“Waters”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

September 7, 2014 – Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Homecoming Sunday)

Scripture:  Acts 8:26-40

 

It shows up in the first chapter of Genesis, the very first book of the Bible. It shows up in the last chapter of Revelation, the very last book of the Bible.

It shows up on every continent and in every country on earth. It shows up at every latitude and longitude, at every elevation, from the highest mountain peaks to the deepest ocean trenches.

It shows up in every cell of our bodies. In fact, scientists tell us that it comprises some 70% of our body weight. We couldn’t possibly live without it.

I’m talking, of course, about water—the elixir of life, the universal solvent, and, in today’s scripture reading, the substance used to convey God’s blessing.

 

Philip was traveling down a wilderness road, a road through parched, dry, deserted territory, on the way from Jerusalem to Gaza, when he met a man whose name we don’t know—a man who was different from Philip in many ways. He came from a different racial and ethnic background. He was of a different nationality. He had pledged his allegiance to the Queen of Ethiopia, not the Roman emperor or the God of Israel. The Ethiopian man was about as different from Philip as he could be.

Philip could have seen this man as a threat. They were out in the middle of nowhere on a deserted road sometimes frequented by thieves and robbers. There was nobody to come to the rescue if this stranger turned out to have nefarious intentions. Who knew what this foreigner would do?

And yet Philip saw in him, not a threat, but a fellow traveler—a companion on the journey, a partner in conversation, a lonely person a long way from home, a child of God who was thirsty for some good news.

And so Philip climbed up into the chariot with him and told him the stories of Jesus—how he ate with tax-collectors and sinners; how he healed people, body and soul; how he met violence with gentleness, hatred with love, death with unstoppable life. Philip told the Ethiopian man that outsiders were in, that the last were first, that the captives were free, that the lost were found, that all the barriers that once divided them had been torn down for good. He told him that he was loved, just as he was; that he was called to a purpose, holy and high; that his life mattered; that he could be a living sign of God’s loving power here on earth.

The Ethiopian man listened hard. He drank deeply of Philip’s words. And then he said, “I want to be part of that!” And they looked around, and what do you know, there was a pool of water at the side of the road. The Ethiopian said, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

Philip could have come up with several reasons to say no, several things that could have prevented that baptism. But he didn’t. He didn’t let politics, or law, or ethics, or geography, or language, or convenience get in the way. He didn’t worry about how long that murky puddle had been sitting there, or what kind of germs might be lurking in its depths. He got down from the chariot and waded into the pool with the Ethiopian, and he baptized him right then and there, saying, “You are God’s beloved child, in whom God is well pleased—and there is nothing on earth or in heaven that can stand in the way of that!”

Because here’s what Philip knew. He knew that God’s love is powerful, and alive, and on the loose in the world. He knew that there are far too many of God’s children who don’t know that they are loved. He knew that water, every kind of water—be it fresh or saline, clear or murky, running or stagnant, chlorinated or fluoridated or carbonated or straight from the well—every kind of water is holy. Every kind of water is sacred. Every kind of water can be a powerful mediator of God’s love.

 

When you jump into a lake and feel the cold, fresh water splash over you—did you do that this summer?—that’s God’s blessing, washing you clean.

When you’re paddling in a canoe or a kayak, and you feel the power of the current or the waves beneath you—did you do that this summer?—that’s God’s blessing, carrying you forward.

When you’re standing outside in the rain—did you do that this summer?—that’s God’s blessing, pouring down upon you.

When you’re watering your garden—did you do that this summer?—that’s God’s blessing, nurturing the earth and all its creatures.

When you’re drinking a cup of tea, or a mug of coffee, or a glass of lemonade, or a bottle of water—did you do that this summer?—that’s God’s blessing, sustaining your life.

When you’re washing your face in the bathroom sink—did you do that this summer?—that’s God’s blessing, marking you as God’s child.

 

Some of you have brought with you today water from places you visited this summer. Some of you have brought with you today water that represents a place that is special to you. Some of you have water that was collected by someone else who was not able to be here today. Some of you have no water, but all of you have memories of bodies of water that have particular meaning in your lives.

waters1 I invite you to take one of the blue slips of paper that are in the pew racks with the welcome cards, and on it, I invite you to write down the place your water comes from or represents. And in a few minutes, when you come forward to receive communion, I will invite you to bring your water and your blue paper with you. You can place the blue cards in the baskets on these two tables. You can pour your water into the bowls and leave your empty bottles in the baskets on the floor. If you do not have water with you, you can pour a bit from the pitchers on the tables as a symbol of the water you have in mind.

These gathered waters will become the water we use for baptisms and blessings over the coming year. These gathered waters will become the water we use to mediate God’s love here in worship. Every time we bless someone with these waters, we will be connected to all the places and memories they represent. Every time we bless someone with these waters, we will be reminded of the holiness of all the water on earth.

Every time we bless someone with these waters, we will take our place in the long story of God’s presence made manifest in water—in the waters over which God’s Spirit brooded, way back at the beginning of time; in the waters of the Red Sea, through which the Israelites passed from slavery to freedom; in the waters of Mary’s womb, which nurtured Jesus as he came into the world; in the waters of the Jordan River, where Jesus himself was baptized; in the waters of the Samaritan well, where Jesus gave living water to a lonely woman; in the waters in a basin at the Last Supper, where Jesus washed his disciples’ feet; in the waters by the side of the wilderness road, where Philip baptized the Ethiopian man; in the waters of the River of Life, which will flow through the streets of the heavenly city when all creation finds its fulfillment.

Every time we bless someone with these waters, we will remember the good news of the gospel—that outsiders are in, that the last are first, that the captives are free, that the lost are found, that all the barriers that once divided us have been torn down for good—that we are loved, just as we are; that we are called to a purpose, holy and high; that our lives matter; that we can be living signs of God’s loving power here on earth.

If that’s a story you want to be part of, then say Amen.