Where Will the Waters Lead You?
At seminary, we talk a lot about water. And it’s not just talk about the drought Georgia and neighboring states faced over the last year. Usually water came in the context of the theology of baptism and its comparison to the blood of Christ during communion. This often caused me to glaze over, not out of boredom, but out of udder confusion. But sometimes we found water to be the topic of discussion outside the class. During finals week of seminary, our preaching class threw a goodbye party at a local restaurant for our preaching professor, Chuck Campbell. He had spent the last 19 years teaching at Columbia and was moving to Duke University to start a new doctoral program. For his goodbye party, we handmade shirts with the words “I love Chuck” on them and gave him a standing ovation as he walked into the restaurant. We asked Chuck to share with us his favorite memories of teaching. During one of his dramatic stories, his hand smacked a full glass of water which poured all over the table and floor. Since no one got soaked, we just wiped it up and continued listening to stories.
A few minutes later as I was adjusting in my seat, my sandals got in the puddle of water and my foot slipped and I kicked one of the table legs. I felt my toenail pull back, but tried to play it off like nothing had happened since I was sitting around the table with my entire preaching class. I felt myself get a little lightheaded, so I calmly excused myself and walked to the bathroom to wash it off. Once I opened the door to the bathroom, my ears began to ring and the room began to spin. A minute later, I woke up in a state of confusion. After a few more minutes, a friend came in and helped me back up. I went back out to the table, trying to pretend like nothing had happened. Chuck took one look at my face and said, “You’re awfully pail – did you just faint?” Indeed I had. We all laughed it off, but Chuck had to add one more stinger. He said to me, “You’re going to have a lot of trouble in the ministry if you can’t handle blood and water!” Communion and baptism…blood and water. And so I encountered water outside the seminary doors.
And here in Daytona we encounter water everywhere. Many of us drive over the Halifax River on our way to the church; others wake up each morning to a view of the ocean out their condo’s window; some might have a swimming pool in their backyards; others find a bathtub full of water to be enough. This past week, we have seen the not-so-pretty side of water as Tropical Storm Fay hit us with strong winds, rain, and tornadoes. At the same time, I’m sure many of you have been following the Olympics over the last two weeks. We watched in anticipation as Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals in swimming as he moved through the waters. We are indeed surrounded by water.
Our text this morning reminds of the earliest story of Moses. Later in the text, we see that God gave Moses the power to part the seas with his own hands. But before that, Moses was an infant. And not just an infant, but a fine baby, fine enough to hide for three months! At only three months old, he was put into a basket and placed into the bank of a river, with no hope of where he might end up. In this uncomfortable situation of abandonment, Moses floated in the water in the most comfortable of ways: wrapped up in the warmth of a blanket, not knowing what lies ahead, but his eyes fixed on his Creator above. Moses was taken out of the water and as he grew older, he would realize he had traveled far from where he started.
It’s kind of like being at the beach with strong rip currents. Have you ever been in the ocean and realized that when you got out, you were in front of a different building, around a new group of people, and your stuff was nowhere in sight? I remember that when we were children, our parents would stand in the sand, frantically waving their hands to tell us to swim against the tide until our dad would finally let out the loudest, most distinct whistle which meant we better get out of the water and walk our way back. And when we’d get out of the water and onto the sand, we would find ourselves in a different place.
And although Moses wasn’t on a beach in this story, he was placed into a river and pulled back out at a different place by Pharaoh’s daughter. So it’s clear from Moses’ journey that the water we encounter in our lives can bring us to physically new places. The waters led the Hebrews out of slavery and into freedom through the parted seas. The waters brought Noah into a covenant with God after nearly wiping out the earth. The water carried Paul on his missions to start spreading the gospel.
Yet, water has the power not just to bring us to new physical places, but to transform us, to open our eyes to things we may have never seen. Remember the flow of tears that poured out of the woman’s eyes as she knelt at Jesus’ feet and washed them with her hair. Think about the water Jesus used to wash the disciples’ feet…or the water that poured out of Jesus’ side as he was speared at his crucifixion.
