Keeping The Well

 

Acts 19:1-7 and Mark 1:4-11

Monday morning of this week,

I was working preparing today’s worship service.

The scripture passage about the Baptism of Jesus

was occupying most of my thoughts.

I was also thinking about how Adrienne from Water for Good

would be bringing us a presentation about their mission –

Which is providing clean water to people in Central Africa.

Needless to say, I was doing a lot of thinking about water.

So, I barely noticed the DPW crew

working at the corner of Main and Nichols

as I drove by them on my way home.

Until I turned on the kitchen faucet

to fill my coffee carafe.

And nothing came out.

My first reaction was surprise,

because when I turn on a faucet

I have come to expect water to come out,

not air.

Surprise was quickly followed by irritation

at this unexpected inconvenience to my daily routine.

Then I remembered that DPW crew

and realized it must have been

a water main they were working on.

Knowing why there was no water coming out of my faucet

brought some assurance that the problem was only temporary.

Sooner or later, the issue would get resolved.

All I had to do was wait.

But, somewhere between my impatience

with not having fresh clean water on demand,

and the annoyance of knowing that

even when the water was flowing again,

it would be who-knows-how-long

before it looked clean enough to drink,

that I was struck by the irony of what was happening.

In the middle of my preparing to raise awareness about

people who have to walk long distances

to get water to drink –

water that is just as likely to make them sick

as it is to keep them alive –

here I was – impatient over a temporary interruption

in the luxury of clean water delivered to my kitchen sink.

Let me put it this way.

If you went to a dictionary and looked up

the definition of FIRST WORLD PROBLEM,

it would pretty much describe this situation.
Water is something that unites all human beings

of all races and nationalities.

The fact that our bodies are about 60% water

and we can’t live very long without it,

is something we all have in common.

Yet, water also divides people.

It divides those who have easy access

to safe, clean water,

from those who don’t.

And when you put oceans of water between

one of those populations and the other,

it’s easy for those who have,

to forget about those who have not.

But water can also bring people together.

Especially the water of baptism.

The New Testament actually speaks

of two forms of baptism.

The first baptism mentioned in the Gospels

is the baptism performed by John the Baptist.

His baptism was a baptism of repentance

for the forgiveness of sins.

And, John didn’t mince words when it came

to pointing out to people their sins,

Or that they needed to repent and be forgiven.

He warned the crowds of people

who came to hear him preach

that if they did not amend their ways

there literally would be hell to pay.

At the same time, John was clear about

the baptism he offered not being the ultimate solution

to the problem of human sinfulness.

That it was actually only a forerunner

to something much better

that was still to come.

“I baptize you with water for repentance,” he told them,

“but one who is more powerful than I is coming.

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Then one day a man stepped into the river

and stood there before John waiting to be baptized.

John didn’t preach to this man

about his need to repent

or tell him what changes he had to make

to live a life that was pleasing to God,

the way he had told so many others

who had come before.

This time, it was John who felt compelled to make

a humble confession of his own unworthiness.

He confessed that he was unworthy

even to stoop down

and untie the thongs of the sandals

on the feet of this man from Galilee.

The One whose arrival he had been preparing people for,

had come at last.

Despite John’s hesitation,

Jesus insisted on being baptized by him.

And as Jesus rose up out of the Jordan’s waters,

Mark described it as if the heavens opened above him

and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove upon him.

A voice spoke from heaven, saying,

“You are my Son, the Beloved,

with you I am well pleased.”

And in that instant, something shifted for all eternity.

There in the flowing waters of the River Jordan,

Jesus committed himself to the path that would

eventually lead him to a cross.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus was baptized?

I mean, if John was baptizing people because

they needed to be forgiven of their sinful pasts

and needed to commit themselves

to a more righteous future –

what in the world did that have to do with Jesus?

Of what did Jesus, who never sinned,

need to be forgiven?

What could Jesus, who always placed

his Father’s will above his own,

ever have done that demanded repentance?

Jesus didn’t NEED to be baptized

because – with regards to John’s message –

he was NOT LIKE the rest of us.

But he CHOSE to be baptized

to demonstrate his solidarity with all of us.

