Throughout the weekend, I’ve been watching news reports of the unprecedented and catastrophic flooding being caused in Southeastern Texas by Hurricane Harvey and the literal feet of rain that it is dumping in the area. I’ve seen the social media posts of folks unable to get through the 911 system asking for help. I’ve watched updates about Urban Search and Rescue teams from around the country being mobilized to go down and begin the search for survivors and those less fortunate, and heard of the various disaster organizations that are ramping up to aid in what will unfortunately be a long and intense recovery process.
And honestly, it’s a bit overwhelming.
For most of my life, I’ve had a sense that God is calling me to help people. I did all sorts of volunteer work in my church and community growing up, and I can remember as early as middle school the desire to want to have a steady volunteer gig. My senior year of high school, I drove 45 minutes one way several times a month to be part of a volunteer search and rescue team. The evening after my first day of college classes, I walked a mile and a half to attend a meeting to join a different local search and rescue team. I carried on that tradition of volunteering in emergency services with a volunteer fire department during seminary, and another fire department now that I’ve started my first call as a pastor.
I share all of this because when I see disaster and destruction in the world, that desire to help starts churning in my heart. I get restless and want to be able to contribute. My wife can tell you just how squirmy and high-strung I can get when I don’t have an outlet to help.
And so when I see what’s going on in Texas, even though it’s a somewhat distant land which I’ve travelled to only once in my life, I want to find some way to help. And I know I’m not alone in that, I’ve already seen various friends and acquaintances trying to pull together various collections for our neighbors in the South.
And that’s what I wanted to spend a few minutes talking about today…
But first, let’s read a hopefully familiar piece of scripture:
Jesus said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” -Luke 10:30-37
Most folks are familiar with the story of the “Good Samaritan.” It informs our Christian ethic of helping our neighbors, AND it’s not uncommon to hear reference to “Good Samaritans” outside of religious life as well.
But what made the Samaritan so helpful? What is it about the Samaritan’s behavior that Jesus encourages us to emulate it?
The Samaritan doesn’t try to coordinate help from afar, but rather gets right down in the ditch with the injured man. He can see exactly what he needs, and he does what he can. And once he’s done as much as he can in the field, he takes him to town, sets him up in a hotel and tells the innkeeper to take care of whatever he needs. Even though the Samaritan can only stay and help for a short while, he makes sure that the long-term needs of the man beset by robbers are taken care of.
So what does all of this mean?
In the days and weeks ahead, you’re probably going to have a burning desire to find a way to help the folks most affected by Hurricane Harvey. And you’re probably going to see various appeals asking for donations of all sorts to help the victims. And even if the urge to help becomes so great that you can’t sit still, I’d like you to think of the Good Samaritan.
The Good Samaritan got right into the thick of things in the ditch to help the man in need. Now some of you, through various organizations, may have the opportunity to go down to Houston and Southeastern Texas to help directly, which is highly commendable, but hardly an option for everyone.
AND SO, the important bit is that if you want to help, keep the organizations that ARE in the thick of things in mind… Those who are “in the ditch” have the best idea of what’s needed most. Don’t just start collecting clothes or bottled water assuming that some way or another you will get it to people who need it. There are very specific logistical concerns and supply chains involved in getting supplies to disaster victims. A truckload of clothes might help someone, but not if it makes it more difficult for a truckload of food to be delivered. Pick an organization you trust, and find out what is most helpful for them.
And don’t be offended if the answer is cash. Many of these organizations have huge supply networks already in place, and the same $5 you’d spend on a case of bottled water could possibly be used to buy a whole pallet of water from a bulk supplier. AND, the other cool and important thing is that a lot of major disaster organizations talk to one another; they ensure that all of the bases are being covered, so that they’re not all duplicating one service while leaving folks desperately in need for another. Let the folks who are closest to those in need dictate what is collected. That’s important point number one that we can pull out of the Good Samaritan story for today.
