Find a river

Find a river

This is the sermon the Rev. Canon Janet Waggoner preached at the worship service for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, the Fourth Sunday of the Creation Series, at 10 am on Sunday, September 27, 2020.


The Rev. Canon Janet Waggoner
Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth
Creation Season – Year 1, Sunday 4 – River Sunday

I speak to you in the name of the living God – holy Trinity, ever one. Amen.

As Summer unfolds into Fall, we are wrapping up Creation Season with River Sunday.

I love Creation Season because the Scriptures and prayers and hymns put me back in touch with something deeply good and true: the reality that our human lives are constantly in connection with, in conversation with, the created world in which we live.

I grew up on a farm, where the cycle of life and the pattern of the seasons shaped everything from the chores we did to the things we ate. Our farm was on the edge of a huge wilderness area in the Cascade mountains, so I regularly experienced nature as both tame and wild.

My brother and I were allowed to wander in the woods as far as our feet would take us. My parents taught us to be both courageous and cautious, encouraging us to explore and teaching us how to survive.

Whenever I hear the word river, one of the survival lessons my parents taught me immediately springs to mind: If you’re lost, find a river.

If you’re lost, a river will do two things for you. First, if you follow the flow of a river, it will keep you from going in circles, and it will eventually take you to where people are, to a campsite or a farm or a town. Second, a river will provide essential drinking water to sustain you while you’re getting unlost.

If you’re lost, find a river, it will guide you and sustain you.

It’s no accident that the lessons of nature parallel lessons for our spiritual lives.

As I look around our world right now, I see a lot of us wandering around lost. Lost in the wilderness of politics and uncertainty. Lost in the desert of pandemic grief and loneliness. We need a river to guide and sustain us.

In Christian scriptures, rivers are first mentioned in Genesis as flowing out of Eden to water the whole earth and last mentioned in the final chapter of Revelation as flowing from the throne of God through the middle of the eternal city. Rivers are an image of life itself and of human life being inextricably bound up with all of creation.

A river is a reliable guide because it flows in exactly one direction, from its source in a glacier or mountain or underground spring, picking up speed and strength until it eventually spills into a larger body of water, a lake or an ocean. A river can get smaller in a drought or wider in a flood. In extreme circumstances, a river can even change course, cutting a path outside its original riverbed due to a dam or a flood. But a river only flows in one direction.

When I first read it, I thought that Matthew’s story of the resurrection was a strange choice for a Gospel lesson for River Sunday. There’s no water imagery in this story. But then as I reflected on it, I realized that this is a story of the living water of God’s love flowing in exactly one direction, faithfully, relentlessly. Not even death could stop it. And when people were tempted to believe that the living water of God’s love had ceased to flow, God literally moved heaven and earth to show his people that God is still moving in the same direction. The direction of love, the direction of life.

If you’re lost, return to God, to the river of life. You will be guided and sustained.

One of the most popular, most comforting of the Psalms is Psalm 46.[1] In this time of tumult and lostness, I want to share this psalm with you, and as I do, I invite you to notice that there’s a river at the heart of this psalm.

1.God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

2.Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth be moved,

and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea;

3.though its waters rage and foam,

and though the mountains tremble at its tumult.

4.The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our [refuge].

5.There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy habitation of the of the Most High.

6.God is in the midst of her, she shall not be overthrown;

God will help her at the break of day.

7.The nations make much ado, and the kingdoms are shaken;

God has spoken and the earth shall melt away.

8.The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our [refuge].

9.Come now and look upon the works of the Lord,

what awesome things he has done on earth.

10.It is he who makes war to cease in all the world;

he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear, and burns the shields with fire.

11.”Be still, then, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.”

12.The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our [refuge].

The river referenced in verse five – “the river whose streams make glad the city of God” – was a real river, the river of Siloam. The river of Siloam was not a big, rushing river but, rather, a river with a gentle, reliable flow that served an essential, steady source of water for Jerusalem, a city that was designed as a fortress, a refuge, a place where God’s people were safe and sustained, even when the city was long under siege.[2]

My friends, if you’re lost, find the river. The river of life, the river of God’s love, will continue to guide and sustain you, in spite of it all, in the midst of it all. May God give us the grace to remember this in tough times, and may God give us the grace to remind each other when we forget.


[1] Psalm 46 is presented here from the Book of Common Prayer, with slight adaptation translation suggested by the New Revised Standard Version.

[2] From the Matthew Henry Commentary. Matthew Henry was a priest in the Church of England, who served in Chester in the late 17th and early 18th century.