Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 26], rcl yr a, 2021
James 5:13-20; Psalm 124; Mark 9:38-50

I spoke last week about Psalm 1, and about being planted by living water. Well, the water this week, in Psalm 124, could hardly be more different. If the living waters from Psalm 1 are waters that sustain us through drought, waters that keep us from drying up and blowing away in difficult, long dry seasons, the waters of Psalm 124 are waters that “overwhelm,” and are a “torrent.”

And if the living waters from Psalm 1 are nourishing waters that flow gently in a nearby stream giving life through the our roots in the ground, the waters of Psalm 124 rage, and threaten to go “right over us.” To put it bluntly: the waters of Psalm 1 are waters that give life; the waters of Psalm 124 are waters that threaten death.

But we have to start a little bit earlier in Psalm 124 to get a sense of why these waters are ones that threaten death. This Psalm is a Psalm in which Israel is reflecting on its own deliverance, their own near-miss. We hear that enemies had risen up against Israel, and that Israel would have been swallowed up, swallowed alive, even, in the fierce anger of their enemy.

But one thing was different for Israel, according to this Psalm: the Lord was on their side. “If the Lord had not been on our side, let Israel now say; If the Lord had not been on our side, when enemies rose up against us;  Then would they have swallowed us up alive in their fierce anger toward us.”

Wait, what? Did I get that right? “If the Lord had not been on our side”? Is that what it says? Am I to think that God takes sides? Well this is most certainly offensive to me. *I* value fairness. *I’m* neutral in how I approach all people. *I’m* objective. And all the principles handed down to me by religion and my investment advisor are applied objectively in all cases. *I* don’t take sides. And surely God is like me.

Read the Bible a bit, and we get disabused of both of these things. God is actually not much like me; and God takes sides. And don’t let the Religious Studies majors, or the History of Religions school tell you any differently; I believed in both of those things myself, at one time. But this is not a relic from some superseded religious past where Israel was some kind of barbarian religion that only knew a warrior God, and a warrior God for them. God takes a side. And God vanquishes enemies. And he does it for the sake of his chosen people.

Many Christians would quickly read, though, this Psalm to be about the waters of baptism. We’ve been reflecting on this as a confirmation class for the past weeks. That in baptism, we begin new lives. They’re getting confirmed—so we haven’t been talking about starting fresh. They are not getting baptised, they are getting confirmed, which is an opportunity to grow deeper into the Christian life. They are already living the Christian life on account of their baptism, and are now growing deeper into that baptism.

In particular, we’ve been talking about the ways that as baptised Christians we are part of the body of Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit of God, and there’s not much we can do about it. And so we serve as Christ; we don’t pray, but the Holy Spirit cries out in us to the Father; and we have put on the mind of Christ. And in all these ways, God in Christ, and in the Holy Spirit, lives in us.

We haven’t quite gotten into the ways that Christians will read this Psalm, though. We’ve been doing the PG-13 version: in baptism, we begin to live a new life. This Psalm is the Rated R version, rated R for violence. In baptism the raging torrent goes over us, and it drowns us. In baptism we die to our old life, that we might begin again, with a new life.

To go back to another part of Psalm 124 we have been caught dead in the snare of the fowler. But the snare is broken, we have escaped from death with life not because we broke the snare (how does a dead bird do that) but because the deadly snare has been broken by God in Christ on the cross, and we are given his life, the life of his resurrection, in baptism.

So does God take a side? Without doubt. And while I want you to feel a bit of a twinge when I say that God takes the side of the poor against their oppressors, I also want you to see that God takes the side of us all in Christ, the one human being that represents all of humanity, the first to break free from the deadly snare, the one to destroy the snare entirely, the one who would lift us up on his wings to new life.

The Lord has taken a side, the side of life, and of life over death, the death he would destroy—and the life that we would begin, after our own drowning in the waters of baptism, only to rise with him out of the grave as we rise out of those waters.

So maybe the waters of Psalm 1 and the waters of Psalm 124 aren’t so different. They are each living waters—in Psalm 1, the living waters of life in Christ; in Psalm 124, the waters of death, but the sort of death that is far from the end: but is only the beginning.