Important point number two comes in the second piece of the story, the part where the Samaritan takes the man to town, gets him checked into an inn, and asks the innkeeper to keep a tally of any costs for him to pay back later. He doesn’t just take care of the immediate needs, but goes the extra mile to make sure that the injured man is taken care of and on the road to recovery. Believe me when I tell you that recovering from historic flooding like this is not something that can be accomplished in days. It will take months, and honestly years for some of these folks to feel like they’re back on their feet again.
Unfortunately, some of the best known disaster response agencies tend to be focused on more immediate needs. They’ll help folks with food, water, and shelter in the coming weeks, but they’re just not equipped to help people resettle or rebuild in the long term. Their mission is noble, but can only go so far. Meanwhile, if we truly want to be like the Good Samaritan, we need to think about the big picture, and think about what these folks need not just now and next week, but also next month and next year. And so, important point number two? Keep an eye on the big picture and support folks who have a plan for long-term aid.
I know folks are itching to help. Believe me, I am too. But if we follow the model of the Good Samaritan, and support the folks who are doing the work on the ground, it will be better for all of us.
I’m biased, but I think a lot of the church-based organizations really embody both of the points I tried to make above. Folks like Lutheran Disaster Response, Catholic Charities, Mennonite Disaster Service, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief; they have folks on the ground who are partnering with local agencies and working to identify what needs aren’t being met. AND they’re in it for the long-haul. One of my favorite examples comes from some severe flooding last summer in a county to the south of me. Catholic Charities arranged to get water heaters at cost from an appliance company. Hundreds of people had flooded basements, they had lost major appliances like clothes washers and dryers, but especially their WATER HEATERS. People had plenty of clothes and bottled water and bleach and everything you could possibly think of, but they didn’t have water heaters, so they couldn’t shower, or wash up, and a water heater is a huge expense to have to cover out of pocket, but it goes a long way in helping to make a home habitable again. They had worked with folks on the ground to identify a need that wasn’t being met, and used their (considerable) resources to fill that gap.
That’s the kind of stuff that people who do this for a living are capable of. But they need our help.
So, when you’re watching the news tonight and you’re feeling that itch to help, think about the Good Samaritan, and consider how you can use your resources to do the most good for our neighbors in Texas. Give cash to organizations like the American Red Cross who are on the ground sheltering and feeding people as we speak, but also look into other organizations that will be helping folks to rebuild long into the future and throw some support their way too.
Personally, I’ll be putting my support behind Lutheran Disaster Response through my own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. And because mission support from Lutheran congregations cover their administrative overhead costs, 100% of donations designated for helping hurricane victims will go to that cause. Check it out here: ELCA – Hurricane Harvey Response.
And if you’re still really intent on donating clothes or water or bleach, etc. Please take a moment to read this wonderful NPR article from a few years ago. I guarantee it will give you a new perspective on how disaster relief works, and will hopefully persuade you to find an organization you trust to support financially. Check it out here: Thanks, But No Thanks: When Post-Disaster Donations Overwhelm
Do you have $5?
It’s not that much money. The average person can probably find it laying around the house in spare change or loose bills, even if you’re not much of a cash person.
Or, in the next 7 days, I’d bet many of you will make at least one less than necessary trip to Sheetz, Starbucks, WaWa, or McDonald’s. If you can use some self-control and eliminate one of those trips, $5 is not hard to come by.
About nine months ago, after increasing mobility issues, and having spent months being bounced around a variety of doctors, my dad was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, sometimes more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
It’s been a wild ride over this last stretch of months, but a really hopeful and inspiring moment came in September, when, out of the blue, a friend from the church I grew up in messaged me on Facebook. He was running the 2016 Pittsburgh Half-Marathon as part of a team fundraising for the ALS Association, and he wanted to run specifically in honor of my dad. I was moved to tears.
When Jon and I first talked, his goal was $500. He has since surpassed that with over $550 in donations received and a new goal of $800. This is part of the Western PA Chapter of the ALS Association’s goal of raising $20,000 through the Pittsburgh Marathon, (which they’re over halfway toward reaching). The ALS Association will use that money to fund research into the disease which terrifying little is known about, even 77 years after the diagnosis of the man for whom it is colloquially named. They’ll use it to provide resources to the doctors and facilities who are treating ALS patients. They’ll use it to provide tangible support to ALS patients, and their caregivers and families. I cannot say enough about the virtues of the ALS Association and their mission.
