Sermon preached on 4 July 2010

I’d like to talk this morning about rivers. In the first reading today, which we listened to in two parts, we heard the story of Naaman the mighty warrior being brought down to earth by being made to wallow in the river Jordan, even though he knew that his local rivers were much better than the Jordan river in Israel.

Of course, Naaman was from Damascus, which is North of Israel as Glaswegians worshipping on the edge of the leafy west end, we know that he was not making a comment about the respective holiness of the rivers in question – he was just cracking the first recorded joke in human history about living on the South Side.

Here in this part of this great city, we have two great rivers right on our doorstep. The glorious River Kelvin and its tributary the River Clyde. (At least, that’s how I do my geography). However, I want to begin today by spiriting you away to a holiday scene that I remember from a few years ago.

I was on holiday in my friends’ yacht up near Skye. Indeed it was one of those special yachting holidays for which Scotland is famous. Although we went around Skye, it was shrouded in mist and fog the whole time and I never saw anything of it. Indeed, it was a surprise to go back a couple of years later and find that there were mountains.

However there was one good day – one clear day. One day when the mist had cleared, and as luck would have it we have decided to spend that day on the mainland in the little bay where Gavin Maxwell the naturalist wrote his books about otters, the most famous of which is the Ring of Bright Water.

And I remember, having got ourselves onto the beach, seeing for myself what that book title meant. The ring of bright water was exactly that, a burn curving around the place where the house had once stood. Sparkling. Dazzling. A ring, a shining ring reflecting the sun which had just appeared from nowhere.

We scampered off up the burn, following the watercourse and suddenly came upon a high waterfall where the cold chilly waters of the hillside cascaded down into a wonderful pool.

In no time at all, clothes had been shrugged off and we had each jumped in – to splash about and wallow and play.

(Can I suggest by the way that you don’t try to emulate this story on the way home – sadly Glasgow is not ready yet for the Episcopalians collectively stripping off and leaping into the Kelvin and I’m not sure how safe it would be either).

Now, I love water. I love swimming and that afternoon was perfect – well almost perfect. All it needed was an otter to appear and it would have been the most perfect holiday afternoon ever.

Anyway, I tell that story to encourage you to think about whether you have bathed in a river and what it is like to do so.

River swimming has largely gone out of fashion through for a great many people in human history it was the only way to bathe.

We need to remember that when we approach Naaman’s story.

His is just one of the stories in the Bible where grace and wholeness and healing and growth are consequent on being drenched in water.

Water is one of the great themes of the bible. Take a glance up here when you come up for communion and you can see God’s hands plunging into the great splashy chaos to begin creation. And there is Noah’s ark bob, bob bobbing along. And the rainbow – a sign of God’s promise and a symbol of our diversity. And what’s it made of – light playing through water.

And water goes on being a powerful symbol. Whereas once the people of Israel were slaves trapped in the Nile delta area working for the Egyptians so their freedom was symbolised by the parting of the red sea. And later when they got to grumbling and moaning in the desert, remember the water coming from the rock when Moses struck it to ease their thirst.

Then in the waters of Jordan, that same river that Naaman had to come to terms with, John the Baptist was eventually to begin that great sacrament of baptism which we continue to this day.

Every drop of water that we baptise in, is River Jordan water and for us that means gathering around the font over there.

There are many things that I really like about baptising here – especially the way we gather around with candles, each lighting up the world with our own special gifts and talents as we recognise the gifts and talents of those being baptised and hand over their own light to them that they can shine in the world.

However, I do sometimes wonder whether we Anglicans have domesticated the sacrament a little by having the Jordan River swirl around in pieces of indoor furniture – albeit glorious pieces of furniture.

As it happens, I was not baptised like that myself – I was baptised by full immersion with a great splash – such that those nearby got drenched too.

There is something about that experience which is powerful too for those around us should get splashed with the grace of God in which we have been submerged.

Being a Christian is about being drenched in something. Its about being soaked to the skin in the love and grace and mercy of God.

One of the themes of my preaching is that God’s grace is not shallow or dry or just a trickle. God’s grace spashes around this world and drenches all who are in its path with glorious goodness.

Sometimes in the church it can seem as though grace is scarce – as though there is a drought or a water shortage.

It can seem as though there is just a trickle of grace if you are grown up enough to appreciate it, or British enough not to get too excited about it, or straight enough not to frighten the horses, or male enough not to want to share power, or polite enough to experience salvation by good taste.

Let us have none of that. The grace of God is like a mighty river splashing through a watercourse. Bright, clean and wholesome and with water enough for all to bathe in it and play in it.

Glorious goodness!

Let me close by taking you back to the beach near Skye. My friends and I climbed out of the chilly burn and sat down on the beach to enjoy the clear light on the silver water. We made a fire to warm ourselves.

We sat back and watched the boat bob around calmly at anchor.

And two heads appeared in the water – two heads each with a set of whiskers; a pair of otters swimming towards the beach where they proceeded to tumble and play as we watched.

If you are going on holiday this month, I hope you have moments as glorious and full of goodness as that one.

And if you have any inkling that you want to begin to know God better then may you be healed and blessed and plunged, …deep into God’s love and grace. Amen


  1. Rosemary Hannah says

    What struck me, apart from Kelvin’s usual ability to bring out meaning by the gentle and allusive paths, where apparently random light plays on the central issue (envy, envy) – what struck and totally delighted me was getting one real chunk of narrative which did justice to the Bible. More please!

  2. ChickPea says

    Kelvin, once again your deft use of words conjures up vivid pictures and concepts – as carefully crafted as any oil painting or watercolour – and as poetically delivered as any in a famous theatre – I think there were several people in the congregation on Sunday who found themselves on the beach, just beyond the firelight, feeling the warmth of the flames, and the slight chill breeze, surrounded by mystical shadows, with the sound of gentle waves lapping the shore, scents of sea and seaweed, and the sheer bliss of being joined by wild otters…… Enough to conjure a tear or two…
    “Spellbinding” was the word used by A.N.Other to describe her experience to me.
    A scene and experience touched by the finger of God, imparting a brief glimpse of Eternity.
    Thank You Kelvin.

  3. agatha says

    Lovely that others are getting such wonderful pictures. I’m just seeing the Rev. Beebe in A Room with a View…

  4. Oh, the best bit, Agatha, the very best bit.

  5. I checked out the sermon online as we had missed it last week, as we were on holiday on Skye! We watched great Sea Eagles come down from their mighty cliffs to feed on a glorious summer evening, amongst many other delights of nature. The awesome sunsets and majestic scenery certainly made me feel close to God when faced with the wonders of his creation.


  1. […] with the affliction-du-jour. But I digress). Kelvin preached a fine sermon this morning about rivers and baptism and otters. But what struck me this morning while I heard the lessons was the extraordinary gesture at the end […]

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