Thank you to the Wilton Presbyterian Church for inviting me to preach and lead worship for this Sunday.
Water is life.
Water covers 71% of the Earth.
70% of freshwater goes to support agriculture around the world.
It is tasteless. Odorless.
The stuff of our day-to-day lives.
Drinking enough water every day helps your overall physical health in many ways, not getting enough water can make you sick. Our bodies are made up of 60% water, our blood, 90%. Without drinking water, most human beings will die within 3-5 days.
When I worked in the summers when I was in college at a YMCA camp and we had orientation in first aid for campers we were instructed to always ask sick kids this question first, “How much water have you had today?” and to then sit with them while they drank two big glasses of water. If they were still sick in an hour, then we were told, we needed to actually do something!
50-80% of all life on the Planet lives in the world’s oceans. And the oceans are considered the 7th largest economy in the world, valued at over 2.5 Trillion dollars per year.
Water as we know can be liquid or frozen – and everything in between.
Water can also be terrifying.
A gallon of water is just over 8 pounds and so when many, many, many gallons come rushing at you in a flood, or a hurricane, or a tsunami — destruction and death is not far behind.
Freezing or warm water can injure or kill you, just in different sorts of ways.
And water has been used by humans against one another for centuries to torture and cause fear – Chinese water torture, waterboarding, forced ingestion leading to water intoxication.
And then we have water in the biblical narrative.
The waters that pre-date the Creation.
The waters of the Flood.
The waters of the Red Sea that parted so the Israelites could find a new beginning.
The waters of new life that the Psalmist proclaims.
The waters of salvation that the Prophet Isaiah talks about so often.
The waters of justice from the Prophet Amos.
The water of the River Jordan for baptizing.
The waters of fishermen who became the disciples who later grew the early Church.
The waters that Jesus and then later Paul travelled across during their ministry.
The water of the River, beside which grows the Tree of Life in Revelation.
So today is about water because today is about Baptism and the remembering of our baptisms. Most of us gathered here do not remember our original baptisms because we were infants or small children. So the remembering and the reflecting on baptism is important because baptism is such a foundational part of our life as people of the Way of Jesus.
Each time a baptism happens and we watch it we are invited to remember our baptism and to be thankful. Each time we take the vows of baptism we are reminded that the promises are significant – we are promising to raise a child in faith and at the same time saying that all who have been baptized are our responsibility.
Its universality means that we are united in the waters of baptism with people we do not know, in communities we have never been to, with lives that are completely different from yours and mine. And we have responsibility, affiliation and familial bonds with those people and they have the same with us.
So our responsibility then as part of the Church of Jesus Christ, is equally to the refugee child at the border and to the child who sits in the pews today in this church building. These children are no different in the eyes of God, they are no less worthy of salvation and new life in Jesus and they are no less filled by the power of the Holy Spirit. We should be no less interested in their lives, the conditions they live in, and the situations around them that lead to their thriving. We should be, as those who have made baptismal promises, concerned most deeply in Life Abundant for all children in all places, because when we are — then we are following and participating in the Way of Jesus that promises salvation for all people.
Baptism is the great equalizer. We are part of a family of the baptized that stretches back to the time of Jesus and stretches into the future to generations we will not know. It stretches around us to communities that are near and communities that are far. To communities that speak our language and practice Christian faith the way we do and to those who speak different languages and practice Christian faith differently. There is an indistinguishable and unbiased nature to baptism.
For me, baptism is the most profound thing we do in our faith communities because it speaks to the power of the Holy Spirit and the extravagant welcome of God that surpases all of our human abilities. It pushes the edges of our faith because of its radical nature and calls us into humility and into newness.
I have always felt that baptism and the promises contained in baptismal water are dangerous to the the powers that seek to control this world. This danger, for me, are named in the renunciations contained in the baptismal liturgy:
Trusting in the gracious mercy of God,
do you turn from the ways of sin
and renounce evil and its power in the world?
Do you renounce all evil,
and powers in the world
which defy God’s righteousness and love?
After these renunciations in our liturgy is a Profession of Faith, proclaiming that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior and a promise to follow the Way of Jesus alone and to help others in their discipleship.
So how is this dangerous? It is dangerous to say to those around us that we reject evil and when we say it to be serious. Renouncing evil is not just lines in the liturgy that we say without thinking. Renouncing evil is significant and we should give it the spiritual attention it deserves.
Evil such as the desecration of God’s Creation.
Evil such as violence in all its forms and manifestations.
Evil that comes to us in the many forms of the denigration of God’s people that this world has created whether they be women, or refugees, or children, or people of color, and on and on and on.
Evil that puts more trust in the accumulation of things rather than the accumulation of a life focused on trusting in the power of God in our lives.
Evil that tells us that we are not the beloved children of God that we are.
And I am sure there are so many more examples of evil that we can imagine and add to this list.
Baptism calls us to renounce these things and to then dedicate ourselves to raising children and adults in the Way of Jesus. Renunciations do not just happen at the moment of baptism, but are for every moment of our lives. Evil intrudes and entices all the time. And that to me is why the waters of baptism are both salvific and dangerous. Because that water and that promise has the power to repel evil. And to evil that is dangerous and to our world and communities it is salvation.
In our reading today from Luke the lectionary takes out the middle verses: 18, 19, 20
So, with many other exhortations, he [John the Baptist] proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
It is worth remembering and reflecting on the fact that John the Baptist was considered dangerous to Herod because he told the truth. Because he proclaimed God’s word and he was unflinching it protecting it and then later, noticing that the Messiah was in fact, present in the person of Jesus. The ways of God which are upside-down justice, a preferential option for the poor, and a proclamation in the reign of God rather than the reign of Herod or any other monarch or ruler are threatening to those who feel that they have accumulated power that should not be questioned. That dangerous way of living, rooted in the waters of baptism that have claimed you and me calls us to this sort of living — to the standing against evil and its power in the world, to proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ and to modeling our lives in his Way. To being about the justice and peace-filled rejection of all types of violence. To care for and protect the Creation, God’s first gift to us with ferocity and love. And to dedicate ourselves to alternative communities of Christian practice that are the symbol of the living out of the Gospel in our time. No small thing any of these. We are called to nothing less as those who are baptized. That is why baptismal water is dangerous — for you, for me, for the powers that be in this world that seek to harm and do evil and snatch abundant life away from people, communities, whole ecosystems. Because if we let is rush and course through our lives, then our lives will be changed and different — and we will be able to do nothing less that be about the waves of change in the name of Jesus that this world so desperately is in need of.
How are you engaged in that danger as an act of faith? What is the water doing in your life today? And as we renew our baptism, how can the water make things different for you from this day on?
Remember your baptism and be grateful. Amen.