Summer Settings Series
Lakes and Streams I
Summary and Themes for Preaching:
The purpose of this “Summer Settings” sermon series is to connect people’s favorite summer destinations with the biblical and theological importance of similar settings. The hope is to help people see the stories and events in the Bible with new eyes and new understanding, identifying with our ancestors in the faith in ways we might not have known possible. In so doing, we can gain a better understanding of how God worked in their imaginations and how He is longing to work in ours.
Going deeper, this series is a set of four two-week themes: mountains, lakes/streams/rivers, beaches/oceans/seas, and road trips. The first week features an Old Testament passage with a passage that transitions toward the New Testament. The second week focuses on a New Testament passage.
For purposes of practicality and relatability, this series considers the Sea of Galilee to be a lake and classifies other fresh or mostly fresh water locations together under the same banner. The point is to relate our present-day affinity for lakes, rivers, streams, etc. to the ancients’ experiences with those places. We have a similar qualifier for “Oceans,” since the marketing department rejected the title, “Summer Settings: Mountains, Fresh or Mostly Fresh Bodies of Water Including but Not Limited to Lakes, Rivers, Streams, Marshes, and Brackish Estuaries, Expansive Bodies of Salt Water that Take a Long Time to Traverse, and Road Trips.”
As we go from mountains to fresh water, we go from Elijah to Elisha. Despite having a double dose of Elijah’s power and a fraction of his hair, Elisha is less revered in our day and evidently was in Jesus’s as well (not necessarily by Jesus—see below—but in general). To our knowledge, nobody asked John the Baptist if he was Elisha, and Elisha did not appear on the Mount of Transfiguration. Perhaps people were turned off by the whole “she bear” episode. Still, Jesus refers to both Elijah and Elisha when positing that a prophet is not accepted in his hometown (Luke 4:27), referencing today’s story in Elisha’s case.
Specifically, Jesus points out that many Israelites had leprosy, but the leper whom Elisha cleansed was Naaman, a general in the Aramean army. According to 2 Kings 5:1, Naaman “was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy” (cue the “He’s a 10, but…” meme). Being a general in those days often meant capturing foreigners and conscripting them into servanthood, and Naaman was not above this practice. Less common, however, was the concession that the captives could continue practicing the faith of their homeland. Some allowed it (Babylonians, Persians, Romans to an extent), and some tried to prevent it by dispersing and/or culturally assimilating the captured people (Assyrians, Greeks). The Assyrians would eventually conquer the Arameans and disperse them as well, but not before Naaman got a chance to experience the power of God.
One of his captured servants was a young girl who attended to his wife and mentioned that Elisha could probably see to the healing of Naaman’s leprosy. Naaman took her up on this suggestion, sought out Elisha, begrudgingly complied with Elisha’s instructions via Elisha’s own servant, and was healed by bathing in the Jordan River. That’s the story and there are other linguistic and theological considerations at play, but this is a sermon that explores the theme of rivers, lakes, etc.
Throughout the Old Testament, we find rivers and lakes referred to as boundaries. This was their natural geographic function and had been for much of history. A succinct example appears in Joshua 12:1-3:
These are the kings of the land whom the Israelites had defeated and whose territory they took over east of the Jordan, from the Arnon Gorge to Mount Hermon, including all the eastern side of the Arabah: Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon. He ruled from Aroer on the rim of the Arnon Gorge—from the middle of the gorge—to the Jabbok River, which is the border of the Ammonites. This included half of Gilead. He also ruled over the eastern Arabah from the Sea of Galilee to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea), to Beth Jeshimoth, and then southward below the slopes of Pisgah.
In the story of Elisha and Naaman, as well as in the relationships of the ancients to lakes and rivers, we are dealing with issues of cultural mixing and cultural separation. There are Israelites and Arameans, wealthy and servants, pagans and prophets. All of this mixing was a bit much for Naaman at first, as he was insulted that Elisha merely sent a servant and incredulous that the healing was not a matter of simply calling on God’s name. Naaman even insulted Israel’s rivers. But again, it was the word servants that convinced Naaman, who complied and was healed.
The Old Testament is, among other things, a story of God’s people finding their way and following Him—or not—among many peoples. In that world, rivers and lakes divided and often defined people. By the time of the New Testament, we find different kinds of people gathering around the same bodies of water for common benefit. At the Sea of Galilee, Jews and Gentiles fished, dwelt among one another, and came to hear Jesus. In the Jordan River, curious peoples came to see John the Baptist. Rather than places of division, the lakes and rivers became places to gather. Having one hegemonic empire rather than multiple nations no doubt helped, as did the Roman roads, commerce, language commonalities, etc.
