Saturday, July 10, 2010
God with us in the muddy water
After seemingly endless wickedly hot and dry days, it has felt like all of the energy has been sapped out of me, especially since I live in a house that has one air conditioned room. Today the blessed soaking rain came and many of my church type friends have been making baptism analogies. As life would have it I am in the middle of "unpacking" the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River as a part of the work those of us seeking approval for ordination must do. I could use a good splash in a cool stream. Part of me felt the sweltering heat of the wilderness in our weather. Which made me think about how when our self-created worlds are challenged we can see just how much we need God and what trust John the Baptizer lived out. Where all of the forces that are much bigger than us are much more clearly in view. Ways of being reminded that it is God and not I who is in charge.
And I was forced to slow down, and contemplate what was critical because it was so hot. More time to think and less time to just get caught up in doing. I realized that the best thing to do was to get out of the heat in the middle of the day- so each day I picked a place to go and a person to meet to share time with. Catching up with what God was up to in other peoples' lives. Sometimes a long time passes from when we see each other til the next time. Sometimes so long we almost forget we'd been waiting to get together.
In the gospel of Matthew, we begin to hear how prophecy is being fulfilled. We hear about Jesus' family tree, we hear echoes of the prophet Isaiah-"I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness...and the coastlands wait for his teaching... new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them." It had been a long dry and dusty time for the people who waited.
Jesus was born and some began to proclaim him "messiah" and "king of the Jews" and "Emmanuel- God with us" but then after those early years, people waited in silence until now when he is 30 and he shows up, not at the temple, not with the people who one would expect, but exactly where people are longing and waiting, at the coastline, at the edge of the river.
As I watched our grass scorch and the ground become parched and dusty, I began to imagine all of those people who came from other places. People who perhaps already felt like they were in personal wildernesses, because they were living out on the edges of it all, not acceptable, not the ones a "God with us" would come to. Out into the wilderness they traveled to the Jordan, a river which was and is one of the only regular water sources that does not evaporate in the hot arid seasons of the region. So I think it would stand to reason that by the time people got to the Jordan, they were sweaty and dirty.
There at the Jordan, John was found, at a popular crossing point for travelers. A popular place to cross because it was shallow, only a couple of feet, maybe waist-high. So there at the Jordan, people and animals were regularly plunging themselves into the couple feet of water. With all of that splashing, of travelers and of those who were being baptized, its's not likely that the water remained crystal clear. Certainly not like the specially purified water tucked away in the temple for people who had to cleaned up to be cleaned up.
It probably was more like the way it was when my cousin and I used to head down the dirt road in rural North Carolina, and then through the brush, to get to our "swimming place." We put our dirty sweaty selves in and splashed and stirred up all of the silt on the bottom of the creek so "seeing underwater" was not possible soon after we arrived. We used to try to get out of taking baths those days, because we were "already in the water" but yet later we would see that we really brought alot of the creek back home with us.
Sometimes we imagine Jesus showing up at the Jordan and it is this pristine moment where his robe is lily white and his hair is perfectly coiffed and the water is pure and still. But I like to think that when he got to the edge of the river, his hot, dusty feet experienced the squish of the cool mud between his toes. And that when he came up quickly out of the water, all of the dirt of all of those baptized before him that day, got stirred up.
That in that moment, before God speaks those words "this is my Son,the beloved" we have already seen the one who has sought us out and has gotten into our dirty water and stood with us. That the first moment of Jesus' ministry in the gospel of Matthew comes in this demonstration of what it really means that Jesus is "God with us." God, there in the river, in that moment, standing with all of us in the river, and that each droplet of water that clung to him had some little part of our dirt that he took on, for us. This is God, the God who will continue to reveal what it means to be "with us." All the way to the cross, so that in our baptism, whether we are "sprinkled" or dunked, that when we come up out of the water, it is little drops of God clinging to us, that we take with us. And we hear God call us "beloved."