$5 is not that much money. But every little bit helps. If each of my 857 Facebook friends could find it in their hearts and their pockets to give $5, we would raise over $4,000. To help Jon reach his goal, it would take only fifty, just over 5% of my social media connections.
It was during my internship that I met the first person I had ever known with ALS, a woman who sadly passed away just a month and a half before my dad’s own diagnosis. In the past 9 months, I’ve heard from all sorts of friends whose lives have been affected by ALS, and have lost friends and loved ones from the disease. And whether or not you have a personal connection to someone with ALS, I hope that hearing pieces of our stories, and hearing about the ways that the ALS Association is so helpful, might move you to do what you need to do to find that $5.
Donate to Jon’s Pittsburgh Half-Marathon fundraiser, here:
More info about how to #ChallengeALS
“By the grace of God, I have been approved for ordination by the bi-synodical candidacy committee of the Southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia-Western Maryland Synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.”
…Words that sound impressive, but possibly leave you quoting Martin Luther’s small catechism and saying “Was ist das?” or “What does this mean?”
As candidates for ordained ministry in the ELCA, we are in part accountable to the candidacy committee of our home synod (synod being the the geographic governing body similar to a Catholic diocese.) Candidacy committees are made up of clergy and lay members and are tasked with the development and to a certain extent assessment of church leaders going through the process toward becoming a part of one of the ELCA’s rosters.
Candidates have three major meetings and decision points with their candidacy committees. Entrance typically occurs before a student begins seminary studies and is for the most part an assessment of readiness for theological study. Endorsement typically happens after the student’s first year, the intent of endorsement is to affirm the student’s gifts and further discern things that might be growth areas, you need to be positively endorsed before going on internship. And then, finally Approval takes place as a student is completing their seminary studies and internship; taking into account academic reports, internship evaluations, and the student’s own reflection, approval is the crucial decision point where the candidacy committee is approving the student for ordination (or consecration into one of the lay rosters).
And so, being in my senior year of seminary and rapidly approaching graduation, I met with the candidacy committee for about an hour long interview which resulted in them announcing their decision to approve me for ordination.
Which again leads you to ask, Was ist das? What does this mean? And more importantly, where do things go from here?
Well, I still have to finish this semester, and the spring semester too, after which I’ll graduate with a Master of Divinity degree from Gettysburg Seminary.
In February, my name will go into the ELCA Churchwide Assignment (which somewhat resembles a sports draft) where the bishops of the ELCA will work together to ensure all of the graduating seniors from all of the seminaries are assigned a region and synod. Once I’m assigned a synod, I’ll begin conversations with that specific synod’s bishop to figure out which congregation within the synod they serve might be a good fit for me and then I’ll go through a “call process” with an individual congregation, which then hopefully ends in them extending a call to me and then me being able to schedule my ordination. This is obviously an over-simplified explanation, but that is in part because I hope to give a better explanation as I move through each step of the process in the months to come.
The ELCA’s ecclesiology is very specific that an individual is not ordained until they have received and accepted a call from a congregation or other ministry. This is actually an important theological distinction because we see our sense of call as something that is private and public, from God and from the church. A congregation extending a call is seen as the ultimate recognition of God’s call to an individual through the church.
All that said, thank you to my family, friends, and church members who have been supportive through this process. I look forward to sharing more with you as things continue to move forward!
To be completely honest, outside of worship, pastoral calls, and some meetings and other church responsibilities, I rarely wear my clergy collar. While I wear a clergy shirt most days, the little white piece of plastic that inserts into the collar to provide that distinctive white square at the neck often resides in one of my pockets, or a cup holder in my Jeep.
Even on days that I’ve been wearing my clergy shirt with the white plastic tab-collar inserted, I often fall into the temptation of pulling it out as soon as I’m in the privacy of my office or Jeep.
That being said, wearing it in public is part of being a witness of the faith and the church as I go about my daily life. And now that I’ve finally found a couple clergy shirts that fit REALLY well, I’m more inclined to stay “in uniform” as I go about non-ministry related errands.
