salvation"
It is a place of joy. Am I saying that a spiritually mature man or woman who is determined to go deeper will never be sad? Never depressed? Never ill? Never questioning or wondering where the Holy Spirit is? Not at all! Sometimes those who walk by faith in deep water have outwardly difficult lives. But there is a sense, thorough it all, that there is no going back. The decision is made, and with that may come difficulty, but also a sense of freedom, of exhilaration, and an abiding sense of joy.
It is a place of love. It is not the self-gratifying experience of the jacuzzi. Those swimming in the deep water of God's presence begin to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love their neighbors as much as they love themselves. Squabbles sometimes happen in the wading pool, or even the jacuzzi, but not usually in waist deep and certainly not in deep water. Focusing on non-essentials is a thing of the past. Those longing for God's presence begin to see what is of lasting value.
The deep end of the water is a place of radical sacrifice. If we begin to love God and others we will be ready and willing to give of our finances, of our time, our talents and abilities, our prayer, and on it goes. We know we are not the center any longer. We realize that we never were. Eternity is in view! The cost has been counted long ago. No matter what it costs to go deeper, the shore is not the place to be.
Have you ever been deep sea diving, or even snorkeling? What fabulous wonders lie below the surface! Those who have conquered their fear to follow their divine guide on are going "from glory to glory" and they find the richest of God's treasures. Meanwhile the water of God's presnece brings life and healing and renewed hope along the shore.
Are you ready?
Are you ready to move off the beach and into the water? Are you ready to get out of the wading poor or the jacuzzi? Will you keep going--even to where your feet do not touch bottom? It can be a little frightening and even dangerous. It is not safe, but it is good. There you find the richest treasurers of spiritual life with God.
Will you go where you must live by faith?