A congregation of the United Church of Canada
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Yr A ~ Epiphany 1 ~ Matthew 3:13-17
We’re going to reflect on one of the absolute essential aspects of life today – water. What does water do? It refreshes us, cleanses us, cools us, hydrates us, nourishes us, and sustains us.
Half the world’s water supply is located in just 9 countries. Canada has around 20% of the world’s fresh water, and sadly about 20% of the world has no reliable access to safe, drinkable water. That’s why we do a well-drilling fund raiser in Advent each December! You raised just under $5000 this year (almost enough for 2 wells!) and you’ll save literally hundreds of lives because of that!
Did you know that we can live around 3 weeks without food but only 3-5 days without water?
Did you know that’s because you are mostly water?
Adults are around 60% water. Infants are around 75% water.
One of my favourite Star Trek lines was in an episode where Captain Picard and his crew discovered a new microscopic sentient life form and when they hooked up the universal translator it called them “ugly giant bags of mostly water!”
Whenever we send space probes to other planets the thing that excites the scientists the most is whether they can find any trace of water ever having been there because water is the fundamental element of life as we know it.
Some scientists and environmentalists predict that as the 21st century plays out water will become much more valuable than oil.
Middle Eastern countries have lots of oil, but not much water, and they use among the least amounts of water per person in the whole world, because freshwater resources are so scarce.
It’s no wonder, then, that the bible is somewhat obsessed with water!
Genesis chapter 1 describes the beginning of everything as nothing but deep, dark waters! And Revelation 22 (the last book of the bible) features the river of the water of life. That means the 2nd verse from the beginning of the bible and the 5th verse from the end of the bible are about water! And variations of the word are used around 722 times in between.
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I’m sure you could name 10 or 20 biblical references featuring water off the top of your head – Noah’s flood, the parting the Red Sea, water from a rock, as the deer pants, the woman at the well, washing disciples’ feet – it’s water, water everywhere!
So it should not surprise us that the first action of Jesus’ recorded adult life in all 4 gospels, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, features Jesus immersed in the waters of creation – being baptized and spring-boarding him into his public ministry.
(Well, strictly speaking, if you want to get picky, it doesn’t explicitly say Jesus is baptized in John’s gospel but he’s out there at the Jordan with John the Baptizer and the whole ‘spirit like a dove’ thing happens, so tradition holds that it happened in John too.)
Down into the waters of the Jordan goes Jesus, and “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. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:16-17)
Did you catch that? The Spirit was moving just like in Genesis and in Revelation.
Genesis 1:2 And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.
Revelation 22:17 The Spirit and the bride (that’s us, the Church) say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
Water and the Spirit are dramatically and dynamically linked in scripture. There is something really spiritually fundamental going on whenever we invoke water and Spirit.
When we do a baptism, when we say the words and pray the prayers and take the water and place it on a person’s forehead, we are connecting ourselves to Genesis 1, to Revelation 22, and to Jesus’ baptism. We are participating in a dramatic revealing of God’s Presence in the ritual action of using the water. That’s what a sacrament means: it’s a visible, tangible expression of the Presence of God and Christ and Spirit that we can’t physically see but we can absolutely spiritually experience.
Baptisms aren’t about washing away your bad self so God can love you. God has loved each and every one of us from our very first moment of existence, whether we’re baptized or not!
No, baptisms are for us to acknowledge and claim that love as our own – they’re for standing here and experientially declaring that the same Spirit and water in Genesis, and in Revelation, and in Jesus’ baptism are present here in this place, in this moment.
It’s our chance to not just read the stories and intellectually nod to how clever it is that Spirit and water form bookends for the bible and that Jesus is therefore a new creation and the ultimate end as well – but it’s also our chance to touch the water and feel the Spirit and know that we’re part of God’s story too.
We are experiencing the heavens open and God’s Presence revealed.
We are God’s beloved too.
And we are ones with whom God is well pleased.
Baptisms encourage us not just to stay on the sidelines passively watching the biblical story unfold but to actively participate in it – to jump in and splash around in it – and to be refreshed, cleansed, nourished, and sustained by the water and the Spirit. I think we’d understand that better if we did immersion baptism!
And after Jesus’ baptism what does he do?
He goes into the world teaching and helping and praying, and we come to realize that the water of life isn’t just limited to H2O but is incarnated in Jesus himself. He is, in fact, the “living water”.
And his message is that he is in God and God is in him and WE are invited to be in him too.
We are invited to be immersed, not just on the occasion of our baptism, but always and ever immersed in the living water that is Jesus.
Jesus comes up from the water, is filled with the Spirit, gets onto the shore, looks at the people gathered there, and then his disciples, and then the people he encounters on hillsides and towns, and yes even you and me and everyone around us, and he says “Come on in! The water’s fine!”
In the first chapter of the bible, Genesis 1, the Spirit hovered over the water, God created everything from it, and God said “Day, night, stars, moon, sun, sky, land, plants, animals, humans – Come on in! The water’s fine!”
In the last chapter of the bible, Revelation 22, the Spirit and the Church, inspired by Jesus, say, “Come! Everyone who’s thirsty come – take the water of life as a gift. Come on in! The water’s fine!”
So what then shall we do?
What are we, as the Church, as the people who celebrate the Creator, and the Spirit, and the Living Water, what do you think maybe we should do with all this?
As we leave this place our spirits are soaring and we’ve experienced God’s Presence revealed in the waters of baptism, and the Spirit has moved in us, and we’re the ones symbolically climbing out of the Jordan, ready to make our way out there in the world, ready to go through those doors and encounter people who are thirsty for something – even though they may have no idea what they’re thirsty for.
What do you think you might say to them, standing there as you’re dripping in the Spirit and shining in the glow of God’s Presence?
I bet you know one thing you could say.
How about, “Come on in! The water’s fine!”
Statistical source: How Water Works http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/geophysics/h2o.htm