Water. Fire. Spirit.

January 10, 2016 @ 03:25 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Before the creator God said, “Let there be light, let there be creatures;” before the Creator said, “Let there be humankind in our own image;” before the Word that was God was calling us into being; before God made the human one from the earth and blew the Spirit of Life into lungs animating and inspiring the first people; before that…

The Spirit of God, the Breath of God, the Wind of God hovered over the blue and green waters. Hovering and blowing waves into crescendos that rose and fell, rose and fell, leaving footprints on the sand.

Those waters, blessed by the hovering Spirit, carved out mountains and valleys, rose, and plummeted and cascaded from waterfalls, travelled around cracks and crevices and carved ponds and lakes out of stone, went underground to make springs, hot and cool and refreshing, travelled along the beautiful earth to make streams and rivers.

The waters froze and made glaciers, thawed and are thawing still, causing oceans to rise and climate patterns to change, warming the earth in ways that delight us and frighten us. The waters hang heavy in the air, making it so wet you could wring it like a sponge. Moist on our face, clinging to our clothing, heavy in our lungs so heavy, we pray for the rain to come and it comes. Falling afresh on us, watering plants and creating puddles for little rain boots to splash in, filling cisterns and water towers, irrigating crops, quenching the thirst of the parched places and the wildlife. Down it comes, causing joy and mudslides, making forests green and providing oases in the desert.

And the waters traveled deep down into the ground, and they moved along the table, and they joined the waters of the ocean, the deep blue ocean, and journeyed between continents and washed up on shores and became rivers and canals and tributaries and were purified for drinking and bathing.

The rivers of Babylon. The brooks in the forest in Michigan. The snow on the caps of Mount Kilimanjaro. The cistern in a camp in Minnesota. The water in a well in Jerusalem. The bath in Baghdad. The water on a wood stove in the Congo. The tap water in a restaurant in the East Village. The Tigris and the Euphrates and the canals in Amsterdam.

The Jordan River, chilly and cold. Chilling the body but not the soul.

Into that river, Jesus, whose name is Yeshua, whose parents named him a word that means God saves, stepped down, raising his tunic just a little, grabbing hold of the muddy slippery bottom with his toes. Walked into the river as some made their way out. Smiling the knowing smile of shared culture and ritual. This is what we do; this is how we mark transitions and rites of passage. This is how we cleanse ourselves, how we purify ourselves. This is the right thing to do, the righteous thing to do.

His cousin John is the water, has been preaching in his wild clothing that the Kingdom of God was coming, that those who would be ready should repent and be baptized. Should change their minds and be baptized. Should turn their lives around and be baptized. Should return to the way, and be baptized. Should confess their sins, speak together their sins. Speak their collective waywardness and sense of being lost and hoping to be found, tell the truth on themselves and open their hearts to the light and say, “Come and find me, heal me, change me and be changed.”

They got in the river to be baptized not because they believed but because they doubted and wanted to believe. Not because they were holy but because they wanted to be holy and whole. Not because they were perfect and without sin but because they were human, and would be made more perfect as they turned toward the Holy one.

When they asked what to do, John told them to give away their extra stuff, to keep only what they need. That the coming Kingdom requires an ethic of sharing, radical hospitality, love in action.

Yeshua stepped into the river to be baptized. Into the river that is of the waters, the original waters, the ancient waters, to ritualize his righteousness, as a sign of the covenant, to point to the newness the Kingdom would bring. As a symbol of the renewal that the soon-coming Spirit would bring. And so Yeshua, son of David, born into a family with a culture and rituals, went down by the Riverside, stepped in the water, went to the ancient river, walked into the water, and stood near his cousin John dressed in camel hair with a leather belt around his waist. This one of whom John said he was not worthy to tie his sandals, this one who would come and baptize the people with Holy Spirit. This one came into the water and yielded to his cousin, like all of the people in Jerusalem.

And when he was baptized, Jesus was praying. Was he praying thanksgiving? Was he praying for his people? Did he, Yeshua, confess his shortcomings? Did he speak together with the gathered people of fear and suspicion and hopelessness and despair? Did he join his voice in the collective confession? When we are afraid, we sin. When we feel dismissed, we sin. When we are overwhelmed with meeting our own physical needs, we sin. When someone offends us, we can be offensive, and we sin. When we feel oppressed, we oppress others, and we sin. We are overwhelmed and we do nothing, and we sin.

The one who is the bearer of good news, the one who knows the heart of God, the one who came to heal the world stepped into the river, and was baptized, and turned even more fully to his God, and God saw him and broke open the heavens and the Spirit of God descended in way that looked like a dove, and God said, “You are my son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”

Yeshua is the Son, and God is pleased. And you, you and yes you, you are God’s child, Beloved. God is pleased to dwell in you, to walk with you, to hold you, to receive you when you turn your heart over to God, to wait for you when you don’t feel like it, until you feel like it.

There is no river in this place, but these are the waters of the earth, these are the ancient waters. This is the water of all time. This is the water of baptism.

This water is blessed; it is holy, it has traveled the earth, it knows God’s breath. It has been breathed upon by Holy Spirit.

We, in this space, have been blessed by water, bathed by water, comforted by water, soothed by water, healed by water.

We have climbed into hot springs or hot tubs. We have stood in saunas or in moist, humid places, and our skin has tingled with the damp warmth. We have stuck our toes in the foam of the ocean, and stuck out tongues to taste snowflakes.

We have dived into the water, headfirst. We have clung to the side of swimming pools because we swim poorly, and have soaked in the tub and asked Calgon to take us away. We have washed our dogs in the water, washed our cars with the water. We have washed that gray right out of our hair with the water.

We have cooked for friends and washed the dishes with the water. We have splashed our faces with the water, run the water over our wrists to cool off. We have taken long swigs of water for strength, and tasted snow.

The water has baptized us.

We have remembered the water, with our bodies, with our hearts. When we recall it, we know, in deep place like a memory, that God sees us and knows us and loves us and forgives us.

We have also been baptized by Spirit, by the hovering breath of God. God’s Grace is more than sufficient to pick us up when we fall down, set us on the right path.

And, we have been baptized with fire. The Spirit has come and rested upon you, upon me. It looked like a dove when it came to call Yeshua beloved; it came looking like tongues of fire at Pentecost, giving us gifts to heal the world, giving us passion with which to do our work.

Spirit baptism, we are fired up and we are ready to go.

This water I am touching is living water.

Because you have been baptized with Spirit, and fire, and water, you are anointed and appointed to be God’s hands and feet in the world. You are the ones God has been waiting for right now, today, to do what God has called us to do to heal this broken world.

Jesus’ baptism started his ministry; it was his identity shaper. You have been baptized with Spirit, with fire, and with water. You are called by God to do a bold new thing on the earth. You can do it. You will do it. We can do it.

Every time you touch the water. In a dishpan, in a bathtub, as you make tea, as you brush your teeth. As you leap into the ocean, as you fish in a lake. Every time the water touches you, as it rains on your face, as it clings to you like second skin, as it sprinkles your hair with snow. Remember this: you, like Yeshua, are a child of God. You, like Yeshua, are called to ministry.

This is a new year, this is a new day; this is the beginning of the rest of our lives of faith.

Go. Be. Do. Love.

About This Blog

Preparing ethical leaders for a just society. Posts by Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister.

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