“Water and Spirit”
January 12, 2014 - Baptism of the Lord
There are 326 million
trillion gallons of water on earth. 98 percent of it is in our oceans, about 70
percent of the earth’s surface. A tiny bit of earth’s water is in you and me.
Our bodies are 65 percent water, so if you weigh 100 pounds, 65 pounds of that
is water. Less than one percent of earth’s water is fresh water in lakes or
streams, but it’s still thousands of trillions of gallons.
The first verse of the
Bible tells us that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Science tells us that was about 14 billion years ago. Science also suggests
that verse 1 covers about 9.5 billion years, since it was only about 4.5 billion
years ago that the earth coalesced. As verse 2 of Genesis begins, we are just a
little way into the history of our planet, as God’s Spirit hovers over the
It wasn’t long ago
that science textbooks told you that the first half billion years on planet
Earth were horrifically hot and dry, with molten rock, magma, covering the
surface. In other words, very different from what we see here in Genesis. But
recent studies of some samples of the mineral zircon suggest there was water on
our planet’s surface almost from the beginning. In other words the earth cooled
down and water was present much earlier than scientists used to think, giving a
little scientific vindication for verse 2.
We need to remember,
though, that the Bible, and especially these first couple chapters of Genesis,
were never meant to be a science textbook. They are an affirmation of faith
that God created everything that is, that God is the one transcendent source of
all being and existence. Everything that is, whether it is earth or solar
system or galaxy, whether it is the water in the oceans or in your coffee this
morning, came from and comes from God.
Our faith in God as
creator does not contradict the scientific account of the age of the universe
or the earth. Nor does science, when it’s really doing its job, contradict what
the Bible says about creation. It’s only some scientists, like Stephen Hawking,
who pretend they are doing science when they deny God created the universe. But
that’s not a question science can investigate or answer, one way or the other.
Science investigates what is, what exists, even all the way back to the
beginning of that existence in the Big Bang. But there is no way for science or
scientists to address questions of why things exist or how they
came to exist, without doing something other than science.
We could spend a lot
of time talking about creation and connecting it with scientific discoveries
and seeing how science and faith fit together. But today, as we remember how
our Lord Jesus entered the water to begin His ministry, I’d like to focus on the
water in the story. As I mentioned, both science now and verse 2 tell us that
water played a key part in the early formation and history of the world. But
the Bible puts God into the story of the water, here in the person of His
Spirit, “hovering over the waters.”
That word “to hover”
in some translations, like the NRSV, is made into something violent like the
word “swept.” But it’s the same word used in Deuteronomy 32:11 to picture a mother eagle hovering above her nest of young eaglets,
tenderly watching over and caring for them. That’s how God began with the world
and how He continues. His Spirit hovers above us in tender care.
Some of you heard
Kristin talk about Gerard Manley Hopkins. His most famous poem speaks about how
we’ve made such a mess of this beautiful world that God has created. But it
ends with a confident faith that there is a bright morning dawning,
Because the Holy Ghost
over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
That is the faith I
would like you to hear and share today. Some Bible scholars will tell you that
verse 2 is describing a picture of chaos. The earth was “formless and empty,”
“darkness was over the surface of the deep” The very idea of deep water, of an
endless ocean struck fear into the hearts of ancient people. The great oceans
were chaotic, dangerous places. Waves and storms were a constant threat. Yet
over all that chaos hovers the gentle wings of the Spirit of God, brooding,
calming, and ultimately as we go on here, forming the chaos and darkness into
Bob Ekblad tells us
how he conducts Bible studies with people outside of acceptable society, with
prisoners and migrant workers. One of his stories is about sharing this second
verse of the Bible about God’s Spirit hovering gently over the waters with some
Not too long after,
one of them, Manny told him how he communicated with a guy named Pookie while
locked in solitary confinement. Pookie was in the cell above and they
discovered if they flushed their toilets at the same time, emptying the water
between, the could talk with each other through the toilet bowls. And Manny
read Pookie the 23rd Psalm through the toilet. “It really touched
him, man.” Ekblad realized that even over the dark, ugly, troubled waters of a
metal, seatless prison toilet, the Holy Spirit hovers and God speaks His peace
and grace and love.
God hovers and speaks
over the waters. In our Gospel from Matthew 3 we heard Him speak over Jesus’
waters of baptism. If you have been baptized, the Holy Spirit was there and God
spoke over those waters at your beginning as His child. And He continues
speaking over waters, whether flowing gently like the still waters of Psalm 23 or raging like the mighty waters of Psalm 29 as we heard this morning, “The voice
of the Lord is over the waters.”
It is the voice, the
Word of God, which accomplishes the creation we see beginning to unfold here.
In verse 3, God speaks, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Notice
then at the beginning of verse 4 we hear something that gets repeated
throughout this creation account, “God saw that the light was good.” God spoke
and the result was good.
That is what God is up
to here at the beginning of the world and what He is still up to in your life
and my life. He wants to speak and make something good out of whatever trouble
or chaos there is. His Spirit is hovering, His voice is speaking, and He wants
to bring light out of our darkness, and peace and order out of our chaos.
