Having a Conversation with God (The Baptism of Our Lord)

It’s very easy when we speak about Baptism, whether it’s Jesus’s baptism, our own, or most especially when we speak about a small child’s baptism, for our descriptions to be fairly ‘cute-sy.’ Our usual response to a baptism is, “Awwwww. So sweet.” The moment is scripted and predictable.

However, Luke’s description of Jesus’s baptism, specifically the moment when the heavens are opened and the spirit descends upon Jesus, reminds us that baptism isn’t cute and likely we’ve set our expectations low.

It is in this moment – when the heavens are opened – that a conversation between heaven and earth, between the divine and human begins. God interrupts every whisper, every call, every cry, every laugh – God interrupts every voice in heaven and on earth – to speak to creation.
To speak to us.

Psalm 29 isn’t what is usually conjured up in our mind’s eye when we envision baptism, however it overlays beautifully with Luke’s baptismal account and offers us a powerful and evocative commentary on God, God’s activity in the world, and God’s devotion to humanity.

The words of Psalm 29 talk of God’s work generally, but they specifically attest to the power of God’s voice. God’s voice creates and destroys, comforts and disturbs.
Taken seriously, Psalm 29 reminds us that God isn’t tame, or safe, or cute.
God is fiery, unpredictable, steadfast, and breathtaking.  
In Psalm 29 is God interrupting, conversing, and calling to the whole world.
God’s voice holds enormous authority and empowerment in all of our readings today and so we will be focusing on this specific aspect today.

Before I go on, it is notable that in Luke’s account of Jesus’s baptism, Jesus himself doesn’t say a single word. Not one.

Maybe in this one moment Jesus is like me: any human utterances or attempts would fall short of giving true voice to the grandeur, expanse, and beauty of God. And so, he was silent and let the Spirit speak. It is as if when the Spirit tore through the universe, with wind and fire in its wings, that She shook Jesus to the core and took words right out of his mouth and then fully animated creation to speak for God. 

So, what exactly does God proclaim though creation?

Let’s start with the undeniable fact that in the Psalm God’s voice causes shaking and quaking, chaos and awe. The trees break, the wilderness shakes, the waters churn, the forest is stripped as fire spits from God’s mouth. God seems to be using his ‘angry voice’ to get creation’s attention.
It works; nature is paying attention.
Are we?  

Once we begin to pay attention, we must ask ourselves, what does this shaking and quaking say of God? What does God want us to know through this tirade?
A lot. God wants us to know a lot through this majestic demonstration. And we would do well not to gloss over and shy away from what is unleashed when God’s voice opens the heavens.

The first thing I want to do is undergird this conversation with a little point about the difference between ordaining and reigning. In my theological understanding, God ordaining something is akin to commanding and endorsing. Whereas God reigning means the greatness of God is bigger than all the acts that nature can devise and humanity can invent. This matters as we get into the seemingly devastating fall-out when God speaks.

Just because creation quakes in her shoes when God speaks, doesn’t mean that God wants creation to shake and crumble; doesn’t mean God ordains it. Just because humanity must be reminded over and over again not to be afraid of God, doesn’t mean that God desires fear on humanity’s part. Our response isn’t necessarily God’s desire. This Psalm is not an endorsement of God ordaining disasters. Quite the opposite. It is a proclamation of God reigning over life.
And I hope you’ll see why as we continue to talk.

Typically, we use words like grace and love to define baptism and truly, it is a moment of great grace and love, however over the years those words have become sanitized and safe. What is laid bare before us as God pushes through the sky, thunders in the silence, scorches the ground, and clears the threshing floor is the radical fact that in baptism God removes any boundaries that might separate us or even protect us from God. This vividly demonstrates God’s unwillingness to be separated from us.
God will stop at nothing to get to you and me.
Again, this isn’t a tame, safe, or cute God.  

Once God removes the boundaries that separate us – often times those are boundaries of our own making: walls we have built around our hearts, distance we have placed between ourselves and others, and facades of okayness – God calls out from beyond the swirling waters, reminding us that the great deeps of life could completely swallow us…
But, they don’t. In God they don’t.

Now, there’s no denying that life often finds us thrashing about and gasping for air, while we try to keep our heads above water. Thankfully, God reigns above all of that and pulls us to Him, immersing us and washing us in the Spirit. And somehow, despite the rising waters we don’t drown…? Which makes no sense, because we could’ve sworn, we were dead.

Unwilling to lose us, God forcefully breathes forgiveness and hope into us, returning us to consciousness with the promise of new days. This resuscitation leaves us breathless and disoriented, because our lungs can hardly hold the clean, sweet, powerful wind of God. We have inhaled the toxic fumes of shame, impossibility, and despair for so long that forgiveness and hope taste foreign on our lips. God’s breath strips away the chaff which constricts our souls and we are revived.

Fire begins to rage within our being as our hearts begin to beat again in rhythm with God’s heart. The mountains, deserts, and oceans verily skip in response for they know that God’s energy has been unleashed anew.

And we are silent. The world is silent.
As fire courses through our veins and bones and we realize we are alive again.
After the tearing, after the drowning, after the violent winds, after the fire.
There is life.
Which is surprising and daunting. What next?

Finally, after what seems an eternity of quiet absence, that same voice that thundered across the waters and broke the boughs gently calls to us, “Beloved. Rise up, beloved. The world is waiting.”

And we get up. Having been baptized by life and death, by fire and spirit, we are born anew from the heart that bore us. In our revived state we realize that God has always been speaking to us from beyond: through song and words, through beauty and heartache, through touch and longing…
And we realize that God’s been waiting for our answer, waiting for us to participate in the conversation.
Shall our response be ‘Glory’ like the angels in the temple, a wail like a newborn child, or quiet resolve like Jesus? Or something else?  

Sometimes God descends like a dove, but more often than not, God descends upon creation in the form of you and me. When our lives echo Jesus’s, heaven and earth begin to sing and the world’s eyes are opened to God alighting everywhere.

And so, beloved, precious child of God, who has been named with such power that it won’t come undone, who is beautiful to behold: May you listen for and hear the voice of Jesus who calls your name each morning. And may you be wind, fire, and water wherever your days take you.