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The Flood

A sermon for the first Sunday of Lent.

At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the Devil. (Matthew 4:1)

When the wall of water came there was little warning, but no surprise, for it had been raining for so, so long now. But we had hoped that being this high up, the water would not reach us. But now it came in a wall and threw everything before it. There was no place to go, no place to hide, and it took me with its force and filled me with itself. I fought it by holding my breath and reaching upwards, trying to swim to the surface against the pull of the raging water. With a final push I broke the surface, the surface littered with bodies and debris. And although I had broken the surface and could now breathe, I despaired, for I had no strength left to do anything at all and drowning seemed like a relief. Ready to give in to my despair and let the water take me, I looked up to see an arm outstretched to me, outstretched from a boat. I saw nothing but the arm, an arm which even in my terrible state impressed me as having immense strength, and I knew that if I could just swim the few strokes to the arm and the boat, that arm would grasp me and save me. And I did manage to swim those few strokes, and I was seized by the strength of that arm and hauled aboard, choking, gasping, near death. I do not remember very much about my stay on that boat, for I was very ill and delirious, but I do remember the animals, so many animals, I remember their smell and the sounds that each one made, I remember being tended to by the man with the strong arm. And I remember lying there gradually getting my strength back, listening to the water lapping at the boat, and then one day seeing a rainbow which seemed to envelope the whole boat, and stillness, no sound of water, just stillness.

I was tired of the normal vacations. I had had it with the islands, the South Pacific, helicopter skiing, safaris. I was sick of absorbing European culture. So I decided to take a vacation alone in the desert. They warned me that this was dangerous and a crazy thing to do, but I packed carefully and prudently and went off into the desert for two weeks. I got a lot of reading done the first week, and I was fascinated by the starkness of the place for a while, but then I got bored, and after eight days I decided to give it up and go back home. I got into my tent that night determined to leave first thing in the morning. I was awakened from my sleep by the sound of war: the sounds of thousands of planes roaring overhead, the shriek of falling bombs, the deafening explosions of detonating bombs. I was terrified and sat up and saw that it was already past dawn. Here I was in a tent in the middle of the desert, and there was a war raging out there. The noise was terrifying, but I got up and looked out. And I saw nothing, no planes, no bombs. The noise of the war continued unabated, but there was nothing to see out there except a man standing there with his arms lifted up. He stood there in the desert morning not moving, his arms lifted up amidst the din of the war that I could not see. And then some stones that lay just in front him started to glow and as they glowed gave off the wonderful aroma of baking bread. That aroma was so strong and so wonderful that even I, in the state in which I was, felt intensely hungry. These stone rolls now began to dance around, to dance like on some TV commercial, and they began to dance around the man and aim themselves at his mouth. But he stood there with his arms upraised until the rolls fell back to the ground and turned back into stones.

The noise of the war increased in its fury, as the cactus growing in front of the man assumed huge proportions and turned into pure gold. My eyes nearly popped out of my head as I looked at this thing of intense beauty, and I calculated that it would be worth trillions of dollars on the gold market and wondered if I could break off a small piece for myself. But the man stood there with his arms uplifted and the cactus returned to its normal state. The war soundtrack switched to symphonic music and a very large movie screen appeared. And on the screen—I don’t know how since there was no sign of a projector or anything like that—there appeared images of breathtakingly beautiful cities. I had traveled extensively but these cities were far more beautiful than anything I had ever seen. They were not only beautiful, but they gave off a feeling of great power. I was transfixed, but the man stood there, still with his arms upraised.

Now there was absolute silence. Now there was nothing in the desert except this man with his hands uplifted—nothing except a huge black scorpion a few feet from the man’s feet, slowly crawling towards the man. That is all there was in this stark, barren place, now: the man and the deadly scorpion advancing toward him. The man saw the scorpion but did not move. I wanted to shout out to him: “Move out of the way, you will die!” The scorpion was now at his feet, but then paused, almost as if to say: “Not now, not yet” and then went on its way. Out of the stillness came the sound of a helicopter, and sure enough, when I looked up at the sky, there was a helicopter flying in with camouflage markings on it. It hovered above the man and then let down two rings on ropes which the man grasped. The man was lifted off the ground holding on to the two rings and passed right over my tent, so that he was very close to me. And with a shock I recognized the arms. I recognized the arm that was outstretched to me from that boat when I was drowning. The strength in those arms I could never forget. And I watched as the helicopter bore him hanging on those two rings, as they flew slowly towards a city in the distance, to a hill just outside of that city, and there he was let down.

I was walking to Starbucks that day when the wall of water came. This is what everybody had feared after forty straight days of rain. I could see the water coming down Third Avenue in the distance. I looked across the street, and there was a big stone church there with a big cross in front of it. It looked safe, and so I ran across the street and into the church. And there I saw a lot of people sitting there, and a man with funny clothes was throwing smoke against some sort of stone table—and then it hit me, the water hit me and carried me up and with a violent force pushed me out the door. I thought I was drowning, and I broke the surface trying to find something to hold onto. And in the torrent of the flood I saw that cross, and I grabbed onto that cross, and it floated and held me above the water. But I soon realized that I could stay afloat only if I lay right on the cross, with my arms exactly on the two cross pieces and my head on the upper part and my legs crossed on the lower beam. I was lucky that the cross fit my body exactly. But there I was, lying on that cross, the raging flood beneath me. I knew that if I moved an inch off that cross, I would die.