Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (John 7:25-52) transports me to a hike up the mountain above my brother Dave’s house, where the folks who started Everybody’s Pizza in Decatur have bought land from Uncle Tony and cousin Alice. The ridge line there, at 3,000 feet, marks the Eastern Continental Divide, and makes its way from there over through Uncle Jim’s property and south to the Presbyterian property and Camp Woodson. I love walking this ridge; I’m captivated by the idea of such a great divide, where you can pour a glass of water into a branch on on one side, and it will eventually make its way to Flat Creek and the Catawba River Basin and the Atlantic, and you pour a glass into a branch on the other side and it will make its way to Cane Creek and the French Broad River Basin and the Gulf of Mexico. I learned from Wilma Dykeman how influential these watersheds are in terms of our human communities; she wrote eloquently about the way the French Broad influenced the culture and economy of the communities that formed along its banks. I also learned from John Wesley Powell, the 19th century geologist known for making the first known pass through the Grand Canyon, who wrote that a watershed is that area of land within which all living things are inextrably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community. It’s interesting to note that in the etymology of the word divide, the first use as a noun in the mid 1600s referred to watersheds such as these. It helps me appreciate the great divides we experience as humans a little more when I think about them in terms of watershed experiences.
John, the gospel writer, seemed to understand what John Wesley Powell and Wilma Dykeman were talking about. Here in today’s Passage he describes some of the great divides that were emerging from Jesus’ teaching and ministry. Right in the middle of his narration of these divides, he records Jesus saying, Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. Jesus was pretty clear in his life and teaching where these rivers would flow – in the direction of radical love. His presence here on earth formed a great divide, a ridge line of faith, making him, like the French Broad or the Catawba, a veritable watershed. The people who met him, whether they believed in him or scorned him, soon discovered that the encounter was indeed a watershed experience. They either followed his Way or the world’s way. Those who followed him became tributaries of grace, joining with other streams to eventually find their way into the ocean of mercy.
We live in a world and in a culture marked by many great divides. Geographically speaking, the continental US has over 2,000 different watersheds, all feeding into one of the oceans or the Gulf. Culturally speaking, we also have thousands of watersheds, great divides that separate us into tribal camps and parochial communities. Religiously, those who have encountered Jesus have over 38,000 such divides across our world. When we go back and look at Jesus’ life and teaching, and the wide array of responses he provoked, we should not be surprised. These days, though, I am finding myself less and less interested in many of the finer points of the credal and theological commitments that create many of our divides; I trust we all wind up in the same great ocean. I am more interested in the stories, the watershed experiences people have with the Spirit of Jesus that truly transform their lives and help create the beloved community. I am interested in seeing which direction people’s spirits pour – in the direction of radical love and liberating grace, simplicity and contentment, and welcome for the stranger, or in the direction of judgment and violence, greed and despair, and discrimination. This, to me, speaks to both the conservative evangelist’s task and the social gospel preacher’s prayer – for the ridge line of Jesus to carve its way through every corner of our culture, giving every person the opportunity to pour themselves on one side or the other. While I recognize that the dualism can be problematic, that, as the old Billy Joel song said, we all end in the ocean, it still makes a difference in the here and now which route we take to get there. I’d like to think that if someone sees one of the currents of my life winding over toward the basin of base thoughts, greed or discrimination or violence, they’ll pull me back into the flow of faith, and that I can do the same for others.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to respond, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.