Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 13 (18)
By Wendy Janzen
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters…”
Canada is a land of abundant fresh water. Ontario, the province in which I live, contains one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water. Ontarians love our lakes and rivers.
This summer has been a wet summer here. I’ve hardly needed to water my vegetable garden, and my small patch of lawn is still a lush green from the regular, soaking rains. Some rains have come with too much rain falling too quickly, causing streams and rivers to overflow their banks.
In this context, while it is not difficult to imagine coming to the water, it is difficult to imagine what it is like to be thirsty. Access to clean, safe drinking water seems to be a given.
It was therefore a surprise for me to recently learn that as of February of 2017, 49 First Nations in Ontario were under a Boil Water Advisory or Do Not Consume Advisory. Earlier this summer, I had the privilege to go on a learning tour to Timmins, Ontario, to learn about issues facing Northern First Nations communities. Unclean water, unsafe wells, lack of sanitation, crumbling sewage infrastructure, and mercury poisoning in rivers are major concerns for many of these communities.
How can it be that a wealthy province in a developed country like Canada can have so many communities that do not have access to safe, clean drinking water? How can it be that there are people who are thirsting for access to water in a province surrounded by water? It is due to lack of infrastructure, outdated and faulty treatment centres, and contaminated waterways due to industrial activities. It is due, also, to lack of commitment and broken promises on the part of government.
It is with this in mind that I read the invitation in Isaiah 55 for all who are thirsty to come to the water. What does it mean for God to invite those who are thirsty to come to the water, to buy and eat wine and milk at no price? These words were written to the Israelites while in exile in Babylon. They are being invited to choose what is life-giving over what is not.
Imperial Babylon offers much that is alluring and tempting, but not satisfying or lasting. That is the way of empire. Amass wealth, string people along with splashy promises, and forget about those who fall through the cracks.
In Isaiah 55 God is saying that another way is possible. There is an alternative: we can choose the God of abundance and covenant who has in the past provided water and manna in the wilderness. We can choose God, who, in the person of Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Mt 5:6)
To hunger and thirst for righteousness implies a desire to be in right relationship with our neighbours, our Creator, and creation – which includes our watersheds. I need to think about this as I realize the lack of right relationships concerning water and our indigenous neighbours in my province.
This is not only a localized issue, particular to Ontario. In her book, Grounded: Finding God in the World, Diana Butler Bass writes, “Water is under siege all over the planet, watersheds are collapsing, streams and rivers are dying, even once safe water systems face toxic threats.” (p. 77). Unless we live with our heads in the sand, we all know this. We are all facing great uncertainty regarding the future of water.
Are we going to chose what is life-giving and lasting, for ourselves, our neighbours, and our watersheds? This question is more than metaphorical. Our waters are endangered places that demand our ethical attention. Butler Bass asserts that “The world’s waterways call us to practice social justice—to restore them, to make sure rich and poor alike have access, and to manage water in drought-stricken lands with creativity and foresight.” (p. 91).
As a response to God’s invitation to come to the water, I invite us all to think more deeply about our relationship with this life-giving resource and those we share it with. What are the pressing concerns facing our local waterways? How do they affect the lives, human and other, of all those who share your watershed? How can our faith and actions demonstrate our allegiance to God rather than to empire? As as we spend time with our local waters, may we express gratitude to our faithful God of abundance and life.
Wendy Janzen is a settler who lives with her family in the Grand River watershed, which is in the in traditional territory of the Attawandaron (Neutral), Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. She is a pastor at St Jacobs Mennonite Church and also provides leadership to Burning Bush Forest Church, a group that worships outdoors throughout the year, even in Canadian winters! Wendy is a partner in the Wild Church Network.
Wild Lectionary is a weekly blog on ecological justice themes in scripture, curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.