Such was the case when I took my dog Tebow to the vet yesterday to get his annual vaccines.
After visiting with and administering the shots for Tebow, the veterinarian and I talked a little bit about what it means to have a “rough day” as a vet. He told me that vets really have to wear a lot of hats. They are a doctor to the animal, and in many cases a friend to the owner; but at the end of life, they quickly change from doctor to executioner (his words, not mine), and undertaker.
Furthermore, he reminded me that when people lose a (human) family member, they are often surrounded by a support network of friends and extended family, but that when families lose their pets, it is most often only the immediate family there, or even just a single person. Without a support network in place, veterinarians might also wear the hat of grief counselor.
I had never quite thought of a veterinarian’s job in that way.
He told me of a day years ago, when late in an afternoon, he had to euthanize three dogs in a row. His final patient of the day after that was the dog of a (now retired) Lutheran Pastor in the area. He told me how he had had a similar conversation with that Pastor, that the Pastor had offered to be a resource to him or any families who were really having a rough go of losing their pet, and that he had in fact sent 2-3 families grieving the loss of their pets to that Pastor over the years.
Unfortunately, since my time here in LaVale will be coming to an end in August, I’m not able to be a resource to replace his friend the Pastor whom he had referred families to, but I think he appreciated being able to talk about how stressful his job can often be, and I certainly appreciated hearing his perspective on something I’d never given much thought to. And the conversation happened because I made the conscious decision not to rip off my clergy collar as soon as I was “done” for the day…
My internship congregation, Christ Lutheran Church in LaVale, MD has three worship services each week, two on Sunday morning, and a much more laid-back and low-key service on Wednesday evenings. Last night, I preached, choosing to reflect on the Gospel for this upcoming Sunday, Matthew 18:21-35. I was really thankful for the way that it came together; one of the first commentaries I read triggered me to remember the quote I include toward the end of the sermon and the emotion evoked by it kept me going the whole way through. We are not always so blessed to have sermons come together like this, but when we are, it is a wonderful thing.
The sermon, in its entirety, is below the break…
Up from the amphitheater, campers and their counselors wander back towards their cabins after closing worship. Parents, trying to keep up, find themselves stuck behind the tide of children and young adults. Eventually, everyone: campers, counselors, and parents, make their way back to cabins. Contact information is exchanged, goodbyes are shared, cars are loaded. One by one, headlights and tail lights disappear down the dark driveway, making the journey back into the real world, returning campers to their lives outside of camp. The flow of cars leaving slows to a trickle, until one last car disappearing down the hill indicates that all are gone…
This summer, I was given the opportunity to return to the place that has made such an impact in my faith life as well as my discernment. Lutherlyn, a Lutheran church camp north of Butler, PA is a place that I, and many other young adults, consider to be a second home. Starting in 2006, I have worked 7 of the last 9 summers on staff at camp, serving in a variety of different roles. When I found myself needing something to do this summer, waiting for my internship to start in August, it was a joy and reassuring comfort to hit “submit” on an online application, even moreso to hear the words of Deb, the associate director telling me, “we’d love to have you back, we can definitely find a place for you.”
One week of pre-summer preparations with the summer’s leadership team, two weeks of training with the entire staff, and seven weeks of life-changing adventures in faith for campers of all ages brings us almost, but not quite, to the end of the summer. Next week, as we prepare to wind down and put camp into “off-season” mode, we welcome one last group of campers: a half-week of “family camp” for our rostered leaders in the NWPA and SWPA synods of the ELCA.
Just two weeks from today, I will move onto the next chapter of my life, putting my dog in the backseat of my Jeep, and most of my belongings in the back of a Uhaul, I will depart for Cumberland, Maryland, where I will begin my year-long internship as Vicar of Christ Lutheran Church in LaVale, MD.
As I pack that truck, the one thing I won’t have to pack are the lessons learned at camp, and the lessons I’m learning because of camp. That second part is important because some of the things that camp teaches you aren’t discrete, one-time lessons. For the more than two-thirds of my life during which I’ve been a camper and staff member, camp has taught me many things, but the verb teaching is not powerful enough in the past-tense.