When he was baptized, Jesus was not just immersed

in the water of the Jordan by John.

He was immersing himself in the experience of being human.

He set aside all the privileges and advantages of divinity

to join us in a shared humanity.

People today who devote themselves to be missionaries –

like the missionaries of Water for Good –

follow the example Jesus gave when he was baptized.

They don’t have to,

but they willingly do exchange

what we think of as a “normal” life,

to immerse themselves in the world

of the people they serve in Christ’s name.

I was first introduced to Water for Good last Summer

at Soulfest in Laconia, New Hampshire.

Soulfest is four days of open air, outdoor concerts

that is held annually at Mount Gunstock.

Think Woodstock,

except with Christian music instead of Acid Rock,

and getting high on the Spirit instead of LSD.

One morning, Water for Good offered an opportunity

for people to get just a little feel

for what many Central Africans have to go through

just to have daily water.

It was called a Walk for Water.

People were given an empty five gallon can

that they carried to a stream about a mile away.

When you got to the stream,

you filled your water can

and carried it back to the starting point.

It was a good way to experience the reality of

what many Africans have to go through

to have the water they need to live.

After we finished the walk, Sue and I hung around

getting to know some of the Water for Good staff

and learning more about their ministry.

One of the things that impressed me

was that they are not just builders of wells

in the villages where water is needed.

They are keepers of the wells they build.

When something breaks down they do the repairs needed

to ensure that the gift of water continues to flow,

and people don’t have to return to walking long distances

to fetch unsanitary water.

Baptism is a little like digging a well.

It’s a once in a lifetime event that makes the water of Eternal Life

something readily accessible to us.

We are made a part of this village we call Church

where the Water of the Spirit is freely shared.

We don’t have to spend our time searching for it.

We don’t have to settle for toxic substitutes

for the life God gives.

It flows freely in us and among us.

But baptism should also be like keeping the well.

About caring for the well, maintaining the pump

and making repairs when needed,

to keep the water flowing.

If baptism is treated as something

that is considered complete

as soon as the cover is replaced on the baptismal font,

then the Water of the Spirit is likely to dry up

and the baptized person’s life will go on,

unchanged,

as if nothing really happened.

How conscious are you of the meaning of your baptism?

Not just as an event or a rite of passage.

But as a reality that defines who you are – God’s Beloved.

A reality that shapes and influences the direction of your life.

For many of us, baptism may have become

more of a memory of a past event

than a present experience in our day to day living.

John’s baptism was a baptism of water only,

that marked a personal decision

to make a new start with one’s life.

It’s an action that we must take for ourselves.

No one can do it for us.

But it’s only a prelude to something more important.

When people are baptized in the name of Jesus

it is a sign of their entry into a relationship with God

and with each other through the transformation

that God brings about in them

because they are not able to do it for themselves.

This is what baptism, not only of water,

but of water and the Spirit,

looks like.

Where the Spirit flows through our lives

the difference is obvious.

In the passage we read today from Acts,

the apostle Paul encounters some disciples in the city of Ephesus.

Paul asks them if they received the Holy Spirit

when they were baptized.

Which is an odd question to ask someone that you’ve just met.

Unless there was something about them

that made Paul doubt that the Holy Spirit

was an active influence in their lives.

As it turns out, Paul’s intuition was right on.

Not only had they not received the Spirit,

they seem pretty clueless about who the Holy Spirit is.

After Paul baptizes them in the name of Jesus,

there is a visible transformation about them.

They do things they never did before.

Our baptism signifies a difference

in our relationship with God.

But it also signifies a change

in our relationship with one another.

Because to be baptized in the name of Jesus

is to embrace not only a new relationship

with the God who created us,

but also to enter a new kinship

with all whom God has created.

It is to hear God’s voice naming us

as God’s beloved sons and daughters,

and it is to recognize that through Jesus,

others are our beloved sisters and brothers.

One sign of the Spirit active in the lives of baptized believers

is an awareness of the belovedness of others.

Another sign is a concern for the needs of others

that moves us to respond,

even when there are oceans between us and them.

Because the water of baptism that unites us,

is more powerful than any water that divides us.