The Baptism of Our Lord
Isaiah 43: 1-7
Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22
I need some children to come up and help me out and maybe even bear witness to what is going to happen in the bowl of our baptismal font.
As the children can probably attest, the baptismal font is empty, but now I am going to empty a pitcher of water into the baptismal font. As I pour the pitcher of water into the bowl, the water crashes and splashes and swirls. It doesn’t take long however, for the water to become calm.
What happens when I pour in another pitcher of water? The water poured into the bowl stirs up the water that is already in the bowl. Of course, it doesn’t take long for the water to become calm and smooth.
Now watch me stir up the water with my hand. What do you see? The water is stirred, it is bothered and it splashes and swirls and moves.
Now what do you think would happen to this bowl of water, if we were to leave it sitting still for a week? The water would become stale and stinky and gross. How to avoid the water becoming stale? We would add more water, so I will pour in another pitcher of water. From time to time, I would have to come and stir the water with my hand so that it doesn’t sit long.
So we avoid stale water by replenishing the water and stirring it up, that way the water stays fresher. We stir up the water; we “trouble” the water.
We “trouble” the water.
Later on today, we are going to sing a song entitled, Wade in the Water. There is a refrain or line that gets repeated, and it goes like this, “God’s a gonna trouble the water.”
“God’s a gonna trouble the water.”
What does that mean? It means that God is going to stir up the water and make it move and flow and bubble and splash and crash.
It also means that God has stirred things up; God has made a splash in the world throughout history.
Long, long ago, the people of Israel were held captive in Egypt and they were slaves, toiling under the whip of the Pharaoh. Now Pharaoh thought that the waters of Egypt were calm and pleasing, but the waters were not calm for the Hebrew slaves. God stirred things up. God troubled the water, so much that God convinced Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go free.
Our Old Testament reading from the prophet Isaiah makes note of this:
But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
One of the ways that God troubled the waters for Pharaoh and Egypt was to bring all those plagues upon Egypt, not the least of which was turning the waters of the Nile River into blood. God troubles the waters and the people of Israel go free.
The psalm writer in Psalm 29, notes the ability of God to trouble the waters. The psalm writer says:
The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.
Many, many years later, God would trouble the waters in an amazing way. First of all, God troubled the waters by sending John the Baptist. John the Baptist looked around his homeland of Israel and he saw that Israel was becoming stale and poisoned. While the leaders of Israel thought the waters were calm, John stirred the waters and called everyone to go out to the waters of the Jordan River, to be baptized. John`s baptism of repentance was meant to trouble the waters, to convince people to turn around and become a God-fearing, God-following compassionate nation. But John the Baptist was not the only one to stir the waters.
God REALLY troubles the waters, REALLY stirs the waters big time, by sending Jesus. Jesus walks into the Jordan River, is baptized by John and God begins to stir the waters. Jesus, the son of God, embarks upon his ministry which includes everybody, encourages everybody to share the abundance of creation; it is a ministry of love and compassion. The ministry and teaching of Jesus are something that has never been seen before . God REALLY troubles the waters. Jesus speaks the mind of God, shows the heart of God and ultimately God troubles the waters in the most amazing way, sending Jesus to the cross to suffer and die for our forgiveness of sins and for our eternal life. Sin and death has no claim upon us. God TROUBLES the waters and God has not stopped troubling the waters.
Earlier I had mentioned that we are going to sing a song entitled, Wade in the Water which features the refrain, “God’s a gonna trouble the water.”
That song comes out of the United States and it is an African American spiritual. It is a song that was written by African Americans at a time when many of them were slaves. They sang this song because it gave them hope that someday they would be free people.
How were they going to become free people?
“God’s a gonna trouble the water.”
They prayed and they believed that God would trouble the waters that God would stir the waters and much like the people of Israel, they would be free. And God did trouble the waters and God did stir the waters and they were made free. Ever since, God has CONTINUED to trouble the waters, stir the waters and African American people have continued to make strides in many areas of their society. They have a long way to go in many regards but God will NOT stop troubling the waters and life will continue to change for them and all people.
“God’s a gonna trouble the water.”
God troubles OUR waters. We have been baptized in water like this and when we were baptized the waters were quite calm before the waters were poured over our heads. But from then on, God troubles our baptismal waters.
When we were baptized God commanded us to let our lights so shine before others so that they might see the glory of God the Father. God has called us to bear God`s creative and redeeming word to all the world.
Ever since THEN, God troubles our waters, calling us to action. God troubles the waters, stirs the waters and invites us to be a part of that splashing water. As God stirs the water, God invites us to take part, to bring in the kingdom of God, to make a world that God desires and wishes for all people.
Later on, while you are in Sunday school, the adults are going to remember their baptisms and say yes to those baptisms. As they do this, I am going to ask them the following questions:
You have made public profession of your faith.
Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:
- to live among God’s faithful people,
- to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
- to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
- to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
- and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?
In other words, I will ask the adults if they are ready to have God trouble their waters. Are they ready to have God stir up the waters? Are they ready to participate in God`s dream of justice and equality and compassion?
Some will likely say yes, some will say maybe. God knows when we are ready to participate in living out God`s dream, but that never stops God from troubling the waters.
God is always moving, always stirring things up, God is always changing this world to make things better for all.
God`s a gonna trouble the waters. Amen.
Epiphany 5 Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12)
Psalm 112:1-9 (10)
1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16)
Okay, so this week I approached today’s Bible passages looking for some inspiration, some blessing. I would think that this is a common exercise for many of us as we read our Bibles; we look for something to lift us up, to encourage us in our Christian journey.