Camp has continuously, and will continue to teach me things for the rest of my life. In less than a week, my own tail lights will join the procession out of camp, and in two weeks, that same Jeep will head over the mountains to Maryland, but even still, camp will be a part of me, will be teaching me, and hopefully, before too long, those tail lights disappearing down the driveway, will be headlights coming up, leading me back to this place that means so much to me.
Spring is an exciting time for middler (2nd year) ELCA seminarians, this is because for those on the traditional 4 year M.Div. track, it is spring of your middler year that you begin to find out where you will be spending your third year on internship.
I’m blessed to be part of the combined LTSG/LTSP internship matching process, which is unique in the level of participation that both interns and supervisors get to have in the decision-making process. I’ve tried to lay it out as concisely as possible as a way of sharing with others what is happening and will be happening over the coming days. I’m even using bullet points to try and keep myself even more concise:
- Early last Fall, all the middlers from LTSG and LTSP planning to participate in the internship matching process filled out a standardized application. This application is mostly biographical in nature but also has some logistical information as well (ie. do you have a reliable car, do you have geographical preferences and restrictions, what is your family situation, do you have pets? etc.).
- Beginning in December and continuing up until just a few days ago churches that were interested in working with an intern filled out their own application that is in many ways parallel to the student’s application. It’s important to note that except in very rare cases, churches need to be able to fully fund their internship: this means providing housing, a monthly stipend, health care, and paying for all of the academic fees. This can cost as much as $30,000.
- As internship sites send in their applications, they are forwarded to us as students to review. Likewise, the sites receive a disk with the student applications for all of the prospective interns. This way, both interns and supervisors can start to get an idea of who might be a good match.
- Finally… Sort of… INTERNSHIP MATCHING WORKSHOP! Later this week (Thursday and Friday) all of the supervisors and all of the prospective students come to the LTSG campus for interviews. Over the course of a day and a half, you interview with at least 7-8 (and often quite a few more) supervisors. The facilitators really try to de-emphasize any sense of competition, reminding students and supervisors that the goal is to find the best match, not necessarily their favorite.
- At the end of the workshop, students and supervisors make lists of everyone they interviewed with. Interns separate their list into three tiers, the first being those that they’d be interested in working with; the second being sites/supervisors that they’d be willing to go to, but otherwise have some sort of hesitation about; and finally those that they would not be willing to go to. Likewise, the supervisors also generate a three-tiered list. Both sets of lists are submitted to the LTSG field ed folks for review.
- From there it becomes a big logic puzzle for the folks in the field education office, matching up the tiers of the different lists and trying to find a match for everyone; the emphasis here is very utilitarian, finding the most good matches for the most people. Fortunately, they won’t send you to a place you said no to, and they won’t send you to a place you listed having hesitations about without talking to you first.
- Once it’s all sorted out, the placements are announced. Chances are, this will happen in the early part of March. Moving forward, some internships could start as early as May or as late as September, it all depends on the site and the student.
Personally, I’ve got a list of about 10 sites picked out that I’d like to interview with. They represent a pretty decent variety of geographical locations and ministry contexts. At this point, it’s basically a matter of trusting in the Holy Spirit to send me to wherever I need to be.
As I write this, a very special and somewhat unique funeral service is taking place in the City of Pittsburgh.
On January 28, K-9 Rocco was stabbed in the course of pursuing a fugitive while in service as a police dog with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. On the evening of January 30, after two days of impassioned pleas for blood donors and attempted emergency surgeries, Rocco succumbed to his injuries.
Pittsburgh is a passionate city. A city that rallies around its sports teams, its local culture, and most importantly around its neighbors during times of crisis and need. And so it did not surprise me in the least that Pittsburghers both near and far would be so moved by the sacrifice of a dog whose death may have helped save his human partner’s life. In the words of Mayor Bill Peduto, “Pittsburgh showed its soul that night, a soul that shines with compassion and recognizes the good not only in every human, but in every being.”
