Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Meditation on Baptism

This is the "message" from Sunday's service. It's not polished up. I'd like to think I preached it better than these notes indicate.

August 10, 2008
Matthew 14:22-36

The little girl had hoped that her pink bathing suit, with the silver fish scales pattern would give her a graceful, mermaid look. But as she stood by the pool, and looked at her reflection, she was afraid that it just made her look like a pink, chubby fish. She listened for the teen age life guard, the very cutest one at the pool, to tell her she was a good swimmer and that she could do it. But, just as she feared, he explained the procedure without enthusiasm, “4 lengths of the pool. Crawl stroke. No hanging on the sides.” If she passed the test, she could swim in the deep end. But she was afraid she’d fail. She was afraid that anyone who was looking could see her heart just about beating out of her chest. Most of all, she was afraid of the water. She curled her toes over the edges of the pool. Beneath them the black tiles read 6 FT. Over her head. She was about to get in over her head. She tried to take a deep breath. But she couldn’t. The water was so deep. And the far side of the pool seemed like a mile away. She jumped in and the water closed over her. Her legs seemed to pull her down toward the drain. The water stung her eyes, and she shut them and swam, blindly, toward the far side. Don’t be a scaredy-cat, don’t be a scaredy-cat, don’t be a scaredy-cat, she tried to get into the rhythm. But it was no use. She was already too afraid.
Fear is a powerful thing.
In the Bible, water is a symbol of life – to be sure – but also a scary symbol of the opposite – of death. Water is a symbol of the things that are most fearful – losing control, losing order, losing orientation, losing power, losing life. Noah. The crossing the Red Sea. River Jordan.
Not surprisingly, the sea was a fearful place for the fishermen followers of Jesus. Even though they made their living on the sea, they knew the dangers of the open water. And they were justifiably afraid when they were out on the sea and the wind changed, a storm blew up and their ship was battered by the waves. Then, in an utterly inexplicable turn of events, the looked through the wind driven rain and the tossing waters and saw Jesus approaching them, walking on the water.
There was so much fear in that little boat. Matthew says that the disciples were “terrified” – a word he only uses one other time in the whole Gospel, to describe how Herod felt when he heard there was another King, born in Bethlehem. They were deeply afraid of what was happening to them, and what might happen to them in the future. Because, clearly, they were no longer in control. They did not hold their own lives in their own hands anymore. The storm, the wind, the waves. And then Jesus! And Jesus, far from calming their fears, seemed to be one of the things that frightened them the most. So much fear!
Then one of the disciples did something remarkable – He stepped back from his own emotional response to a threatening situation. He stepped away from the contagious fear of his friends. He stood up, despite years of training in how not to rock the boat. He threw his leg over the side and stepped out OUT into the rolling, unstable, dark and story sea. And, for just a moment, he walked toward Jesus.
Then, not surprisingly, he sank.
It’s not surprising that he sank. It’s surprising that he had the courage to walk.
It’s not surprising that he fell. It’s surprising that he attempted to answer Jesus’ call.
It’s not surprising that he failed to do what only Jesus could. It’s surprising that he took seriously what it means to be a disciple – to follow Jesus ANY WHERE Jesus may lead.
For just a moment, the call of Jesus Christ was undeniable, and one disciple answered – not with a faint “I will” or a promise in his heart or a pledge of financial support. One disciple got out of the rocking boat and set his feet into the waves. And when he did that – it didn’t matter that he fell, that he sank, that he failed. Because Jesus reached out his hand – immediately – and lifted him from the deep.
Jesus carried him in his arms, as a lifeguard carries a drowning man, or a mother carries an exhausted toddler, or a lover carries his bride across the threshold. Peter stepped out in fear and was carried home in faith.
To be baptized is to take that step out of the boat. It is to enter the water at the invitation of Jesus, in spite of what others are thinking, saying, fearing. It is to walk the impossible way towards him, in the full knowledge that you can’t get there on your own, but that you can count on Jesus to reach out and take a hold of you where you are, and lift you up and save you. It is to jump out of the boat where your fear traps you, and into the water where Jesus grasps you.
It is not that you will become someone who can do the impossible, but that the impossible grace of God will become real to you . . .
It’s not about success. It’s about faith. It’s not about stopping fear. It’s about not letting fear stop you. It’s about dying to death and rising to new life.
The little girl failed her swimming test that day. She made it across four times, flailing and gasping for air. She dragged herself out of the water on shaky arms, snagged her pink swimming suit on the cement deck, and tried to catch her breath. The life guard bent over and said, “You didn’t quite make it. But you will next time.”
And I did. For some reason, the next time, it was no big deal. And I’ve passed lots of swimming tests, and lots of other tests since then. But the one I remember is the one I failed. Because I was so afraid, and I jumped in anyway.
What is it that frightens, really frightens, us? What keeps us white knuckled clutching the sides of our little boat in the midst of the stormy sea?
As we celebrate the baptism of yet another little Christian, dying to the old life and entering the new, let’s ask ourselves what it would be like to live out our own baptism.
What would it take for us to say, “Jesus, if it’s really you, bid me come” ?
And to step out, into our deepest fears and enter the arms of our Savior?

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