Of course we often
have a hard time noticing that hovering Spirit or hearing that powerful Voice,
but it’s always there. Like I shared on my blog, Beth and I have been watching
some old family videos as I try to transfer them to the computer. One of them
was shot along the creek that runs below our cabin in Arizona. Susan was almost
seven, Joanna not quite two. We watched as our little girl skipped over the
rocks in the creek like I used to as a boy. They both threw sticks and little
rocks in the water. Susan kept discovering bright stones or bugs or little
Our camcorder picked
up all the conversation we carried on there by the creek: Susan saying, “Look
at this!” Beth and I saying, “Be careful!” Joanna burbling happy sounds. But
the loudest, most powerful sound on the tape was one we paid no attention to at
the time, by the creek. It was the rushing sound of the water. There next to
the creek your mind just tunes it out. You listen to voices, to birds, maybe to
the splash of a thrown rock, but that constant rush, even roar of the water
disappears in the background, until years later we heard it faithfully recorded
by the microphone in our camera.
That’s how it can be
with the voice of God, with the ever-present hovering of His Spirit above and
around our lives. He is there, but we tune Him out, we ignore what He is
saying, what He is doing, paying more attention to our own voices and what we
are doing. But then years later we look back and realize that God was speaking,
God was acting, God was creating something in and around us.
Friday morning in our
men’s Bible study we came to the end of the story of Joseph, the end of Genesis
and read that famous verse 20 of chapter 50 where Joseph tells his brothers
that God was working in all the trouble they caused him. He says, “Even though
you intended to harm me, God intended it for good.”
We talked for a little
while about how difficult it can be to see at the time how God will create
something good out of hard and hurtful things we go through. I shared how my
first girlfriend of six years broke our engagement in my first year of graduate
school. At the time I thought my life was ruined, but now it is so easy to see
how God made something good from that mess, giving me a long, wonderful
marriage to Beth.
Chris shared how he
felt devastated when a stress fracture in his hip washed him out of basic
training and derailed his plans to enter the Army and serve there as an
attorney. But now it’s clear how God made something good out of that, keeping
him here in Oregon to be home with his family and to become an advocate for
people who have been injured or treated unjustly.
We both realized that
the Spirit of God was there hovering over us, speaking into our trouble and
chaos, making something new, something we didn’t expect, something good out all
that we went through.
The creation story
here is about God speaking and bringing order and good out of the chaos and
darkness of the beginnings of our earth. Notice how God first sets boundaries
and creates order. Verse 4 goes on to say that God separated the light from the
darkness. That becomes the regular progression of night and day, the basic and
fundamental order of most life in this world.
Then the waters
receive their boundaries. Verse 6 talks about God creating a “vault” or a
“firmament,” and separating the waters above from the waters below. That means
the separation of the waters which are on the earth from the waters above which
rain down on the earth. That firmament we learn in verse 8 is the expanse of
sky, or we might call it “atmosphere” today. That was the second day.
Water gets further
boundaries on the third day in verse 9 when God gathers them together into the
various oceans and separated them by dry ground, “continents” as we would say
now. We aren’t reading all of what happened that third day, but if you look
ahead you will see that this makes it possible now for vegetation to arise, for
plants and trees and flowers and fruit to grow.
And after God gives
those boundaries to the water, to the chaos, notice again what it says at the
end of verse 10, “And God saw that it was good.” And that’s the point of all
this. Again, Genesis is not a science textbook. You’re not going to be able to
match it up point for point with cosmology and geology and botany and biology.
It doesn’t contradict all those sciences; it just has a different concern. And
that concern is to tell us that God wants to create something good. That’s how
He made the world and that’s what He wants to do in our lives, no matter how
drowned and destroyed we feel.
God puts this all together
for us in Jesus. That’s why we needed to read the Gospel text this morning and
hear the voice of God speaking at His baptism saying, “This is my beloved Son,
with whom I am well pleased.” If we just had creation we might wonder where to
find the Spirit, where to hear God’s voice now. And even if we heard His voice
it would probably just be what it is in the Psalm, a thundering, majestic sound
over the waters. But how would that thunder help us, heal us, make us into that
good, beloved creation of God?
So the oceans of
creation are bounded and redirected once again until as we’ll read next week in
Genesis 2, there is a River of water which flows at God’s direction. It’s no
longer the dark and deep chaos of undrinkable salt oceans. It is fresh, living water,
flowing forth to bring life and nourishment to the land, to animals, to people.
Then when we come as
heard this morning to the good news of Jesus we find Him in the waters of the
River Jordan, with the Holy Spirit hovering and coming down upon Him, and the
voice of God speaking love over Him. That’s where the waters end up, in a
River, a River that brings life and hope and God’s grace to all people through
We will be looking at
that River of God for the next few weeks. Like a stream which flows partly
above ground and partly below, it keeps popping up throughout the Bible. But
it’s there all the way through, all the way to Revelation. The Spirit hovers
over the waters and then the Spirit becomes water, living water flowing in a River of Life.
Maybe all these water
images and poetry don’t speak to you. If so then please just hear this, God is
here. God is here for you. He is over and around and with you. He wants to make
something good out of you, out of your life. He came to you in Jesus Christ and
it’s in Jesus that you can still hear Him speaking, driving back the chaos,
bringing order and peace to you and your world. I urge you not to ignore Him,
not let the voice of God in Jesus Christ just be background noise, but let it
be the voice of creation, of your new creation in Him. You can start over, you
can enjoy a new beginning in Jesus right now.
In John chapter 3
Jesus told a man who came seeking answers this same thing. Be created fresh, be
born again. Enter the kingdom of God by being born of water and the Spirit, by
faith in Jesus Christ. May you have that new birth today and always.
Water and Spirit.
That’s how the world began. Water and Spirit. That’s how God in Jesus Christ is
saving the world, saving us. Water and Spirit. That’s how the world will be,
healed and whole, beautiful and at peace, with the River of God flowing through it and the bright wings of the Holy Spirit hovering over it.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj