“Conquering Aqua-phobia” Isaiah 43:1-7, Luke 3:15-17,21-22
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, January 13, 2012
Swimming lessons. Those two words would turn my stomach into knots more than anything else when I was a child. They were even more unsettling than “doctor’s office”, two words that once led me to escape from my mother as she parked the car to take me in for a check up with Dr. Brown. I hid in the floorboard at first and then ran around the car dodging my mother a few times until she outsmarted me with a reverse route. The fact that my doctor shared an office and nameplate with Dr. Payne justified my fear of entering the office. My fear of water, though, had much more to do with watching my older brother’s first swim lesson, when Coach Pickle hurled him into the pool, with his sink or swim methodology. My brother figured out how to dog paddle in shock, my mother was horrified, and I was making a mental note not to ever indicate any interest in swimming. My place was on dry ground. From then on, I lived in fear of water. Well, from then on, until my mother took me to a new swim teacher. New and improved! Let me just say that she was no Coach Pickle in looks. Even as a preschooler, I was in love at first sight. She was tall, tan, and had long dark hair blowing in the wind as she held out her arms to the kids to jump off the edge of the pool. All of a sudden, I was no longer afraid of the water in front of me. And my mother no longer had to pry me out of our Green Ford Fairlane to get me to go to the lessons. I let go of my fear when I realized who was in the water.
What we have heard in our Scripture this morning is that there is no reason to fear the water that is ahead of us. It all comes down to understanding that there will be water ahead and that God goes with us into it. This is what Isaiah was passing on to the Israelites, who were living in exile under the captivity of Babylonian rule. They understood that they were there because of their unfaithfulness to God. They not only felt far from their homeland of Jerusalem, but completely distant from their God. To them, the water and fire were constant reminders of their punishment. God’s voice here in this text, however, was God’s way of communicating to them that there would be water and fire in life. It was not “if you walk through water and fire”, but 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. They were to know that belonging to God did not exempt them from the challenges of life.
The account of Jesus’ baptism, which is read in churches around the world on this “Baptism of Our Lord” day of Epiphany, is yet another reminder from God that there will be waters ahead of us. Even Jesus entered them. Luke informs us that Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan just like other people ahead of him did, even though his baptism was for different reasons. It was vital that he enter them in preparation for his difficult days in the wilderness and then his ministry as the Son of God.
If you have been to the movies lately, you have probably seen the trailer for the upcoming movie with Will Smith, “After Earth.” There is a scene in it that drew me in and has come to mind when reading the Scripture for today [show trailer clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZIt20emgLY%5D The father wanted the son to know that, Fear is not real. It is the product of thoughts you create. Do not misunderstand me. Danger is very real, but fear is a choice. The son needed to understand how to operate in the new world they were about to enter.
We, too, need to understand how we are to operate in our world of today. As we hear the words of Isaiah and of Jesus, we must comprehend that there is and will be danger in our world. There will be tough times along the pathway of the footsteps of Jesus. There will be challenges, heartaches, suffering, hardships, and disappointments that are common to all humankind. Becoming a Christian doesn’t change that reality. The fact is that you may experience more water and fire than what is common because you follow Jesus as your Lord and Savior in this world. Isn’t that what Jesus said to his disciples? This is hard but good for us to hear as we follow him individually in our jobs, our schools, our relationships, and our businesses. But it is also good for us to hear as a church, while looking forward to the blessings God has for 2013, the year will also have its challenges. There will be hills to climb, sorrows to carry, compassion to give, strength to renew, relationships to mend, sins to forgive, moneys to raise, ministries to begin, needs to serve, and wounds to heal.
With the potential of danger ahead, we also remember that we have a choice. We can choose to be fearful or we can move forward with the calm assurance that we have reason to not be afraid. Sound ridiculous? I am sure you, like me, can make a long list of reasons why we should be scared to death. We know that there are dangers all around–beasts we have seen or heard about from other people. Our economy is still unpredictable (isn’t it always?), our nation is still at war, our families are dysfunctional, our government is gridlocked, our resources are shrinking, our jobs are dispensable, our health is fragile. These, and other reasons for fear, tend to wake us up in the middle of the night. What we must know this morning and as we begin a new year is what God has revealed about the waters of life– Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 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, and, Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you. God wanted them to know that they could fearfully move forward in life, even in its challenges, knowing who they were to Him and of how He would be in the water with them.
Jesus would discover the presence of God in the water as well. Luke described how Jesus was affirmed with those powerful words of God, You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. God was present not only with His words from heaven, but with His Spirit, descending upon Jesus in bodily form like a dove. Jesus needed this affirmation of God’s presence not just then, but in the steps he would take from the river into the 40 days of testing in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry.
So, how do you choose to be fearless as you begin this new year? You can do so by knowing who you are to God: Beloved, affirmed, loved. Do you believe those words are for you? You should. God has provided clear epiphany of His unconditional love and acceptance in Jesus. It doesn’t matter what you have done, what you do, or what you will do in the future. You are loved by God. And, as a child, you will find God with you as you step ahead, as you cross uncertain waters and as you feel the heat of fires in your pathway. What a powerful thought for you as you begin a new year. What a timely message for you if you see a wilderness up ahead. What an encouraging word if you are thinking your life doesn’t matter. What a boost of courage if you are having second thoughts about crossing the river.
Greg Asimakoupoulos noted how in the movie Toy Story, there is a scene where Woody confronts Buzz Lightyear with the fact that he is only an action figure and not really a space hero. Early in the movie Woody shouts, “You’re not a space ranger! You’re an action figure—a child’s plaything.” Only after failing to fly, Buzz realizes the truth of Woody’s statement. Grief-stricken and disillusioned, Buzz hangs his head in resignation, declaring, “I’m just a stupid, little, insignificant toy.” Woody later seeks to comfort his friend by underscoring the love of the boy who owns them both. “You must not be thinking clearly. Look, over in that house, there’s a kid who thinks you’re the greatest, and it’s not because you’re a space ranger; it’s because you’re his.” As Buzz lifts his foot, he sees a label affixed to the bottom of his little shoe. There in black permanent ink is the name of the little boy to whom he belongs. Seeing the image of his owner, Buzz breaks into a smile and takes on a new determination.[i]
You can have that same kind of smile. Take a moment at the beginning of this new year, look at the name that has been written upon you, see the image of your Creator in you, and step ahead with fearless determination.
[i] Toy Story (Disney, 1995), directed by John Lasseter; submitted to Preaching Today by Greg Asimakoupoulos
Audio of Sermon: