Lord you have taught that noone can know you without having been born of water and spirit. Help, us we pray, to follow the path you have struck for us. Wash us continually in the waters of baptism and raise us up in your spirit. So that we might known you better than we know ourselves. AMEN
This morning’s gospel is a statement of faith. It outlines the essentials of our life as Christians and at the very heart of it all is our baptism. John writes “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born from water and Spirit” (Chapter 3).
While beautiful, peaceful and life-giving, water is also a force of nature that can cause great harm, even kill. Whether by storm or drowning, people die because of water, and, yet, without it, none of us could live. It is both water’s power to kill and its power to heal that we harness in the rite of baptism.
In the early church, baptismal pools were deep and dark and, in their Christian Initiation, the baptized were held beneith the surface of the water for long enough to be reminded that if they stayed there, they would die. Baptisms were performed in the darkness of night, reminiscent of the darkness of a life lived without God, in fear and loss. It is our tomb.
Just as their blood begins to run thin of oxygen, the baptized are pulled out of the water’s depths and into the light of the dawning morning. Surrounded by the company of the faithful, they are resurrected to a new life; a life of light, freedom and faith in God.
Most of you have seen a baptism performed here. If you haven’t, please come, they are beautiful. At the end of the baptisms, the priests perform a major crowd pleaser by splashing handfuls of water over the children gathered at the font while calling out to them to “remember your baptism”. Remember your baptism.
It is one of the ironies of our faith journey that sometimes we forget our baptism. Sometimes we forget how much God has given us in baptism; it’s cleansing, its freedom, its access to God.
Sometimes we forget not only what we are: beloved children of God but we forget whose we are, God’s. Sometimes we forget our baptism.
Jesus tells us this morning, in no uncertain terms, that as baptized people, we belong to him. Our lives are his lives and he loves us SO much that he won’t let us forget it. And yet, so often we do.
Perhaps one of the problems is that we are such gifted people. We are able to survive pretty well on our own. Given our many gifts, each of us forms an image of the best man or woman we could be and we strive for that, with earnest, in our daily lives. We care so much, and love so much, and do so much. And that is wonderful.
And yet, Jesus is telling us this morning, that we, even, in our very best use of our gifts are nothing compared to what we will be in God. God’s desires for us, his hopes, his plans are so much greater than our minds can fathom. These gifts we have are not our own, they are his, to do with as HE wishes. As Isaiah writes “those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary” (40:31).
Remember your baptism. Remember the cleansing.
In each and every one of our lives, there comes a point, or a series of points where we experience loss. Whether it is a person we have really loved or a relied upon part of our lives, our home, our health, we are made aware of a gap where assuredness used to be. These gaps can last years. And they are so challenging to the image of who we thought we were. We are forced to “traverse long periods of emptiness and apparent futility when all that we had experienced of God is drained from our lives” (Fruehwirth). Our means to happiness, our habits of faith are gone. And we are left with a sense of loss.
Tragically, the worst thing we can do at times like this is to pretend that they are not happening. Naturally we feel shame for the emptiness so we react by trying to cover it up, deny it out of existence. Treating spiritual emptiness like a common cold that will just pass, we pretend that we are not longing for God.
We pretend that we are not drowning in a sea of unease and instead of accepting our distance, we obscure it by fabricating what the writer Gregory Fruewirth calls a “graceless Godliness”.
We fake happiness.
We mock strength.
We pretend freedom.
We refuse to accept how truly weak we have become. No longer attune to the word of God, we simply become busy “doers” as opposed to “doers of the word”.
And this is just what God does not want from us. God doesn’t want empty busy-ness. God wants to give us healing.
The distance from God we are trying so hard to cover up is God’s arm holding us down beneath the water’s surface. It is God’s insistence that we truely die to the old ways, the ways of this world, the ways we know, in our heart of hearts, will NEVER bring us happiness. The longer we resist the longer he will hold us there.
And so, God holds us there, beneath the waters for a little longer. He is insistent that we no longer mistake the vast emptiness we feel for the vast God we long for.
God wants us to give up on thinking that we are in charge of our happiness.
God wants us to give up on believing in your strength instead of his strength. God wants something very difficult. He wants us to admit we need him.
Remember your baptism. Remember its freedom. Remember that your life is no longer your own. As Jesus says in Matthew: Come to me, all you that are weary and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (11:28-30).
So I remind each of you, especially in the thin times of your spiritual lives, to remember your baptism. Meditate on it, the words of the rite, its absolute significance for not just what will save you in Christ’s coming again but what will save you today, Spiritually and emotionally, in your marriage and friendships. However you need it.
Remember your baptism because God loves you this much that he sent his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
Thanks be to God.