Mark 4:1-11 – Baptism of the Lord, First Sunday after Epiphany – for January 11, 2015
“John was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts . . .” (Mark 1:4)
In the wilderness, clouds bunch on the horizon like gray fists. Within moments a bright day becomes gloomy. Darkness for day, wind rustling trees, temperature plunging, and then . . .
The first rain falls and creation begins again.
Along the wild coast, fog smothers a desolate beach, a moist wall of white. Swirling and still, it blurs the land and sea, the seen and imagined. Flecks of moisture cling to skin, and then . . .
A shard of sun turns drops of water into diamonds.
With a wild heart, a child scampers from puddle to puddle, a parent’s warning to stay dry long forgotten. A splash here; a splash there. There’s a leap from one miniature lake to another. Failure is so much fun as the pants legs are soaked to the knee, and then . . .
There’s a yelp of joy and a dance of delight.
Into the wild yard, you venture, lured by ancient fears and fascination. Though it’s safer to stay where there’s central heat and insulated walls, why not explore the back yard during the worst of the storm? Rain pours, leaves shiver, the garden floods, the lawn transforms into momentary swamp, and you think . . .
Why did I ever think I was in control?
In a wild and dry landscape, a bent woman stumbles forward. She’s one of dozens, tramping from home, an empty jar half the size of her body balanced on her head. Along the familiar, beaten path, she sweats precious fluids. Finally, she reaches the well and fills her container. On the way back, lugging water the weight and value of gold, she wonders . . .
Will there be enough for tomorrow?
In a wilderness of pews and pulpits and altars, the preacher voices ancient words about Jesus and John and baptism. Dressed in creased slacks and wrinkled jeans, in Jimmy Choo shoes and flip-flops, the gathered believers and doubters lean forward to listen. They hear a blessing. Once. Twice. Thrice. God. Christ. Spirit. Tap water dribbles over a tiny head, flowing through strands of hair that feels like silk. And then . . .
The infant cries.
Wailing echoes in the sanctuary, the bellow of human longing. The sound is like the grunt of a weary woman hoisting a heavy pot of water to her shoulder. The sound is like rain hissing through the limbs of the tree in the corner of the yard. The sound is like a kid’s voice squealing when leaping into a puddle that’s a pretend lake. The sound is like the urgent ebb and flow of waves as they endlessly reshape the land. The sound is like thunder when clouds rise above mountain ridges, and rain roils the earth and pelts the flesh.
We are a water-born people.
With water, we live. Without it, we die.
Many on this spinning, salt-watered dot of a planet twist a faucet and assume water will always be there. Too many in the same population join the woman trudging to a faraway well, wondering if there will be enough liquid life for today.
Once, in memory and myth, in sacred text and word-of-mouth tales, a young man from Galilee arrived at the banks of the Jordan.
At the edge of a river, near the borderlands of a desert, the world will change, and water will mark the moment. Yes, what was conveyed and what is still believed, is that spirit matters most. The spirit is the feeling never fully visible; the spirit is belief never fully explained. The sky split open, and a blessing was voiced. There was more than wading into the stream, there was wading into the risks of faith and forgiveness, redemption and resurrection, holy designs and human desires. You are my beloved, the Holy murmurs. In you I find happiness, the Divine whispers.
Jesus, the young man from Galilee, risks taking the steps to stand chest deep in water. Liquid life laps around his mortal, immortal heart. Liquid life cools his mortal, immortal muscles. Liquid life soothes his mortal, immortal flesh.
We are a water-born people. We are people of storm and puddle, of weary trudges to a well and a quick turns of the faucet. We are the baptized, reborn from water that is dumped and sprinkled and doused and splashed, of water where we symbolically drown and water that symbolically brings us life.
Water, water everywhere, spirit, spirit always present, and yet we are also a drought-stricken people. Yes, I mean literally. Yes, I mean metaphorically.
Listen for the holy and Holy voice.
It is the sound of thunder in the mountain. It is the smack of wet branches in the back yard. It is the jar dipping into the well. It is a child splashing in puddles. It is a memory of the One in the middle of the Jordan, hearing what is the promise for all . . .
In you I find happiness.
Will we remain on the shore, safe and dry, anxious and parched?