The text we read this morning is one of the visions of Ezekiel, a prophet who wrote this vision when he was living in exile around 600 BCE.
Weeping with others on the banks of the rivers of Babylon for the country and culture that had been taken away from them, Ezekiel finds words of future, of restoration and renewal in his heart. Words he shared with his fellow country men and women to offer them hope, something to hang on to, something that kept them going in a situation that was, for the rest of it, rather desperate and devoid of any real hope.
In recent years some theologians have argued that this situation of exile, of being taken away from the comfort of a familiar and safe context into one of alienation and loss, is the situation of Western Christianity today. After centuries of being the dominant culture, of the world being determined by Christian faith and morals, Christianity now finding itself in a time and culture that is indifferent or even hostile to it. A situation that is believed to be not very likely to change in any near or distant future. Some even think that Christianity is heading for the scrap heap of religions. That it has had its time and has now become superfluous. That Christianity flourishes in other parts of the world only a last spasm before the light will be turned off forever.
I imagine that in the time of Ezekiel similar things were being said. That there were some of his people who shrugged their shoulders, accepted the inevitable, converted to the Babylonian ways of life and gods and got on with it, looking down on those few idiots who somehow didnt know how to cut their losses and move into the future and culture of the day. And that there were, at the same time people who lost themselves in looking back, sat at the banks of the river Euphrates and wept for what theyd left behind and knew would never come back.
Ezekiel, a man with an antenna for God, a prophet, does neither of those. He dreams. He refuses to accept that his God and his faith are finished and that he should be offering sacrifice to the gods of the Babylonians. But he doesnt dream of the days of old and hanker for what has passed, when he dreams about a return to the old country he dreams of renewal, of re-creation, of renewed inspiration in every aspect of life.
Today we find him outside the temple. A temple no longer in ruins but beautifully and lovingly restored to its old splendour with a few extras on top. A place of worship worthy of the Almighty, and attractive to Gods people. A place of worship that Ezekiel sees quite literally flow over: water comes from under its threshold, clear, lovely and life giving water.
An image that calls words of Jesus to mind: "I am the living water", living water in this case flowing out from the temple, down the mountain of God, into the valley below. Gradually getting deeper until it becomes a river too wide to swim across, flowing all the way down to the sea.
There are a great many trees on either side of this river, carrying an abundance of fruit, with the river itself and the banks alongside it swarming with life. Fish, birds, all sorts of other animals finding life and nurture everywhere where the river flows.
Genesis 1 comes to mind and the story of Paradise. A recreation of creation coming forth from the reconstructed temple, from an overflowing of the place of worship into the wider world.
In Revelation we find the same river yet again, flowing from the heart of the city of God into the world around, giving life, creating new life, with trees laden with fruits of every kind on either side. With a tree specifically named as the tree for the healing of the nations, and others bearing many times 12 types of fruit, every month of the year. Nurture in abundance for every tribe in Israel, for every nation under the sun. Healing, peace, the Lamb finally on the throne, all the nations under its feet.
Another text conceived in another exile, in a hopeless and seemingly futureless situation. Another text full of imagination and hope, of refusing to give up and a preparedness to see beyond the immediate and trust that God will not let go but make a new beginning.
The water flowing from the temple the same water of course that in Revelation is seen to be flowing from the throne of the Lamb. The place where God is present seen as the place from where new life flows and where creation finds its source and nurturing.
A very strong image. A very appealing one as well. If only there was such a place! If only these visions, these dreams would come true!
Jesus says: I am the living water, and: those who drink of this water will never be thirsty again. The water that I give will become in them a spring of water, gushing up to eternal life .
The temple, the place where the lamb is on the throne, the place where the life giving water of Gods grace should be gushing over the threshold is here. Here with us, in our hearts, in this community, gathered around the throne of God, worshipping God and putting our faith in Gods power to renew, recreate and inspire life in abundance, healing for the nations, in ever growing profusion until an ocean of love and peace and justice fills the world.
An image that tells us to flow. To let our drinking from the wells of salvation flow over into the world in such measure that it is growing into a river of life.
That is, I think, only possible when we dare to go with it. When we are prepared to go in and be part of the stream of Gods love and grace, not ankle deep, not knee deep, but totally immersing ourselves in it. Following it downstream as Ezekiel did and find an abundance of life increasing with every step we take towards the ocean.
Jesus calls us to drink deeply from the well springs of his grace, to fill ourselves with it, to become well springs ourselves and bring life and re-creation to the world in his Name.
The image of flowing water, of a well spring, of a river, of a temple literally flowing over with live giving stuff, of a situation where the lamb is on the throne brimming over with nurturing and healing fruit all too clearly suggests that life with God, being part of the life giving stream that comes from a place where he is present can never be static or confined. There is movement and growth and change and living into the future in all of those images.
There is an abandon and surrender as well. The preparedness to trust. To let go of the past, look beyond the present and be ready for something new and different every time. The preparedness to go in deep and not only paddle along the banks of the river of Gods love and grace, but immerse ourselves in it and drink deeply from it. To go with the flow and enjoy the view of growing trees and abundant living along the banks of that river of Gods love and grace we have then really become part of.
Christianity on its way out? Dont you believe it! God will always be there creating a new heaven and a new earth in whoever opens their heart to him and is prepared to go with the flow of the crystal clear and life giving water of his grace. Prepared to flow from the temple into the world outside and be one of the well springs of a new and different future for the world. Amen.