My sermon for this day, influenced by the events in Tucson yesterday. May the healing waters flow over & over & over us all.
Whose We Are
Preached at First Presbyterian, Parkesburg
January 9, 2011
Text: Matthew 3.13-17
For me, there is no better place in the world to reflect than on the beach. There is something powerful about walking down across the sand, watching the water flow in and flow back out, sometimes crashing ashore loudly or quietly rippling across the sand. And, if you are watching closely, you will see the water bring things ashore, but also take things away. A couple of weeks ago, I was walking on the beach of Tybee Island in Georgia, just watching the water flow in and out, over and over again. And, all I felt was a strong sense of peace washing over me – a peace that allowed me to let go of all the stuff I was holding onto, and know deeply that God was taking it all away from me, just as the waters of the Atlantic were taking the tiny shells back out to sea. Not only that, being at the shore allows me to think carefully about who I am, mostly because I am away from all the craziness of my regular life. And, the water reminds me that I am constantly being re-created in the image of God.
I don’t know how Jesus really felt about water, but it seems to me that he had a close relationship with the power of the water. And, water plays a significant role throughout the whole of our scripture – from the waters of creation, to the waters of the flood, to water springing forth from the rock, the parting of the sea – the water shapes the landscape of the scripture & over and over again, shapes the lives of God’s people. There is something truly wonderful and mysterious about the power of water in our lives.
And, today we reflect upon what is commonly referred to as Baptism of the Lord Sunday, where we commemorate Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan. He went to the river, down to the waters, where he found his cousin John, the one who would baptize him. John was a little taken aback by his dear cousin’s request, since he was the One, the Messiah. John certainly did not feel worthy enough to perform such an intimate and powerful act as baptism. He wanted to be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around. But, Jesus simply said to him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” His words of “let it be” echo his mother Mary’s words to the angel before his birth. She knew then & Jesus knew the Spirit was coming down & in that place, fulfilling God’s Word & God’s promise to the world.
So, the two men walk down into the river Jordan, this powerful & mythical river where so much history flowed for centuries before, and John performed the baptism by lowering Jesus into the water. And as Jesus was coming up from beneath the waters, the sky suddenly opened up & “he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove & alighting on him”. This was certainly no ordinary baptism! It was a scene of deep peace and of clarity for Jesus’ mission that was ahead of him, for his baptism marked the beginning of his public ministry here on earth.
The most powerful part of this story comes in the final verse – “And a voice from heaven said, ‘this is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” A beautiful public statement of who Jesus was & whose he was - the Son of God. His identity was made clear & it confirmed his ministry here on earth.
These words of “with whom I am well pleased” are ones that God speaks of us. We are all beloved children of God, with whom God is well pleased. Children of God, it is who we are. And, this identity we have from God calls us into service, just as it called Jesus into service here on earth. The waters that flowed over us in our baptism confirmed that in us, and those waters continually do so each and every day.
Six beloved children of God died yesterday in Tucson, Arizona, and 13 more are fighting for their lives, after a gunman senselessly open fire during a gathering with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Representative Giffords is committed to service on this earth through her efforts to work for her constituents there in the Tucson area. Federal Judge John Roll was committed to serving this country and serving the needs of the people. 30 year old Gabe Zimmermann served his country well & was committed to serving the people of Arizona on behalf of Congresswoman Giffords, just as he had coordinated yesterday’s meet & greet event. Even 9 year old Christina Green, a light to her family and her friends, whose service was tragically cut way too short. All 19 who were involved in this senseless act of violence were and are children of God, with whom God is well pleased.
Waters are flowing through the tears of those who mourn the dead and pray for the injured. Waters are flowing from the heart of God, as God welcomed those who died home into eternal life. Waters must flow to bring about peace, instead of hate and anger. Waters must flow to change the ways we speak to each other and about each other, so we can stop the flow of blood of innocent people caught in the crossfire of anger and hate.
We are all called to do our part to change the world we live in, to bring about God’s shalom. This is part of who we are as beloved children of God. Those waters that flowed at our baptism sealed us with God’s love and grace, give us the strength to work for peace in our world. We must work towards ending senseless acts of violence that continue to haunt us and cause such pain. And, we must honor the memory of those who were lost yesterday, but also honor those who are fighting for their lives this morning, and commit to changing our words and our actions, so that we do not promote violence, but instead promote shalom, God’s peace.
Beloved children of God, on this day, as we remember the baptism of Jesus Christ, let us commit ourselves again to our calling – to work for peace, to treat one another with respect, and to let the waters flow over us and over our world. May the waters wash away the blood of the innocent. May the waters of healing flow. May the waters wash over us and cleanse us again. Cleanse us all, O God. Amen.