There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.Psalm 46: 4
Hymn 540 I heard the voice of Jesus say
How great and wonderful is your love for us
In this vast universe –
so huge that our minds cannot grasp the times and distances
required to cross it
you know each one of us through and through
you see the things we try to hide from ourselves, let alone others
but you also see the things that worry and annoy us
the things that give us peace and pleasure
you see the pain and the injustice – and you care
You care enough for your Spirit to be active every day
seeking healing and wholeness for your world
and you care enough to have come among us in Jesus
suffering and dying for us –
long before we were born –
and acknowledging that his sacrifice would be ignored by many
(at times including us)
We have never deserved your love
but you give it freely and graciously to us all
it is constant faithful and true
we marvel at it
and we are ashamed in the face of it
for we have taken it for granted
we have been indifferent to it
we have ignored your teaching
we have turned away from Christ’s example of how to live
We are sorry and ask for your forgiveness
Come to us again in your Spirit
rekindle in us the fire of your love
cleanse us and restore us
make us the people you want us to be
loving and serving you
and being examples to the world of how it can be
Through Christ our Lord we pray
All age time (for ages 0-100)
Some small burns are narrow enough to step over. But when they get bigger, they can be a problem:
- Taking off your shoes or putting on your wellies to wade through can sound like fun, but it can also be dangerous. You could catch your foot on something and cut it or be pulled down; you could slip on a slimy stone and fall in; there might be a fast flowing current that makes it hard to stay upright, or you might find that there is a bit that is deeper than you thought
- Some rivers have fords for cars or horse-drawn vehicles. There used to be one by the Old Bridge in Dumbarton. If the ford were restored, how many of us would consider using it?
- Some rivers have stepping stones. It can be fun on a summer’s day if you are careful and the water is neither too deep nor too fast. But in winter, or after a thunderstorm it is another story
- Bridges are much easier, but they cost a lot of money to build (especially if they have to be able to accommodate boats on the river) so there aren’t a lot of them. Wouldn’t it be great if there were one from Levengrove Park to the High Street or Morrison’s? Or maybe from Dumbarton to Langbank? [Google maps] Instead we have to go the long way round – and the way round can be even longer if roadworks or the weather close a bridge
The Bible doesn’t mention bridges, but there would have been some in the time of Jesus to help people cross the River Jordan, and maybe some smaller rivers and streams – but like today getting to the bridge could involve a long detour.
With cars and lorries, and sometimes lots of people on foot, bridges can get congested and have long queues. What was it like when donkeys, camels, mules, carts, chariots, herds of sheep and goats, Roman soldiers and crowds of pilgrims were all trying to cross bridges – sometimes in opposite directions on a narrow bridge? Were there soldiers guarding the crossing, checking who went over? Were there tax collectors charging people for crossing the bridge? If so, Jesus would have been quite used to seeing the anger, frustration, the attempts at queue-jumping, the officials on duty who just like to be awkward.
The things that Jesus said about being kind, thoughtful, helpful, patient, thinking of other people weren’t just meant for spring picnics in the hills. He meant them for everyday life – including being stuck in a queue at a bridge.
Bible reading Ezekiel 47: 1-12
Reflection Part 1 Rivers and streams
A mossy patch under a grassy bank, damp sand in a dry rocky valley, narrow scars on a rock face – all the birthplace of rivers. They may travel only a matter of feet from field edge to sea shore, or travel miles like the Clyde, even thousands of miles like the Nile or Amazon. But every river starts somewhere, somewhere small. Perhaps we could say that they all begin with individual raindrops – billions of them. Some disappear underground before reappearing in a river system, some run straight down the rock face into the river channel. All rivers start small, and grow as others come to join them.
There is something about a young burn or stream, full of youthful energy bouncing from rock to rock, leaping, gurgling, roaring, with a purity and an innocence that makes the water safe to drink. By contrast the older river is sluggish, and probably polluted, but it is capable of powering mills and turbines, carrying passengers and freight, and even being used as a source of drinking water for a thirsty city. It may be sluggish, but it is not stagnant. It keeps flowing at a tremendous rate because it keeps being fed by all those little headwater streams and burns.
