HORIZONS BIBLE STUDY 2015-2016
Standing in the sand as ocean waves wash over our feet, the sun comes up huge and orange. The waters dance, crash upon the shore and reflect the ascending light.
We all have vivid memories linked to water. Whether it is the ocean, brooks, streams, lakes or rivers, water can calm, soothe and give rise to thanksgiving. We also know fear of water when an undertow grabs at us or we are deluged and torn by storms.
Judy Record Fletcher, author of the 2015-2016 Presbyterian Women/Horizons Bible Study, “Come to the Waters,” examines nine of the many references to water in Scripture. Each chapter deals with the symbolism of water and what water tells us about the nature of God and the life of faith.
“Come to the Waters” begins with the waters of chaos in Genesis, chapter 1. God enters into the chaotic waters and brings order. These are birthing waters that enable life to flourish. Human beings are made in the image of God, and it is God’s care that upholds us. As God’s image, we are to embody God’s love in our care for all that God created — earth, sky, water, animals, birds and other people.
Chapter two of “Come to the Waters” brings us to the life-giving water of baptism. With water, we are marked and adopted as God’s own children. We become part of a community of faith that pledges to turn away from sin and evil. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we also turn to Christ to learn how to float, to trust that God’s grace will buoy us. We promise to live each day as followers of Jesus.
The waters of baptism are all about God’s grace that reaches out for us before we can do anything to earn God’s love and forgiveness. Fletcher uses a benediction in worship to help people remember the goodness of God:
As you go from this place,
go, remembering that
it is in the goodness of God that
you are born.
It is in the providence of God that
you are cared for all the day long.
It is in the love of God, fully
revealed in Jesus Christ,
that you are loved and you
In the life of the community of faith, we face spiritual peril individually and as a church. Chapters three through six address the times when the people turn away from God. These spiritual dangers include:
- We focus on complaint and what God hasn’t done for us.
- We face what seem to be insurmountable challenges.
- Our life is a fearsome storm of events.
- We hide who we really are from others, not realizing how thirsty we are for community.
- We hear God’s judgment on us that our worship is shallow and our commitment to God is small, resulting in lack of concern for the poor and the unwillingness to be an advocate for the poor and oppressed.
In all these circumstances, it is difficult to trust God. Yet time and time again, God reaches out to help and sustain us.
Witness to God’s steadfast love and mercy runs throughout Scripture. God reaches out to us in forgiveness. Forgiveness is at the center of the Christian life. Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Without forgiveness, we dam up inside of us deadly resentments. Without forgiveness, we are more likely to be condemning of others and ourselves. To accept God’s forgiveness and to forgive others breaks down the concrete-hard places within us. Fletcher writes, “When forgiveness is given or received, there is deep gratitude. It quenches a deep thirst.”
When we step into the river of God’s forgiveness, we are able to trust God a bit more and float upon God’s grace. In turn, we become more compassionate, more understanding of the sins or hardships of other people. We share the good news of God’s love revealed in Jesus. We reach out to a “broken and fearful world.” We spread God’s grace as we advocate for those with few resources and welcome those who are poor, lonely and overlooked by others.
The “Come to the Waters” Bible study begins with the waters of chaos. It ends with a new heaven and a new earth, with the river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Gone are the chaotic seas. Gone are tears, death, mourning, crying and pain (Revelation 21:1-4; 22:1). We can live in hope because of what God is doing and will do.
Come on in — the water is fine.
ROSALIND BANBURY is associate pastor for adult ministries at First Church in Richmond, Virginia.