Water and Death and Life

First Sunday After the Epiphany
OT: Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm: Psalm 29
NT: Acts 10:34-43
Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17


Remember the time the world was destroyed with water save one man and his family who found refuge on an ark with a bunch of animals? Back in high school my wife lost her home along with thousands of others to Hurricane Katrina. Most of have not forgotten the tragic and catastrophic tsunami that terrorized many Asian and African countries surrounding the Indian Ocean ten years ago. And just last year a typhoon devastated the Philippines.

Water can be destructive and deadly.

But I remember so fondly growing up how every summer I would go camping and canoeing with my dad. I remember the peace and the adventure that accompanied hours on a river. There was one summer that my family took a road trip to the west. I remember standing in awe at the Grand Canyon, marveling at how centuries of flowing water had carved out that beauty. After my uncle’s funeral in Michigan, my family took a trip to Canada where we saw Niagra Falls.

Water can be so creative and beautiful.

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All of this makes me think of one of the great stories of scripture. The great moment when the entire nation of Israel finally flees Egypt, God meets them and leads them through the wilderness by a great pillar of fire and smoke, until they run into a large body of water — the Red Sea.

The people become afraid. “Why have we come so far only to be stopped by the sea? Was it to make this place our graveyard?” they mourned. But God took them this far and he we lead them further. Moses raised his staff and a wind blew across the sea, parting the waters and making the ground dry for the people to cross. They all journeyed to freedom through the waters.

Soon enough, the Egyptian army comes marching along in pursuit to take the people back into captivity. They too enter the chasm between the waters. Their chariots become stuck and they begin to panic, realizing that they may not make it across. About that same time, by another gesture of Moses’ staff, the waters come back down over them, engulfing them in the sea.

The waters of the Red Sea. The very same waters provided a path to freedom and life for one yet proved to be a path of terror and death for another.

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It is with all of this in mind that I now turn to reflect on baptism, for it is today that we remember Jesus’ baptism and our own baptism.

I love Jesus’ baptism. In Matthew and Luke we see Jesus as a baby and as a young boy, but in all four gospels the first glimpse we get of Jesus as an adult is his baptism. What does this say about Jesus? Baptism is an act of need. Being baptized is admitting that you are in need. And baptism itself can only be received. It is not something we can do to oneself. And so the first snapshot we get of Jesus is one of humble submission. He is showing us what his kingdom looks like. The kingdom of heaven is found in humility, in submission, in obedience, in receiving.

Can you remember your baptism? How old were you? Were you baptized as an infant? If so, can you remember your confirmation? Maybe you never have been baptized. I was baptized when I was eleven years old. It was exactly two months after the twin towers collapsed in New York — November 11, 2001. After church, my family and some friends gathered around the baptistry and my father baptized me. Honestly, I don’t really remember much about that day, but I look back fondly and know that something important happened in those moments.

I passed through the waters. In those moments some things in me died and other things were brought to life in me. The destructive and creative forces of water are rarely seen so clearly as they are in baptism. The destruction of sin and the creation of something new by the impartation of the Spirit. I love that picture of the Spirit descending like a dove, much like the dove that came to Noah; a beacon of hope. We who have been baptized are called to be that beacon of hope in the world, always reminding those around us that the waters of destruction that surround can be met with the waters new life.

We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water.
Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.
Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage
in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus
received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy
Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death
and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.

We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are
buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his
resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.

So grant that all who are baptized into the name of Jesus
may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly
confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy
Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

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