This morning, Rocco is receiving a full police honors in a line of duty funeral. Dozens of police K-9’s and their handlers have descended on Pittsburgh to pay their respects, and many more police officers and community members are participating as well.
As someone who has a special fondness and respect for members of the emergency services, as well as for dogs, I’m left trying to sort out how I feel about this. For many people, myself included, our pets are considered a part of the family; the bond between a police officer and his or her working dog is even stronger. By no means am I saying that I think having a funeral for an animal is inappropriate, but I’m curious how others feel about this particular incident and the loss of pets in general.
If you’re willing to, please share some of your thoughts in the comments area below. I’m interested to hear how my friends and colleagues feel.
If you feel like you’d like to read up on the incident a bit more, here’s one of the many articles available from nearly every Pittsburgh media source: http://triblive.com/news/adminpage/5547197-74/rocco-dogs-pittsburgh#ixzz2seXKj5XE
I hope that in this new year, I might be able to keep up with my blog a LITTLE better. Especially since there is some very exciting stuff coming down the pipe with my internship on the horizon. But time will tell.
The new(ish) Pastor at my home congregation, Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Delmont, PA offered me the opportunity to preach while I was home for break. And so, on January 12 (my birthday), I preached at both Sunday services, offering a reflection on the power of water in celebration of The Baptism of Our Lord.
It’s interesting to note that I originally wrote the bulk of this sermon for a preaching class back in December. As I was working to tailor the message to my home church, news broke of the water crisis in West Virginia, and I felt that that was a perfect way to really bring home my message.
West Virginia has a population of 1.8 million people, just a few hundred thousand more than our neighbors in Allegheny County. And in a state with so few people, news travels fast.
And so on Thursday, when the story broke of a chemical spill affecting the public water supply in West Virginia, that news spread like wildfire. It did not take long for a few scattered facebook posts to turn into an onslaught of headlines from across the mountain state and beyond…
“Chemical Spill Taints Charleston Water”
“100,000 Customers without Water in Southern West Virginia”
“Governor Tomblin issues State of Emergency in 5 Counties”
“State of Emergency Expanded to 9 Counties”
“President Obama Signs Federal Emergency Declaration in WV”
“300,000 told not to use tap water”
“4 Hospitalized, Thousands Still at Risk in West Virginia Chemical Spill”
“Famed Environmental Lawyer Erin Brokovitch travels to Charleston”
It took all of a few hours to render millions of gallons of water useless; unsafe for drinking, cleaning, washing; useful only for flushing toilets and putting out fires. Just a few hours to put the health and welfare of thousands in jeopardy.
Normally, when we pray for those who don’t have access to clean water, we’re thinking of people in third world countries, today we pray for our brothers and sisters just a few hours to the South.
But Delmont is no stranger to water scarcity, either. It was just a few months ago that many of you received an automated phone call notifying you that your water was not safe to drink. That bacteria in the Beaver Run Reservoir was not adequately being filtered and that you should boil your water before using it. That event created panic in the bottled water aisles of the local grocery stores, but was nowhere near the magnitude of what 9 counties in West Virginia are experiencing right now.
And so, with chemically tainted water on the mind, I’d like to tell you another story about a very specific chemical. A chemical that is threatening our community, and even our church, at this very moment.
Now some of you may have heard of this chemical compound, but just listen for a few moments while I share with the others some critically important information about it.
Dihydrogen monoxide is a colorless and odorless chemical compound, that is also referred to by some as hydroxyl acid and hydrogen oxide. According to a reputable scientific source, its basis is the highly reactive hydroxyl radical, which is a species shown to mutate DNA, denature proteins, disrupt cell membranes, and chemically alter critical neurotransmitters. The atomic components of DHMO are found in a number of caustic, explosive and poisonous compounds such as Sulfuric Acid, Nitroglycerine and Ethyl Alcohol.”
“Sounds like any other industrial chemical!” you may say. But DHMO is worse. Even the smallest inhalation of DHMO can cause death. Exposure to it in gaseous form can cause burns, and prolonged exposure to it in solid form also causes tissue damage. DHMO causes corrosion and oxidation in many metals, and can contaminate electrical systems causing them to short circuit. It is one of the main compounds present in acid rain and is the leading cause of soil erosion throughout the world. It has killed millions throughout history and has even been known to wipe entire towns off the map.
