Four Sermons on Baptism: 1. Water World

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Isaiah 41:17-20; John 4:1-15

Baptism of Anne Elizabeth B.

He gets really tired, our Jesus, and worn out from traveling. So he takes a load off his feet at the highest, hottest hour of the day at a well in a Samaritan town where the neighbors are unlikely to be friendly. But it can’t be helped, because he has this great thirst. And because he has no bucket, and the well is deep, he’s going to have to ask somebody for help, the first person who comes along, who is likely to be a woman, and if she happens to be hard-nosed about Jewish-Samaritan relations, she might just cut him dead if he speaks to her, and if she does, he won’t get his drink of water. And water is what he wants.

When she comes, Jesus asks her for a drink. She gives him a little lip about not having a bucket, but he isn’t put off; before long they’re talking theology. First they talk about water, although at the start she thinks he’s talking about the water from Jacob’s well. But eventually the conversation gets around to establishing that the water she needs and the water he wants to give her are different. Then they move to the subject of life—just a short step away from the topic of water, since water and life are twins. But it’s not life in the abstract he is interested in; he wants to talk about her life, including her five husbands, and “everything she’s ever done.”

She drinks his “living water.” How quickly it revives her; how unencumbered she becomes! She drops everything and plunges into town to tell everybody about Jesus, and about a soul-thirst she didn’t even know she had, about the thirst Jesus first awakens in her, and then slakes. It turns out that she is the one who had no bucket, standing at the deepest of deep wells. It turns out that Jesus is the one who hospitably dips into unseen depths to refresh her. You could even say that he baptizes her, immerses and drenches her from the inside out; and from that day on, she who lived in a hot, dry world begins living also in a world of water, amid secret pools of refreshment, intimate cascades of acceptance and favor, and subterranean streams of joy.

She enters a water world: we have come to call it the church, the great reservoir of life. Since time immemorial rejuvenating waters have been collecting in its cisterns: the waters that buoyed up Jesus in Mary’s womb, they’re in there. The water by which John the Baptist cleansed Jesus, it’s in there, too. That water that by wedding’s end became good wine, it’s all there.

The church’s well holds the angry sea that Christ rebuked to save his friends, the waters he made as firm as a road so that he could reach them in their swamped boat; the tears he cried over the city he loved, and over Lazarus, his friend; the water from the basin he dragged from foot to foot at his last supper; the water that flowed from his side when the soldiers pierced him; the waters of ecstasy and revelation at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit, poured out from above, became living water within us.

The church is a great reservoir of all the waters that heal and challenge, cleanse and refresh, delight and save and serve and compel. And when by God’s mercy we are invited into the church, we who live in such hot, dry places get drenched with them. Safely submerged, we learn to swim in a brand new world, wet and wondrous; we learn to go deep and drink to our heart’s content.

Today we baptize Anne Elizabeth, child of God. We bring her not into the world (her parents managed that just fine), nor into communion with God (God knew and loved her from her mother’s womb), but into Christ’s body, into the church, into this world of water. By water we quench a thirst she is too small even to know she has—a thirst for becoming completely who she is, a thirst for fellowship with God’s people, for belonging to a household of faith and service, a thirst for home and the eternal vision of God.

Her baptism is pure gift to her: before she is able to fend for herself, to understand anything, to name anything or even to ask for anything, Christ drenches her with welcome and acceptance, makes her an indispensable member of his body, and reserves for her a unique place at our table of memory, justice and love.

Her baptism is pure gift to her: it is a lifetime pass to our village well, a right to draw from the church’s reservoir that never dries up or runs out and at which she will always find Jesus waiting for her, ready to help her, to talk with her about her life, to help her uncover who she really is, what she most truly desires. She will always find him at the center of town, at this well; and in life-long conversation with him she will drink in the kind of unencumbering good news she can’t produce for herself or get from anybody else.

And if the rest of us water babies do our part, the part we promise in our vows to God, as she grows up among us, she’ll never dry out, because we will daily be soaking her in the gifts of God with which the church is waterlogged—worship, sacraments, prayer, singing, fellowship, encouragement, teaching, counsel, correction, stewardship, healing.

If the rest of us water babies do our part, she too will someday go squishing about to tell others what it’s like to live in a water world, about the One who lives at the source, the One who can awaken their thirst too, and then quench it, the One who will hospitably draw out for them the same unending joy she knows.

Anne Elizabeth, child of God, baptized today. You came here with no bucket of your own to draw water from this pool, and Jesus was here waiting for you. He has now given you everything you’ll ever need to be safe and sound  — he has given you to us and us to you; he has made you a water baby and introduced you into a water world.

And something else too, something that we all too soon forget; but as you grow up here, we want you to remind us of it. Here it is: today we baptized you also into a mission and ministry. “What is it?” you will ask someday.  I’ll tell you now, and if we keep the promises we made to you today, we’ll be telling each other again and again for years to come.

Remember the drink that Jesus asked for? In all the commotion, it isn’t clear if he ever got it. We need to find out. Our mission and ministry is to ask and keep asking if Jesus ever got his drink of water, to ask and keep asking whether he is still thirsty, and to be on the lookout for him in all the village squares where he is dying for refreshment, in all the places where in so many guises he sits down to rest (including pews like these). Our ministry is to see him and give him that drink, to make sure someone passes by to refresh him. It isn’t much, but it’s all he’s ever asked for, all he’s ever wanted, all he wants from us today.

If you see him in the heat of the day or in the cool of the evening and give him a drink, if together we help each other do this day by day, on the Great Day when God calls us home, you and I and everybody here who loves you, along with all the saints who, waterlogged with the works of love, squish their way before Christ’s seat at God’s right hand, will hear Christ say:

“Well done, good and faithful church; well done, good and faithful Elizabeth Anne. Now enter my Father’s joy, prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I gave you living water, and you gave it back to me. When I was thirsty, you gave me a drink.”

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