Date: January 10, 2016
Title: “Haunted By Waters”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
I am haunted by waters. Growing up at the edge of a lake, I spent much of my youth in the water or around it. I remember well the snorkel and fins I would don to help me hunt sharks or swim with dolphins – a mean trick of the imagination on that lake, I tell you! I also remember the treasure chest which I knew must be hiding in the muck and murk underneath the dock. And I remember the old wooden rowboat, which would always seem to tip over “accidentally” in the middle of the lake when our parents were not at home and we were not supposed to go swimming. Funny who three kids jumping up and down on the same side of the boat will do that! And I remember skipping stones, the ripples of the water reflecting the rings of thought in my mind as rocks or dreams flew by.
Even today, when I am feeling confused or anxious, when I need some time apart, I want to go where there is water. For I am haunted by waters – and they are not limited to the ones of my youth.
“Haunted by waters” … it is a powerful image, and it may be a familiar one for you, if you have read Norman Maclean’s story, or seen the movie “A River Runs Through It.” It is a story about rivers and fly fishing and family. But really, it is a story about life. It is about estrangement and reconciliation – in a way, it is a universal story. Because we all know what it means to be estranged and we all know how it feels to be reconciled. We understand Maclean’s story because of our own cycles of separation and return, and our own “haunting waters”. In the book and the movie, the return, renewal, the rebirth of family ties and even of individual identity, always happens at the river.
There is something primordial about water. It is the source of life, the beginning. So many of the world’s creation stories begin where the world’s redemption tales end…with water. A river runs through the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis, and shows up again in Revelation’s new Jerusalem, the restoration of creation as God intends it.
At one point in the story Maclean’s protagonist says:
I am haunted by waters.. the river has been cut by the world’s great flood. But even before that, the river runs over the rocks from the basement of time. And beyond that, under the rocks are the words, “in the beginning was the Word…”
We are all haunted by waters. From the beginning of time, God’s Spirit has moved over the face of water to bring forth order out of chaos, light from darkness, life out of death and meaning out of the void. So it is not surprising that when we are confused or lonely, afraid or apathetic or just plain lost – when we need to reconsider our faith or to rethink our life’s trajectory; when we yearn to listen to God’s voice within our souls; when we need to be reconciled and restored to ourselves – we need to go back to the water.
In Luke’s Gospel this morning, we read about Jesus’ own baptism, his own “haunting by the waters” if you will. Some pretty amazing things happen when Jesus is baptized. I can honestly say I have never seen the heavens open, I have never seen the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, and I have never heard God’s voice in any baptism I have performed or witnessed. And yet, that doesn’t diminish them one single bit! Nadia Bolz Weber is fond of saying:
The thing I love most about the baptism of Jesus is not just that God says “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased’, but that God says this before Jesus has really done anything. Think about that. God did not say, “This is my son in whom I am well pleased because he has proved to me that he deserves it; he has quiet time with me each morning, and always reads his Torah; and because boy, can he heal a leper!”
Nope. As far as we know Jesus hadn’t even done anything yet, and he was called beloved. The one in whom God was well pleased. That’s God for you. And I mean that literally. That is God FOR YOU.
We are all haunted by waters. In our baptism – the ones we choose and the ones chosen for us, the ones we witness and the ones in which we actively participate – God proclaims that we are all beloved children. In baptism God claims us and names us as God’s own, whether you remember it or not. Whether you were baptized as an infant or a youth or an adult, in a church or in a lake at summer camp, at the font right here or at one halfway around the world – you have been gifted with God’s love for all time. And God’s Spirit still moves over the waters, making us daughters and sons, enabling us to live with the kind of dignity and grace befitting children of God.
In Ann Patchett’s book The Patron Saint of Liars, she tells the story of Cecelia, who lives with her mother at St. Elizabeth’s Home for Unwed Mothers in Habit, Kentucky. Cecelia’s mother is the cook at the Home, so Cecelia has grown up spoiled by allt he young women who will give their own babies up for adoption. One day, when Cecelia is 15 years old, she meets one of the new gifts who has come, pregnant and alone, to St. Elizabeth’s.
The new girl’s name is Lorraine. She is desperate to be accepted and it is obvious that St. Elizabeth’s is her last chance. Waiting to be interviewed by the nun in charge, Lorraine is about to crawl out of her own skin. So Cecelia tries to give her some advice. “The guy who got you pregnant”, she tells Lorraine, “don’t say he’s dead. Everybody does that. It makes Mother Corinne crazy. Just tell her the truth, or tell her you don’t remember.”
“What did you tell her?” Lorraine asks, and Cecelia is stunned. “I sat there, totally frozen”, she later writes, “I felt like I had just been mistaken for some escaped mass murderer. No one had ever – ever – mistaken me for one of them, not even as a joke.”
Being mistaken for “one of them”, is what baptism does for us, according to Barbara Brown Taylor. Baptism reminds us that we are “one of them”. In Taylor’s words:
Whether we were carried in our mother’s arms or arrived under our own steam, we got into the river of life with Jesus and all his flawed kin. There is not a chance we will be mistaken for one of them. Because we are them – thanks be to God – as they are us… Christ’s own forever.
It goes beyond intellect. It goes beyond time. It holds us all for all time, God’s action of naming us, claiming us and loving us. You are a child of God. You can renounce that. You can ignore it. You can ridicule it, even damn it. But you cannot change that fact. You are a child of God, loved with a love that will never let you go. And the waters? The waters are a sign of that love, which goes with you throughout your life to catch you in every moment of estrangement and to flow through you in every instance of reconciliation. For we are – all of us – haunted by waters. Thanks be to God! Amen.