Sermon Date: January 9th, 2022
By Pastor Elaine Boone
This Sunday is referred to as the Baptism of our Lord - a time when congregations often welcome new members by baptism and a good day to begin the service as we did with the thanksgiving for baptism. At the beginning of the year we commemorate Jesus’ baptism and our own.
Over generations Christians have not agreed about the scheduling of baptisms - some feel that only adult baptisms are correct while others feel that infants can and should be baptized. However, agreement is that a baptism needs to include water and a proclamation of the word. Sometimes a new name is given - a symbol that at baptism the candidate is named as a Christian. For all the ways we talk about baptism across the Lutheran church and other denominations we are all agreed that it is a public thing.
How was baptism different in the days of John the Baptist and Jesus and the early followers of “the way”?
In the 1st century immersion rituals it was typically self administered - so that one would immerse their entire body for symbolic purification if you were Jewish and an initiation if you were Roman.
The cleansing quality of water was already known, however, these rites made it clear that the main purpose was not physical washing but external signifiers that things were now different…the act of immersion could signal something greater.
The shift occurred when self immersion became a public act of being baptized - as John the Baptist was doing in the Jordan. A time of repentance - of turning to God. A public declaration of a different way of living and being in the world.
And so today we remember our baptisms, we hear the story from Luke of Jesus’ baptism and we recognize the importance of water and the word.
All our readings today have the common theme of water. In Isaiah, “when you pass through the waters I will be with you and through the rivers they shall not overwhelm you.”
Psalm 29 “The voice of the Lord is over the waters. The Lord is enthroned over the flood.
In the reading from Acts people in Samaria had been baptized - meaning water and the word. And in Luke John says “I baptize you with water.” And the author of Acts says that all the people were baptized and Jesus was baptized.
Water is life. Water is a common word in our scriptures because it is necessary for our survival. Humans can only survive 3 or 4 days without water. 60% of the adult human body is water. Water is literally all around us - 71% of the earth’s surface is water covered and the oceans hold about 96.5% of all the earth’s water. Scientists speculate that only 5% of the earth’s oceans have been explored and charted, especially the oceans below the surface.
But water is also in the air as water vapor, in rivers and lakes and ice caps and glaciers. And it is in the ground as soil moisture and in aquifers.
In Canada we take water for granted. We are privileged. We can turn on our taps and drink. We can wash our clothes and our cars and water our lawns - the last 2 are not necessities!
We can swim in lakes and rivers and ponds and streams and not fear that we will contract a horrible illness that might threaten our lives.
We take this for granted and we are incredibly privileged.
But not all Canadians can safely drink their water. In a country blessed with so much water - so much fresh water our indigenous communities are often faced with drinking water advisories. There are 42 long term water advisories in 30 communities. How many people does this affect? Estimates are that a single advisory can mean that as many as 5000 people lack access to safe, clean drinking water. 73% of first nations water systems are at high or medium risk of contamination.
Our Federal government has promised to make things better. Has promised that our 1st nations peoples will have the same access to clean water that the rest of us have. But progress is slow. It may be due to expense or technology or many many other things. But its not good enough. Access to clean water is a basic human need and a right. But around the world and here at home not everyone has this.
This year we have also seen what happens when there is too much water instead of not enough. This year we have watched news footage of floods - in June it was in Europe and in November it was in BC. Climate change is affecting our weather patterns and our risks of flooding and the melting of arctic ice and glaciers and resulting in higher sea levels. For many places on this glorious earth too much water is a real threat to existence.
Too much or not enough. Water remains critical to our survival. We have enshrined water in our scripture and in our rites and practices. We continue to baptize with water. We remember our baptism and that of Jesus. We remember the words from Genesis “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” The water was the beginning. It is our present and it is the future and it is up to us to make the changes to ensure that water will continue to sustain us and not destroy us.
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