Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Here is a retelling of a very old story…
A young man falls into a river that has swelled with heavy rainfall.
He is carried along by a swift current that is taking him towards rocks and places where he might drown.
Fortunately, there are other people by the riverside who have opportunities to help him.
A woman with experience as a lifeguard is standing on a small dock with a rope attached to the dock and a life preserver.
She knows that there is a chance that she can throw the life preserver to the young man and he might catch it and be saved.
She ponders the situation for two seconds and then picks up the life preserver, makes sure that the line is strong and secure. She then jumps into the river, never letting go of the life preserver. She struggles to get into a position where she can catch hold of the young man.
As he comes near, she grabs him and clings to both the man and the life preserver. She holds tight and waits for more help, but the force of the water and the strength of the line swings her back closer to shore. She and the young man are able to step their way on to the shore. A life is saved. By the young man’s weakened condition, it is doubtful that he could have caught the life preserver.
This is the way that we are saved from the power of sin.
Sometimes we are caught up and carried along towards death and ruin.
Most of the time, we have some ability to protect ourselves, but the river is much stronger than we are.
The question is how much we can participate in our own salvation.
We might think that all we need is for someone to throw us a line and we could pull ourselves out.
But the river is strong and wears us out. We become disoriented.
The laws of God tried to warn us to stay away from the dangers of the river, but here we are.
The Old Testament words of repentance represent the effort to get back to shore.
The wisdom of the Old Testament tells us of the importance of grabbing the rope that can we can pull to bring us to salvation. The rope and the life preserver represent God’s mercy and help.
But to save us, when we are helpless, we need someone to jump in and grab us.
Our only choice in the matter is whether or not we try to fight off our savior.
Jesus came into the world to rescue us from the power of death:
Not just death of the body, but death in the spiritual sense.
The only way we can receive salvation is by submitting to it.
The only choice is to submit to our rescue or to fight off the lifeguard, by doing so, we remain in the river that is carrying us to our own destruction. We might feel that we only want to be saved (or to save ourselves) on our own terms, but the river is too strong for us to succeed.
But this is only a story to make a point.
It is a good story and you can stop there if it is comforting,
but the deeper reality of God goes further than this attempt at a parable.
We should be like the lifeguard to some extent, but in that case God’s love is the safety line.
The the savior is in the river with us, but the real details are a little different.
After all, the young man could fall into the river again.
We need something more permanent than a makeshift emergency plan.
— — —
The reality behind the story, is that God sent his only Son into the world
because the power of human corruption was destroying people and nations in body and soul.
Jesus came into the world (into our raging world of peril).
We wanted a king to make things right.
We wanted somebody to save us before we were even more battered and bruised.
We wanted someone to destroy the boulders and rapids in the river and their power to kill.
But Jesus didn’t come to pull us out of the water.
You can call it the river of life, the river of death, or the river of time.
He came to deny its ultimate power that overwhelms us and destroy us.
Jesus willingly walked into the river and defeated it. He appeared to be washed away.
His body was carried to the rocks of death and allowed them to beat him instead of us.
His lifeless body was carried downstream.
But God the Father revived Jesus and brought him back to life,
showing that there was something more powerful than the rocks of death.
So, not just once, Jesus is already in the river for every person who falls in the river.
Whether we are broken on the stones or pass by them unscathed,
Jesus is waiting for us with a power greater than the river.
He revives us and we are healed to consider what comes next.
We may still have a choice then to reject his love and healing, but why should we?
We might refuse new life and healing out of spite, but what is the point of that?
It turns out that the rocks in the river are not a “dead end” but the river of death is just a river that leads to the ocean of God’s love.
— — —
So yes, life can be threatening, and we continue to fear both pain and death,
but take comfort in the fact that salvation is just a little ways beyond the place you might despair.
The river of time still flows, but it flows to where Jesus will free you to enjoy what comes next.
Let’s look again at John 14:1-7
Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”