14 Pentecost C—8/21/16
Isaiah 58:9b-14; Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17
Pr. Scott Kramer
It seems appropriate that Aidan’s baptism is today. He is the son of athletes, and the Olympic Games closing ceremony is today. Some of my favorite events over the past 16 days have been water sports: swimming, diving, water polo. Of course, there’s rowing and sailing.
And, yes, kayak! Michelle and Derek, you are runners and rock climbers, but you are also water people! Today’s worship is all about water—it’s about baptism!
In today’s first reading the prophet Isaiah makes a connection between faithful attention to the mission of God’s people and…God’s promises. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places…and you will be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
When Isaiah promises that the “Lord will guide you continually” I imagine God as the kayaker and each of us as a kayak, being guided with expert skill through the waters. The kayak is made for water. Without water, it goes nowhere. Likewise, the kayak is made for kayakers. Without someone to paddle and guide the kayak, what is the point of a kayak?
Now, Lutheran baptism doesn’t involve much that reminds us of whitewater. The waters of this font seem pretty calm and there’s so little water that it hardly seems dangerous. But this little water represents big things!
The water of baptism reminds us of the big water stories of our faith: Noah and the flood, in which a great boat—or Ark—passed through and was sustained by the flood waters. Then there’s the story of Moses, in which God parted the waters of the Red Sea so that God’s people could pass through safely. In both stories the waters are dangerous—even deadly—and yet they signal a new beginning.
Whitewater is risky—even dangerous! And dangerous waters are a big part of our faith stories. The floodwaters of the Noah story breaking and receding, for example, signal that something new is about to happen. The waters of the Red Sea breaking and parting likewise signal that something new is about to happen. These stories are no coincidence because this is the nature of the world God created. For example, before a child is born into the world, what happens? The mother’s “water breaks.” Where water breaks, there is risk. When new life is about to enter the world, there is risk.
In whitewater kayaking water breaks—every which way! Water breaks over the rocks. It breaks over the bow of the boat. It signals danger: boulders, steep rocks. And yet, Isaiah says, the Lord will guide you continually.
Young Aidan will face the full range of human experience that is part of each of our stories: disappointment and encouragement, failure and triumph, despair and hope. But whatever comes his way, we believe, he can be shaped and defined and sustained by these dangerous, life-giving waters. If Aidan is the kayak, it is the wild and dangerous waters of baptism that bear him up. It is the God who created him who, as Isaiah promises, will guide him continually.
Each of us naturally seeks safety and security. We want to control the boat. But a life defined by baptism is by definition risky. To receive the gift of baptism seems like an easy thing but if one day Aidan chooses to embrace the gift that he receives today he will find that there is risk. To follow the teachings and example of Jesus means not following the crowd, not going with the flow. A kayak on its own is at the mercy of the water but the kayak in the hands of a skilled kayaker uses the power of the water to shape the direction of the kayak.
The direction of Aidan’s life, like all of our lives, is always uncertain. But what’s more important than how his life unfolds is the water that breaks over the boat. Breaking water signals new life. At every moment Aidan’s baptismal identity can shape how he responds to all that life throws at him.
Best of all, he doesn’t go it alone. Aidan’s parents, his sponsors, his extended family, his church family, are all part of his journey. The waters of baptism break across our bows also! And if we dare, we all can put ourselves in the same capable hands of a kayaker who guides us all, one “whose waters never fail!”