Resurrection Chapel National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Parable In The Land

For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.
Mark 8:35

There is a phenomenon in the landscape of Palestine that illustrates this saying of Jesus.  The River Jordan runs the length of the land, and in its hundred-and-twenty mile course forms two large lakes.

Issuing from springs several thousand feet up on the slopes of Mt. Herman; small brooks join together, tumbling down into the Great Rift Valley, the deepest depression on any of earth's continents.  Not far from the river's source, and nearly seven hundred feet below sea level there is a heart-shaped basin about thirteen miles long and eight miles wide, known as the Sea of Galilee, or the Lake of Chinnereth (which means "heart").

The shores of the Sea of Galilee are lush with grass and grain, olive trees and lilies of the field.  The waters teem with fish, and for thousands of years men and women have drawn a living from lake and shore.  Jordan's water, sweet and pure, nurtures life, and makes Galilee a garden and fishery rich in resources and beauty.

At the southern end of the lake, a natural outlet passes along the water, and the river follows the Great Rift deeper into the landscape.  Here, along Jordan's lower course, the sweet running water is the bringer and sustainer of life, irrigating fields within sight of the stony arid hills of ancient Samaria on the west and the Arabian Desert on the east.

At Jordan's end the landscape changes.  Desert wilderness closes in from both sides, and 1,200 feet below sea level the river course widens into a lake fifty miles long and ten miles wide.

But this lake is different from Galilee.  The desert crowds its shore, and there is scarcely any vegetation.  Its water is so salty that no living creature calls it home.  This is the Dead Sea, so called because its waters will not support life.

The Dead Sea has such high salt content because it has no outflow.  Jordan's clear, sweet water pours in, but because it is the lowest point on earth's surface, the water has no place to run, and its journey comes to an end.  Evaporating, it leaves behind its trace elements, including salt, and over the millennia this has resulted in the salty water we see in the lake today.

Here, then, is the Parable of the Jordan.  Where Galilee uses the living water, and then lets it go, the balance is maintained.  The river sustains life, and creates a broad swath of green.  This same balance is preserved as the water runs south, but when the Dead Sea captures the water and holds onto it, the desert holds sway and there is death.

So too, when we try to hoard the love of God, fearing we might lose it, or hoping to save it for ourselves alone, we grow in upon ourselves, and there is no sign of the Divine Presence at work.  By contrast, when we receive God's love, are nourished by it, and then give it freely to others we become sources of life to those around us, and the promise of New Life shows forth for the world to see.  This is the cure for the malady that Richard described so starkly in last week’s post.  Simply trying out the latest church growth techniques and strategies will not cure it.  There’s a place for those, but first we must turn, the old word is “repent,” lay aside our fears and anxieties, and decide to follow, even through our fears.  Though it will change us, our willingness to lay self aside, and spend the love we have received is the essential first step toward allowing the Holy Spirit to make us and our churches conduits of living water.

Howard MacMullen
© August, 2012

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