January 13, 2013
The Baptism of Our Lord
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Please pray with me, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Pilgrim’s Plunge is the first ride I ever went down with my hands up in the air. It’s a water ride at Holiday World/Splashin' Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana.
It’s actually the World's Tallest Water Ride. Riders in 10-person boats will first float calmly through a tunnel before entering an open-sided elevator lift. After swiftly rising to the top of the 135-foot tower, each boat will pause briefly before descending rapidly down the flume at a 45-degree angle, creating a dramatic splashdown.
The maximum speed tops 50 miles an hour….which makes it even scarier to ride with your arms up in the air.
And as if you needed any more warning before approaching the plunge, riders see this sign.
As if it wasn’t obvious, right? That you’ve paid admission and you're in a water park, just in case you didn’t realize it yet, you WILL get wet.
Speaking about getting wet, let me tell you about the baptism of the Gauls. Dr. Mark Allan Powell shares this story in his book Giving to God: The Bible's Good News about Living a Generous Life.
"The Gauls were a warlike people who in ancient times inhabited what is now France and Belgium. They spoke a Celtic language and were Druids by religion. And by the time that Christians arrive on the scene, they had been conquered by the Roman Empire and were supposedly under its control.
Well, a number of Christian missionaries entered into Gallic territory and, over time, many of the Gauls became Christians. And so the story goes that whenever a converted warrior was baptized in a river or a stream, he would hold one arm high in the air as the missionary dunked him under the water.
This seemed to be a most peculiar custom and the missionaries were very puzzled until they finally learned the reason for it. When the next battle or skirmish broke out, the warlike Gaul could proclaim, “This arm is not baptized!” grab his club or sword and go off to destroy his enemy in a most un-Christian manner.
No one knows if this story is authentic. It is probably just an ancient version of what we would call today an “urban legend.” But the picture is compelling of the way we all try to keep some part of identity free from the influence of baptism."
But here’s the thing, when it comes to baptism, you WILL get wet….and try as we might, we need to let go and let the water completely soak us.
Water, is something we think of as life giving, necessary for life even, and usually it is not a frightening thing. That’s not so much the case for the hearers of our text from Isaiah today.
The book of Isaiah, all 66 chapters of it, is broken into three sections, First, Second and Third Isaiah. The passage we hear from today is in the beginning of second Isaiah, also known as Deutero-Isaiah. It is a section of Isaiah that brings words of comfort promising that God would free the exiles.
In this section, the prophet takes words and images that were dangerous or scary and turns them into examples of places where they should no longer be afraid.
The images of water and fire were common throughout the Old Testament. Waters signified the threat of chaos. Remember back in Genesis…and a voice moved over the waters….the waters seemed uncontrolled and just whirling and swirling.
Passing through the waters also brings back memories of passing through the Red Sea. The second exodus as some call it, as the Israelites fled from Pharaoh and Moses parted the Red Sea. They passed through the sea, but Pharaoh’s army was washed away by the rushing waters.
But as we hear about waters today, it is in a different tone. It is one that comes with comfort and protection. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;”
When you pass through the waters….not if….but when. It’s as if the prophet is telling, even warning the people, that their journey will not be smooth sailing. There will be trials and tribulations, but God will be in the midst of them, with you, through it all.
They will get wet. But God has called them by name…and God will be with them.
We, too, will get wet. But God has called us by name…and God will be with us.
We may want to keep part of ourselves from getting wet….we may not want to give our whole selves up to being plunged into the water….but all of who we are, all of who we were created to be is God’s creation….is God’s. And because of that, we can take comfort knowing that God is with us through it all.
All this talk about water is because today is the day we remember Jesus’ baptism….and as we hear about it…we are reminded of our own baptism. A reminder that we have been baptized, anointed with the Spirit…and that we, like Jesus, will encounter evil and temptation in the world around us.
Yet in the midst of it, we know that we have a “beloved” and “well-pleasing” relationship with God. It is a relationship that God created with us, through the waters of baptism and the work of the Spirit. Try as we might, we cannot sever this relationship because it began with God loving us.
Being in relationship with God comes with some responsibility though, doesn’t it. It doesn’t mean we need to do things to be in God’s good graces, or to earn God’s love. But out of this deep and unconditional love that God has for us, we hear and fulfill the mission God sends before us, to live up to the confidence God has placed on us. No pressure, right?
God created us, knows us and claims us for who we are. In that we can do our best to see God’s work done in the world around us. Because of God’s love for us, we can let the waters completely get us wet….and give all of ourselves to the work of God in our homes, in our church, in our community and in our world.
The waters of baptism have washed over us all…we have been called by name. The challenge for us is letting people know of our baptism…through our words and actions in response to a hurting, aching world.
May God continue to bless all of our journeys as we continue blessed and nourished in this Christian community and may we go forward, ready to get wet and live out our baptismal promises.
And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say amen.