So where is the inspiration and the blessing in today’s scripture readings?
Right off the bat, there is a lot of blessing and inspiration.
In the writings of the prophet Isaiah, we read:
“Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.”
The light will rid me of that which oppresses me. God will help me and God will vindicate me. The Lord will guide me and I will never lack for water, I will never thirst. Everything in my life that is broken will be repaired. Every time I call out to God for help, God will be there for me.
“The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”
The writer of the Psalm provides lots of blessing and inspiration:
“Praise the LORD! Happy are those who fear the LORD, who greatly delight in his commandments. Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever.”
In his letter to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul says”
“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.”
The Bible passages for today provide lots of blessing, lots of inspiration. And then we come to the gospel reading for today, from the gospel of Matthew. Suddenly, blessing and inspiration seem a little harder to come by.
In particular, one is struck by the opening verse of this gospel. Jesus is quoted as saying:
"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
First of all, we need to consider the historical context and meaning of that opening statement by Jesus.
On a website entitled, “a weird thing,” produced by an Anglican residing in England, named Neil Chappell, I learned something about the context for today’s gospel regarding SALT. In fact, it was one of the common USES for salt. Neil Chappell writes:
“In (Matthew) 5:13, the salt referred to the leveling agent for paddies made from animal manure, the fuel for outdoor ovens used in the time of Jesus. Young family members would form paddies with animal dung, mix in salt from a salt block into the paddies, and let the paddies dry in the sun. When the fuel paddies were lit in an oven, the mixed-in salt would help the paddies burn longer, with a more even heat. When the fuel was burnt out, the family would throw it out onto the road to harden a muddy surface.”
Just let THAT sink in for a second! Could you imagine asking your children, to take animal poop, mix in salt and form that poop mixture into paddies? Using their bare hands?
Could you imagine collecting and stacking all those poop paddies and burning them like firewood? Could you envision taking the burned out paddies, carrying them out onto the road, and grinding them into the road with your bare feet?
Do you feel inspired yet? Having trouble finding the blessing in all of that?
As we read from the prophet Isaiah, the psalm writer, the apostle Paul, it is easy to see God in our lives. It is easy to see inspiration and blessing through healing, restoration, wealth and riches. But mixing animal poop with salt? Really?
Before we give up on this entirely, we might want to consider additional comments by this Neil Chappell fellow. He goes on to write and suggest the following:
“Jesus saw his followers as LEVELLING agents in an impure world. Their example would keep the fire of faith alive even under stress. Their example would spread faith to those mired in the cultural ‘dung’. But if their example rang empty, (if they could not keep the fire going, then) they would be considered worthless; they would be dug into the mud under the heels of critics.”
Okay. If I can get beyond the animal poop, I can understand the urging of Jesus, his command to be “LEVELLING agents in an impure world.” However, I still can’t see working with poop, as a blessing.
Beyond the obvious analogy of working with poop in a world where poop happens, Jesus adds fuel to the poop fire, when he seems to make this all a requirement rather than blessing, as command rather than commissioning.
But take note: Jesus doesn't say, "If you want to become salt and light, do this...." Or, "before I'll call you salt and light, I'll need to see this from you...." Rather, he says both simply and directly, "You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world." It is, as with last week's Beatitudes, sheer blessing, commendation, affirmation, and commissioning.
You ARE salt and you ARE going to mix with the poop in this world. Because this saying by Jesus is connected to the Beatitudes where the meek, the peacemakers are BLESSED, there is a blessing in all of this.
Last week, in Matthew 5, in the Beatitudes, Jesus says:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Right off the hop, we are blessed BECAUSE we receive mercy. Right off the hop we are blessed because of the purity in heart that is given to us. Right off the hop, we are blessed because we are involved in the act of making peace.
Because we are blessed, with mercy and purity and peacemaking, we are called to be salt and light. We are salt, so we apply ourselves to other things in life, including the poop that exists in this world. We apply ourselves to the poop so that others can feel the heat of God’s spirit bringing about healing in their lives. We are the salt, so that those who are in the middle of the poop might see God at work in their lives.
When others witness the acts of justice that Jesus' followers perform, they see what they wish and hope for. Beyond that, it allows “the other” to recognize the cause of these actions, the God of heaven.
Still, I don’t imagine that mixing poop with salt is a whole lot of fun. The task before us then, is to see God at work, to realize that as we mix our salt in the poop of life, God is at work and God is making a difference in this world, through us.
This raises all kinds of questions. For instance: Have you seen God at work in this way? Have you seen or perceived God to have mixed salt into the poop of life in order to bring the heat of
God’s spirit to bear?
Jesus knew that his Scriptures, the Hebrew Scriptures proclaimed that the kingdom of God must be established on this earth. He committed his ministry and his very life to the establishment of the kingdom of God and he advocated for all people, provided for all, even the least of society.
He came to fulfill the promises of God.
His ministry brought salt to the situations in life, where poop existed.
But Jesus did not come to this earth only to bring salt to the poop parts of life. He came for his disciples and he came for us as well.
As he called his disciples, as he mapped out HIS mission which became THEIR mission; Jesus promised to be with them to the end of the age. He promised to be with them, go before them and support them from behind. Every time they seasoned the world, every time they let their lights shine, every time they got their hands dirty, plunging into the cultural dung, in an impure world, they were not alone. At every turn, Jesus was with them, they were doing so in the name of Jesus and the righteousness of Jesus became THEIR righteousness, which will be remembered by God and fellow human beings forever.
It is not easy mixing in with poop parts of life. Still, God is there and God will use us to change the poop parts, to bring mercy, peace and righteousness.