top of page

Can Anyone Hold Back the Water?

Reverend Philip Stringer

Acts 10:44-48

LET US PRAY: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Feed us with your Word, and speak to our hearts, that we may be filled with your endless life, now and forever. AMEN

Have you ever tried to stop a leak? It can be maddening. My parents had a leak in their finished basement that created a trickle of water across the floor leading to the sump pump. We just let it do its thing.

We had a leaky window in one of our homes that we couldn’t stop. We tried multiple times. Sometimes it seemed that we had succeeded — then there it was again. Always following the path of least resistance and revealing itself in a new place.

I thought about my parents’ house and that window as I pondered our Scripture texts today, and it strikes me that the water coming through my leaky window is like God’s love -- never giving up -- always working its way into our lives.

And it makes me wonder, also, about the ways I might be trying to subvert God’s love for me -- or for others. Have you ever wondered about that? About how you try to keep the good news of God’s love out of your life? Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But I think we do it -- well, we confess that we do it, don’t we: “In known and unknown -- what we have done and what we have left undone.”

Today our Scripture readings are full of passages proclaiming the persistence of God’s love -- even when we try to avoid it. Today the Scriptures proclaim to you and to me, that God’s love cannot be kept out. And that is good news, because when the love of God enters our lives, good things happen -- wonderful things happen for us and for others.

When Jesus spoke to his disciples shortly before the crucifixion, he tried to impress upon them that Love IS the defining quality of God’s nature. Love is who God is and what God does. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” Jesus longed for them -- and for us -- to know the fullness of life that is in a life filled with love. “Love one another,” he told them.

And Jesus is more than a teacher. He didn’t just spout philosophy and advice. Jesus loved THEM -- and that brings us back to that persistent, window-breaching quality that I spoke of. Jesus loves. God, the Holy Spirit -- comes to us with love and stirs within us so that we can grow into the fullness of life to which Jesus called us.

All the troubles of the world cannot keep that love from reaching you. And as I said before, perhaps most remarkable is that even we ourselves cannot stop what God is doing in our lives. I don’t mean to say that we are merely puppets or don’t have free will -- but that somehow, someway, God always finds a way to trickle in -- past our defenses -- past our failures -- past our fears and anger and sinfulness -- and into our lives. That is the good news.

Our first reading today recounts a scenario we see time and time again in the Scriptures and in our world today -- It tells about a time when people’s ideas about God were turned upside down and God broke through the boundaries they had set up to reveal the boundlessness of God’s love. It happened in the city of Caesarea when Peter came to the house of some non-Jewish believers.

It’s hard for you and me to appreciate what a big deal that was -- that Peter entered the home of a Gentile. It wasn’t lost on Peter, however. The first thing he told them when he went into the house was, “you know I’m not supposed to be here.”

But Peter had received a vision from God in which God had told him not to view anyone God loves as unclean. He wasn’t sure what that meant until he came to Cornelius’ house, and then he knew it was time to throw the rule book out the window. Clearly there was a boundary here that God didn’t like.

Our first reading picks up this story while Peter is speaking to them, and it tells us that “while Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the words.” I love that phrase, “Fell Upon” them -- like a wolf or a cat pouncing -- surprising its victim. The Holy Spirit “fell upon” them, shocking the Jews who were with Peter, and Peter exclaimed, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people?”

“Can anyone withhold the water?” Wow. There’s a question for our lives! Would we withhold the water -- the expression of God’s love -- from anyone? Would you, personally? Is there anyone you know whom you would put outside the boundaries of God’s grace? Is there someone you are struggling to forgive or is there someone you are afraid to welcome?

Not only are we wrong when we draw the boundaries of God’s love between people -- it is not what God intends for you. The fullness of life is presented to us in our neighbors -- our friends and families -- but also our enemies and strangers.

That was the natural outcome of Peter’s visit in Cornelius’ house. When they received the waters of baptism, they immediately invited Peter to stay with them. Hospitality is a natural result of being filled with God’s love -- and so is staying. Peter -- who only a short time before would have seen them as untouchable and (really) less than human -- now sleeps in their home and eats their food. God’s love is an experience that draws us into community. When people are drawn together by the stirrings of God’s love in their hearts, everyone becomes full and everything has something to offer.

And like the water seeping into my house that follows the path of least resistance -- sometimes the power of God’s love is revealed in ways we don’t expect.

“Can anyone withhold the water?” I’d like to think that’s more than a practical question for the people in Cornelius’ house. I think it applies to the bigger question of what limits can be placed on God’s love. Can anyone hold back the waters of God’s love?

Of course not. It’s like standing at the edge of the ocean and trying to keep the waves from hitting the sand. There’s no way it can be stopped -- and that’s really exciting news, even if it means we can’t predict what God is going to do next.

I have a friend who is a lousy gardener -- or landscaper. He tells me that for 20 years he has been trying to grow grass in his yard. He puts out plant food -- he tries to water and to kill the weeds, but no matter what he does, the yard just looks messy. He said that with all the rain this year, it’s the first time he’s got a good start and in some places it’s starting to look pretty good. And he says, “see, persistence pays off!”

But I wonder -- it’s starting to look good in whose eyes? You know, maybe what he has in mind for a “good looking yard” just isn’t appropriate. Maybe my friend should not work so hard to make it look the way he wants it to look and accept the way it naturally is. He might be surprised.

Do you think that could be true about the church, too? I do. I think that there are a lot of times that we try to make Christianity look the way WE think it should look -- but that often life gets in the way. And when that happens -- well, it’s awfully hard not to try to push life out.

What’s the mark of a good church? Lots of activities? Lots of new people -- exciting programs? A charismatic pastor? Pure doctrine? True enlightenment? A corner on the truth?

Jesus said that it’s simply about love. Peter discovered the meaning of that -- in a small way -- when the love of God washed over the people in that house with him.

The Jewish believers in Jerusalem were really upset about it. When he returned to Jerusalem, they couldn’t believe Peter would have done something so stupid. They actually said to him, “why did you even go visit those people.” The suggestion is that the good news is to be a closely guarded secret. “You know, if you had just behaved yourself and stayed away from Gentiles, we wouldn’t have this problem -- now look at the mess you’ve created!”

But Peter explained to them the reason: “God showed me that God loves them and that God wants us to be one.” The wave of God’s love is washing over the world. They accepted it -- but they still had trouble with it. Peter had trouble with it -- WE have trouble with it, too.

The truth is that the power of God’s love is always surprising us -- always exceeding our expectations.

Patty’s Asparagus — cut it back, animals eat it up— the next day, there’s some more! Slowing down — get some rain — grows like crazy —

The power of God’s love is like that — always surprising us, and always exceeding our expectations.

• Remember that the next time you are ready to write someone off as “unclean.”

• Remember that when you think about what this church should look like.

• And remember that when you think of yourself, and your own shortcomings.

Can anyone withhold the waters of God’s love?


1 view

Recent Posts

See All

Q & A


bottom of page