First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
January 12, 2020
Wisdom Readings: Buddhism. Dhammapada 183, Matthew 3:13-17
Message: “In Whatever Form!”
Buddhism. Dhammapada 183
Not to do any evil, to cultivate good, to purify one’s mind – this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
I suppose, in hindsight, at least half of my fear was bound up in the height of the board. The height of a standard high diving board at a public swimming pool was about ten feet…though I believe they have been removed now for safety reasons. I would have been about middle school age, 7th or 8th grade. I had never jumped off the high dive before, though I had made numerous trips up the ladder, walked out to the edge, peered into the depths, and then turning around to descend the ladder from where I had come.
At least half the fear was bound up in the sheer height of the endeavor. However, I also know, though I can swim, I am not a pretty swimmer. I love to watch people swim who almost seem at one with the water, they cut through it like a knife, it flows over them almost like they are not even there; smooth, effortless… it is a beautiful sight to see.
Me, I am an ugly swimmer. Oh, I can get to the ladder, or the shore, or the bank… though not with just a little flailing and splashing along the way. So each time I would travel up the ladder, walk out and peer into the depths, it wasn’t just about how high I was above the water… it was also about how quickly I could get to the side ladder… after all it was not just ten feet to the surface… it was also ten feet of water to the bottom. I wanted to jump… I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Water is a powerful force, a force to be reckoned with. Unleashed, it can level towns, wash away vehicles, properties, life. Even in the smallest amounts it carries power over us. Ever had the drip, drip, drip of a leaky faucet keep you awake at night? Freezing, it can burst through steel and concrete. Given 5 or 6 million years, it can carve out the depths of the Grand Canyon. Harnessed… with the likes of Hoover Dam, it can produce a yearly average of 4.5 billion kilowatt hours that serves 8 million people.
While it is a force to be reckoned with, and though I am not a great swimmer, when I was younger, I swam wherever I could. The public pool, a mossy, muddy pond, a creek, river, the lake, in the uncurbed ditch in the little town where we lived… if there was water nearby, I was sure to be messing with it somehow. I have lost that to some degree… I just don’t enjoy swimming much anymore. Even in a clean clear swimming pool, just not my thing, I guess.
Though, I’ve never lost my love for the water. There is something about water that draws me to it. There is something sacred for me, about sitting with water, listening to the waves, watching the peaks and troughs form and interact with one another. Or looking out across a perfectly still lake whose surface is like glass… undisturbed. There is a rhythm to water, in the waves, in its presence… I find it profoundly now and then when I am fishing… casting and reeling… and it feels like slow motion as the lure leaves the end of one’s fishing rod and sails to just the right spot and glides into the water… Water is a powerful symbol for me…
Whenever I spend time pondering water, I am reminded of John F. Kennedy’s words, “We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.”
I am drawn to water… in part I believe because it is from the water we came… there is something about water that is sacred to us… it is us… we are about 60% water… it is not only from where we came… it is who we are. The human body can survive perhaps a little over three weeks without food, however, we can only survive three to four days without water.
Water is essential to our being. And on a day like today… Being… is more than just physical being… it involves our heart and soul as well.
Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus… we celebrate our own baptism. Jesus comes to John to be baptized… to be gifted with the water of life… The water of calling. We are told by the author of Matthew, John shared the baptism of repentance… repentance as in turning around… changing your mind … turning around and being sent back into the world for good.
Brian McLaren interprets – “repent; rethink everything, question your assumptions, have a deep turn around in your thinking and values!” This baptism, he suggests is being immersed in a flowing river of love in solidarity with everyone… not just the clean and privileged… everyone!1
And once Jesus was baptized… he was called forward into the wilderness of the world to confront evil, oppression, and injustice…. To resist the status quo of oppression and abuse of power… until it was no more! We too… in our baptismal vow… We too… in our community of faith… are called into the world to confront that which diminishes the creation, demeans humanity, and belittles the Divine within each one… we are called to take the leap and resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever form it presents itself… to be embraced by the waters, welcomed by the waters of resistance!
I remember the day I practiced the ritual climbing of the ladder, walking the narrow rough surfaced board, standing with toes just at the edge… and seeing the water… not as my enemy… but was a welcoming, immersing, embracing presence… and finally springing into a dive and allowing the depths to catch me…
In past tradition, baptism has been understood as the washing away of sin… in particular infant baptism of washing away of original sin… in the progressive church, we understand baptism as claiming of God as children of God, an acknowledgement of God’s presence and unconditional love for and within and in all persons; All things, embracing, enveloping, immersing us in this “flowing river of love…” in solidarity with all persons and in particular those who are abused, oppressed, marginalized, discriminated against, and belittled.
This water… when gathered in community… should be a FORCE TO BE RECKONED with… it is an enveloping, immersing, power that moves us forward into the world for the common good of all… like a tidal wave of love and compassion! This day… we remember our baptism… we gather together as a community of one to say no!
We will not abide in a “traditional” plan foisted on the church to do more harm…
We will not abide in systemic power structures that perpetrate racism.
We will not abide in systems that empower sexism…
We will not abide in political maneuvering that creates violence and war.
We will not abide in condoning false narratives and untruth…
We will not abide in denial of creation care and climate change…
We will not abide in the demonizing children and parents of color and other nationalities or religions…
We will not abide in greed over generosity and the ever widening gap between the poor and the mega wealthy!
We will not abide in a culture where the love of power undermines the power of love!
We Will Resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves, by the powers of the waters of our baptisms rolling down like waters and like an ever-flowing stream!
Until Love and Compassion, and Justice are So!
Until they are SO!
1. McLaren, Brian D., (2014), We Make the Road by Walking. Jericho Books, New York, NY