Wade in the water
Images, power of water flow through Multicultural Church conference
June 4, 2010
The National Multicultural Church Conference of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) focused on the theme of water: workshops were called “streams,” and participants were encouraged to drink deeply and dip their feet into the experience, both in small groups and in large “convergences.”
The May 30 closing worship service was no different.
“I am haunted by waters,” said the Rev. Frank Yamada, a professor at McCormick Theological Seminary, preaching at the service. He was quoting from A River Runs Through It, a movie that tells of a house with two religions: the Presbyterian church and fly fishing.
Yamada said he understands that take on water. As a surfer, he has always felt more like himself while in the water. At 19, he was baptized as a new convert in the Pacific Ocean.
Ezekiel 47:1-12 and Revelation 22:1-5 both describe deep, flowing waters. They contain the dreams of dreamers, the visions of prophets. Two of the most beautiful images of heaven on Earth come from prophets who experienced dislocation, Yamada said.
God identifies with the children of Israel. God makes a covenant not with the landowners but with migrants, Yamada said.
“It cannot possibly be a mistake that Jesus did not come as the son of Caesar but was the son of Joseph and Mary,” he said.
God resides with those on the margins, those with accents, those with physical disabilities, Yamada said. Those on the outside know the pain of lament, but they also know salvation. The voices on the margins have been co-creators, but they’ve also been co-liberators.
“There is no homecoming without exile,” Yamada said. “With Calvary, there is also a new Jerusalem.”
Referring to the Beatitudes, Yamada said that the poor and those who weep are blessed.
“I’m not just preaching scripture here, folks,” he said. “This word is living.”
Where is the word living? Don’t ask Donald Trump, he said. Don’t ask the Arizona legislators who support the new immigration bill.
“Ask the poor where the kingdom of God resides,” he said.
Going back to the theme of water, Yamada spoke of its duality.
“Water is not just life,” he said. “Water is also death.”
Water can bring chaos and death. Hurricane Katrina, flooding in Tennessee and the tsunami in Southeast Asia are reminders of the deathly power of water.
“We must remember that as we call our churches, indeed the PC(USA), to those deeper multicultural waters … there’s going to be fear,” Yamada said. “There will be fear because the water is deep.&lrdquo;
People are afraid because they don’t know how to swim.
Others are mad at the racism they see in the church.
For these groups, and any others that hesitate, Yamada had some advice: “Wade in the water.”
He sang the refrain of that African-American spiritual as he walked off stage, his voice joined by those of the congregation:
“Wade in the water.
Wade in the water, children.
Wade in the water.
God’s a-gonna trouble the water.”
After the service, hundreds of Presbyterians flowed through the halls of the conference hotel, singing and heading for the outdoor pool, where they gathered for a baptism story and renewal of baptismal vows.