Did anybody see the sky Friday morning? It was amazing. I spent a lot of time Friday morning just watching the sky The storm clouds rolled, the feathery clouds whisped around them, and every once in a while, a patch of blue would appear, morph, then be swallowed up by the clouds again. At times, I could even perceive a hint of rainbow colors at the cloud’s edge, never a full bow, just a hint, as if to remind me of something indirectly, some kind of promise still there but not presently visible. It was what I describe as a breaking sky.
Jesus stood under a breaking sky on the day of his baptism. The storm clouds rolled, the feathery clouds whisped around them, and every once in a while, a patch of blue would appear, morph, then be swallowed up by the clouds again. Then, just as Jesus broke the waters’ plain, the sky was torn open, the sun streamed upon him and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove as a voice spoke, “you are my son, my beloved, in you I delight.”
As suddenly as it came it was gone. The storm clouds continued to roll, swallowing up the streaming light. Show’s over. Time to move on. Except for those who were paying attention, there remained a hint of rainbow colors at the cloud’s edge, as if an indirect reminder of a promise that was still there, though not visibly present.
We tend to think of baptisms as happy occasions, and they are. A child, a youth, an adult is named and claimed by God, becomes a part of Christ’s church, is incorporated into Christ’s body, and is led by the Spirit to live a life of sacrifice and service, of self-giving and submission to God’s will.
Oh- did I just say that out loud? I’m sorry. That last part is in the fine print. We’d really rather skip over it. Sacrifice and service, self-giving and submission, that’s not easy. We like the part about being named and claimed. We like the part about hearing God’s voice calling us beloved. Even the dove is a nice touch. Can’t we just leave it there? Sadly, no. The heavens cannot break apart unless there are storm clouds trying to obscure God’s light.
The waters of baptism are not magic, they do not insulate us from pain or suffering. They do not protect us from harm or loss. They do not even keep us from sinning. How many of you have been baptized? How many of you have sinned a time or two, perhaps more since then? The waters of baptism do not make the storm clouds disappear, but they do give us eyes to see refractions of God’s presence at the cloud’s edge, hints of God’s promise that is always there, whether or not it is visible.
God does not promise us a storm-free life, but God does promise us this:
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
And the flame shall not consume you.
Storm clouds come in every life. Fire and flood represent uncontrollable powers that threaten to overwhelm every life, every family, every institution, every church from time to time. God did not promise a life of safety even to his own son.
The oft-repeated phrase, “God will not give you more than you can handle” is not a biblical promise, but a palliative saying we use with one another to make ourselves feel better. The longer I walk with Jesus, the more I realize the idolatry of that saying. It is as if we believe that God’s highest value for us is self-reliance. It is not.
Jesus does not want us to rely on ourselves, but to rely on God. Jesus doesn’t want us to handle things ourselves because when we do we always make such a mess of things. Instead, he persistently, and sometimes insistently invites us to give our lives over to him, to trust that even when we have done our best and all we have is a cross to show for it, Sunday’s coming. I’m convinced that God often gives us more than we can handle as a way of reminding us that we cannot do this alone.
“Do not be afraid I am with you,” God promises through Isaiah, “I have called you each by name.” “I have redeemed you.” “You are mine.”
If this is God’s promise, the only question that remains is of our response.
Will we cling to this life, to the things we believe we have earned and somehow deserve?
Will we try to control our own destiny, our own circumstance?
Will we try to determine outcomes for ourselves or others?
Will we try to exert our will through domination and manipulation?
Will we claim our “rights” without regard to our responsibilities?
Or will we receive all of life, good and bad, joy and pain as a gift from God?
Will we release control and submit our lives to Jesus?
Will we follow him through fire and flood to the cross where we are forced to let go of our delusions of power, self-reliance, and independence?
Will we seek God’s will through prayer, forgiveness and reconciliation?
Will we live lives that are self-serving, or self-giving?
When we come to the waters, God claims us and calls us beloved. Yet the waters also call us to a new life, different from the one we had before. It is not a life of protection, but a life of vulnerability. It is no longer our life, but our life given over to God’s redeeming purpose.
I invite you to the waters not only so you can hear God’s voice calling you “beloved,” but also so you may hear his voice calling you to sacrifice and service, self-giving and submission to God’s will. I invite you to come and be forgiven so that you may go and forgive. If you have not been baptized but wish to give your life over to God’s promise, I invite you to come talk with me. God has been waiting for you. What are you waiting for?
I cannot promise you that if you touch the waters the storm clouds will all go away, only that through the waters you will be able to perceive refractions of God’s presence at the cloud’s edge, hints of God’s promise that is always there, whether or not it is always visible.