Life in the Water

Water surface


Matthew 3:13-17

Grace and peace to you from the Triune God. Amen.

The Christmas season has left us. Many of us have already taken down our Christmas trees and decorations and have packed them up until this next year. We will be doing the same after worship this morning. While we may be moving forward in the liturgical year, the idea of Emmanuel, God with us, is something that we should carry with us through Epiphany, into Lent and Easter, through Pentecost and right up to next Christmas. God with us, Emmanuel, never leaves us.

There could not be a better reminder than the one we get this morning in the baptism of Jesus. In the very waters of the river Jordan, Jesus is named and called into service. If there had been any question in the past about his calling, that is answered now in his identity received in baptism, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” You too, receive your identity in the living water that washes over you in baptism.

As God swept a wind, or the Holy Spirit, over the face of the waters in Genesis, that same Spirit is present with Jesus in his baptism. Water is essential to life in more ways than one, and it is through the water that we enter into community with one another.

As we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord this morning, I am also reminded of its personal significance in my life. It was on this day eleven years ago, that I was baptized alongside the rest of my family. It was in the waters of the font at Peace Lutheran Church in Charlotte that we now had the visible sign of our new identity in Christ washed over us. We had been walking alongside our newfound community for close to a year and were now called to serve in a greater capacity. In that calling, our identity was confirmed, and the Spirit flowed through that breathing water. It is no accident that I personify the water.

The water that we encounter in baptism is full of life and as it is washed over us in baptism, or as we dip our fingers in it to mark the sign of the cross on our bodies, we are reminded of its life-giving characteristics. In its life, it gives us life. In our baptisms, God is present in the water and through the Word as it is spoken to us. For many of us, this may be our first real encounter with the Trinity, as we are baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I don’t believe many of us truly stop to think about this. Do we stop to think about the significance of this sacrament, or do we just take it for granted as something that we do?

I will be honest with you. I did not look too deeply into it when I was baptized eleven years ago. I knew it was the next step in the journey. Yes, I talked to my pastor about it and what it meant, but did I truly understand it? Heck, I had already been coming to the table for at least 7 months and had met Jesus in the bread and wine, and was now opening to the waters of baptism. I did not experience anything special in the water, no aha moment! Yes, it was moving, and I was excited, but I did not see angels coming down from the rafters.

But after that day eleven years ago, God started working in mysterious ways in my life. I was called out of my comfort zone into new and exciting opportunities in the church. And I am still learning. I am continuing to learn from Christ working in my life and the Spirit calling me and pushing me, and at times pulling me in new directions. I have recently been reading The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr and he tackles the subject of our lack of truly experiencing the Trinity. He writes:

Do you ever wonder why Western atheism is on the rise? Why does the Christian West, by far, produce the highest number of atheists? What I believe, and have dedicated my life to reversing, is that we have not moved doctrine and dogma to the level of experience. As long as “received teaching” doesn’t become experiential knowledge, we’re going to continue creating a high quantity of disillusioned ex-believers. Or on the flip-side, we’ll manufacture very rigid believers who simply hold on to doctrines in very dry, dead ways with nothing going on inside.

And so we have two big groups in the landscape today: those who throw out the baby with the bathwater (many liberals and academics)—and those who seemed to have drowned in the bathwater (many conservatives and fundamentalists).

How about allowing the bath water to keep flowing over you and through you?

It is anyway, but we can considerably help the process by gradually opening up the water faucets—both the cold and the hot.

The water that is washed over us in our baptisms is alive with the Spirit. It calls us into relationship so that we can encounter God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit in everything that we do. Yes, we are not always going to get it right. Look at John the Baptist, he denied Jesus’ request at first to baptize him, because he thought it should be the other way around.

In this relationship, we are asked to be in conversation, because that is how a relationship works. There is some give and take. There is some struggles and questioning. There is doubt and belief. Through it all is Emmanuel, God with us. The God that we encounter in the waters of baptism, and the God that comes to us full of hope in an infant child in a manger are forever with us. In this presence, we are given our identity as a “child of God.”


By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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