When I began discussing the possibility of baptism with the family of Zane and Seth and Tatum, we talked about timing. The usual time for baptism is Easter or the Easter season because baptism is all about death giving way to resurrection. One of my pastor friends gave me a bad time. You’re doing a baptism in Lent? Yes, we’re doing a baptism in Lent! Life has gotten complicated for the Ingersoll/Robertson/Coble clan over the past six months so yes, we have a baptism in Lent. But what a teaching opportunity! You’ve heard me say before that even during Lent Sundays are a resurrection day so here we are today, celebrating not one but three baptisms and the hope we proclaim for new life in Christ.
In today’s first reading, the people were freed from Egypt but were lost, wandering, afraid, preoccupied with survival and their own needs. But God miraculously provided water in the desert. Baptism for Christians is “water in the desert.”
Martin Luther once said: “Those who are afflicted feel and complain that they are perishing and dying. Nor can nature think anything else when it is being mortified. It can say nothing else than “I am lost.” But oh, how happy and blessed the voice of Christians is if they can cling to the Word and say: “I have been baptized. I believe in God the Father. I believe in Jesus Christ”! Let only this remain firmly fixed in the heart. Then all will be well.”
At our Bishop’s Convocation our bishop asked what it’s like to be bishop and how he’s managing it: He said when he’s feeling discouraged or beat up he repeats Luther’s words: “I am baptized.”
Today’s gospel reading is the story of the woman at the well. This story is all about water. Life-giving water. Baptismal water.
Here is someone with at least three strikes against her. 1) She’s a woman, 2) She’s a Samaritan woman, and 3) She’s a Samaritan woman with a reputation. Notice that she’s drawing water at the well at noon, in the heat of the day. Respectable women came earlier when it was cooler. They gathered not just to draw water but to socialize and nurture relationships. This particular woman evidently had been cast out of these social circles. She was not welcome. So she came by herself in the heat of the day.
Jesus would have known these circumstances. And then he does what no other man would do. He speaks to her. He speaks to her with respect and compassion, even as an equal. He asks for water because it was hot and John tells us he was “tired by his journey.” But he uses this very basic human need to talk about a different kind of water; about Living Water. His message to the woman whose life was stacked against her can be summed up in one sentence: “God Loves You No Matter What.”
That’s what we Lutherans say about Baptism. God’s welcome is not exclusive but inclusive. God’s welcome is for all people. “God Loves You No Matter What.” When Zane, and Tatum, and Seth’s mom was dying last November, her family decided to have her baptized–which was pretty cool. We Lutherans are pretty good at not asking permission! We baptize babies. We don’t wait for them to decide if they want to be baptized because our word to them is exactly the same as what we proclaim to someone who is 90 or 100 and has a whole lifetime of success and failure, joy and sorrow: “God Loves You No Matter What.”
Whether your life is one of power and privilege or whether you can identify with that woman at the well, hear again the words of Martin Luther:
Those who are afflicted feel and complain that they are perishing and dying. Nor can nature think anything else when it is being mortified. It can say nothing else than “I am lost.” But oh, how happy and blessed the voice of Christians is if they can cling to the Word and say: “I have been baptized. I believe in God the Father. I believe in Jesus Christ”! Let only this remain firmly fixed in the heart. Then all will be well.”
Hopefully we can catch a glimpse of ourselves wandering in the desert or showing up at the well in the heat of the day. But whatever the circumstances of our life’s journey, Baptism is not really about what we hunger or thirst for. It’s about what God has already done for us, whether we want it or not!