Terry Gatwood: The Waters of Baptism

Sermon delivered on Epiphany 1C, the Baptism of Christ, Sunday, January 10, 2016 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 43.1-7; Psalm 29.1-10; Acts 8.14-17; Luke 3.15-17, 21-22.

Water is essential to life. Without water, there is only a dead and barren wasteland.

Yesterday, I happened to read an article about the rains in Australia right now. They’ve been so great that a dry lakebed in the desert lands north of Adelaide has filled and become the largest lake in the country. It is a rare occurrence for this lakebed to fill, as the region seldom gets enough rain to form a little puddle. It typically only fills three times each century. Reporters interviewed a local man who marveled at the amount of vegetation that has sprung up seemingly out of nowhere as the waters have come. The growth is so strong that the man is having a hard time keeping up with keeping it down on his land. The dead, barren desert landscape is being fed new life by the water that continues to come.

Water is a wonderful thing, a marvelous thing that sustains life on our planet. And it is often something many of us seek out in our leisure when we have time away from our work responsibilities. My parents and grandparents would take us kids to a campground near Lithopolis, Ohio, for the entire summer for swimming and fishing. The solitary time that I value is nearly always spent on the Big Walnut Creek, the creek that fed my people’s land for two centuries, near my home, fishing or quietly sitting and thinking and praying. My wife and I were even married near the waters edge at Coligny Beach on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. We lived together after we were married in a house on the marsh land right off of the Harbor River. It was a great place to begin a new marriage surrounded by all that water. Water brings a peace to many of us, and leaves lasting memories that will always be there for us when our minds begin to slow down as we age.

Water is used for cleaning, for drinking, and irrigating fields to produce food for us to eat. And when we don’t have water in abundance, or we’ve polluted it beyond use, or are wasteful with it we have enormous problems that affect more than just us as individuals. It’s a great gift to us, and we should treat it well as good and faithful stewards.

Today we remember the baptism of our Lord, Jesus Christ, by John. Water, of course, figures prominently in our Gospel reading this morning, and plays a huge role in the life of the Church. John was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He wasn’t asking people to be baptized because they felt sorry or as an act of divine fire insurance, but because he had been sent to call them forward towards living with God, and being his children.  John chastises the people for their failure to turn in obedience with one of my favorite lines in all of Scripture, “You brood of vipers!”

So, a question then: why did Jesus get into the water to be baptized if he was truly the Son of God and sinless in every way? Would not his participation in a baptism for repentance mean that he had something to repent of? To give a short answer, no. He did not. The not-as-short-answer: as God’s Son, and the rightful heir of all things Jesus stands out as the true King of Israel. As Israel’s Great High Priest and King he is also the head of all God’s house, and represents the nation of people before God. His coming through the water is a recapitulation, or doing again, of the history of Israel. In Jesus we find perfect Israel on display here. In everything that Israel had been disobedient to God, Jesus was obedient. Thus, in coming to the water, he reenacts God saving his people through the waters as an act of grace on God’s behalf. He obediently follows, and as the head of God’s chosen people, shows us the path to life is by following God through the waters; by being obedient. Perfect Israel has done it, and so should you.

And then we see the heavens open, and we witness the Holy Spirit descending upon him in bodily form like a dove, and then we hear the voice of God the Father “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well please.”  In this baptism of Jesus we are confronted with the reality the God of Israel is truly a triune God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. And God takes pleasure in the Son because of his faithful obedience to him as the one sent to redeem not only Israel, but also all of humankind. And it starts in the blessed water that this grace becomes available to all people for their salvation and living into the kingdom of God as God’s children forever, learning to love as God loves, and being made perfect in Christ through his atonement that he is going on to make for us later in the Gospel narrative. The image of the Trinity is the prime example of how we should order ourselves in the Church; the Trinity is the clearest picture of what love looks like in community, the Church. Baptism is what brings us into this loving relationship with the Triune God and with all people, united uniquely together in the Church through our baptism, learning to love more and more as God does as we continue in our faith that has been given to us as a gift by God through his abundant mercy and grace.

The God who created us brings us through this water, and saves us just as he did the Israelites fleeing Pharaoh and Egypt. Through the Red Sea they fled according to God’s promise of a future and a life with him. Men, women, children, and all were saved by coming through those waters and trusting in God by faith. God also saves us and marks us as one of his own in the waters of baptism. He takes dry and arid places of our hearts and causes perfect love to grow there; for him, for others, and a right love of the self. He begins a work in us through the power of the Holy Spirit to bring us on to maturity and farther and farther away from willfull sin that would be happy keeping us as dry and arid people, with no growth or life or health within us.

Have you been baptized and felt the creeping up again of the dryness of a life you no longer want to live, but instead you desire to see growth in your life? Do you desire to live in that relationship with the Lord where he is primary over all things, and where you love him more than anything else? Do you want to live not just for him, but with him on a daily basis? Good. You’re not dead, you’re just experiencing a funk, and we’re here to help you out of it by remembering your baptism and what God did there for you, and what you believed about it when you first believed.

If anyone of you who is not baptized would repent of your sins that hold you back from entering into the fullness of life God has in store for you, living in a loving relationship with the Trinity and with fellow people is entirely possible for you to. God promised it, and in it he marks you with his promised holy spirit. You are his child forever. Be baptized and enter into this covenant community with us. We’d love to count you fully as our brother or sister.

We all need to repent, from time to time, of the things that hold us back from living fully in relationship with Our God and His Church, in this inaugurated kingdom that is coming to its fullness at Jesus’ return.

It is God’s desire that we experience the fullness of the Trinity at the baptismal font, and there find God saving us, once again, through something so simple, so beautiful, so common as water. And at that font you are sure to meet our Triune God and find yourself fully in his care.  This is where life begins.