January 12


First Sunday After the Epiphany: Water

I have always loved the water, but especially the edges of water.

There is something unshakably holy about that boundary where water, earth, and air meet. Where water is alive, and even the solid ground is not quite so solid and sure.

I grew up seeking water. The beaver pond across the road, through an alfalfa field, down a hill and into the dark secret woods. There a little babbling brook had met a beaver and as happens a pond was born. Cool, secret, and still beneath the trees.

Or the fast flowing, cold and clear stream where my sister and me lay on the bank in the hot sun, staring at the tumbling pebbles trying to pick out the crayfish through the diamond ripples.

And I cannot forget the Great Lakes, Huron my most frequent playmate, but Michigan with her pounding surf, and Superior’s ice cold darkness and gravel beaches with agates to find. Where the sand and gravel tumbled and rolled in the waves, the earth reshaped and reformed with each freshwater heartbeat.

We begin in water, all of us.

And water changes things.

The slow trickle of it makes canyons a mile wide, if you are patient enough. All it takes is a crack, the tiniest of crevices to split a boulder in two. Year after year, water working its way into the heart of rock hard granite, freezing and thawing, expanding until with a crack like lightening the whole great unchangeable thing splits in two.

Floods change our landscape and our lives quickly. Hurricanes, landslides violently. And the great predictable swell of the Nile, or the Mississippi gifting rich kisses to the flood plains.

We begin in water, we change in water.

Did you know, that Luther (in his Small Catechism) places the efficacy of baptism on the Word of God “in and with the water.” Even Luther saw in water a mysterious power, and a relationship. Jesus begins his ministry in and with the water. He descends into the depths of the Jordan for transformation, not only for us. But in a real way to heal our relationship with water: with creation.

In the beginning was the Word, and the water. And the water has held covenant with us ever since. On my retreat this Advent I finished the book Braiding Sweetgrass, which is rich and beautiful. But in it, Robin Wall Kimmerer, who is both Native American and a plant scientist notes that from the beginning (in Native legend) people and water had a covenant.

And while we have broken that covenant, water never has. It still washes away our waste, it still quenches our thirst, it still washes us clean. In and with. With God, it nurtured the garden, it stood back to make a path for the Israelites, it swept away the Egyptians. It sprang up in the desert to save thirsty people.

Water has maintained its faith with us, even as we have broken faith with it. Pouring into it our waste, damming it’s salmon flows, cementing its banks.

Even as we have abused this world we were given to care for, to be partners with. So Jesus steps down into the Jordan, and the Spirit hovers again over the waters. Perfect man, asks water again to bring forth new life. We who have gone down into the waters of baptism have stepped into the muddy, life giving waters of the Jordan with Jesus.

We have been accepted into the life of God, we have been welcomed as siblings of this beautiful creation. Water changes things. And baptism can, if we let it, change us. In, and with the water God offers to wash away our sins, to reknit us to remake our relationship to this world.

For Jesus the step into the Jordan was the first step of his ministry. It was his ordination, his commissioning. For us too our baptism is an invitation to more than we were before it. To a new relationship with each other, with God, and with God’s world.

Jesus does not rescue us from this created world. Jesus redeems us in and with. In and with the water. In and with our humanity. In and with creation.

The Christian journey is not one of escape from our world, our lives, our bodies. These things that God made, God made good. We don’t need to escape, but we do need to be transformed. We need the cleansing, the healing, the transformation offered in the waters of baptism.

We need our sins to be washed away so that we might walk again in the garden, not as owners, not as rules, but as siblings, as caretakers.

This is the journey we begin with our baptisms. It is the journey to which we are committed to the end of our days. In and with.

Let us ever and always walk: in and with.


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