a sermon on Exodus 2:1-10 and Galatians 3:23-29
preached on August 30, 2015, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
In my ten years as pastor here, I have enjoyed bringing many new and different ideas to our worship, but any time I have done something new around baptism, I am certain to hear about it. When the time comes to baptize someone of whatever age, when someone realizes that Baptism of the Lord Sunday is coming up, or even when one of you notices that the cover is off the baptismal font before worship, I have this vision of someone rolling his eyes, saying, “There Andy goes again, playing in the water in church.” I guess you could say I have a bit of a reputation of playing in the water—and I must say that I am just a little bit proud of it!
Interest in remembering baptism is not everywhere in the church. In far too many churches, the baptismal font is shoved over to the side. We don’t use it all that much, the logic goes, so why should it get in the way of everything else that we are doing? After all, the only time this piece of furniture matters is when we are baptizing someone, and when that happens, we can put it where we need it. There’s no need to play in the water until then.
But baptism is where everything begins for us. These strange waters are where each of us begins our life of faith. This simple font is the place where we see God’s grace poured out for everyone. These wonderful waters give us confidence and hope for every step of our journey. If we take baptism seriously, we can’t push the baptismal font off to the side, because baptism becomes an integral part of our worship week after week, whether we are welcoming someone new to our community in this sacrament, remembering and recommitting ourselves to the covenant God makes with us in these waters, or simply living out our faith with confidence because we know that our journey has taken us through these waters. God calls us to be people who love to play in the water.
Our two scripture readings this morning remind us of how important it is to play in the water. First, our Old Testament lesson gives us a glimpse of what can happen when someone is drawn out of the water. This story about the birth of Moses recounts a time when Egypt’s frustration with the Israelites hit its highest point. The Pharaoh was so afraid of the Israelites’ increasing power that he ordered that all their sons to be killed at birth, first by the midwives who delivered them and then by drowning them in the Nile. In the face of this edict, Moses’ mother hid him for as long as she could, but eventually she had to set him out on the river in a papyrus basket, hoping that someone would save him. The daughter of Pharaoh found the baby in the river as she went down to bathe in it, and she showed mercy to him. She asked her Hebrew maid—who just happened to be the baby’s sister!—to find a nurse for the boy, then when he was weaned, Pharaoh’s daughter raised Moses as her own son. “She named him Moses, ‘because,’ she said, ‘I drew him out of the water.”
Moses—the largest figure in the history of Judaism, the one to whom the first five books of the Bible are attributed, one of the only humans to speak directly to God and survive—Moses is drawn up out of the water, water that could have been the death of him but that in the end gave him a pathway to new life. This was just the first time that water mattered to Moses. The waters of the Nile were center stage as he gave voice to God’s plagues upon the people of Egypt. The waters of the sea parted at Moses’ command so that the Israelites could go through on dry land. Even the waters of another river, the Jordan, framed Moses’ first and last view of the promised land as his days came to an end. Moses knew as well as anyone the importance of playing in the water.
But Moses was not alone there. The apostle Paul, in our second reading from his letter to the churches of Galatia, shows us that the early church was also quite good at playing in the water. In Galatians, Paul set out to help this early church deal with some people who came to them to tell them that Gentile converts to Christianity needed to be circumcised—to become Jews—before they could be full members of the Christian community. Paul uses what was likely a familiar statement from the liturgy of the early church to make his point:
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is no longer Jew or Greek,
there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
For Paul, baptism makes it clear that all the things that attempt to divide us in this world do not matter to God. These three divisions of ethnic background (“Jew or Greek”), socioeconomic status (“slave or free”), and gender (“male and female”) may not directly cover all the categories of the world that we use to divide ourselves, but in lifting up these three divisions, Paul shows that no other divisions carry any weight in light of the gift of God in Jesus Christ. In baptism, God places a sign and seal upon us so that we can remember that we are children of God, that we have been clothed with Christ, and that all our human divisions cannot and will not divide us from God. These are incredible and wondrous waters that change us and make us new—why would we choose not to play here?
We can and should play in the waters of baptism anytime, remembering our baptism each and every day, but these waters of baptism belong to the life of worship, and we are called to play in them here. Baptism is not a private rite of passage or confirmation of faith but a very public moment when we recognize that God is at work among us. In baptism, God gives us an outward sign of the very inward seal of grace that has touched us long before the first drop of water touches our bodies. In baptism, God offers us a way to touch and feel God’s love entering our lives. And in baptism, God grants us a very physical glimpse of the divine mercy that sustains us each and every day. When we welcome a new sister or brother into the community through baptism, we do it together, gathering at the same place where we came to see and hear and touch the grace of God so that we can give thanks for this incredible gift even as we pray that God will seal it anew on yet another who is seeking to know God’s promise in their lives. Everything that we do in worship connects to the love, grace, and mercy of God that we find every time we come and play in these waters.
Sometimes our little font isn’t the best at showing us the wonder of these waters. The other day, I had the chance to see the newly-renovated sanctuary at St. Luke’s Church here in Whitestone—and especially their new baptismal font. Their font is made of beautiful granite, featuring two levels, with a waterfall between them so that the sound of moving water echoes throughout the church. It is large enough that a baby can be fully immersed in it, or an adult can step in up to her ankles and then have water poured over her head. Now I don’t expect that we’ll be installing anything quite like that anytime soon, but whatever it looks like, however large or small it may be, the place where we share the waters of baptism reminds us of the gift that we enjoy anytime we can come to play in these waters.
While each one of us receives this sacrament only once, that should never keep us from playing in these waters again and again. When we play in the waters of baptism, we remember how God claims us as God’s own here. When we play in these waters, we are reminded of the abundance of God’s love. And when we play in these waters, we remember how much we need God’s amazing grace to continue to wash over us and make us new. So every time we gather, may we remember the joy and wonder of baptism as we are united with all our sisters and brothers who play in these waters as we celebrate God making all things new in Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God! Amen.