Waterwashed and Spirit-led January 8, 2012 Gen. 1, Ps. 29, Mk 1
(streamers of blue crepe paper hang in the sanctuary doorways; the font is front and center with blue waterlike fabric streaming down from it; there was a water fountain bubbling on top of font)
It should be pretty obvious today that things are a bit different; decorations gone from Christmas, new things here—what’s with the streamers and fabric and stuff?
If you’re on our weekly email list, you’ll be somewhat prepared for something that’s not business as usual…I commented in that email that we ‘ve made Christmas much bigger than it is in the bible- Jesus’ baptism is much bigger in scripture. Maybe we should be celebrating baptism anniversaries like birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Christmas. Hmm, but maybe if we did, we’d just tame it, like we have Christmas.
And baptism isn’t tame, no matter how sweet we’ve made it with babies and photos. Baptism is dangerous.
One big clue to that is the combination of scripture readings for today, and the biblical imagery of water…..water shows up in all three texts, and none of it is gently dribbling from a tap, nor is it barely wetting a baby’s head
In genesis, the author imagines waters as the deep chaos before creation begins—everything is dark and formless and empty.
In the psalm, an ancient song sees the massive force of a storm lashing the country, whipping up waters below and driving rain from above while thunder echoes and lightning flashes.
In the gospel, the water imagery is a river, but not just any river, it’s the Jordan: a river that is vitally important historically and deeply symbolic to the people who’re coming to be immersed in its waters to prepare themselves for the one God will be sending to straighten them out…water that was a crossing point to a new life in the people’s history is now a turning point in their present, and a decision point for their future.
Does any of this sound tame?
This past week I was in Scotland, and the country was lashed with violent gales and rain for three days, causing much damage, power down, traffic disrupted, and people told to stay home as it was dangerous….and that got me thinking about how all of these biblical water images are great images for times in our lives:
· Chaotic, out of control times, when we’re waiting for something creative to come out of it, waiting for a voice from God to bring order out of our chaos…times when everything feels dark and empty
· Stormy times, when we are disoriented by life (one of the Brueggemann stages John talked about last week) and we see the trouble we’re going through as somehow God’s fault, if not God’s activity, when God’s voice may seem angry and punishing…..
· Transition times when we are faced with the need to make decisions—confronting the past and turning to the future
No, none of this is tame; today is not business as usual in any way whatsoever. And into this rich water imagery steps Jesus.
The liturgical day called Baptism of our Lord is a day that confronts us with the waters of life, whether we’re in chaos or storm or decision, or even if we walked in here today in business-as-usual safety mode.
Some of its danger and discomfort is that it’s sacramental. It’s God’s work. Oh, yes, we might choose to be baptized or to bring a child for baptism, just as those people came to John. Just as Jesus decided to come too.
But what happens at baptism is God’s work. That’s why we ask you not to take pictures during baptism that distract all of us from the mystical power of water-washed grace that comes upon that child or you through the pastor and water. Joyous it may be, serious it is.
It’s a moment like Mark describes, a tearing apart of the heavens, eliminating the dividing line between heaven and earth, bringing the power of God’s Holy Spirit and indicating a very special relationship with God. Not tame. When the heavens are torn apart, nothing can ever be the same again—this is a permanent rupture. No more barrier between us and God, no more compartmentalizing God into a safe place up there somewhere.
To be sure, God says the affirming and loving words to Jesus, and to each of us: you are my child, I love you and you give me pleasure. But it’s more than a Mr. Rogers’ “It’s you I like” kind of affirmation, important as that is.
It’s a whole new image of God trying to break in on us….imagine a God who pours out grace without your having to do anything, a God who takes pleasure in you yourself, in who you are at your core, even if you’re the worst sinner in the world or can’t believe anyone would love you, let alone the God of the universes. The God whose Spirit hovers over chaos, whose voice thunders in nature….takes pleasure in me?
If/when I really believe that, it’s life-changing. But we’ve tamed the image of God into a sweet, loving, fairly harmless God.
Last week John quoted Brian McLaren, who challenged readers to step outside their small minded judgments into “God’s larger more gracious space”—to be able to see people like God does, “each one precious, each one in need, each one at once beautiful and broken and dangerous and dignified”
To see people that way is not tame; that’s not business as usual. That’s a whole different mindset. But as baptized Christians, that’s our call as beloved children of God; we don’t just receive God’s affirmation—like Jesus we allow it to direct the rest of our lives.
It’s in the torn places where God comes through, whether in our chaos or stormy days or decision making dramas, or in the torn places of our world that other people are experiencing, where Nobodies need to become Somebodies through the love and justice of God.
The call of baptism is a call to much more than the material level of life—ho hum, baptized, went to church, now back home to dinner and business as usual. No! It’s a call that involves all of us, body, mind and spirit.
The call of baptism is for us to move out of the water and on to the wilderness, to change our lives so we can be used by God in the cosmic business of world transformation. Nothing tame about that.
If you hear God’s voice, loving and calling you, and if you’re willing to say yes again to this dangerous mission, then I invite you to come forward as we all sing together Water River Spirit Grace—John and I will hold ordinary water, and you can use it in any way that means something to you (wet hands, touch a wet finger to your forehead or heart, etc).
Those not coming forward are invited to be in a spirit of prayer through the song where you are, and those who come be sensitive to those who are staying in the pew, for this act may not be for everyone.
But for all of us, let us open ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s sweeping over us so God may give us what each of us needs, and God may make of us what the world needs…come to the water…..come.