People of the Water

People of the Water

Homily for Third Sunday in Lent

March 3, 2024

People of the Water

Homily for Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Third Sunday in Lent
Exodus 17:1-7

When Sir Robin Knox-Johnston circumnavigated the globe in his sailboat in 1968, he reported that dolphins frequently swam next to or behind his sailboat, leaping and playing in his wake.  Bernard Moitessier, who also sailed around the world  that year, likewise told of dolphins swimming alongside or behind him, also playing in the wake of his sailboat.  A quick online search turns up multiple videos of dolphins swimming alongside and behind boats, leaping and diving in the water.  Scientists believe dolphins swim alongside or behind boats because they enjoy play, and a boat’s wake enables them to go faster and to jump and leap and dive and play with greater ease.

We the Baptized are like those dolphins, for – at our best, when we faithfully follow our Lord – we leap and dive and play in the wake of Jesus, who (to borrow from our Baptismal rite) out of the waters created us at the creation, who through the waters led us out of bondage in Egypt, and who in the waters was Baptized by John in the Jordan.  We the Baptized are “people of the water,” who – as we are faithful – leap and dive and play in the wake of Jesus.

Both this morning’s lesson from Exodus and also the Gospel lesson from John are about water.  I want to take a closer look especially at Exodus for what it has to tell us about living as the Baptized, particularly as we prepare for the Baptisms of Jess and Amelia at the Easter Vigil.

“From the wilderness of Sin, the whole congregation journeyed by stages.”  And here “the wilderness of Sin” does not mean our English “sin,” but rather is a desert area (from which “Mt. Sinai” derives its name).  We all go through “wilderness” in our lives,and – Jess and Amelia and all of us – Baptism does not exempt us from experiencing life’s “wildernesses.”  But just as God was with the Hebrews in the wilderness and did not abandon them but heard their pleas and provided for them, so as we are in the “wilderness” will God be with us and listen to us and provide for us. [Paul’s words to the Corinthians may be of comfort here, that – though we may go through wildernesses – “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13).]

“From the wilderness of Sin, the whole congregation journeyed by stages.” Preaching in the early 3rd century, Origen of Alexandria said of the Israelites' journeying by stages that it is likewise by stages that we grow in God.  We cannot leap into the full knowledge of God all at once, lest the glory of the Lord be too much (e.g., Moses on Sinai (Ex 33:20-23)). So like the Hebrews journeying in the wilderness, we the Baptized journey by stages, God revealing God’s self to us step by step, bit by bit, as we are able to receive God’s revelation.  As Emily Dickinson put it:  “The truth must dazzle gradually, Or every man be blind.” So, Jess and Amelia – and all of us – be patient, and keep on “keeping on,” trusting that God will reveal God’s self to us more fully as God knows we are able to receive it.

“Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do for this people? They are almost read to stone me!’” We may tend to think of Moses as a decisive, fearless leader, but, as in today’s reading, Moses often felt afraid and inadequate.  For us, too – even though we the Baptized have been sealed with the Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever – there will be times in our journey when we feel afraid or inadequate,that we feel we do not have the gifts or that we are too sinful or that we are in some way not worthy of God’s call.  Know that such feelings are normal.  Indeed, recall how in Luke when Jesus first called Peter, even St. Peter initially declined to follow: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,” Peter said(Luke 5:8).  When we do feel fearful or in adequate or unworthy, know that just as God gave Moses the strength to carry on, and just as Jesus nonetheless called Peter to follow, so, too, when we feel afraid or inadequate or unworthy, God will give us the strength we need to do God’s will.

Lastly, “The Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’”  Today’s lesson from Exodus is the third of three wilderness stories in which the Israelites doubted and the Lord delivered.  In chapter 15, the Israelites complained that they had no water, so God turned a spring of bitter water sweet (15:25).  In chapter 16, the people complained of hunger, so God sent them manna from heaven.  And this morning in chapter 17, the people again complain for lack of water, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”  As we go forward in our journey, there will be times when we wonder if the Lord is among us or not. When those times come –not if but when – I hope we may remember that we are people of the water.  We have been baptized, and we follow a God who has sustained his people in the most trying of circumstances and in the most unlikely of ways.  If God once caused water to come forth from a rock to quench the thirst of God’s people,surely God will hear our prayers as God heard theirs, and God will provide for us as God provided for them. As we persevere in following Jesus, he will in his time bring us to the font of living water gushing up to eternal life.

The Easter Vigil at which we baptize Amelia and Jess will be on the evening of Saturday, March 30. I encourage us to attend not only because the Vigil is the central liturgy of the Church year in which all other liturgies find their meaning, and not only to support Jess and Amelia as they begin their lives asfull members of the Body of Christ, but I encourage us to attend also because when we the Baptized witness the Baptisms of others, it is an occasion for joy.  When we gather around the font to initiate new members into the Body of Christ – especially in the Baptism of those old enough to have made the choice for themselves to be baptized – it is as though we are not merely swimming behind our Lord, but the joy is such that we jump and leap and dive and play, rejoicing that others have chosen to follow with us in his wake.  Do come to show Jess and Amelia our support and to experience this joy.

I’m going to leave us with a poem by Joan Erickson that ostensibly is about the surprising hope she discovered after the death of her husband, the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson. But it might be about us as we prepare to initiate Jess and Amelia to with us leap and play in the waters of Jesus’ wake. The poem is called “Hope.”

The word “hope” the learned say
is derived from the shorter one “Hop”
and leads one onto “Leap.”
Plato, in his turn, says the leaping
of young creatures is the essence of play –
So be it!
To hope, then, means to take a playful leap
into the future –
to dare to spring from firm ground –
to play trustingly, invest energy, laughter;
And one good leap encourages another –
On, then, with the dance!

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