Pastor Paul E. Hoffman
The Baptism of Our Lord, Year A
Texts: Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17
Beloved in Christ, grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Luther so beautifully teaches us, baptism is not water only, but water used according to God’s command, and connected with God’s Word
And with equal beauty and power, Matthew sets out the story of Jesus’ life lived in love for others with that connection of water and Word, in the River Jordan, at the hand of John.
Do you see this powerful intersection of those immeasurable gifts in this story? Water and Word. As Jesus come UP from the water, the Word comes down from heaven.
It is not an unusual pair for our Creator to pull from the Goldy toolbox…
Crashing waters/paired with the thundering Word at Creation
Flooding waters/paired with Noah’s obedience to the Word
Parting waters/paired with the Word at the parting Red Sea
The waters of birth, bringing the Living Word into our own flesh
Cleansing waters/paired with the Word at the Jordan
Purifying waters at the Word of Christ turned to life-giving wine
Healing water, with the spoken word of Jesus, saying to
the Samaritan woman, “I see you…”
By no means the last example, saving waters flowing from the
pierced side of the Crucified, Incarnate Word.
Wasn’t it Coleridge who said,
Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink?
And therein lies our problem. There is water everywhere in our sacred Scriptures. There is likewise never a paucity of the Word. With beauty and power our forebears, St. Matthew, Luther, and a host of saints more recent implore us to dive in to this soothing grace of God in Christ for us. And yet we choose instead that which does not satisfy. The very next line in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner summarizes our self-inflicted plight: The very deep did rot, O Christ/that ever this should be.
Just so, our Creator’s heart breaks as we turn away from these precious, life-giving gifts: Water and Word. Water and Word. Water and Word.
It is not for his own washing and regeneration that Christ comes John at the Jordan. Maximus of Turin, preaching in the 5th Century makes that clear for us. Listen to what he says:
It was not so that Jesus would be made holy by the water, but that the water by Jesus would be made holy.
When those cleansing waters closed around the one foretold, they are not doing so to get Jesus all shined up and ready for his own human walk of daily dying and rising. They are instead to join the waters of the world with the Word and begin the initiation of God’s New Creation. This baptism of his is the beginning of our baptismal hope.
All water for all time. The water running over the body of Jesus, then down the Jordan, into the ocean, evaporated back up into the clouds, watering the earth, flowing in the oceans, creeks, rivers, and sounds. And eventually out of our faucets and quenching, washing us. The water in which we are immersed is immersed with Jesus. The water with which you were sprinkled just today, is water that was sprinkled from John’s hand over the head, the hands, the feet of Jesus. It is holy water. Holy, holy water.
In nothing less than an act of pure, unmitigated, love and grace, God surrounds us with that holy, holy water as a daily reminder. 60% of our bodies – water. 71% of our bodies – water. 85% of a bottle of wine – water. We come into this life in a rush of water, and loving, tender hands wash us with it at our life’s end.
Because of Jesus’ immersion, not water only, but water connected with God’s Word follows us everywhere. Even when our own following fumbles, or flounders or just plain fails. No richer grace than our God’s so mercifully tends us.
On our worst days, when we are as a broken reed, God will not break us. When the wick is burning dimly, God will water us anew, rather than snuff us out.
The water. And the Word. The same water and Word who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from him. That same water, that same Word is with us. Is with you. Given for you. Shed for you. Rejoice and be glad. Thanks be to God.
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.