There was still plenty of division, of course, but in that environment of gathered peoples, Jesus also broke through divisions and brought people together around the lake (Sea of Galilee) and River (Jordan). Just as with Oceans from the Old Testament to the New, the fresh water had become a mission field rather than a place marked by turmoil and boundary.
A couple other notes:
Naaman went to the king but was healed out in the wilderness, without a temple or even a cultic sacrifice. The healing was essentially a faith healing. Moreover, the healing came neither from the God of Israel whose name was called nor the prophet who would have invoked it. Instead, one humble servant sparked Naaman’s journey and another humble servant gave the instruction (credit to Naaman for listening). This can be good motivation for us as humble servants—Jesus’s hands and feet—who help others move along in their journeys. This is a good setup for next week, when Jesus calls his own disciples out of fairly humble lakeside situations.
Lakes can still be places of division today. Not many people can afford a lake house. Still, lakes and rivers are gathering places. We could even invoke pools, parks with ponds, etc. Or, we could talk about the sustenance of fresh water, perhaps referring back to the woman at the well from the “Mountains” portion of the series and Jesus being the living water around whom we gather regardless of worldly divisions.
It may be worth exploring the fact that after the Assyrians conquered Aram, they dispersed the people around the region of their empire. They did not completely assimilate them, however, because the Aramaic language persevered and became a common tongue for the empire and eventually for Jesus and many he encountered.
Allen Thompson is senior pastor at Fairview Presbyterian Church in North Augusta, South Carolina. Allen attended Pittsburgh Seminary (M.Div.) and Fuller Seminary (D.Min.) His wife, Kelsey, is a Marriage and Family Therapist, and they have two children.
Allen enjoys golf, hiking, camping, cooking pigs, ice climbing, and live music. He loves to imagine being in the story and culture of the Bible, wondering how we might have responded to God then and how we can follow Jesus now. As an “ideas” person, Allen is passionate about working with others to find out how God is calling us to use the many gifts and resources the Holy Spirit provides.
Allen holds a Doctor of Ministry (Fuller Theological Seminary) and a Master of Divinity (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary).
Augustine of Hippo
Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.
The doctrines of grace humble a man without degrading him and exalt him without inflating him.
Key Sermon Illustration
The Construction of Utopias
One of the seductions that continues to bedevil Christian obedience is the construction of utopias, whether in fact or fantasy, ideal places where we can live the good and blessed and righteous life without inhibition or interference. The imagining and attempted construction of utopias is an old habit of our kind. Sometimes we attempt it politically in communities, sometimes socially in communes, sometimes religiously in churches. It never comes to anything but grief. Meanwhile that place we actually are is dismissed or demeaned as inadequate for serious living to the glory of God. But utopia is literally “no-place.” We can only live our lives in actual place, not imagined or fantasized or artificially fashioned places.
A favorite story of mine, one that has held me fast to my place several times, is of Gregory of Nyssa who lived in Cappadocia (a region in modern Turkey) in the fourth century. His older brother, a bishop, arranged for him to be appointed bishop of the small and obscure and unimportant town of Nyssa (a.d. 371) Gregory objected; he didn’t want to be stuck in such an out-of-the-way place. But his brother told him that he didn’t want Gregory to obtain distinction from his church but rather to confer distinction upon it. Gregory went to where he was placed and stayed there. His lifetime of work in that place, a backwater community, continues to be a major invigorating influence in the Christian church worldwide.
Eugene Peterson, Introduction to Eric O Jacobsen, Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith.
Additional Sermon Resources
Call to Worship
Adapted from Psalm 29, Mark 1, Isaiah 43
LEADER: The voice of the Lord is over the waters,
ALL: And in the temple God’s people say: Glory!
LEADER: The heavens opened, the Spirit descended,
ALL: And a voice sounded: This is my Beloved Son.
LEADER: Do not fear, for the Lord has spoken:
ALL: I have called you by name, you are mine.
Prayer of Confession
Merciful God, we humble ourselves in your presence, confessing our unworthiness and our sinfulness in your sight. We have broken your holy law. We have not sought first your kingdom and righteousness. We have been anxious and troubled about many things, and have neglected the things that belong to our peace. We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves, or done to others as we would that they should do to us.
Most Gracious God, our heavenly Father, who hast given your Son, Jesus Christ, to save your people from their sins; forgive us, we pray; cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and renew a right spirit within us; through the grace of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, Amen.
The Book of Common Order, Language Modernized by Stuart Strachan Jr.
Assurance of Pardon
Leader: The good news in Christ is that when we face ourselves and God with the awareness of our need, we are given grace to grow, and courage to continue the journey.
Friends, believe the good news of the gospel.
People: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven!
Many are the affliction of the righteous, but the Lord delivers them out of them all. He keeps all of their bones; not one of them is broken. Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned. Go now in this assurance in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!