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September 2012

The Life Giving Water

Pastor Melba

I just returned from a trip to L.A., having visited my daughter and new grandson. On vacation to another place, the hostess likes to “show off” their communities high points. So we went to Disney Land, Car Land, the ocean, and to see the extended family. All of this was wonderful and my granddaughter (who accompanied me) was delighted.

Having been raised on the Gulf of Mexico, (white sand - salt water - waves) I found the Pacific Ocean  beautiful, salty, rough, and the sand a pretty brown. As soon as I walked into the water - I felt I was back home! I really love the salt water. Salt water is healing and teems with life. Water is so important to our lives and in our relationship with Christ.

Sometimes I think we belong in the water. We spend our first nine months of life floating around in a sac of amniotic fluid.  At first, we even have flippers for arms - sort of like fish. Even our breathing is done for us. We are totally contingent, totally dependent.

And then we’re born, which looks like freedom; but it also means we’re fish out of water. Some people spend their whole life trying to get back to that warm, enclosed place - to live in the water.

Do you like a nice, hot bath after a hard day - Easing yourself into it slowly because it’s just a little too hot; Letting the water close over your tired feet, our aching muscles; letting your back settle in, the water closing over your shoulders, your neck; lying back, enfolded in warm water?

Or are you a shower person, standing for minutes on end in the flow, letting it wash over your face, your shoulders and neck?

Or, let’s go bigger: Diving into a clear, cool lake on a hot day, the water smooth and velvety as you extend your arms and legs through it. When I am swimming in the ocean, I feel the most freedom of all. It’s bracing; it’s huge; you can dive down and float on the waves; it’s vast and refreshing. Sometimes I think we belong in the water.

You can’t get very far from water in the Bible, either. It starts out with it:

"In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters...And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." (Genesis 1:1-2, 6)

The whole universe was water to begin with! We have the waters of the Flood, which ended up being a tomb for most of the earth, except for the remnant that floated on it, womb-like in the ark. We have the Red Sea, tomb to the Egyptians who drowned in it, road to rebirth in freedom for the Israelites, who escaped right through it. We have the Sea of Galilee, a lake on which Jesus walked like it was pavement. Whose waters Jesus stilled when they were angry. Whose fish came swimming into nets at Jesus’ invitation. There is the pool at Siloam, where the blind man washed and received his sight. The water that Jesus turned to jugs and jugs and jugs of finest wine at Cana.

Then there are rivers, deep and wide, rivers of life, Rivers watering the garden of Eden, Rivers flowing out from the altar of the temple.

There are so many waters in the Bible that I don’t know where to go. I want to dip into all of them! But there’s one river calling to us today - and I think that’s where we’re going to swim.

The River Jordan is calling our name. The River Jordan, mighty and wide. The River Jordan, opened up for Joshua, and Elijah, and Elisha; and they crossed over. The River Jordan, gateway into the Promised Land. The River Jordan, chilly and cold. The River Jordan, waters of healing for Naaman the leper. The River Jordan, waters of baptism for our Lord Jesus. The River Jordan is calling us today, my brothers and sisters in Christ.

These days, I hear, the River Jordan is more like a stream, but that’s not how I imagine it. I think in Jesus’ time, it was a proper river. John the Baptist was out there baptizing half the population for the repentance of their sins. But he himself said this wasn’t all they needed. John said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

But still, Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized by his cousin. And I wonder what it was like for him that day, to be there, to be in the water, to be under the water, to come up.

I like to imagine Jesus - that he’s hot and tired, himself. He’s made his way out there where the crowds are listening to John and being baptized. When the time comes, he, too climbs down the rocks to the river, and he slides in. The cool water rises over his tired feet, his aching calves. He sinks down and gives himself to the cool water, and it feels so good. And he goes all the way under, feeling his hair lifted up by the water, floating free.