And yet. We are exposed to it on a daily basis. And our government stockpiles it in massive quantities, piping it into every building in the country as if we don’t even notice it’s there.
But it occurs to me that I may have thrown some of you off by referring to this chemical in its long-form name. Dihydrogen monoxide, 2 hydrogen, 1 oxygen. H2O.
Some of you may have realized where I was heading with this several minutes ago, and for that, you may reward yourself with a cool glass of water before you head home today. For the rest of you, I apologize for misleading you, but it was the only way to get you engaged in my story of powerful chemicals and government conspiracies. And that story was the only way to have an honest discussion about the power of water.
Because you see, water is powerful stuff.
It DOES kill from inhalation, and cause bodily harm in both gaseous and solid states. It DOES cause corrosion, oxidation, and acid rain. And it certainly has been part of damaging floods throughout all of recorded history.
But, it also has the power to cleanse.
As Christians, we tend to have a pretty decent understanding of the power of water. For it is in water that we are baptized.
We are asked on a regular basis to “remember our baptism,” but how many of us actually do? Belonging to a church that practices infant baptism, many of us were baptized so long ago, and at such an early age, that remembering our baptism, as in the specific day and event, is a little bit more difficult. But hopefully we can all remember A baptism as we remember our own.
I’m sure most of you can remember at least one baptism that has taken place in this sanctuary. A family gathering carefully around the baptismal font, a Pastor carefully arranging the family so that those of us in the congregation can actually see the baptism itself.
But the story we hear in today’s Gospel is no ordinary baptism.
It is the Baptism of our Lord.
Jesus desired to be baptized by John the Baptist. An extraordinary request not in the sense that it was difficult, but that John recognized Jesus as free of sin, not needing Baptism in the sense that others did. John thought that Jesus should be baptizing HIM.
But John relented and agreed to baptize Jesus, dunking him underwater when…
“…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.””
The Gospels record three times in which God spoke from heaven in connection to Jesus Christ and his ministry: Jesus’ baptism, Jesus’ transfiguration, and in the temple shortly before Jesus’ suffering on the cross. God was indicating that Jesus’ baptism was extraordinary.
I’m sure I would have remembered something like that happening at one of the dozens of baptisms I have witnessed. And you’d think I would have heard if the heavens opened on the day of MY baptism?
But they did.
Because our baptism is the cleansing that unites us with Christ. And just as during Christ’s baptism, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and God claims us. “This is my child, with whom I am well pleased.” Regardless of what we may think, every baptism is truly extraordinary; an outpouring of love from God bestowing upon us the gifts of grace and the Holy Spirit.
We live in a world where are all too constantly reminded of the negative power of water: The rust on our cars, the erosion of our walking paths… Just a few months ago, Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the Phillipines with deadly force. A Typhoon, as I now know, is simply a regionally diverse term for what we in North America refer to as a hurricane. A storm formed over the ocean featuring high winds and heavy rains, bringing terror and destruction wherever it goes. Water is powerful stuff.
Throughout Appalachia, we find manmade lakes and resevoirs. Bodies of water created by dams for the purposes of flood control, electrical generation, or even recreation. Man’s attempt at harnessing the power of water. But harnessing water can have consequences; under the deepest reservoirs, one can find abandoned homes, even entire towns flooded for the “greater good.” And consequences manifest even moreso when we as humans fail to properly harness the power of water. More than a few floods have been caused by the very dams and dikes that were designed to prevent them.
Water is powerful stuff.
And in a world where we are constantly reminded of the negative power of water, we should constantly seek to remind ourselves of the positive. Even in the midst of a water crisis in West Virginia, we are shown how lost we really are without water. Physically, but also, spiritually.
God comes to us through water.
The Holy Spirit comes to us through water.
We are united with Jesus Christ, our savior through water.
In the baptismal waters, we are dunked, and out we come anew. Claimed by God who looks at us, dripping wet and says “This is my child, in whom I am well pleased.”
Water is powerful stuff.