In the Tao Te Ching, the classic Chinese philosophical work of Lao Tzu, it has this to say about water, “Nothing in the world is softer than water, yet nothing is better at overcoming the hard and strong. This is because nothing can alter it. That the soft overcomes the hard and the gentle overcomes the aggressive is something that everybody knows, but none can do themselves.”
God has truly gifted us with an amazing thing when water was created out of the cosmos. Did you know that most of our water that was formed on earth, probably came from asteroids crashing into earth at a very formative time in our creation, roughly 3.8 billion years ago? And through time and formation, eventually broke down through geologic and chemical processes to become what we know as water today.
It’s amazing to even think about that 3.8 billion years is how much planning God had for our existence. And in terms of our human bodies, when we are born our bodies are roughly 90% water and by the time we are adults it only shrinks to about 60-65%. Now I know that you are probably thinking to yourselves that this journey into science is great, but what is the point here! The point is that water, beyond being an essential part of our world, and an essential part of our bodies, is an essential part of our spiritual existence as well. But we must explore all the states of water in order to fully understand all about God’s amazing waters.
Ice: When our hearts become solid and frozen, we become like ice. We become hard-hearted, we become cold to others, and we close ourselves off to the ebb and flow of human interaction. We also close off any ability within ourselves to allow other waters in, to allow for cleansing, and to allow for the natural flow of our humaneness, or moral attitude toward others. Yes, ice is important for cooling off, it is important for cooling drinks, it is important for Arctic transportation and exploration, it is important for the cooling of our planet and many more important things. However, iciness, as an eternal state, only leads to a cold-hearted reality where fracture is probable and death is certain.
Steam or Vapor: When we are so hot that we get to a boiling point and our waters evaporate into steam or vapor, then we destruct on another level; we disappear, we become unrecognizable, and we no longer can be seen or touched. When we get so angry with ourselves or our neighbors, when we do not allow for cooling off or calming down, when we can only spit vitriol and hate, when we heat up and heat up and heat up until our state is no longer recognizable…then we transform into the very thing we did not think would ever happen, we transform into something other, we evaporate out of a state of flexibility and malleability into a state where we are no longer in control. When we are vapor or steam, we are at the whim of others, at the whim of the wind, and we can be blown away by the slightest of breezes. Yes it is good to express emotion, yes it is good to get rid of waters that have turned bad, but vapor or steam burns others badly, it destroys and breaks down bonds, and can be lost forever to the winds of hate.
Water: When we are water in its liquid state we are flexible, malleable, life-giving, and patient. The greatest canyons and mountains have been carved by the tiniest of rivers, the smooth stones of the North Shore tell the story of patience and endurance. Water supports life, it gives life, and it is essential to life. Yes, waters can flood, we can have too much of it and it can be destructive; certainly, too much water can be life-threatening. And when we use too much water and we run out, too little water can also be life-threatening.
But, this is what water teaches us; balance. The balance that our lives must have and that we must work to not be overly set in one of our states. When our waters begin to cool, well then it is time to warm ourselves up and find that balance once more. When our waters begin to boil, then it is time to calm and cool and find that balance once again. When our waters turn stagnant and stale and begin to rot or fester, then it is time for us to open new channels of irrigation and find our flow once more. And when our rivers move too fast, churning our lives over rocks and boulders, then we need to find that soothing eddy to relax in once again.
And if you think that I am just overly stretching a metaphor and wrote this sermon because I love water and nature, while you are not necessarily too far off on all accounts, I do want to offer you this one question: why did God choose to baptize with water? Why are we not baptized with soft linen sheets? Why are we not baptized with sand or dirt? Why are we not baptized with strong wind?
We are baptized with water because we are cleansed in the process and renewed by God’s eternal and amazing Creation.
See there is a very important part to today’s sermon that I have been purposefully saving for last: Jesus came and was baptized in the water too! He did not have to be, Jesus was pure and blameless even before being baptized, we hear John proclaim that while he is baptizing people. But Jesus came, stepped into the waters, was baptized and God’s Spirit descended upon Him and blessed Him.
Why? Because like ice that is frozen and cold, God’s distance can sometimes feel like we are closed off to love. Like ice which is hard and frozen, God can sometimes seem indifferent to our existence and the pains and agonies we experience as human beings.
Because like vapor or steam or gas, God’s distance can be unrecognizable and unnerving. We are not always sure if God is there or here, if God can hear us, or if God even cares for us. Like gas, we can feel burned by the sinfulness of our world and the degradation of our bodies. And like vapor or steam or gas, God’s distance can seem like it comes and goes like the winds that blow.
But, when a baby was born into the hands of humans, when a child grew in exile and returned through the desert to be cleansed and baptized in the river Jordan, when Jesus humbled Himself and was baptized by John, all the cold was melted away, all the unknowable solidified, and Jesus washed in the eternal waters of God’s ever-flowing streams, became like water to us, knowable to us, flowing in and through our fingers, cleansing us with waters before unknown, and ultimately freeing us to flow into our God-given canals of life.
And in doing so, in that one moment, all who would be baptized in the name of Christ, became one in the water with Jesus. The water that brings life, the water that experiences death, the waters which are greater than all things, the waters which flow eternal.
Lao Tzu also says in the Tao, “The highest goodness is like water. Water easily benefits all things without struggle. Yet it abides in places that men hate.”
What better description of Jesus’ life as an element is there than water. Jesus who wanted the best for all people and did so without struggle. Jesus who came and taught us how to live our lives flexible and open to loving our neighbor, Jesus who went to the places that men of his day hated, sat with those who were hated, ate with those who were hated, forgiving those who were hated; like water which stretches out even into the most arid of places.
So may we remember, “Nothing in the world is softer than water, yet nothing is better at overcoming the hard and strong.” And may we forever be like God’s Amazing Waters, ever-flowing like Jesus, molding, moving, loving, Amen