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Sun, Jan 20, 2019

The Fountain of all Good

Duration:15 mins 53 secs

Our second reading for today comes from the songbook of Israel, the Psalms. Today we read Psalm 36, verses 5-10. Whenever we read just a portion of a psalm it should be apparent that we are choosing some verses and leaving other verses out. Today we have left out descriptions of the wicked who have no fear of God and who flatter themselves in their own eyes. I do that not because those are not words which we need to hear. Perhaps they are precisely the word we need to hear in the midst of the divisions and discrimination plaguing our world even on this weekend in which we remember the ministry of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

However, following the lectionary, I have chosen to focus this morning on the verses in this psalm that speak to the character of God. For it is by lifting our eyes to the Lord that we may be inspired with both perseverance and courage for a life of change and faithfulness in these days. So let us find our eyes drawn to the Lord of heaven and earth as we hear this Word of the Lord today.

5 Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.
7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.
10 O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your salvation to the upright of heart!

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

More than several years ago now, when my boys were very small, so small they might not even remember it, we would visit a park in Gastonia, NC near our home. It was an outstanding place for the children to play with a literal fort for climbing, jumping, and endless fun. However near the entrance to the fort was the real attraction: a large water play area with fountains and sprinklers. Sometimes predictably and sometimes randomly, water would shoot forth from the ground. On warm days I used to love to watch the boys play in the fountains and sprinklers. Whenever we got close to this part of the park, they would take off running for the water. They would giggle, laugh, and splash. When we finally coaxed them out of the water, they would be sopping wet.

Yet, one day I noticed something about that play area. The only ones playing in the fountain and sprinklers were the children. All the adults stood out the outskirts. Some sat on benches and chatted with one another. Others read books or magazines. This was before the days of smartphones, so I can only imagine that today all the parents would be glued to their screens. I remember being was right there with the other parents. Not playing in the fountain, but standing on the sideline holding a towel.

My friends, I want to invite us this morning to remember what it was like to jump right into the fountain. I want to invite us to stop sitting on the sideline holding a towel and dive into God’s grace. I want to invite you to backstroke, freestyle, and even butterfly - whatever your stroke of choice might be - but to swim with thanksgiving for the life God has given you. I want to invite us to really enter into the indescribable goodness of the Lord that the psalmist has tried to capture in our text for today.

5 Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.

Even the sky cannot contain the love of God for you and for me.

6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgments are like the great deep;

From the heights to the depths of creation, places unreachable by our own human efforts - that is how trustworthy our God is.

7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Despite our attempts to limit God’s love, to restrict the number of people who might find refuge and safety in God’s abundant care, God’s love and protection extends to all people, to everyone, everywhere.

8 They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

With the Lord there is not merely enough to eat and drink, there is abundance. With God is the overflowing, abundant fountain of life.

Those of you with us last Sunday might remember that I lifted up for you the Prayer of Thanksgiving over the water we use with the sacrament of baptism. That prayer speaks of many examples of water in scripture. However, there is another “stream,” pardon the pun, yes another stream of water flowing through scripture. We find it in our psalm today declaring that with God is “the fountain of life.” It appears in Psalm 46 with a “river whose streams make glad the city of God.” Later in the New Testament, in the fourth chapter of the Gospel according to John Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that everyone who drinks of the living water he provides will never be thirsty again. Even in the final book of the Bible, in the 21st chapter of the Revelation to John we hear that in the holy city descended from the heavens, “the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” From beginning to end, God is tied to and depicted with the waters of life.

But somehow we have missed this. We in the Presbyterian or Reformed Tradition often get accused of worshiping a God who is largely distant from us. The God who, as we sung a few minutes ago, is: “immortal, invisible, God only wise.” The God we approach with our minds in an attempt to understand and explain the glories of creation while leaving our hearts unmoved.

This characterization is part of our history. Our theological ancestor John Calvin was accused of promoting a God who was an absolute monarch with an autocratic will. Cold, calculating, remote, and even terrible with his doctrine of election. You know the doctrine that says before the creation of the world God predestined some to be saved and others to be damned for all eternity. This eternal decree could not be altered. Thus, a church historian once declared, “The God of Calvin may have been a tyrant, but he was not corruptible by bribes.”[1]

Yet, my friends, I want to suggest to you today that John Calvin was a better reader of scripture than his critics give him credit for being. Calvin knew of the stream in scripture of the river of life. Calvin tasted the goodness of the Lord. Calvin drank from the living water. Calvin loved the psalms. And so when he was writing his grand theological work, the Institutes of Christian Religion, and he sought to find an image, a metaphor, that would best describe the nature of God, Calvin wrote: “It is not enough simply to hold that God is one who should be worshipped and adored by all, unless we are persuaded also that he is the fountain of all good, so that we should seek nothing anywhere else but in him.”[2] Yes, Calvin’s fundamental definition or image of God is not that of an absolute monarch. For Calvin, God is the spring or the fountain of all good.

How different is that than a cold, calculating, remote, even terrible tyrant with eternal decrees? How different might we be if we are drawn into a life-changing relationship with the fountain of all good and swept up in a love that is higher than the heavens and deeper than the deepest deep?

We just might find ourselves with eyes drawn into the heavens like Abraham as we attempt to count the stars in the heavens. Who can number them and yet God lovingly created them all.

We just might find ourselves with the steward in our first Scripture reading today as he tastes the water Jesus has turned into wine. He says something like, “You’ve saved the best for last; there is more than enough for more weddings and more guests that we can imagine. Our cup overflows.”

We just might find ourselves wanting to follow this one who was the Word in the beginning and yet took on flesh and blood, who became one of us so that we might have life and have it abundantly. Yes, in Jesus Christ, the creator and sustainer of the universe has become a living, bubbling, fountain of new life that just might bubble up within you and within me.

For as theologian Brian Gerrish writes, “What kind of human race corresponds to God as bountiful parent? The answer is obvious enough: grateful sons and daughters.”[3]

In a world so marked by pain and division, by acrimony and greed, to be grateful sons and daughters is embrace a truly radical ethic. It is an ethic that just might create a beloved community as we recognize that the goodness of the Lord bubbles up not just in you and in me, but in our neighbors, and even our enemies. You might think this is impossible to bridge divisions, to see the fountain of life springing up even there. But, in fact, it just might look like jumping in a fountain.

My friends, instead of standing on the sideline of life with a towel watching the children play, we too might swim in the fountain of grace. So, I invite you to pray, “Fill me, O Lord.” Pray that you might be filled with a passionate faith, a thirst in your soul, a gusto for God, with Christ himself. Because God is the fountain of all good. And as the living fountain Jesus does not need a cup; he does not need a bucket; he does not even need a well. If you ask him for a drink, you will find that grace overflows not just for you but for us.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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