Today’s text is from Matthew 9:14-26.
I want to talk about water this morning. Now, I know we live on the east side of the state where Lake Michigan is the central water feature – and that’s definitely a tough one to beat. But, on the west side of the state is another prominent water feature – and that’s the Mississippi River.
Like any river, it cuts its own course. It makes its own path. It finds its own way down to the Gulf of Mexico. But, once there it doesn’t stop flowing. You’d think the moment the water from the Mississippi hits the Gulf of Mexico it would stop flowing. Stop moving. You’d think it’d begin to mix with the gulf waters.
But, it doesn’t. It keeps flowing. Its muddy, brown waters stay together so well you can see the river waters still cutting a path through the gulf. And this path doesn’t just last a few miles. Satellite images show the muddy outline of the Mississippi’s waters as they leave New Orleans, travel through the gulf, go down and around Florida, and head north toward Georgia before finally mixing in with the Atlantic.
That’s over 1,000 miles past the river’s delta in New Orleans. The Mississippi is only about 2,000 miles long to begin with. 2,000 miles on land; 1,000 miles on water. The river goes where it wants. Does what it wants. The river can’t be stopped by land or water: It’s as if it has one, sole purpose: To move.
Throughout all four Gospels – throughout this Gospel – throughout this reading, Jesus has a purpose that like the Mississippi can’t be stopped. Sure, it runs into bumps along the way. It runs into forces that try and tell it where to go – yet in the midst of it all Jesus keeps on going.
The first hill that must be made low is a question that is posed not by political opponents or religious insiders, but followers of John the Baptist. And it’s certainly a good question. They’re simply wondering why Jesus and his group don’t follow rules about fasting when they and the Pharisees do.
Jesus gives them not one answer, not two answers, but three answers in return – and they all say the same thing: The new thing is here. Celebrate! But, be prepared to change.
The second valley that must be raised is a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. Jesus doesn’t even do anything here – the woman simply has faith – or hope, or maybe just plain desperation after 12 years of being outcast from her community. 12 years of being rejected made this woman reach out in faith.
And finally, the third road that must be straightened is a girl who is dead. But, not according to Jesus. She’s just sleeping, he tells the crowd. They laugh. And then Jesus wakes her up.
Jesus is a river that cannot be stopped. If he’s hungry, he eats. If he’s celebrating, he celebrates. If he’s stopped in his tracks by a woman who bled for 12 years, he has compassion. If he’s told someone has died, he brings about new life.
Jesus often doesn’t have time for rules and laws that get in the way of God’s path of mercy and grace. He often doesn’t have time for systems of structure and order. If someone pulls on his shirt and asks for help, he gives it. He often doesn’t have time for the powers of death. So he defeats them.
Jesus is a river with a mountain, a valley, and a desert all standing in front of him. And no matter where we find ourselves in this life – whether on highest mountain or lowest valley – Jesus comes to us.
Your Lord and Savior has a purpose, has a goal, has a ministry, has a kingdom with a focus so defined and expansive that nothing can stand in its way. Nothing you do in this life can scare God away. Nothing you have or will do will stop the rivers of new life in Jesus Christ from flowing right to you.
For the kingdom of God is like a river. A river that is quiet, yet mighty. A river that changes the world around it. A river that decides how to operate not based on human rules or laws, but instead by the mercy and grace of God.
A river that is defined by the life of Jesus Christ: Compassionate, forgiving, gracious, and loving. These waters of compassion, forgiveness, grace, and love are with you now and always. These waters of new life wash over you each and every day.
Because the river goes where it wants. Does what it wants. The waters of new life can’t be stopped by land or water: It’s as if they have one, sole purpose – to serve. And to love.