As I found myself reading the gospel story this week, I found myself entering as one standing on the shoreline, watching Jesus jump into his boat, setting sail across the water. As I sat with the story, I found myself sitting on the beach, watching him sail further and further away, pained, grieved, putting physical distance between himself and the people he so loved, the people who had gathered to follow him. He’s been preaching and teaching, organizing and healing, and after all of this work, receiving the overwhelming news that John, his cousin and mentor, has just been killed. Executed by the state. Bullet in the back. Knee on the neck. Head on a platter. Take your pick. The empire has many ways of murdering those who stand in its way.
This is a truth that hasn’t changed much in the intervening years.
Tonight we enter this story with watchful eyes, watching Jesus sail across the water into the distance. And that’s when we get up, whatever our reasons. That’s when we get up and decide to find out where he’s going, what he’s up to. He’s way out front, wind at his back, and as he sails into the distance, with no plan and without any food, we decide to go. There are too many astonishing things that he’s said. There are too many amazing things that he’s done that we cannot help but follow. And so, with our families, neighbours, with everyone we know, and plenty more besides, we set out along the water’s edge, pointing towards that small dot in the distance, not knowing what will come, but sensing that something amazing might happen.
We set out along the water’s edge to find Jesus, to sit with him, to hear him, to learn from him, to be healed by him, to hear impossible stories about an impossible kingdom—a realm unlike any we’ve ever seen. All around us people are dying. All around us, people are being sacrificed—and for what?
To maintain the current order? To keep certain people in power and others far from it? To ensure that there is more than enough for some, while so many others struggle to survive?
Throughout the scriptures, so much happens at the water’s edge. The dawning of Creation takes place as Holy Spirit hovers over the waters, separating day from night, water from land. There are the stories of Noah and his faithfulness, of God leading Moses and the people into liberation. There are cleansing stories, healing stories, freedom stories, all of which take place at the water’s edge.
At the water’s edge, chaos is never far away. It’s a dangerous place. It’s a healing place. It’s a liberating place. It’s in the river that John baptized Jesus, that dove comes from sky, hovering like Holy Spirit in the first days of creation, and proclaiming Jesus to be God’s beloved.
And now, tonight, we encounter Jesus at the edge of the water. We’ve travelled a long way, we’re tired, hungry, disoriented, hopeful. We’re seeking after something we’ve not yet been able to find. We’re seeking stability in the midst of disorientation. We’re looking for reassurance, healing, answers to unanswerable questions, for the promise of safety in these dangerous times.
At the water’s edge, as the sun goes down, my mind is not only drawn to the contrasts of day and night, but also to the in-between times of dusk and dawn. At the water’s edge, as waves laps up onto the shore, my mind is not only drawn to waters and land, but also to the intertidal zones and marshes, the water gushing out of the sand, the in between places where binaries fail to describe the richness of God’s good creation, of our very lives.
At the water’s edge is where I’m seeking Jesus these days. The last months have been disorienting to say the least, and they have led me to waters least expected. Because here I am, speaking to you from Rossland BC, a place that I now call my home, and which will be, for the foreseeable future. When we left, we left with a few things packed, with the kinds of clothes you might need in March, April, or maybe May. We’ll be home before long, we said.
And then the days wore on. And our supply of clothes wore thin. And we were grateful that Ericka’s mom sorts clothes at the local thrift shop, keep the kids in shorts and tees. I just kept on wearing my same old hat and tshirt and jeans and blundstones. But maybe there’ll be a reinvention there too.
There’s so much about this time that feels disorienting. Not being with you—even physically distant but in Vancouver—feels so strange. Sad. Upside down.
Even so, there is something that continues to draw me, to draw us to this new horizon, towards the water’s edge, to Jesus—wherever he may be going—and to the ministry he might be calling us to here on the shores of the Columbia river. Which leaves me fearful and also excited.
So far the ministry to which I’ve been called has included moving into my in-laws’ basement just after I turned 40 years old, and explaining to my children that we don’t take shoes off during a hike—no matter how wet our feet—because, well, there’s a bear walking towards us, and we should probably get moving.
Tonight, rather than seeing our way into the story through one of the major characters, I’m more interested in imagining our way into the story as one of the crowd following Jesus to the water’s edge, disoriented, yet hopeful. Knowing that the things that Jesus says and does change everything. We know this. And yet I often feel sorely underprepared for whatever’s next.
I want to invite you into the crowd today. For while there is plenty that we are invited to do, in response to Jesus, one of them, surely, is to receive the gift of God’s grace, free of charge.
Isaiah 55, the Old Testament Lesson appointed for today, opens in this way:
Everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price
The words of the prophet call us to rest in the abundance of God’s love. And these are good news words for people like us. People who struggle against oppression, and who seek long and hard after justice. These are good news words for those of us who are fighting for our lives, for our livelihoods, for the lives of those we know, and those we don’t. These are good news words for those of us who devote ourselves to feeding others with food and poetry and stories, for those of us who dedicate our lives to combating systems of oppression. These are good news words for those of us who are searching for housing, for work, for meaning. These are good news words for those of us coming to understand our sexuality and gender identity.
These are good news words for those of us struggling to understand that we are enough, that we are beloved, and that we are Holy in the eyes of our Creator—no matter what the world, our families, our neighbours, our churches, have told us along the way.
All who thirst (all of us!) are invited to the water’s edge. No matter what you bring, it’s enough. No matter who you are, you are enough. And that’s what Jesus proclaims over each of us tonight. Enough. Enough. Enough. You are enough. The journey is long. It will often be hard. But we have each other. And together, we are enough.
We may not know what tomorrow holds. We may not know how the future unfolds. And yet, Jesus proclaims abundance. Jesus proclaims abundance not just in words, but in his actions. There is bread and there is fish (or a vegan alternative), and there are leftovers. Twelve baskets full. And many more besides.