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Matthew 3:13-17 (from The Message)
John 4:1-15 (from The Message)
Before we really get started, I want to teach a song—because what better way is there to hear and share and internalize a message than through song?
Many of you probably know the spiritual “We’ve Come This Far By Faith,” but just in case some of us don’t, the chorus goes like this:
Water flows all the way through our spiritual heritage. Water is a big part of our shared stories about life and the world and our lives in and with God. So significant is the water that runs through our stories, traditions, and sacraments that I suppose you could say our faith is all wet.
Water is there at the very beginning, when the Spirit wind of our Creator swept over the face of the waters—and then there was you was light and darkness, day and night, evening and morning, too many living species to count, and so much life to live.
The trail of life-saving, life-giving water runs all through the life of Moses and the wilderness-wandering Israelites—from the baby boy found floating in a basket on the Nile to the parted waters of the Red Sea, the bitter water made sweet, and the water that flowed from a rock.
Naaman, the foreign general, had to dip seven times in the waters of the River Jordan to be healed of his leprosy, and it was on account of a raging sea that Jonah met up with a very large fish and discovered that he could not hide from God’s universal love.
And if the history of the Hebrew people is full of water that saves, water that makes a way, water that cleanses and heals, and water that swallows up one thing and spits out something else, water is even more central to the Christian story.
It is at the Jordan River that Jesus has his watershed moment: Baptized by John and coming up out of the water, he is met by the Spirit and a voice that stamps him with God’s love. From then on—except for his 40 days in the wilderness—it seems that Jesus is never far from water. He calls his first disciples from the shores of the Sea of Galilee; he performs his first sign at a water-logged, wine-challenged wedding reception; he calms stormy waters; he walks on the water and teaches on the water (from a boat, of course); he heals by the water; he washes his disciples’ feet with water; and then, at the very end, he says, “I thirst.”
Surely there is an important connection between thirst and spiritual longing, between water and the fullness of life, and our scriptures tell us it is more than biological.
“When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst,” Isaiah prophesies, “the Lord will answer them, the God of Israel will not forsake them.” The Holy one will “open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys, God will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.”
Later, extending a grand invitation on God’s behalf, Isaiah says: “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! . . . Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”
The gospels tell us that Jesus is the connection between thirst and life: that all who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied, that we who follow Jesus will never thirst again, that in following the way of Jesus, who came that we might have life abundant, we will find the bread of life, and that this living water and bread of life are intended for the deliverance of all people and the wholeness of all creation.
That is what’s happening with Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus the rule-breaking boundary-crosser is at it again.
In breaking the religious and cultural rules that prohibited a Jewish man from speaking to an unknown woman, he is showing us how far we need to go to both find and share the water that is life. By crossing the boundaries between men and women, insider and outsider, the supposedly saved and the supposedly damned, Jesus helps us to see that our longing for the fullness of life, our thirst for meaning and healing and home, is universal, something innate and honorable in all people.
And the tired, confused, and bold Samaritan woman, who first thinks Jesus is speaking of running water, shows us the importance of knowing what we want and asking for what we need.
But the water Jesus is talking about is not the kind you get from a well—or a faucet. Acquiring living water requires no money, no bucket, no glass, no perfect religious report card, but simply thirst (which is to say: the human spiritual condition) and a willingness to receive and follow.
It is with this water—the water of life, the living water that becomes an ever-flowing spring in us and out through us to the thirsty world—that we baptized Carter this morning.
We baptized Carter with living water because both his thirst and the way to satisfy it come from God. We baptized him with the key to life, which is God’s relentless love, tender mercy and extravagant grace, because God’s desire for him is abundant life. We baptized him with Jesus water because—just like Jesus—Carter is marked by God’s love and filled with God’s Spirit. And with God’s radical and watery welcome, we baptized Carter into the family of God and the body of Christ because here he will always find the love, acceptance, support, and community he needs to become all he was created to be.
In the waters of baptism we die to our human limitations and are born again into the wholeness of Christ. No longer are we identified and pigeon-holed by nationality or race, gender or sexuality, class or immigration status, political party or education. No longer are we better or worse, higher or lower, worthy or not. No longer are we separated from God or one another. We are one in Christ.
We have but two sacraments in the United Church of Christ. One uses water, the substance that makes life possible and without which we cannot live, to bathe us in new, never-ending life. The other offers us bread and wine, elements that sustain life, to remind us that Christ is ever with us and to show us that his self-giving love is the way to real and abundant life.
Love, life, presence, and sustenance. Identity, belonging, new life, and community. These are the gifts into which we baptized Carter this morning.
Baptism is a once-in-a-lifetime event, but the gifts of baptism are always available to us. Love, life, presence and sustenance. Identity, belonging, new life, and community.
These gifts flow like water from God to us. There is no dam we can build to impede their flow; no human engineering project that can divert them away from one people and toward another. There is no human sin or brokenness that can keep the water of life from reaching us. The watery gifts of baptism, like all gifts of God, are meant to well up in us and flow out through us until we and the church become living water for a thirsty world.
Are you thirsty this morning? Are you longing for life? Do you wonder who and whose you are? Do you need to be reminded that you are loved with an everlasting love?
Come to the water of God, that you may live. Come to the water of Christ, that you may never be thirsty again. Come to the water of life.