Then he starts to come up, and at the surface he can see both under water and in the air. Then he breaks the surface, and up he comes, clean and cool. And then he looks up and the sky seems to be splitting, opening up, and something is falling down on him. It looks like a dove, but he knows it is the Spirit of God, his own Spirit. And now he hears the voice from heaven, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

In this moment, Christ has prepared the water for us. Christ has prepared the air for us. Christ has called down the Spirit for us. So when we go down into the water in baptism and we come up, the Spirit is there, descending upon us. And because Christ died and rose again to redeem us, because we are united with Christ in baptism, the Father’s voice now rings out for us: “This is my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.”

And whether you were sprinkled, toe-dipped, dunked, or half-drowned, whether you were a clueless infant or fully aware of what was happening to you, you got the whole thing in this sacrament. You went down and were laid in the watery tomb with Christ. You got up and were raised to life eternal with Christ. You were given new life, and you were given an ability to live in two realities at once; this world, which is beautiful and painful and passing away, and the kingdom of God, which is eternal life.

My friends, in baptism we become like amphibians, able to breathe on land and in the water. We are called to live in the world, which I think of as the air, which sustains us for a time by these breaths we take, in and out. And we are called to live in the kingdom of God, which is like the water, a place where we are sustained by the very life of the Kingdom, Breathe the breath of the Kingdom, the way fish breathe underwater.

We are given dual citizenship: We are citizens of this world, where we think we are alive, and citizens of God’s kingdom, where our new life has already begun.

And what is the proof of this citizenship? It is the Holy Spirit, which is represented in baptism by the oil with which we are anointed, when our foreheads are signed and the minister says, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” 

Paul writes to the Ephesians that, in Christ, we have been “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)

The Spirit is a pledge of our inheritance as saints; the sealing of the Spirit at baptism is a down payment, marking us as Christ’s own. The gift of the Spirit’s  - a bank card allowing us to access our spiritual trust fund, our share in “his glorious inheritance among the saints,” our access to “the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe,” our access to God himself through Jesus Christ.

Now, this new life of the Kingdom is already ours, always renewed in us by the gift of the Spirit each time we gather together for the Lord’s Supper to celebrate our union with Christ. But it doesn’t stop there: Through us, the Holy Spirit renews the whole world.

Do you remember the story in Ezekiel about the water flowing down from the altar, out of the Temple? At first it was up to the man’s ankles, then his knees, then his waist; and then it was so deep he could swim in it. And this water from the altar flowed down into the desert, bringing life, and it flowed into the Dead Sea and made fresh its toxic, stagnant waters. And it says,

"Wherever the river goes...there will be very many fish once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the water goes." (Ezekiel 47:9)

This water brings new life wherever it goes. This water of baptism is still a gift to a dry and thirsty world; It offers life and refreshment to all who would draw near.

The promise of baptism is this: We follow Christ into the water, we rise with Christ out of the water; we experience the Holy Spirit being poured upon us, filling us; we hear the voice of the Father: “This is my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.”

We enter the new life of the Kingdom, that Kingdom that is already around us, and we are given eyes of faith to see it, even now, not in full; but to see it and rejoice in it and hope for the day when it is come in fullness, when 

"...God himself will be with us; he will wipe away every tear from our eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." (Rev. 21: 3-4)

And what does that vision look like, that vision of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation, at the end of the story? Guess what. A river runs through it! Listen!

"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it and his servants will worship him; they will see his face and his name will be on their foreheads." (Rev. 22: 1-4)

There’s a strong emphasis in baptism on the promises we make. We call it a covenant, as though it were a transaction between equal parties. But all of these promises are only possible - they only make sense - in the light of what God has promised us, of what God has already given to us:

His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Redeemer; His Holy Spirit, to comfort, strengthen, guide, and empower us; His everlasting Love, which for all eternity proclaims his delight in you, and you, in me, in us.

Each morning as you arise, I want you to relive your baptism - I want you to feel the water on your feet, on your head, The Water that gave you life, The River that will never run dry.

Remember that you ARE a child of God! We are a part of a very blessed family!!

 - “Creative Preaching on the Sacraments" by Craig A. Satterlee and Lester Ruth



Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110        412-466-7773