Every year in the fall my seminary holds these sponsored lectures; guest speakers come in to talk to the whole seminary community about something important or at least something people think is important. One year we sat for a lecture on water, which is important, but this guy was a little over the top: he actually advocated for the elimination of cows because it takes so much water to make beef for us to eat. The speaker went on for a while about how beef is the enemy to our survival and then we all retired to the refectory for a post-lecture reception. When we got there we saw a delightful spread, tons of food on piled on seven or eight round tables the dotted the room. The main attraction? Big, professional-kitchen-mixing-bowl-sized bowls of marinated grilled beef. It was indeed what’s for dinner.
We ate that beef gleefully, especially after being unintentionally primed for it for hours. The message about water was lost a bit in all of that, but water is important, important enough to figure prominently in our faith.
Water plays a big role in the history of mankind’s relationship with our Creator. “The word “water” is used in a variety of metaphorical ways in Scripture. It is used to symbolize the troublesome times in life that can and do come to human beings, especially God’s children. In some contexts water stands for enemies who can attack and need to be overcome. In both the Old and New Testaments, the word “water” is used for salvation and eternal life, which God offers humankind through faith in his Son. In John 4:10-15, part of Jesus’ discourse with the Samaritan woman at the well, he speaks metaphorically of his salvation as “living water” and as “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.””1
But water is also an actual thing, not just a rhetorical device. Water in Israel is both scarce and dangerous, fresh water being scarce and the Mediterranean being dangerous. And so people both in Jesus’ time and today have a complicated relationship with water; not unlike in California right now, water is something that must be thought about, reasoned about, on a daily basis.
And so when Jesus told His disciples to go off on their own, across the water, to meet up with Him later, at least some of the disciples, the non-fishermen, would have felt a twinge of discomfort. Like the lonely places we talked about last week, the open water was a place few Israelites ventured into and out of which their enemies often came. The fact that there was a storm kicking up probably delighted them even further. All of this ended up in chaos: twelve men rowing against the wind, against the forces bent on dominating them. And just like last week, Jesus then did something we’ve come to take for granted, walking on the stormy water, greeting His disciples as if nothing much was going on.
Drawing order out of chaos is a bit of a specialty for God. Moses first tells us of the Spirit of God hovering over the chaos of the waters, making, separating, placing each element for the good of His creation and for us. Mark tell us of the Son of God walking on the chaotic waters and finally ordering them, calming them, both for the immediate good of the disciples but also to show them just who He was and is, Him through whom all things were made.
We have the joy of doing a lot of baptisms here at Christ Church; we have one this morning, and when we go back to the font and somewhat dramatically pour water into it, we will talk about the water. We will thank God for the gift of water, over which the Holy Ghost moved in the beginning of creation; through which God led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise; in which His Son received the baptism of John. We will sanctify that water, make it to be water as water was always meant to be, and then we will baptize little Name, making him as he was always meant to be.
So as we go through this week, think a bit more about water – scarce and dangerous, elemental to our being, refreshing and transformative, a means of grace and one more constant reminder of hope God loves us so.