May 15, 2005
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

John 20:19-29

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the authorities, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

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Sermon: God’s Going to Trouble the Water

This morning, in song, word, and sacrament, we have heard about the work of God’s spirit. The Hebrew people believed that God’s energy operated in the world much like the wind – you couldn’t see the wind but you could see the effect the wind had on objects in the world and in the sky. You could see the sand stir, the clouds move across the sky, you could feel the evening breeze on your cheeks.

Living in a dry region, they knew the wind could blow hot or cold, it could bring relief or suffering, it could be gentle or mount itself up in a storm. They had a single word, “ruach,” that was used for the wind in their face, the breath in their bodies, and the spirit of God. In every key moment of history in the Bible we hear how this ruach, this spirit, wind, or breath of God was alive and active in the world.

Genesis 1:1-2 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

Later, in a Cecil B. DeMille moment, we get this picture of Moses fleeing Egypt with the people of Israel, stretching out his hand over the Red Sea and
The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided.

Then, of course we read about the Spirit coming at baptism of Jesus by John in the waters of the Jordan river, just as we prayed it would for the baptism today. And later, when Jesus is beginning his ministry, we read how the spirit – the energy of God - stirred the water in a healing story from the Gospel of John.

John 5:1 There is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.

And that quick survey of history brings me to the title of my sermon today: God’s going to trouble the water!

There was a spiritual that was very popular with the Underground Railroad called “Wade in the Water.” Some say that Harriet Tubman used to sing it to advise fleeing slaves of the best way to throw the bloodhounds of their trail. The song begins: Wade in the water, wade in the water children, wade in the water, God’s a-going to trouble the water.”

Each verse picks up on one of those episodes I just mentioned from the Bible Story:
See that band all dressed in red, looks like the band that Moses led;
See that band all dressed in white; the leader looks like the Israelite;
If you don’t believe I’ve been redeemed; follow me down to Jordan’s stream

Wade in the water, wade in the water children, wade in the water, God’s a-going to trouble the water.”

Now as much as I think the fleeing slaves might have taken instruction from Harriet Tubman about ditching the barking dogs, I can’t help but think they might also have taken hope from the idea that God’s energy was at work in the world to trouble the water –
the stagnant water of the status-quo of slavery,
the calm water of complacent racism that allowed people to ignore the pain and anguish slavery caused
the still water of a society stuck in a rut and unwilling to change.

When God troubled the water God’s spirit, God’s energy, made things happen. It roused up the soul of an enslaved people to resist their oppressors. It awakened the slumbering conscience of those who had been content to turn a blind eye to the suffering of a minority. It caused history to change course and a new day to dawn – so that those who lived in a land of deep darkness might now walk in the light.

How does the energy of God act in this world of ours? Does it calm or trouble the waters? This morning we read two stories from the scriptures. In one Jesus comes before the disciples and says, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” In the second story we read about the Day of Pentecost, when the spirit of God is poured out on the disciples and they were given inspiration to speak about God’s deeds of power in many languages. We often call this the birthday of the church, for it was the day when the disciples came out of hiding and began to carry on the ministry that Jesus had left in their care.

We celebrate Pentecost as a birthday, but I’m sure for those who were comfortable and well-off in the Roman power structure it was more a source of concern than celebration. God was troubling the water – their water, the Pax Romana, the golden age of Roman hegemony instituted by Caesar Augustus twenty years before the birth of Christ. What the church celebrated as a new beginning the Romans would come to recognize as the beginning of the end, but that’s the way it is when God comes down to trouble the water.

We also remember the blessing of Jesus to the disciples every Sunday in church when we say – The peace of the Lord be with you. Then Jesus added – as the Father has sent me, so I send you. We know that they got a lot more trouble than peace once they committed to follow the Lord.

In the older hymnals you can find a hymn that highlighted the contrast between the blessing of peace and the consequences of the path the disciples followed – it was called, They Cast Their Nets in Galilee:
They cast their nets in Galilee, just off the hills of brown
Such happy, simple fisher folk before the Lord came down.
Contented peaceful fishermen before they every knew
The peace of God that filled their hearts brimful and broke them too.
Young John who trimmed the flapping sail, homeless in Patmos died.
Peter, who hauled the teeming net, head down was crucified.
The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod.
Yet, brothers, pray for but one thing: The marvelous peace of God

I can see why that hymn was left out of the new hymnals. People don’t come to church for trouble. Can you imagine if instead of saying “The Peace of the Lord be with you,” we said “The trouble of the Lord be with you.” We’d answer – “Not with me – maybe with you!” Unless we could compel attendance like they did in Colonial days I’m sure it would be hard to fill this house.

Some forty years ago the Religious Education Department of the Anglican Church in Canada asked a prominent commentator, Pierre Burton, to give the church a report card from the perspective of an outsider. The study was published as a book with the title “The Comfortable Pew.” As I remembered it, it basically accused the church of creating a comfort zone where believers could turn their backs on the troubles of the world and engage in ritualistic behaviors to convince themselves that everything was all right and their place in the world was God-given and secure. But not trusting my memory I went to the web and Googled “Comfortable Pew.” Most of what I found was ads from church furniture companies:

The Trinity Difference... Customer Satisfaction
Trinity's pews are designed for the congregation of today, providing higher backs as a standard feature to ensure that you will receive the most comfortable seating possible. With this added height, plus two properly-positioned, padded lumbar supports, Trinity has achieved the recognition of "the most comfortable pew" available. And at Trinity, we think our customers' comfort is worth every penny it costs us.

For today’s culture – comfort, not trouble, is what we want from church -- and from God. But in the Bible that’s only half the story – and when the spirit comes to trouble the water, it comes with power and purpose for healing, freedom and salvation.

Wade in the water, wade in the water children, wade in the water, God’s a-going to trouble the water.”  Amen.

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