The people of the Holy Land really only knew the River Jordan and its tributaries – but they knew these different faces of a river and stream. The psalmist spoke of waterfalls thundering down to the Jordan from Mount Hermon and Mount Mizar. Jesus’ story of the two housebuilders probably envisages the dry, sandy wadi that rapidly turns to a raging torrent in a rainstorm. And the sluggish Jordan in which Jesus was baptised meanders into the lifeless Dead Sea.
One raindrop cannot achieve a great deal, but billions of them together can form a mighty river. Christ’s church is made up of billions of individuals too, that come together in smaller groups, but are part of his great world-wide family that, inspired by the Spirit, can change the world. The church has a place for those with youthful energy and enthusiasm (whatever their age), and for those who feel that age has made them sluggish and polluted. The Spirit of God can flow through all to bring his power, his healing, his renewal and his refreshing.
Hymn 722 Spirit of God come dwell within me
Reflection Part 2 Barrier or highway
By tradition the boundary between Roman Italy and the Empire was the River Rubicon. As the Empire grew, a large part of its Northern frontier ran along the rivers Rhine and Danube. The boundary between England and Scotland was defined in the Thirteenth Century as from the Sark Burn to the Tweed. The River Forth marked the boundary between Perthshire and Stirlingshire, the Clyde between Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire, and in other places the Tees, the Humber, the Thames, the Mersey, and rivers around the world all perform that function. In some cases like the Rhine, the Elbe, the Mississippi and the Missouri the boundary is between federal states. In others like the Rio Grande, the St Lawrence and the Danube it is between countries. When a river is too deep to wade across or to bridge, then it becomes a kind of barrier.
At the same time, over the centuries, rivers and streams have also been highways. Ancient tribes not only travelled along river valleys, but along the rivers in dugout canoes, or by some slightly more sophisticated oared vessel. Before canals and railways river traffic was important for moving heavy goods (albeit slowly) – a role much expanded in Victorian times with the dredging of rivers like the Clyde. Europeans exploring places like Africa often travelled by boat along the great rivers, and in post-industrial Western Europe and North America the most fashionable place to have a house, office or leisure site is often on the banks of a river.
Several times Biblical writers refer to God’s Spirit being like a river, flowing out, bringing cleansing, new life, refreshing, sustaining, spreading ever broader and deeper. To some God’s Spirit is a highway, enabling our relationship with God to grow ever broader and deeper, enabling our lives to become ever more Christ-like. To some the river of the Spirit is a barrier – they don’t want to be disturbed, to be changed, to face the cost of commitment to following Jesus, don’t want to have to give up doing things that make their lives comfortable.
What about us, the people of God? Are we a barrier that stops people encountering the love and Good News of Jesus? Or are we a highway, a channel through which Jesus is able to reach out and touch them?
Prayers for others
We thank you for all that rivers contribute to our lives
from fresh water and leisure
to means of communication
help us to respect them and protect them
to stop polluting them
heavy rain or melting snow has always caused rivers to be in spate
to overflow, flood surrounding land, and be a danger to life
because of climate change the risk of rivers overflowing has increased
we have seen many cases in recent months –
here and overseas –
of homes, businesses and farmland being flooded
and homes, businesses and farmland being swept away
inspire political and business leaders to take the necessary steps to curb climate change
and help us to accept that we may need to change our lifestyles
and that addressing climate change may have a financial cost for us
we pray for all who are ill,
those who look after them
and those who worry about them
those waiting for or receiving treatment
and those for whom there is no treatment
those who are lonely, feeling down, or grieving a friend or loved one
those who are worried about home, work or money
a friend or a relative
those who are living with the after-effects of natural disasters
those who do not have enough to eat, or somewhere to call home
those who long to live in peace and safety
those who have fled from their homes seeking safety
We pray for the Queen, the Government
all in positions of leadership in this and every land
We pray for you church
the worldwide church
the wider church in Dumbarton
our own congregation
help us always to be faithful to Jesus our Lord
We bring to you our prayers for people and situations of special concern to us
And we sum up our prayers in the words of the prayer Jesus gave us
Hymn 167 Guide me O thou great Jehovah
And the blessing of God Almighty.