Highlands Presbyterian church
January 19, 2014
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:13-17
Before there was light, there was water. In the beginning, the first verse of the Bible reads: God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.”
It’s clear from scripture which represents humankind’s earliest understanding of the world around them that water is the source of life for all of God’s creation; the fishes, the plants and humans. In the 6th chapter of Genesis, water becomes the source of death when God saw that the earth was corrupt and was filled with violence. God said, “I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall die.”
When the floodwaters receded, and God promises never again to destroy the earth, water is forever after a source of life.
Images of water are integral to all Hebrew and Christian scripture. Water is the means of deliverance of the Israelites from their captors in Exodus. Isaiah 35 and Amos 5:24 depict God’s justice in water imagery, with a hoe that justice will flow like the waters. John 4 provides the story of living water and the Samaritan woman at the well.
Scripture explains God’s grace by teaching that the good rains fall on the wicked as much as on the righteous. And the images go on and on.
Our bodies are sixty percent water. Our health and survival is determined in many ways by water and hydration. Science and experience has shown us that a person can survive without food for about three torturous weeks. But humans can only survive approximately three days without water. We need it for life.
Water is powerful and fragile at the same time. Seventy percent of the earth is covered by water and it is one of the most important natural resources we have. The lack of availability of clean water is one of the causes of poverty and disease in the world today.
All of that explains the centrality of baptism to our faith. Although different Christian denominations practice different forms of baptism, water is one the common element. Some baptize infants, others, like us, dedicate infants and prepare children for baptism when they reach an age where they have a greater understanding of what it means.
Regardless, the ceremony employs the element God so clearly established from the start as central to life…water. One of the most powerful effects of water is the impact it has on hard ground and even rocks when allowed to flow over them for an extended period of time. The continual flow of water will create a creek bed, even a riverbed and over a long enough period of time, a large river valley. Those riverbeds and valleys often establish geographic boundaries, separating states and nations from one another.
Picture in your minds the Amazon and Nile and the Mississippi River, even the great North Platte, the way in which the Wind River carved a beautiful red rock valley through the heart of Wyoming, and the great Grand Canyon and the enormous walls the water has left astride it over the centuries.
Perhaps that’s the best metaphor for our baptism. Though it occurs only once in our lives, remembering your baptism always is the means by which the water of your baptism continuously flows forever. Remembering its meaning always, allows the water of our baptism to flow continuously over the hard spots of our hearts and lives. If we are open to that continuous flow, the water of our baptism will carve out the riverbeds and valleys of our faith, deepening it just as the water deepens the Grand Canyon over time.
Through the waters of baptism we receive the Spirit to do God’s work. In the waters of baptism we are connected to God, to one another, our community, and to all of the history and all of the future of salvation. Just as the ministry of Jesus began on the day of his baptism so it is for us.
And just as when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” so it is with each of us. AMEN