Sacred Waters

A message given by The Rev. Scott Summerville
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Asbury UM Church

This morning we are remembering the baptism of Jesus. Today I will invite forward any of you who wish to renew the covenant you entered into or others entered into on your behalf at your baptism.

Last Sunday was Epiphany when we recall the Magi from the east, who came seeking Jesus, studying the stars and following a particular star. I spoke last Sunday about exploring and discovering, and I mentioned the discovery last April of a small planet named Gliese 581. It is in the constellation Libra orbiting a star at just the right distance – not too close – not too far away – just the right distance for liquid water to exist on its surface. Scientists believe this planet has the proper conditions for life. Unfortunately it is 20.5 light years away, so no one will be visiting there any time soon. I mentioned the excitement this discovery generated among those who seek life beyond our planet. For such scientists water is everything, since life as we know it is utterly independent upon water.

Water is an amazing and mysterious thing.
You take two elements, hydrogen and oxygen – two gases – neither possessing any of the qualities we associate with water – take two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen, slap them together, and out comes agua, water, H2O – clear, flowing, life giving water.

It is the essential ingredient in our tears,
it is the essential component of our blood;
it is the medium in which all the chemical and biological processes of our bodies must take place.
Water – wherever it is found on earth there is life.

In certain Christian denominations and in other religious traditions vessels of water are kept at the entrances to holy places. Touching the holy water at the entrance to the sanctuary connects to something deep in the soul and body of the one of the one who comes to pray and worship.

Water is at the heart of the challenges facing humanity in our time. The most immediate consequence of global warming is the melting of the ice at the Earth’s poles and in its high mountain glaciers. The most immediate crisis caused by pollution of the environment by human beings is the contamination of water sources that human beings and most other creatures depend upon for survival.

The exobiologists, those who study possibilities of life beyond the planet Earth, follow the mantra: look for the water. The ecologists tell us again and again: follow the water. What happens to the water determines what happens to us all.
Who acts to preserve the water does a sacred thing.

What would our faith be without water?
The Genesis story – the creation story in the Bible– begins with two things: God and the water. The very first words in our Bible:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,
the earth was a formless void,
and darkness covered the face of the deep,
while a wind from God swept over the face of the water.

What would the story of our faith be the Hebrews being led through the sea by Moses, or their crossing of the River Jordan to the promised land, or Jonah’s journey in the belly of a great fish, or Jesus taking his disciples out upon the Sea of Galilee.

Water is doubly sacred:
it is sacred in stories that define our tradition,
and it is sacred in being at the center of web of life.

In our Scripture today, Jesus comes to the water. He enters the waters of the Jordan, where his ancestors crossed centuries before in search of freedom, and in the waters of the Jordan he was baptized by John. At the moment of his baptism, standing in the waters of the Jordan river, the Holy Spirit came upon him. Our baptism connects us to Christ and to the waters of the Jordan where he was baptized.

Think for moment about your own experience of water.
Each of has memories connected to water.
It may be the memory of a special beach you visited with your family as a child. It may be a special river or stream or Lake where you fished or swam or frolicked as a child. What memories do you have of water,
and isn’t there something magical and powerful about the memories we have of water? Our memories of water also connect us to other people. One of the key connections I have with my father are my memories of trout streams and Adirondack lakes and canoe trips. Many of my deepest memories of my father are connected to water. – even the time we almost drowned together! I’m sure that many of you have similar memories of loved ones that are connected to water.

So, water flows through our Scriptures.
Water flows through our bodies.
Water flows through our memories.

In the Christian life water forms a unique bond between us and between us and God. The sign of Baptism connects us to the Jordan River and to the baptism of Jesus. It connects us to Him. It also connects us to our ancestors in faith, all those whose life in Christian faith over the centuries created and sustained unto our own time the life of the church.

The waters of baptism connect us to each other in the life of our own congregation. It is remarkable how different we all are in certain ways. So many different personalities and nationalities and life experiences and stages of life – what a remarkable thing is that with so many differences we are here as one family in worship together. It is our baptism that marks us as part of the one body of Christ.

The sign of baptism also connects us to the global church. We are of one body with Christians in every part of the world, part of the community that transcends language and national borders and ideologies.

Today I invite you to remember your baptism. If for any reason you have never been baptized – I invite you to contemplate taking that step, and I invite you to speak with me about that. If you were baptized as a young child, then you must stretch your imagination today to remember your baptism.

Whether you have conscious memories of the moment of your baptism or you don’t, I invite us all to remember that we are baptized into the one body of Christ.

When we are baptized, we – or our parents for us – commit ourselves to a life of faith and hope and love,
following the example of Christ. At the same time the congregation commits itself to us. In the words of the United Methodist liturgy, we as a congregation pledge:

With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ.
We will surround you with a community of love and forgiveness,
that you may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in your service to others.
We will pray for you, that you may be a true disciple who walks in the way that leads to life.

I ask you now to remember the vows you made or were made for you and to reaffirm as Christ’s body your faith in God and your commitment to the way of Christ. I invite you to remember that others have committed themselves to surround you with a community of love and forgiveness that you may grow in your trust of God and your faithfulness and service to others.

And if you feel moved to do so, I invite you to come forward to the baptismal font, to renew your commitment to the way of Christ, and to remember the great circle of love that surrounds you in the body of Christ.

No one should feel any pressure or expectation to come forward; simply come as the spirit guides you.

Remember your baptism and give thanks.

Grace and peace to you.

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