In our own lives, we know that the smallest drop of water can remind you of its insane power. It only takes one drop of water on your body to make you realize it’s raining. And only one drop of water on a piece of paper to distort the page. And there is nothing quite like a full glass of ice water after a day in the hot sun. This same water is transformative.
Think of the transformation throughout your life that has brought you to where you are now. Where have the waters brought you since you joined this church? Where have the waters brought you this year? Have you come to church on Sundays, listened to the service, and gone home? Or have you decided you were going to start giving more of your life to this community of believers? In the last year, did you join a new group at the church? Did you increase your tithes? Did you offer to teach a class or find new ways that you can experience the living Christ in our lives? You have to let the waters move you.
We heard in our New Testament lesson this morning that we should not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. In doing so, we can discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect. We are one body in Christ, but we are all individual members. What are you, as an individual member, called to do? You might be an answered prayer for this church. Remember that even if you’re not changing the world with every waking moment, it’s about living life with a purpose…and that purpose is to love and glorify God.
In this Roman text, we read a list of gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and offering compassion. Did you know that this is the only letter that Paul wrote without visiting the people first? This means that Paul is telling them a list of gifts they have without ever knowing them! And the gifts Paul listed apply to this church, too. We excel at many of them and let others slip through the cracks. Some might see a problem, but hope that someone else is there to fix it. But it’s at those moments that we need to watch the tide rise and fall in the ocean; feel the drop of rain on your body; remember the water in the font that brought you into a community of believers. The water in a river doesn’t flow for a while and then decide to stop. It keeps moving, rising and falling, turning around the bends, and pushing through the rocks. Let the water transform you.
We are about to enter a new year at the church, which means we are about to split back into two services, so if your pew has been stolen by someone all summer long, you can look forward to getting it back. Sunday School is about to start up again, giving children and adults a deeper understanding of this great, wonderful mystery. Our music ministries are going to start up again, new classes will be offered, new trips will be made, new ideas will be presented, and new prayers will come into our lives. So will you remember the power of water through all of it? Think of the transforming powers of the water in your baptism. Think of that moment when you or your parents brought you into a community with Christ, with the promise to love and nurture you. Some of you may not be baptized, but you have seen the power of moving waters in your life. That water can push your through anything.
Martin Luther, one the greatest reformers of our history, got himself through the toughest times in life with this phrase: “I am baptized.” Notice he didn’t say, “I was baptized” as if it were some initiation right. He says, “I am baptized,” a beginning to a new life that is brought to completion only in the resurrection of the body. I have heard of pastors leaving a small cup of water on their desk that they can dip their finger into at the tough times and remind themselves that they are a child of God…and that with God, all things are possible. So remember not that you were baptized, but that you are baptized, and that water has the power to transform you.
Think of the waters you are swimming in right now: at work, with your family, at church. If you feel like you’re stuck or can’t move forward, remember that the water in the river keeps on flowing. Look back at some of those times in life that you thought you could never get through. Some of those memories might stay in your mind forever, but you have at least moved forward. Remember that at the beginning of life, we are brought from the water in our mother’s womb. And remember that at the beginning of creation, God created land and life out of deep, unordered water.
We know that we can’t sit too long and reflect without realizing that the waters will continue to pull us, to open doors, to transform us. Will the waters bring you to the gift of ministry as you tell a friend about what you have seen and heard about Jesus? Will the waters bring you to a deeper study of the Bible so that you might better understand God’s living, breathing word? Will the waters bring you to a baptism and a profession of faith? Will the waters bring you to rekindle a friendship or strengthen a relationship? Or will the water cleanse your eyes, washing away the uncertainty and showing you the clear view ahead? As we swim through life, sometimes with our heads barely above the waters, let us remember this: the water keeps on moving, keeps on bending, and keeps on transforming our lives if we let it.
August 24, 2008