September 25, 2022 ~ Rev. Beckie Sweet
Before time had even begun as we know it, as the writings of Proverbs remind us, was GOD: Creator, Redeemer, Spirit. The Triune God, as we say ~ God in three persons, Blessed Trinity. After centuries of stories of Creation being shared orally, hearers wrestled with the plurality of the creating deity. Do you remember why? Two weeks ago, as we began this worship series on Holy Ground, we heard about the creation of humanity. As recorded in Genesis, chapter 1, during the sixth day of creation, “God said, ‘Let US make humanity in OUR image to resemble US so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.’” All of humanity, from the first to those entering life today, all of us are created in the image of God: Creator, Redeemer, Spirit.
But even before humans were created, God created water: oceans, rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, springs, rain, snow, sleet, hail, groffel, fog, and mist, and the list goes on. Water is essential for life, all of life, everyone’s life. Without water, there is no life.
The Iroquois, or Haudenosaunee people were known to say:
“We give thanks to all the Waters of the world. We are grateful that the waters are still here and doing their duty of sustaining life on Mother Earth. Water is life, quenching our thirst and providing us with strength, making the plants grow and sustaining us all. Let us gather our minds together and with one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the waters.”
Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass, from which that quote is taken, continues, “These words reflect the sacred purpose of the people. For just as water was given certain responsibilities for sustaining the world, so were people. Chief among their duties was to give thanks for the gifts of the earth and to care for them.”
So sacred is the gift of water that Jewish rites of purification involved immersion in order to cleanse the defiled one and restore them as an accepted member of the religious community. So, when John the Baptist appeared in the wild, telling sinners they should change their ways and return to faithfully following God, he used baptism by immersion as a tangible sign of God’s grace, cleansing forgiveness, restored relationships, and renewed commissioning for a life as part of GOD’s family. John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, the sinless, guiltless Child of God! For what purpose? To make sacred the act of repenting, cleansing with water, and renewing one’s commitment to being a follower of God.
And the Spirit was there that day, too, splitting open the skies, in the shape of a dove, amplifying the voice of God: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”
Now, when we baptize with sprinkles of water from the faucet, or pouring water transported from the River Jordan, or with complete immersion in Cayuga Lake, or a pool, or other body of water, we give thanks to God for the gift of water and ask God’s blessing upon it. When we do so, is all of the water holy? All the water in the pool? The whole lake? All of the water in the public water system? The answer is YES! We ask for a special blessing on the water used for baptism, but all water is already holy.
Consider the parallels between how we experience water (H2O) and God. As Christians we understand God most fully as the Trinity, all the same substance of Divine but with different forms and purposes. In the same way we experience H2O as solid, liquid, and gas. Water in its various forms has the power to create and destroy: birthing, feeding, flood. Water is necessary for life and it makes up most of our bodies and planet. As we’ve continued to try and tame water and bottle it, we may see similar desire to box-in and bottle God for sale. Our relationship with water, and with all of creation, seems to speak to our relationship with God. As the impacts of human industry continue to pollute our fresh water supplies there is less and less clean water available to drink. As religion continues to muddy the waters of faith it can feel as though pure religion is hard to find.
The One, who upon emerging from the baptismal waters was announced as marked as God’s chosen, marked by God’s love, pride of God’s life ~ that ONE did not say or model that a n y o n e is beyond the scope of God’s love. So, n o o n e should be beyond the scope of our love. And, therefore, no one, and nothing, should be beyond the scope of our care. No one. There are those who look, speak, worship, and love differently than any one individual here. No one should be beyond the scope of our love and care. There are those whose economic status, national citizenship, political loyalties, and sense of justice are different than mine or yours. No one should be beyond the scope of our love and care. There are those who have great care for our relationship with others, with the earth and its resources, with God, and some that don’t. No one should be beyond the scope of our love and care. Just as all water is already holy, all of God’s creation is holy.
I have a LOT of stories to tell about my beloved first pastoral appointment! The stories about the parsonage, however, are somewhat scary, creepy, and gross. The lessons learned there are precious. This appointment was in a rural area, the parsonage across the yard from the church. On the hillside behind both buildings was a cemetery which had been in use for almost 200 years. In my first two months there, we used a lot of water cleaning, and cleaning, and cleaning. The water from the faucet was VERY cold, and tasted Okay. But after it sat in a bowl or bucket for a while, there would appear an iridescent film on the surface of the water. I learned that the water came from a spring a couple of hundred yards up the hill. The spring water was collected in a cistern in the middle of a cow pasture, and then was gravity fed through a garden hose through the cemetery and into the church and parsonage.
After I had lived and served there for about 10 months ~ Spring, the lay leader invited me to walk up to the cistern with him. He was carrying a large net. You see, each spring he would slide away the large stones covering the cistern and use the net to skim away the leaves and debris floating on the surface. Then, he jumped into that very cold water and began removing the decomposing bodies of God’s creatures which had drowned there in the past year. Yes, there were a couple of living frogs, and once a snake. Upon climbing out, he proclaimed the cistern clean and covered it back up. That was the water I had been drinking. Similar to water from Cayuga Lake, there were souls of creation still swimming among the living things. And all of that water is holy.
As any Frozen 2 fan knows, “water has memory.” Molecules of water are reused in different forms, but they remember the experiences of the past. Nearly 50 years ago, Joni Mitchell wrote, “We are stardust, Billion year old carbon. We are golden, Caught in the devil’s bargain. And we’ve got to get ourselves Back to the garden.” Not surprisingly, astrophysicists have found, she was right! Everything on earth is made up of elements that once made up the stars. And all the atoms in our world are continually recycled. Atoms are neither destroyed nor created. When a living thing dies, what’s left is broken down and the elements and atoms are reused, made into new things, new life. That means the atoms of water, air, and dirt that existed over 2,000 years ago are still in use somewhere in the world today. The atoms that were brought together inside the womb of a young woman to form another human body which housed God’s Spirit in the flesh, still exist somewhere in our world today.
The Good News is the water that makes up a majority of our bodies is holy. The water that covers the majority of our earth is holy. It blesses us with every gulp, splash, drop. Water is all around us and within us and so is God’s presence and blessing. Every second we carry the holy waters of baptism!
YOU are God’s child, chosen and marked by God’s Love. Thanks be to God!
HOMEWORK: This week, time or somehow monitor your water usage and work to lower it through the week. Each time you use water, pray for those who do not have clean water: Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona; draught stricken lands; war ravaged lands; and others desperate for potable water.