Sermon – Baptism of Our Lord – January 12, 2014
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.