(Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21)
As most of you probably know, we have two cats: Cleopatra and Tyrone. They are actually Tula’s cats. She really missed having a cat after our kitty, Miou-Miou, died in 2013, so her 2017 Christmas present was Cleopatra and Tyrone. We found them on Petfinder.com and thought they were here in CT waiting to be adopted, but they were actually in Egypt waiting to be adopted! When the woman who runs the Nile Valley Egyptian Foundation rescue organization called to approve our adoption, she casually stated that the cats would be flying into JFK Airport from Egypt on Sunday, December 13. That following Sunday, December 13, they were delivered to our doorstep, fresh from Egypt.
As we all adjusted to each other, I soon noticed that there was always water from their water bowl all over the floor around the bowl. I couldn’t imagine what was happening until I saw Tyrone batting at the water or the bowl before he would drink. This made a huge mess, of course. I had never had a cat that did this. I decided to figure out why he did this so that I could, hopefully, find a solution, and then there wouldn’t be water all over the floor all the time!
I discovered from my research that this is fairly common in cats. It’s one of those instinctual things. Moving water is fresh water, while stationary water is stagnant water; therefore, moving water is healthier than stationary water. Some cats still have the instinct to drink from moving water rather than stationary water. Tyrone is one of those cats. He was making the water move because, instinctually, he knew that moving water was healthier!
I now knew why Tyrone was making his drinking water move, but I had to figure out what to do about it. Again, I did research. I discovered that there are water fountains made, specifically, for pets to drink out of, so I bought one of those, and Tyrone and Cleo drink happily from their water fountain!
Moving water is healthier than stationary water. Moving water stays fresh because it is constantly renewed, either from an ocean flowing into a river, or a spring flowing into a stream, or a spring refreshing a lake or pond. Stationary water, on the other hand, tends to be brackish or contaminated with bacteria. Cats instinctively prefer moving water because its healthier water.
Today’s scripture passage from Ephesians lays out the flow of a faith life grounded in God, refreshed by Jesus, and carried along by the Spirit. Jesus, at the Festival of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, stated, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (Jn 7:38). Like Tyrone, we need living water in order to be spiritually healthy. We need to drink from, be sustained by, and be carried along by the river of living water we find when we turn to Jesus. Otherwise, our spiritual lives become stagnant, brackish, and contaminated.
There is a flow to the healthy spiritual life as it is outlined in the Ephesians passage. We have to begin with grace: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God . . .” (2:8). God graciously gifted us salvation; God saved us. What did he save us from? God saved us from spiritual death: “You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived” (2:1-2). God saved us from spiritual slavery: We were slaves to “the course of this world, . . the ruler of the power of the air” (2:2). God saved us from spiritual prison: “We were by nature children of wrath” (2:3). God saved us by the gift of grace from spiritual death, spiritual slavery, and spiritual prison. He “made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (2:5-7).
Once we have received the gift of grace, we are at the source of the living water. We see the living water bubbling up from the spring of Jesus Christ. We were thirsty, and we came to Jesus to drink (Jn 37). He gave us the living water and we were refreshed. Now, we can take the next step, which is gratitude. The definition of gratitude is, “the quality of being thankful; [the] readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” From the moment we accept salvation as a gift from God, we are to be thankful. We are to be ready to show appreciation for the gift and to return the kindness given to us. The way that we do that is the next step, which is good works.
Gratitude produces good works because we are so thankful for the mercy we have received that we want to give it to others. We raise our arms in thanksgiving to God and then we reach them out into the world to do good works. Our arms go up and out in a dance of gratefulness and in acts of thankfulness. The mercy we have received is too awesome to keep to ourselves, so we give it to the world through good works. These works do not earn us salvation, for we have been saved by grace; no, they are the natural result of the gift of salvation freely given. The love poured into us from God pours out of us into the world.
Finally, we are at the last step: worship. As we raise our arms to God in gratitude, then out to the world to do good works in thankfulness, our lives become acts of worship; our lives become a liturgical dance. Arms raise up and reach out, raise up and reach out, raise up and reach out in a dance of worship.
The life of a faith is a flowing river of living water that moves from salvation by grace, to gratitude, to good works, to worship. It is a life grounded in God, refreshed by Jesus, and carried along by the Spirit. If our faith life gets stuck at any of these spots along the river, we stagnate, turn brackish, and get contaminated. If we receive salvation by grace but think we have earned it ourselves, we are ungrateful, and the river stops flowing. If we receive salvation by grace and are grateful but do no good works, the river stops flowing. If we receive salvation by grace, are grateful, and do good works, but we think those good works are necessary to earn the love of God, then our lives do not become acts of worship and the river stops flowing. When the river stops flowing, it becomes stagnant, brackish, and contaminated. Our faith lives are no longer healthy.
If we find our faith lives stagnant, brackish, or contaminated, we have to go back to the source of living water: Jesus. “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (Jn 7:37). “Drink not from a stagnant, brackish, contaminated pool, but from the living water I offer!” Go to the source of living water, then follow the river as it flows from salvation, to gratitude, to good works, and to worship! Live a life of worship and you will always be grounded, refreshed, and carried along by God: our Creator, our Christ, and our Holy Spirit.
Who knew that an Arabian Mau cat, who came to our family from Egypt, would teach me a lesson about the life of faith? Flowing water is healthier than stationary water. Flowing faith is healthier than stationary faith. Jesus offers us living water. Once we receive it, we must keep it alive through keeping it moving in lives that have become acts of worship: receive, give thanks, do good works; receive, give thanks, do good works; receive, give thanks, do good works. May our faith lives be rivers of living water, grounded in God refreshed by Jesus, and carried along by the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, March 11, 2017, the Fourth Sunday in Lent.