Getting wet, making a splash, and sharing the water

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Celebration of the Community Eucharist.

The written version of the sermon is here:

When my former boss and colleague, Fr. Gerth, retired as rector of St. Mary the Virgin a few weeks ago, he was presented with what might seem like a strange gift. He was given a lobster pot—a great big, probably 20- quart pot or larger. Granted, it’s fancy: hammered copper and it gleams.

They gave him a lobster pot not to acknowledge his New England roots or his love of cooking and entertaining. But because of his great belief in the power of baptism. You see, for over twenty years, Stephen has been preaching and administering baptism with tons of water. He goal, he said, was to drench the person being baptized and to get everyone else wet, as well.

In baptism we are invited to get wet. Baptism is a change, it is a moving forward, a leaving behind. The first reading today from Isaiah speaks of God’s choosing. God has chosen a servant people, called them by name, held them by the hand, and has given power to be like a light, to open eyes, to show mercy, and to show compassion. This servant is the whole people of Israel. This servant is uniquely and fully embodied in Christ. But this is a servanthood into which we (each of us) are called, in our baptism.
We’re called to get wet, to get involved, and to allow the power of God to have its effect upon us. Saint Paul understands baptism as dying and rising again. He says, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6). We will not go from life to death and to new life without some effect, and at the very least, we will be getting wet.

In baptism we are also called to make a splash. Like a stone that’s thrown into water and makes a ripple effect, the effect of our baptism will ripple throughout our lives and into the lives of others. It will naturally spill over. If you ever watch a group of kids at a swimming pool, you’ll notice that as soon as an adult looks away, the action becomes about who can make the biggest splash, the most dramatic jump into the water. Who can displace the most water? It’s all about being seen, about making one’s mark, about standing out.

As Christians, we could use a little more of this childish instinct. Being baptized marks us as belonging to Christ—it makes us different, different in the way we make decisions, in the way we spend money, in the way we treat other people. As the children in the swimming pool know, there’s a big difference between splashing water in someone else’s face and in simply making a big splash oneself. We also know that difference and as Christians are called to be respectful to those of other faith or no faith, but it is a part of our baptism to make a splash.

And finally, our baptism carries with it the command as well as the courtesy of offering water to others. At Holy Trinity we literally offer water at the Saturday dinners, and during normal times, at the Tuesday older adults luncheon and the nightly shelter. During the pandemic, we’ve had to offer a kind of “virtual water,” going online, calling and writing, and visiting when possible, sending money and resources to people in need.

And we also offer water spiritually, whenever and wherever we introduce others to Christ. We offer water when we simply help people learn that there IS a source of water, that there is a God of love, and that there is a God of forgiveness and compassion.

When John sees Jesus, he says that something greater is coming. John baptizes with water, “but he who is mightier is coming, . . . he will baptize . . . with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” The Holy Spirit and fire refer to sanctification, the process of becoming holy, of moving inch by inch, day by day, failure through failure through repentance, into holiness.

How, exactly this happens, begins with our baptism. People sometimes wonder why we should be baptized, what different baptism makes, but it is because it is through baptism that this whole process, this whole movement this whole life into God, begins. Baptism is many things for us, but it at least involves our getting wet, our making a splash and our offering water to others.

On this feast we give thank for the baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for his becoming like us that we might become more like him. And we give thanks for our own baptism, even as we look for more opportunities to get wet, to make a splash and to share water with others.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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