You’ve probably heard this story before, but read on…just in case.
In 1915, just over a century ago, San Diego was in the middle of a terrible drought. It had been years since they’d received a decent amount of rain and the Morena reservoir was quickly nearing historically low levels. The civic leaders, including the San Diego Council were desperate. Perhaps out of this desperation, an idea was born and an opportunity seized. There were rumors of a rainmaker, a man named Charles Hatfield, who had some success in the West by making rain and he was willing to take the job. They put the word out, and met with Charles (who previously was a sewing machine repairman) who agreed on the spot to take their money. In exchange for a full $10,000, he made an oral contract to fill the Morena reservior within one year.
And so, on Dec 14th, 1915, Charles Hatfield and his brother Joel began building a 20 foot wooden tower to hold his mysterious rain-making concoction. He poured in various chemicals and elixirs with the claim that these would soon be evaporating into the clouds causing widespread rain. As he poured and stirred, the civic leaders and some local farmers gathered at the base of it to watch the spectacle…their faces a mix of hope, doubt, and bemusement. But none of them at the tower that day, perhaps not even Charles Hatfield, could have guessed what would happen.
Sometime around January 10th, the rain started. Slowly at first, and then building in strength…and by the 19th (101 years ago today exactly) the rain seemed to pour without ceasing. There seemed to be no variation in the intensity of the rain either. Whether it was in the morning as the farmers looked out their windows or at night as they settled in by the fire, the rain fell and fell and fell and fell. It rained so much the word itself seemed to lose its meaning as any sort of unique event. There was only rain…in every moment.
And on January 27th, when the Otay Dam collapsed due to the sheer weight and force of the reservoir water it had been forced to hold in check for weeks, the people decided they had enough. Farmers gathered in anger as they stared in frustration of crops washed away by the deluge. Word reached the Hatfield brothers and they gathered their materials in haste fleeing San Diego. As they left the region, the reality of the situation dawned on them. They had made rain, but they also would never be paid for the job.
Even today, people aren’t sure what to say about Charles Hatfield and the constant rain of a century ago. Did he really know how to make it rain from a 20 foot tower? Was it simply a coincidence? We still don’t know, and maybe never will, but what I love about this story is actually what it does to us…the modern hearers of the tale. Because we hear the term “rainmaker” and are certainly prone to think its going to be a story of a scam in order to dupe folks. But, as we hear the story we get to the twist and we think..what if? What if he really did make it rain? In fact, aren’t we the most surprised of anyone by the story when it turns out that maybe he was telling the truth?
This week in our Scripture passage and sermon I hope we will also be surprised by a twist, and hopefully even more surprised than those who were there. Because in much the same way that Hatfield’s story surprises the modern hearer, we will also be confronted with the truth of a reality we thought was impossible. A story where some things that we think couldn’t be true actually happen, and its a story we’re invited to live in. We’ll see you on Sunday as we hear the story of Jesus calling his disciples into a life and reality that they may have imagined to be impossible, but instead was greater than they could have ever dreamed. Are you ready to be surprised too? Oh, and here’s the passage for Sunday if you’d like to read it before then…see you then in the midst of the rain! http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=149301292
Rev Brent Ross grew up loving the Twilight Zone and the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. For better or worse both of these things enter into writing his sermons every week.