As many of you know, I recently went to Cancun, Mexico for a beach vacation. For many reasons, the beach has been, and will always be my preferred spot for vacation. The beach, to me, is the perfect place to relax and let the sun and waves literally and metaphorically wash over me—cleansing my body, mind, and soul of all the things that leave us feeling heavy, grimy, and even sharp or edgy. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t spend much time just laying around poolside. Instead, I spend as much time as I can in the water, either swimming or walking on the beach feeling the comforting rhythm of the waves wash over my feet over and over. But my absolute favorite thing to do while at the beach is to look for sea glass. From first light until sunset, I comb the beaches for little pieces of glass, that after being for tumbled and worn down by years of crashing waves, are now changed into something completely different. The transformation that the glass goes through is what I find so amazing. Instead of their original form, which was most likely someone’s waste—a broken glass bottle or a shattered dinner plate perhaps—the water of the ocean has the power and force to change the physical form of something with harsh sharp edges, into something soft and smooth—it changes something that was once broken and considered trash, into something totally new—something of value and worth.
I’ve collected sea glass for years, and although I didn’t find any this past trip, if I’m going to honest, finding the sea glass isn’t the goal. It’s nice when I find some, but it is more about mediating on the glass’s journey. “Where did this piece of glass originate? What was its original purpose? When did it break—was it at a dinner party or in a bar fight? How did it get into the sea and how long has it been here? How many more times was it broken and how? How many waves have swept it up from the sea floor and how many have thrown it down?” And I think about the power of the water, and how it is at same time both destructive and creative—constant and unsure—life-giving and life-taking.
One of my favorite Christian authors is the late Rachel Held Evans and she beautifully describes the work of water in this way, “Water is a force that does its steady work on even the hardest rock, reshaping it, eroding it, marking it. Even impermeable rock can be stained by the chemicals water carries. Over time, one way or another, you will be able to see souvenirs of its presence…evidence that it has left behind to say, “water was here.””
The theme of the day, if you haven’t guessed it, is water, but not just any water—it is the Living Water we first encounter at our baptism, and it is the water that continues to shape us and mold us for the rest of our lives through the power of Holy Spirit.
Today we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord, and we hear the dramatic story in Luke’s account of how after Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And then a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my Son; the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Through the power of baptism, Jesus, even though he was fully human—a man who experienced all the joys and hardships that come from with being human—Jesus was changed and marked as something special—he was told he was Beloved, and that God was well pleased. This baptism did not mark the end or completion of a relationship. Rather, it was the beginning of a pattern of life that will be full of hardships and suffering, but with God’s redeeming works, will always find new life through transformation.
Our baptism service, especially during the Thanksgiving Over the Water, does a great job of explaining what we believe is happening at baptism. We say, “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.”
God is well aware of the dangers and evil that exist in this world. God knows the power of water and the raging force of its waves. But God isn’t maker of these waves. Baptism does not stop the waves from coming. But what baptism does do is marks our lives as Christ’s own forever, publicly proclaiming that we are God’s and that God is pleased with us, and baptism proclaims the redeeming and everlasting work of God in our lives.
This may be difficult to understand, and even if we do, we don’t always remember or feel that God is constantly at work—turning waves of destruction into Living Waters that smooth and soften the hard and jagged edges of our lives.
Again, Evans writes and reminds us that, “there is a part in the Church’s baptismal liturgy when the people pray for those who are being baptized, beseeching God to “send them into the world and witness to your love.” In witness to your love. There is a beautiful ambiguity in that statement. Of course, there is the implication that those who profess Christ are to bear witness to Christ’s love, but one can also read in there an invitation to witness Christ’s love that is also at work in the world—to recognize it, to proclaim it, to express our awe and wonder at it.”
After all the waves that have been hitting us over the past months and years—too many to name, but each one of them knocking us down and making us tumble in the sandy waves of life—we may feel broken…we may actually be broken, leaving us feeling hopeless that we may never be whole again—BUT then we remember our baptism. We remember the God who said they are well pleased with their creation—pleased with you and me—and that God’s will is to redeem—is to make right—is to bring you out of the water waves of death and into the Living Water of new life—over and over and over again.
We are a baptized people, and just as we pray in our service, we are to pray for us and others to be witness to God’s love for us—witness to God’s redeeming works in a world of crashing waves. We are to pray that instead of simply seeing clear glass being eroded away, we see something that was once broken be changed slowly and surely over time. We pray hat things aren’t always what they seem and we pray, that death is never the end, but always the beginning through a God that loves us, calls us Beloved, and with whom God is very pleased.