Season of Pentecost week 14, Common Lectionary Year A
(Season of Creation week 2: Water)
By Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones
A beautiful early fall day.
Family gathered from all corners of the globe to celebrate
the baptism of a first son, a first grandchild.
What could be better for the Brzostowski and Sowerby families?
What could be better for the Cedar Park family than this rite of passage, this ritual of welcome?
The naming and claiming as one of Godâ€™s own
this little human being?
The possibilities of watching him grow with us in this household of discipleship?
For such a time as this
we need a Scripture text that marks the day properly;
a vision of the world as it can be.
You canâ€™t get much better than the vision of
John of Patmos, the writer of the Book of Revelation.
Johnâ€™s vision is of heaven on earth,
or heaven in earth,
or earth drenched in the blessings of heaven?
Whichever way it is, this vision is of the
best that could ever be imagined.
If you like you can close your eyes to imagine this vision:
There is a river running down the centre of the heavenly city,
but donâ€™t imagine the Thames or the Ottawa
or even the St. Lawrence, filled with commercial traffic,
hemmed in by cement walls, with floating debris on its
slightly oil-slicked surface.
You need to imagine the most pristine,
bubbling, chattering river, broad and lively,
and so crystal clear you can see in its waters
fish of every colour and size,
and a river bed of polished rocks dancing in the light.
Its waters are the very gift of life itself.
It is the most beautiful, most sacred river you can imagine.
Because that river flows from the throne,
the glory, the power, the heart of the living God.
Straddling this river is a huge tree.
Not a cumbersome, heavy-leaved tree
that shadows the ground with Tolkein-esque menace,
but one that is both strong and light.
Its trunk gnarled with wisdom yet smooth with grace,
its branches whispering
â€˜ peaceâ€™ peaceâ€™
with every breath of the wind.
Itâ€™s a tree like no other.
Itâ€™s the tree of the garden of Eden, restored.
The tree of life.
On its branches, in every month of the year,
hang an abundance of jewels;
fruits of every kind and taste,
and colour, and scent.
And its leaves too are like no other;
for this tree of life
has leaves that drip with the salve of healing balm,
aloe, mint, verbena, of lavender, of hyssop.
This tree is like no other,
because its roots are bathed in water from the River of Life,
which in turn flows from the throne, the glory, the power and
the heart of the living God.
Who wouldnâ€™t want to be baptized by this tree,
and in these waters?
But, thatâ€™s not quite where we are, is it?
Baptism doesnâ€™t happen in the sweet hereafter,
in the midst of some beatific vision,
but in the here and now.
Baptism happens by the rivers of real life;
the sort of real life pictured in the 42nd Psalm:
â€œAs a deer longs for flowing streams, so
my soul longs for you O God.â€
To be sure it begins rather too much like that TV ad,
– fawn with big brown eyes creeps out of sun-speckled forest
to lap at a bubbling brook,
followed by soft-spoken endorsement of granola bar.
But in truth the soul â€“ the person – that is longing
for living water in this psalm,
is â€˜cast downâ€™, forgotten, even oppressed by the world,
and fearful that God has forgotten them too.
Thatâ€™s more like the everyday existence of most of the human race;
a daily battle for â€˜enoughâ€™;
a constant inundation of â€˜lifeâ€™s troublesâ€™ big and small,
leave most of us gasping for a momentâ€™s relief,
and for some sign that God cares,
that God is in the midst of this life,
like a drink of cold, clean water,
quenching and reviving the lagging spirit,
restoring life and with it, blessing.
And we canâ€™t slip by the reading from Exodus.
Here the waters that pulled back
to create dry land for the Israelites
to pass through safely from death to life,
hurled themselves back in tsunami-like waves
to destroy an entire Egyptian army.
The visionary river of life,
or the cooling stream that quenches,
can, in the blink of an eye, become deadly.
Showers of blessing one moment
become an inundation of overwhelming tragedy
that turns our world upside down,
drowns our hopes of even the possibility
of future, let alone blessing.
While we want to stay with Johnâ€™s vision
as a gift of Baptismal promise to Ben and his family,
and to ourselves as we think of our own Baptism,
we know that the life of faith,
of all life,
is reflected in all three of these watery texts combined.
And it is into such a life of mixed blessing and uncertainty,
that Godâ€™s gift of Baptismal blessing, promise,
presence and hope is given.
Baptism is Godâ€™s gift to real people, living real lives.
Ben may not be a year old yet,
but already these parents know what itâ€™s like
to weep tears of exhaustion,
to hand over their precious one to a surgeon,
hoping for the best, while knotted with fear of the worst.
And they dream and pray for him, like all parents,
for a life more inundated with blessing and promise
than with the flood waters of suffering.
But they know life â€“ his life – will have both.
And so they come here today,
for a Baptism.
They come to see in water and sign, Godâ€™s promises
made real, tangible.
They come to hear again
Godâ€™s promise to be with their child every day of his life.
They come to discover the support and care
of a community of faith who will share with them
the journey of living out Godâ€™s dream and vision of a healed and healing world.
While we want to offer them nothing less than
Living water flowing from the throne of God,
while we want to offer Ben fruits for every season of his life,
and salves for every hurt,
all we can offer is
tap water poured into a stone font
and a smudge of oil
in the sign of a cross.
We know that Baptism is
no magic trick,
no hell insurance,
no platinum membership
in a club of those
eternally protected from the inundations of the troubles of ordinary life.
But with this tap water
poured into a stone font
and this smudge of oil
in the sign of a cross,
we know that we are calling upon
the God of heaven and earth,
the Living God from whose throne
living waters flow,
to inundate Ben with the blessings
he needs to live this life fully,
and with grace and hope.
We know that with this tap water
poured into our font,
and this smudge of oil in the sign
we are welcoming him into
the company of the Baptized,
into the company of those like us,
who in all times and places
seeking to live as Jesus Christ showed us,
that by the grace of God,
mere tap water in a stone font
and olive oil on the forehead
become in this place,
a moment of heaven on earth.
And we are all blessed.