Yesterday was a day when we teetered on the brink of deep waters—waters that, if they were to close over our heads, threaten to overwhelm us and all that we hold dear. Since there has already been too much of that kind of loss during these last nine months of pandemic, the events many of us watched unfold yesterday felt almost too intense to be borne. I went from working on exegesis on the readings assigned for this Sunday on the baptism of Jesus, to being glued to my television and twitter for much of the afternoon. I went from contemplating the beauty of the opening words of Genesis to seeing the ugliest impulses generated in our political life play out before my horrified eyes. Unbidden, the opening words of Psalm 130 echoed through my head and heart as I watched the chaos in our national capitol unfold: “Out of the depths have I called to You O Lord: Lord hear my voice!”
As I watched the forces of chaos, conspiracy, and division rampage through the halls of democracy, all I could think of was the depth of the waters into which our nation was treading. Sometimes, though, profound shocks can lead to a shaking off of the willingness to accept the banal, everyday evils that creep and infiltrate into our moral framework.
Deep waters, which in Genesis are the canvas upon which creation springs forth, became a murky symbol of loss of control and danger. From my TV screen, I heard person after person, on both sides of the aisle as the events of the day spiraled more and more out of control, protest that “this is not who we are.”
Such statements are more than just a bit of empty protest. When violence, intimidation and murder are elicited from a mob, we must face the uncomfortable truth that, yes, somewhere within us, this IS who we are. There is a size-able portion of our population that denies kinship with those who differ from them, who see difference as threat. The fact that this is done by people who also claim identity as Christian is a problem that affects all of us who profess to be disciples, because their very public identity becomes a net the watching world casts over all who proclaim the name of Jesus. The ties that bind become a snare that we strain against to escape.
But that admission is the necessary first step to repentance and redemption. We are too prone to lash out at perceived threats. Admitting that tendency can help us shed our old skin and embrace who we are called to be. And that is exactly the rebirth at the center of baptism— giving us the courage to let go of our instinctive defensiveness to embrace the new life we are called to in Christ.
In our gospel reading for Sunday, Jesus leads us by example into the waters of baptism to give us the courage and endurance to lean toward who we are called to be. In Christ, we are called to be one people, united by our common heritage as beloved children of God. The waters of baptism are waters of creation, of new life that is centered in hope, faith, and embracing the miracle of the panoply of life all around us. The waters of creation from which we are born, the waters of baptism which are the gates to eternal life and for which we thirst, call us to resist the anarchy, intimidation, and mob rule swirling violently around us yesterday.
Where can we find solid footing for what today may bring? Perhaps these events can finally drive us to reject demagoguery in favor of remembering the shared sacrifice, integrity, justice and compassion that is the foundation of virtue, generosity, and decency. Perhaps we can begin to instead embrace the transformative power of God to aid us in becoming a beloved community, guided by values of shared burdens, shared dreams, and shared sacrifice for the common good.
we boldly proclaim your Holy Name
and lift our hearts to You in praise.
our brother in baptism,
our model for holy living,
we embrace you with all our might:
lead us and guide us as your beloveds.
May we make straight the way of the Lord
by all we can contribute as your witnesses,
and represent the gospel of love and inclusion
in all we say and do today.
Draw us to enter joyfully, O Lord,
into the discipleship to which you lovingly call us
through the waters of baptism and beyond.
Purify our wills to reflect your lovingkindness
and help us turn aside from all evil,
embracing instead the pure truth
that calls us to be advocates for others,
walking in integrity and bold ministry in the world.
Spirit of the Living God,
fall afresh on us and bless our common life and labors today,
and let the peace and comfort of God
rest like a dove upon all those for whom we pray.
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a writer, musician, and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts daily prayers, meditations, and sermons at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.