Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Deluge of Baptismal Waters

Matthew 3:13-17, Baptism of our Lord A, January 12, 2014

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

God was not in these waters

October 2012. The hurricane named Sandy hit land. It brought 115 mph winds and pounded the northeast with torrential downpours. The entire coast and twenty-four states, from Florida to Maine, were impacted by this storm. Buildings were destroyed and livelihoods were lost. The coast was ruined. Hurricane Sandy caused at least $65 billion in damage. Almost 300 people were killed, some immediately and others after time in a hospital. Superstorm Sandy came to America, but God was not in those waters.

July and August 2013. Heavy rain struck Manitou Springs in Colorado. In a matter of days, this area received a year’s worth of rain. Not yet recovered from the previous year’s forest fires, this part of Colorado experienced flash flooding that led to terrible mudslides. Bridges were destroyed, roads collapsed, and houses demolished. Mudslides came to Colorado, but God was not in those waters.

April, June, and July 2013. Our very own Quad Cities receives remarkable amounts of rain, raising the water levels of all local rivers. At least four times during the spring and summer, the Mississippi flooded over its banks. At the same time, the Wapsi and Rock rivers also flooded.

Some buildings were damaged, including many homes and businesses. These excessive waters forced Davenport to put up their Hesco barriers multiple times along River Road and Credit Island. After carefully protecting the Credit Island lodge from the waters, it went up in flames. Many who loved this lodge were devastated. Flooding came to our part of the world, but God was not in these waters.

We have experienced many natural disasters caused by rain, snow, and ice. When the waters come in excess, our lives stop as we assess the damage. Buildings and homes are often destroyed, leaving people without places to work or live.

Sometimes we can prepare for these times. People along the coast can board up their homes. We can build homes above flood levels and create levies and floodwalls along the river. Sometimes, all of our protection isn’t enough. Sometimes we can’t help but watch from safety as everything we know is being demolished. I do not believe that God causes those natural disasters.
God is in these waters 
But God is in some waters at some times. When water is combined with scripture read and proclaimed, then God is present. In the waters of baptism, God does not destroy the good. Instead, God destroys the bad within us and enlivens the good. We know that God comes to us in those holy moments of baptism because Jesus first experienced baptism. Jesus went to the Jordan to be baptized by John, and God was in those waters.

Jesus was baptized by John 
After John had made a name for himself, Jesus traveled from Galilee to John at the Jordan. He knew that it was time for him to be baptized. When Jesus approached John the Baptist, John immediately knew that this man was not just one more to make clean. John knew who he was, and he knew that Jesus didn’t need to be baptized. Jesus had no sins to confess; he did not need to be washed. For every reason that John baptized others, Jesus did not qualify. All that John had preached about and all of the baptisms that he had done were all in preparation for this moment.

John wanted to be baptized by Jesus. He asked him, “Why do you want me to baptize you? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?” Jesus answered him, “Don’t worry about your role in this. You need to baptize me to fulfill all righteousness. It is part of God’s plan.

So, John took Jesus into the river, and he did as he had done with all the others. John gently leaned Jesus back in the water until his head was at the water level. He said that Jesus was baptized in the name of the one true God. Then John leaned Jesus back further until his entire head was submerged in the river. 

God was in more than these waters
Then, as Jesus slowly lifted his head out of the river, the water streamed down his face and dripped from his hair. Looking up, Jesus saw the sky change above him. It looked like the blue sky was pulling away to reveal a bright golden light. And from that stunning bright space he saw something white and holy coming down to him. Although it appeared as a dove, Jesus knew that this was the Holy Spirit. When this Spirit descended upon him, Jesus felt himself changed and at peace.

Then Jesus heard a booming voice from heaven say, “This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:17) Jesus knew that this was the voice of his one and only Father. In this moment, the Trinity was complete in Jesus, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Jesus left the Jordan strengthened, prepared, and empowered for his entire ministry that would come. He was ready to face the world, yet he does not go straight to teaching or healing. Instead, he had to face the temptation of the devil first. From the bright, holy moment of Jesus’ baptism, he was led directly to one of his darkest – into the wilderness.

God is in our lives
We too face dark moments in our lives. Our dark moments, like so many natural disasters, are not caused by God. Yet God brings us through the darkest times, walking along side us. When the water seems to be rising above our heads, God lifts us up to safety. We are never alone.

One way that God does this is through baptism. Because God has baptized us and cleansed us from all of our sins, we can step refreshed into each new day. When we receive communion, we are strengthened for what is to come.

If in baptism we die to sin and are raised to new life, then these waters are powerful. These waters are as destructive as Hurricane Sandy, destroying everything in its wake. The waters of baptism create mudslides inside us, taking away all that is evil. The waters of baptism flood us so that only the good can survive. “Cleansing us from all our sins” sounds so simple and peaceful. Instead, God creates a deluge inside us to strip away all that stops us from serving God.

All of the crashing waves of the flood at Noah’s ark, the blessed separation of the sea during the Exodus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ baptism are wrapped up in those three little scoops of water gently caressing an infant’s head. No matter how we are baptized, whether through sprinkling, pouring, or submersion, the water and the word bring God to us. All of God’s love, grace, and will for us is found in baptism. Amen! 

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