The prophet Ezekiel had his visions in Babylonia; he was an exile. Near the end of the book of Ezekiel the prophet gives instructions for a new temple to replace what had been destroyed. It reads like architectural plans with dimensions and such. Then in the middle of this he describes another vision of water flowing out of the temple. It is a marvelous vision of a flow that steadily increases the farther it goes – instead of thinning out as would be natural. The water brings life wherever it goes.
The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side.
As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross. He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?”
Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets.The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”
What an amazing vision! God’s river makes the Dead Sea come to life; abundant life like Jesus said. It brings healing. There is an abundance of fruit continually available. There is attention to our human needs and thus is very considerate to not wipe out all the salt because some salt is a good thing. It is a vision of a loving God providing for all people. The farther out it reaches, the deeper and wider it gets. In Ezekiel’s vision the source was the temple which I believe we could easily imagine is God. I believe this river began at creation when God made life and called it all good. It flows through all past time and comes to us even today. It is inexhaustible.
Entering into this river brings great joy. It’s fresh. It’s life to the full. In this river is joy that comes from trusting God’s gracious promises. Entering into God’s love brings a sense of peace in our hearts from the blessed assurance that we are accepted by God as sons and daughters. It is the feeling deep down that no matter what else may be going on here is where we belong. The waters promote healing and strength. Who would not want this? I believe this is what all people desire deep in their heart.
Indeed, this river of God’s love flows to all people. I repeat: ALL PEOPLE! It flows to people not like me. It flows to the poor and the rich; the outcasts and undesirables and the rulers and powerful. It flows to sinners and saints, all the same. Whites and blacks, yellows and reds. It flows to people we don’t even like. It flows to our enemies. God’s river of love is as wide as the earth. God’s river of love is unstoppable and inexhaustible. It is unfathomable. It should be a lifelong quest of every believer to wade and swim in this river of God’s love that has no end.
Accepting God’s invitation of grace is like entering into this river of life. It is the river of God’s love. Baptism is a wonderful symbol of entering this river. Water washes us clean. Water brings life. So it is very fitting that our journey with God starts with baptism with water.
But we soon see that there are others in this river. Others not like us. So what are we going to do?
What I see some doing is putting a stop to it. They fear others who are different. They judge and condemn. It’s one thing to enter the river of life and joy but what about sharing it with everyone? Can we do that? Or will we hold back and claim it for ourselves? When we do that, it stops flowing and soon dies.
I entered this river of God’s love and grace as a teenager. It has made all the difference in my life. It has given me a sense that my life has a purpose like I’m going somewhere. This river really does go somewhere. After many years in the river of God’s love I find that it is taking me closer to the heart of God. And what I find there are the poor and the outcasts and undesirables. And God is challenging me to love ALL people as God loves.
This has become my vision for the Church. Not just my church, but all churches.
What flows out of God’s people is a river of love that reaches all people around the world and brings life and joy. It brings healing and overflowing blessings with abundance wherever it goes. And it’s for all people. There is a continuous seeking of the people being left out of God’s blessings to bring them in by loving service. It is an army of peacemakers – not by violence but humble love, powerful love. When others get close to the waters they see the joy and love flowing and want to jump in.
Sadly, the reality is that we aren’t there yet. Instead of an outpouring of love, there is a lot of judgement and condemnation coming from us Christians. There is a lot of what Philip Yancey* calls “ungrace” fueled by loveless orthodoxy and faulty theology about God being violent. This does not bring life and joy. Passing judgement to the poor for being poor does not lift them up. Condemning the outcasts and sinners will not help them. Jesus condemned the religious leaders who shunned the sinners and outcasts; but not the sinners and outcasts.
The first followers of Jesus flourished in this river of love for the first 300 years. By serving and suffering in humble love they gained respect and grew in a very hostile environment. Their fellowship and unity crossed all social and economic boundaries. This quickly faded when the Christians gained political power from the empire. The free flowing river got channeled into denominations and creeds, blocked by force of authority, and life died. The love of Jesus was the victim; even to this very day.
The river of God’s love invites us to serve the needy, even if not convenient and at our own expense; defend the poor and oppressed against their oppressors, even at great risk of suffering with them. It would have us seeking the ones left out; even those not like us. Even when made to suffer, it would have us praying for our persecutors and enemies and doing good to them in return; forgiving those who hurt us, even from our own cross. Who could resist such a flow of love?
This is the life Jesus shows that is so powerful that not even death can stop it. Because God’s river of love is unstoppable!
*”What’s So Amazing about Grace” by Philip Yancey.
(See also Psalm 1)