Saturday, January 10, 2015

In Water By Spirit

Mark 1:4-11

            Water.  The most plentiful substance on earth, though supplies are increasingly endangered.  We cannot live without water.

            It is no accident that the primary sacrament of the Church is a sacrament in which water conveys the grace we need in order to live the life of God.  Water, along with wind, is the major way in which everything on the planet ultimately gets broken down, recycled, to be built up again, then worn down again, broken up, and made into something new.  Water is thus the quintessential sign of the work of the Spirit of God.  For the Spirit of God wears things down, breaks things up, shifts possibilities, moves boundaries, transforms soulscapes, births relationships, reorders communities, nurtures visions, spawns dreams, twists matter into new shapes, tickles old skin, charms little children, washes away embarrassment, floods imaginations, erodes prejudices, transports burdens, fills hearts to the brim and even beyond the brim.  The Spirit of God does all that and more.  Like water finding its way to the breaks in rock, the Spirit of God seeks out the weakness in stony attitudes and drips down into the cracks and crevices of the most hardened persons.  Give water enough time and it will create Grand Canyons, alter mountain ranges, split landmasses in two.  Little wonder that the Spirit of God brooded in the beginning of creation over the waters, for the waters were the reflecting pool mirroring the Spirit’s own powerful visage.

             If we had only the Gospel of Mark to go on, as for a time the ancient Church had, there would be no Christmas with angels and manger, no Epiphany with wise men and star, no flight into Egypt, no childhood Jesus, no lost boy in the Temple stunning the elders with his precociousness.  The story would begin here with what we celebrate today.  It would start with the baptism of Jesus by John in the River Jordan.   We would no doubt be the poorer without the other gospels to feed our imagination with story and symbol.  But we would see perhaps more clearly that the Jesus whom we meet at once as God and brother shows us what happens when a life is completely saturated with Spirit.  It is the Spirit that will drive him into the desert to be tested and to test his own authenticity.  It is the Spirit that will flow through his hands when he touches and heals.  It is the Spirit that will stir the wills and desires of his audience when he tells his telling parables.  It is the Spirit that will feed five thousand once, four thousand yet again, with only a fish sandwich or two.  It is the Spirit that will speak words of forgiveness and loose the bonds of oppression.  It is the Spirit that will lead him to take up his cross.  And it is the Spirit that will ultimately echo in that hollow, agonizing moment when he cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”   All of that is the life into which he was baptized, immersed, and which filled him.  All of that is the God-life that was so brilliantly stunning that it can only be described as a sky-splitting revelation, the Spirit settling upon him as gently as a dove might alight on his human shoulder. 

            And the best part of the story is that it is about Jesus only so that it can be about you.  The Spirit of God is not some magic that can only be invoked by the gods.  It is about the power of God made present, real, human in Jesus precisely so that it can be made present, real, and human in you.  Yes, you, young Max, whom we baptize today.  And you, Beth and Justin who gave him your genes.  And you, Nick and Amanda, who promise that by your prayer and witness you will help him grow into the full stature of the Christ whose life he now will share.  And you, all of you, who witness these things:  yours is the life of the Spirit who right this instant is at work seeping through every fault in your life not to condemn you, but to transform you. 

            Baptized in water, sealed by the Spirit,
            Cleansed by the blood of Christ our King:
            Heirs of salvation, trusting his promise,
            Faithfully now God’s praise we sing.

            Baptized in water, sealed by the Spirit,
            Dead in the tomb with Christ our King:
            One with his rising, freed and forgiven,
            Thankfully now God’s praise we sing.
            Baptized in water, sealed by the Spirit,
            Marked with the sign of Christ our King:
            Born of one Mother, we are her children,
            Joyfully now God’s praise we sing.[1]

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2015

[1] Michael Seward, “Baptized in water,” words altered, in The Hymnal 1982 (NY:  Church Hymnal Corporation, 1982), 294.